Today we visited Giethoorn – also referred to as “the Venice of the North” and “the Venice of the Netherlands”. This was my first time ever visiting and it was as some say at times out of postcard and picture-perfect. My photos do not do the beautiful thatched farms which line the water-ways justice. The houses were built on islands, as it stands now, and you can only reach them via small bridges.
First do not go to Giethoorn expecting a Venice vibe. The ambiance is totally different. They only call it the Venice of the North because of the lack of streets around the main canal. The waterways were dug to transport peat and cane to Zuiderzee trading towns like Blokzijl. The name “Giethoorn” means Goats Horns. The story goes that its original farmer-settlers discovered a collection of horns belonging to wild goats thought to have died in the Flood of 1170. “Goat horn,” or “Geytenhoren,” was shortened to Giethoorn, and the name stuck.
TRUE OR FALSE – ARE THERE REALLY NO CARS?
Well, actually it’s a mix. The small islands with high bridges only exist on one side of the long canal in the village. That is true – you can only get to those houses by boat. Most of the houses along the footpath can be reached by car and have garages at the back. But yes, off the islands, there are small paved roads not far from the houses, and commercial buildings have large parking lots for customers and guests. There are also some roads/paths between the houses, so the emergency services can reach accidents quite rapidly.
The old part of the village has no roads (except for bicycle lanes). All transportation is done by water over numerous canals, which make the village very special and spectacular. Moving, grocery delivery, etc would be tricky. I even saw one person using a wheelbarrow transporting groceries and items from their car in our parking lot a house. Giethoorn has over 180 bridges that connect the streets and houses. Many of them are private (clearly marked). Some you can stand on to take photos and others to cross over so you get a good mix. There are even police and fire truck boats.
GETTING TO GIETHOORN
While the very center of Giethoorn isn’t accessible by car (that’s why it’s so cute), there are parking spots (free & paid) just outside and you can easily reach the best parts of the village on foot. There is no train station in Giethoorn. If you are traveling from Amsterdam Central, you need to take a train to Zwolle, and then change to bus #70. Your final destination is Bushalte Dominee Hylkemaweg. Alternatively, you can travel by train to Steenwijk station and then take bus #70 to Dominee Hylkemaweg. It was approx a 2-hour drive for us from Den Bosch.
There is a large, parking lot in Giethoorn located at Beulakerweg 135, 8355 DD. The village center is only 7-10 minutes walk from the parking lot. Note: there is a small free lot, and there are some free on-street spots, but chances are those are all taken. There is a large parking lot at the end – it’s €4. to park all day. You’ll need coins to exit so be sure you plan ahead.
The best thing about going with your own car means you can easily detour to other places that are hard to reach by public transport. If you had the time and staying in the area, you might want to visit Blokzijl – a previously thriving trading city in the time of the golden age. Monumental merchant houses with stair neck and clock gables are interesting. And nearby Vollenhove – home of an amazing flower parade which is canceled this year. For us, we went up to Zwolle (which was 20 minutes by car).
8 SUGGESTED THINGS TO DO WHILE IN GIETHOORN
#1 – OF COURSE, EXPLORE THE CANALS BY BOAT
First, you have to decide whether you want to skipper your own boat or relax and let someone else take the wheel. From there you can either rent a small boat or you can take a guided boat tour which takes 1-2 hours depending on the one you choose. The , flat-bottomed electric whisper boat is the most common and slots are bookable with a minimum of 2-hour slots – but if you really want to enjoy yourself and have more time out on the lake, book for 3-4 hours (or even the whole day).
There are at least ten different boat-hire companies in the village – but book online and early to avoid disappointment. I highly recommend doing this as early or late in the day as possible because the traffic/congestion on the canals between 12-4 can be really bad as you can see in the photos below.
