Lifestyle & Culture

Staycation: Borders are closed? No problem … Jackie Harding is exploring the Netherlands

Staycation, anyone? Since the coronavirus pandemic will continue to spoil our fun for some time, and leisure travel is likely to be restricted in some countries for at least in the next month or so, we will need to find some staycation escapes in our countries of residence.

Being an expat in Europe means embracing travel to the many different countries nearby, but the reduced leisure travel options are an opportunity to discover some of the places within our own borders. We all look forward to the adventure of different countries and experiences and often overlook the gems around our own corners. So let’s start with … the Netherlands.

I live in the Netherlands, yet have not been north of Amsterdam. So this is a staycation opportunity, once the local vacation industry restarts, to explore this area.

Groningen

This city is the largest and oldest in the northern area of the Netherlands, dating back to 1040, and yet few foreign tourists have ever heard of it. Those who have heard of it know it to be a lively city as it has the second oldest university in the country.

THINGS TO DO ~

Canal trips :

Of course there are canals … this is the Netherlands! You can also rent a small boat and explore with your own compass.

Hiking:

The area around Groningen has many hiking trails, such as the Pronkjewail and the Pieterpad, which – if you keep going – will get you all the way to Maastricht 500 kilometers away including a mudflats tour which takes you and your Wellies on a low tide walk across the muddy bed of the Waddenzee.

Cycling:

This is the Netherlands so bike trails or fietspaden are crisscrossed around
the area and Groningen is called “The World Cycling City.” The surrounding area offers Noordkaap, the most northerly part of the Netherlands, where we can sit and stare out to the horizon through the 2.5-meter high De Hemelpoort. Lauwersmeer National Park, which is popular with water enthusiasts, nature lovers and hikers and bikers. It’s also one of the best areas in the Netherlands to stargaze.

SHOPPING ~

Grotemarkt, Vismarkt and Herestraat are the streets in the city that are home to the large chain stores and fashionable boutiques. Folkingestraat has restaurants, individual boutiques and galleries and Zwanestraat has a great collection of foodie and chic clothing and jewellery stores

CULTURE ~

Groninger Museum:

This stunning building houses modern and contempory art in the form of paintings, photography, fashion and design.

Martinitoren:

This beautiful tower stands sentinel in the Grotemarkt, at more than 500 years old and almost 100 metres high the climb to the top and the view could impress anyone! The bells in the carillon are reputedly the best in Europe.

Noorderlicht is an international venue for photography exhibitions.

Breda

Breda is a fortified city in Noord Brabant in the southern half of the Netherlands and one of the lesser-known spots to visit. It has a long and interesting history, established as the home of the House of Orange-Nassau (ancestors of the present Dutch royal family). Breda provided a residence for the exiled British king, Charles II, and was the venue for the signing of the Treaty Of Breda, bringing an end to the second Anglo-Dutch war in 1667.

THINGS TO DO IN THE SURROUNDING AREA ~

Efteling Theme Park:

This is the Netherlands most beloved theme park; you can even stay overnight at the hotel or in the holiday park. It originally started in 1952 as a Fairy Tale Park, and the Fairy Tale Realm is still there to enchant your “inner child.”

But you can also embrace your “wild child” with rides on the rollercoasters and other rides. There’s even a golf course and musical theatre, so something for everyone.

Technically, Efteling is mid-way between ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Breda, so you could fit in to a trip to either city.

Loon and Drunen Dunes:

The dune filled National Park is 3,500 hectares and Western Europe’s largest area of shifting sand dunes. Apart from the dunes the park has beautiful pine forests and is home to many birds and animals. You can cycle, hike, go horseback riding or just bring a picnic and relax.

SHOPPING ~

The Torenstraat, Karrestraat,  Eindstraat, het Ginneken and the Lange Brugstraat, are the city’s main shopping streets, with many of the big chains. Sint Annastraat is a great spot for artisan stores and if the weather isn’t great you can wander around the de Barones shopping mall. The local tourist office also has a great “Shops and Fun” route to follow. (In Dutch)

CULTURE ~

Stedelijk Museum:

One of the Netherlands newest museums, here you can learn the
history of the city through thoughtful displays and art.

Bouvigne Castle:

This fairytale 15th century castle has beautiful gardens, which are
free to explore.

Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk:

This “Great Church” is the most well known building in the
city. Its 97-meter tower can be seen wherever you are and for a small fee can provide you with your daily exercise and a great view. Nine of the Dutch Royal Family’s Nassau ancestors are buried here.

Begijnhof:

This peaceful spot provides a place to sit and take a breath, and if you are
interested there is a small museum that explains the life of the religious women who once lived here.

Breda Castle:

This castle is now the home of the Dutch Royal Military Academy but you can take a guided tour, booked through the city’s tourist office.

Park Valkenberg:

This city park was once the gardens of Breda Castle but now offers a place to relax and picnic under the trees on a – one hopes – warm day. Unlike most parks in Europe, Park Valkenberg is always full of chickens and rabbits.

* Of course some of the activities may be closed due to Coronavirus restrictions.

Other must-visits:

FILE PHOTO (Terry Boyd)

‘s-Hertogenbosch

This medieval fortified city, was once home to 15th century artist Jheronimus Bosch. You can explore the winding streets, take a canal tour beneath the city streets, visit several top museums and enjoy the great selection of stores and restaurants.

You can see more here in Dispatches Den Bosch archives.

Heusden:

A charming restored “star-shaped” fortified town, just 44 kilometers from Breda, that sits on the Bergsche Maas river and offers a trip back through time. Here you can explore the three windmills, wander the tiny streets exploring the stores and galleries, enjoy the restaurants, relax and watch the boats in the harbor, walk around the fortified walls or take a guided tour, organized through the local tourism office.

See more about Heusden here in our archives.

Travel doesn’t have to be daunting or stressful at the moment, particularly if you do it in your own backyard!

About the author:

Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past nine years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Writing for Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here.

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