Most people go to the Netherlands for Rotterdam, the Hague, or Amsterdam in order to see their architectural and cultural sites, or to witness the flower parades and tulip festivals. Yet not many take the time to visit the Dutch provinces. Overijssel, for example, a province just an hour-and-a-half drive from the capital, is where you can find Giethoorn—a charming Dutch village with no cars—and it’s a place that you’ll regret not visiting.
Romantic village strolls
Known as the Venice of the North, this quaint village only has canals, walkways, footbridges, and cycling paths instead of roads. This means that there aren’t any cars or motorized vehicles zooming around, and you’ll be able to enjoy the scenery at your own pace. The surroundings are picture-perfect, and it would be wise to make sure you have a camera with you. However, we suggest that you spend less time behind the lens and devote more time to truly taking in the setting on a leisurely stroll.
Drivers park their cars on the outskirts of the village, and you have to either walk, take a boat, or rent a bicycle to get around. Either of those modes of transportation will prove to be rewarding. You’ll discover souvenir shops, cafés, and museums while roaming around the residential islands that are adorned with flowering hedges and lush greenery.
Rent a whisper boat to explore the village, and you can chance upon some restaurants along the waterways. You can enjoy a meal with a view of the canals, or pick up a picnic basket to go from one of the more popular restaurants (e.g. Smit’s Paviljoen) and eat while you sail with your loved ones. Just the thought of having a picnic on a boat with a view of a rustic village makes Giethoorn an ideal place for honeymoons and romantic getaways.
Explore a nearby 10,000-hectare wetlands by boat
De Weerribben-Wieden National Park, the largest freshwater wetlands in northwestern Europe, is located in the same area. You can rent a boat from Giethoorn and explore the gorgeous natural park on the water’s surface. You’ll find a variety of orchids growing along the reed beds, and animal lovers can see different kinds of waterfowl and otters, too!
Although the park is a bog with plenty of water, hiking is also a favorite activity among tourists, as it allows you to really explore the wetlands and spot the fauna in the area. The visitor center provides information about the different routes and points of interests in the area, such as cafés and restaurants. Cycling is also an option if you want to cover more area by land.
A glimpse of traditional Dutch life
Giethoorn’s many houses retain their old-world charm, enlivened by colorful bushes and flowers and topped with thatched roofs. Most of the village’s bridges are wooden as well. A day of exploring Giethoorn, which appears to have come out of the pages of a fairy tale book, will make you feel as if you’re looking into a mixed reality of the present-day Netherlands and its bygone days. Amidst the action on the waterways, the village itself is relatively quiet due to the lack of cars. Even the mailman reportedly delivers the mail to Giethoorn’s less than 3,000 inhabitants on a boat.
If, by any chance, you stumble upon Museumboerderij ‘t Olde Maat Uus, don’t miss the opportunity to visit. That museum is Hendrik Maat’s old farm, and all of the century-old trinkets and equipment on display are authentic and well-preserved. A quick tour will give you an insight into traditional Dutch farming techniques and how the Dutch lived in the early 20th century.
Winter skating paradise
While most tourists go to Giethoorn in spring for its natural beauty, winter still gives you plenty of reasons to visit. When the temperatures drop, the canals turn into a frozen playground that ice skaters will surely adore. Just imagine a whole village covered in pure, white snow, and being able to skate around it on waterways and under hundreds of wooden bridges.
Most Dutch speak English, as well as a couple of other languages just in case. In fact, it’s not uncommon to talk with someone in the Netherlands who knows English, German, and French. When we chatted with some locals, they said that they try to learn a country’s native language whenever they travel. Hence, the reason why the Dutch can easily communicate with tourists. They’re naturally receptive and very hospitable. By the end of our trip, we already knew several Dutch phrases because they took the time to teach us.
Giethoorn is best enjoyed in good weather. Try to visit from July to August when the weather is at its finest. Just make sure to reserve a boat or accommodations in advance, and prepare to pay extra for lodging, as this is also the peak tourist season.
- If you’re planning to see the famous Dutch tulips during your trip, go from mid-March to mid-May, as this is usually when they’re in bloom.
- Always bring a coat and umbrella, as the weather is always cool and wet, even in summer.
- You can choose to take a day-trip to Giethoorn from Amsterdam. There are guided tours available online, or you can take a train from Amsterdam to Steenwijk and then hop on a bus to Giethoorn.
- Like most countries in Europe, the Netherlands uses 220-240 volts for electricity; so, make sure to bring the right connection kit, as volt converters may be hard to come by in smaller locations.
- While many people choose not to stay overnight, bed and breakfast accommodations can be found in the village. The prices are reasonable, and rooms can be easily booked online.
- There are also a few hotels and a two-star Michelin restaurant if you want something fancier.
— Uncharted101.com (@Uncharted1o1) June 2, 2017