Along with Valletta in Malta, the northern Dutch city of Leeuwarden is one of the 2018 European Capitals of Culture. With a host of cultural events in store, it’s the ideal opportunity to head off the Netherlands’ well-trodden tourist track, often restricted to Amsterdam, to discover the province of Friesland and the Wadden Sea Islands.

How to get there

There are several ways of getting to Leeuwarden. By car, the best option is to take the road running over the Afsluitdijk seawall from Amsterdam. This scenic route offers a taste of what’s to come when visiting the region, with magnificent views of the Wadden Sea on one side and the IJsselmeer lake on the other.

Otherwise, Leeuwarden can be reached by train from Amsterdam Schiphol airport, Rotterdam and The Hague.

Must-see sight

With some 600 monuments, the city has plenty to see, but Leeuwarden’s must-see sight has to be The Oldehove. A kind of Dutch Leaning Tower of Pisa, this unfinished church tower stands 40m tall and is a curious sight.

Construction on what was supposed to be a 120m tower began in 1529 before being halted. As well as leaning, the tower is also crooked and was left unfinished. Visitors can climb the 183 steps to enjoy panoramic views over Leeuwarden. The tower is open daily from April to October.

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The Oldehove, Leeuwarden’s 40m-high leaning and unfinished church tower is a must-see landmark. Photos: AFP

Take a break

Take a break with a leisurely stroll around Leeuwarden’s museum harbour. The ships docked along Willemskade are historical monuments in their own right, and are several hundred years old. For an onboard experience, grab a bite to eat at the Pannekoekschip, a floating pancake house.

Visit the region

Leeuwarden is the starting point for a spectacular international sporting event called the Elfstedentocht skating tour, also known as the Eleven Cities Tour. This gigantic speed skating race takes in 11 cities in the Friesland region, covering a 200km route.

The event can only be held in the coldest winters when the region’s waterways are frozen solid. The most recent edition took place in 1997 and attracted two million spectators. This out-of-the-ordinary event is a great opportunity to visit the region … if and when it takes place.

For a longer stay

Leeuwarden is the ideal starting point to explore the Wadden Sea and its islands, a Unesco World Heritage Site. There are no fewer than 50 islands in this archipelago, located in shallow waters known for their rich biological diversity. Five islands, where accommodation can easily be booked, are the best choices for visitors.

Note that tourists are not allowed to take cars onto Schiermonnikoog and Vlieland. Head to the island of Ameland for a seal-watching boat excursion. Activities on the Wadden Islands include surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing and waterskiing. – AFP Relaxnews