#2 – EXPLORE THE CANALS BY FOOT
#3 – RENT A BICYCLE
There are cycling routes around the village, which then intersect with a network across the national park. If you want to make a day of it, you can do the 41.5-kilometre Giethoorn de Wieden bike route which shows you the best of Giethoorn – its thatched farmhouses and bridges before heading out into that unspoiled wetland environment via the Beulakerwijde and Belterwijde lakes. The trail is marked with green and white signs “Knooppunten”. Note: the old village and walking paths are just that – walking. It is forbidden to ride your bike there and there are handhaving and traffic wardens wearing bright green to make sure no bikes and that people are doing their best at sticking to the 1.5 metre rules during COVID time.
VISIT DE WEERRIBBEN-WIEDEN NATIONAL PARK
One of the most beautiful nature reserves in the Netherlands, it comprises the largest peat bog of north-western Europe. With an extensive cycling network, you can really explore the surroundings.
#4 – TAKE A LOT OF PHOTOS
Especially of the beautiful thatched-roof farmhouses, canals, and bridges and all the animals – we saw ducks, swans, cows, and storks!
#5 – DINE OUT AND PEOPLE WATCH
The canals in Giethoorn are lined with restaurants which means if you want to sit down and people watch for a while, there are many brilliantly scenic spots to grab a drink. As whisper boats do not move very quickly and the canals of Giethoorn can be tricky to navigate. Boat traffic often comes to a standstill as some tourists do not have a handle on their boats – great for watching. We had the first-hand experience watching some guests crash their boats. It’s really hard to not laugh at them (or even as a guest on board the boat – a few times I was dying laughing so hard). Here is when Soren took the wheel we had some Tokyo drifts into grassy banks :). Turned out he was taking a video – but it does cut off before the incident but you still get the idea of what came next!
Seriously he was brilliant – even with the crashes into some trees. What do you expect for a 12-year-old behind the wheel of a boat? NOTE: I DID NOT DRIVE THE BOAT AT ALL – I’m certain he did a better job than I could have. We trusted him and he gained more and more confidence as the day went on. In fact, going forward, he’s our captain. I suggest he gets a job during Uni with his own boat – he’ll get lots of interested girls and lots of tips from American tourists 🙂 ha ha He’s not interested in this now at 12… we’ll come back and see in 7 years what’s the story!
#6 – PICNIC WITH AMAZING VIEWS
Of course, tourist destinations often means tourist prices, and here is no exception. If you want to have an affordable lunch (and soak in all the magical vibes of this little village), consider packing yourself a picnic and enjoying it on a bench (if you can find an open one) or put down a blanket and sit on a nice spot along the canal and watch the boats cruise by.
#7 – VISIT A MUSEUM
Museum Giethoorn ‘t Olde Maat Uus The museum is located in an original historical farmhouse in the center at Binnenpad 52.
Museumkaart holders – which we are and you know that by now. Otherwise, adults are €6.50, and kids under 12 are €2.
We visited this museum for about 45 minutes before we went to pick up our boat.Museum De Oude Aarde is a good place to visit if you are into shiny, pretty things. This museum features a large collection of gemstones, minerals, and fossils. Adults are €3.90 and kids are €2.90. They have some extra things set up for the kids called Lucky Luck arrangements at an extra cost between €7.95 to €14,95 and includes a scavenger hunt and cracking a crystal ball, etc. We didn’t visit but for those with an interest in this type of stuff, it could be fun.
Schelpengalerie Gloria Maris This museum features shells, corals, and a changing exhibition that takes inspiration from the sea. Located at Binnenpad 112 and entrance is free.
#8 – BOOK AN ARRANGEMENT LIKE BOATDROPPING.
You can book one of several arrangements at Giethoorn.nl. I found Boatdropping particularly cool and think it would be fun to do if we ever return to Giethoorn with a group. You wander through the canals and over the lakes looking for treasures that you can only locate with your GPS device. You depart in a blinded tour boat. where you are brought to the drop point where punts are waiting for you. There you will receive a GPS device by boat with which you can find various “treasure chests” in Giethoorn. However, it is the case that the “first come, first served”. It looks like a competitive activity.
OUR BOAT RENTAL EXPERIENCE
Funs booked our whisper boat rental online at Giethorn.com and the booking was made with Frank Raggers. Their location was not walking distance from the old part of the village, but it was no issues as we had a car. If we had come by public transport, that might have been a problem as we first wanted to walk around the village – but I guess you could just take the bus, as there was a stop out front.
We were greeted by Frank and his wife and were given directions and a map of the recommended routes we could take specifically in our 2-hour rental duration – which included some time in the quiet canals, across the beautiful lake and then even joined up with the yellow path which was the very busy one main one which can be very congested.
We did have one hiccup – our boat was not going fast as it could and had some issues so we called back to Frank. He immediately came to our aid – shut off the motor, reached under the water and pulled off a plastic bag which was wrapped around the motor. Then we were off to take in the sites.
90% of the driving was done by my 12-year-old son – who was a great captain. Of course, we did have some issues involving a tree and the reeds but truthfully he did a better job than I could have done. I have a photo of me “driving” but that is just for photo purposes – I didn’t do anything but sat back, took photos, and of course, barked orders for our first-time driver to be careful.
Here is a video of one of the REALLY low bridges.
We also had a boy who lived in one of the houses offered to give us a bommetje – (cannonball) which we couldn’t say no.
By the end of our two-hours, he was a master and parked it like a boss when it was return time. I wish I could have had the parking part on camera – it was really really great!
GIETHOORN AS A MONOPOLY DESTINATION
One fun fact that locals are very proud of, is that in 2015, Giethoorn beat out over 180 other contenders across the world to become a destination on the 80th-anniversary World Edition of Monopoly. Brown: Giethoorn, Netherlands; Madrid, Spain
£50 Old Kent Road/Whitechapel Road brown slots were opened up to a “Wildcard Week” where participants could vote for any town or city, big or small, that hadn’t made it onto the most popular list – like Amsterdam did. The inhabitants of Giethoorn took advantage of the limitless number of times they could vote: some 80% of internet users voted 10 to 50 times a day to put their village on the board :). But
Even though Giethoorn remains a location known around the world, the village really only became famous after the Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra completed his famous comedy “Fanfare” here.
FESTIVALS OF GIETHOORN
Prior to the COVID times, Giethoorn is also known for its music festivals. In July and August, there are Rock Around Giethoorn and Blues festivals and in November a Jazz festival. There used to be a Jazz-festival as well. But again with COVID, all have been canceled until next year.
Apart from music festivals, Giethoorn has more special events. Such as the yearly Gondelvaart Dwarsgracht and Gondelvaart This would be very cool to see these events but again, I’m 99.9% sure both are canceled until next year. Here are some photos I found online at the tourist site #thisisholland
WHY IS GIETHOORN SO POPULAR AMONGST CHINESE TOURISTS?
Giethoorn is insanely popular among Chinese tourists. The origins of this national obsession are said to because of a popular documentary called Ni Hao Holland (Hello Holland) where the presenter “Cherry” lives in Peking, but dreams of swapping the hectic city life for, yep you guessed it, Giethoorn. 🙂 Whenever I say to a Dutch friend that I want to visit the Keukenhof or Giethoorn, the most common response includes something along the lines of “Oh I’ve never been there before, but that is the place with all the Chinese people” because that is the reputation it has developed over the years.
Because Chinese tourists make up a large majority of the visitors to Giethoorn, the town has adapted accordingly, with tons of Chinese signs, menus accomodating the tour groups. But with COVID, things were a bit different this year being that nearly all the tourists and boaters were those enjoying staycations and as it was still during school vacations. it was busy.
Giethoorn is certainly a unique place to visit and is perfect for one day. Now that I’ve been here in the summer, I don’t need to rush back again any time soon but it could be fun to ice skate on the frozen canals — very picturesque.
Have you been to Giethoorn? Did I miss anything or have a tip for a future trip back, send me a private message or of course, comment below.