Budget Travel: Groningen, The Netherlands


Getting to Groningen


After five days in Hamburg, Germany, I booked myself a bus trip to Groningen, The Netherlands.

After researching various transit options, I settled on a bus service called Eurolines, it was significantly cheaper than anything else.

For 33 Euros (about $50), I could get from the bus station in Hamburg to Central Station in Groningen in 5 hours – no transfers necessary.

The reviews I read on Eurolines were varied, but my trip was on time and uneventful, just what I had hoped for.


The City of Groningen


You’ve probably never heard of Groningen, I know I hadn’t, but that’s where the boyfriend was headed which meant that’s where I was headed, and I’m so thrilled I had an excuse for the introduction to this lovely city.

Groningen is the largest city in the north of The Netherlands, a university town, and a model for bike culture.

Bikes are so prevalent that the local IKEA rents out trailers that attach to your bike when you purchase furniture.  I’m talking moving your couch with your bike. Amazing, no?


Groningen, The Netherlands


Groningen Day 1: Lay of the Land


While bikes are a local staple, the center city is so intimate that you can easily get around by foot.

Saturday morning I ventured out to get a lay of the land and came upon a bustling town square, Grote Markt, full of food stalls, a flower market, and a full farmers market extending almost the entire length of the city center.

I lost myself in the throngs of students, locals, and tourists alike wandering through the charming stone streets and canals.

I easily spent three or four hours happily going up and down every major thoroughfare in Groningen – including two separate instances where I found myself alone on what turned out to be mini-red light districts.

Despite my sometimes misguided twists and turns, it was the perfect way to spend a day.


Groningen, The Netherlands


Day 2: “Coffee Shops”


I started day two with a run at Noorderplantsoen, a park just outside of city center.

Running remains one of my favorite ways to explore and be a part of the local culture. Two laps around the park followed by a lap around the entire center made for a perfect 5 miler.

I then joined the boyfriend for my first venture into “coffeeshop culture”.

I’m not much of a recreational drug user beyond red wine, but I’ve always been a believer in legal marijuana use.

A place like Groningen, that isn’t overwhelmed with obnoxious groups of tourists pushing to get their hands on weed, was a lovely introduction to that world.

We noted all the spots in town on a map and went out to see what it was all about.

This is what I learned by popping into the four or five shops we spotted around town…

–       Some places are sketchier than others. One café, Metamorphose, had a true coffee shop vibe.

It was set up like a full service café, they just happened to serve marijuana – very cute.

Others were just a sterile room with a window where you place an order with a person behind some plexiglass – not so cute.

–       You can order up to five grams per person per visit.  Like I said, I’m not exactly familiar with the weed world, so quantities and lingo don’t mean much to me.

–       Spacecakes, pastries with THC baked into them, are potent.  I don’t like to smoke so I went with a little spacecake sample.

About two hours later, I was stuffing my face at a local restaurant; I then slept for the next 14 hours.  When in Rome 😉


Groningen City Center


Day 3:  Recovery


After “spacecake day” and reaching the midpoint of my Eurotrip (plus some cold and rainy weather), I enjoyed a “day in” with the boyfriend.

I know most people don’t typically have the luxury of downtime during their travels, but taking the day to do nothing and just recharge is kind of awesome.

This is was a vacation after all, plus it was the boyfriends’ first full day off without travel in months.

We ate and watched “An Idiot Abroad” most of the day before heading back into town that evening for dinner and drinks.

Groningen has quite the nightlife.  So many of the places that were dark and ominous during the day were bursting with people and music after midnight.

We made it home at a tame 2 am, but not before stopping for some classic “drinking food”.  Lahmacun.  A Turkish pizza, which is essentially a personal pizza full of fixins like lamb (or falafel in my case), topped in a delectable spicy sauce.


Day 4:  Food and Music


As a vegetarian, it’s not always easy to experience local cuisine, but the Dutch have all kinds of scrumptious treats that I was able to enjoy.

From the stroopwafels freshly made at the farmers market to the incredible pancakes we gorged ourselves on at the pancake ship!

The pancake ship, or Pannekoekschip, is an old war boat that was converted into a restaurant and now sits on one of the canals surrounding the city center of Groningen.

The selection of stuffed pancakes from sweet to savory is overwhelming in the best way, as is enjoying their deliciousness.


Dutch Pancakes, Pannekoekschip


After stuffing ourselves, I insisted we walk around town to burn off SOME of the calories (they’d been accumulating quite a bit on this trip).

We stumbled upon the lovely Prisenhof garden, walked along the canals checking out the houseboats, and enjoyed the novelty shops that carried everything from smoking accessories to traditional Dutch clogs.

We also managed to find ourselves a gelato shop, which didn’t do much for my calorie burn, but was quite enjoyable.

That evening, the musicians in the boyfriends’ company (Riverdance), met up with some locals who also played Irish music at a local Irish pub and had a full on jam session.  It was incredible.

At least 8 musicians, most of them strangers from different backgrounds, sitting in a circle playing folk music together, it was a special night and the perfect way to finish out my trip to Groningen.


Prisenhof, Groningen


Next stop… Amsterdam.

Have you ever been to or heard of Groningen?

39 responses to “Budget Travel: Groningen, The Netherlands

  1. Wow – sounds super fun, Stefanie!!! Your experience with the spacecake sounds so much like my days as a teen: stuffing my face and sleeping for 14 hours. Yep, those are the exciting and somewhat groggy effects of marijuana 🙂 Thanks for shedding some light on Groningen – I’d never heard of it before!

  2. Your last part of day 2 had me laughing out loud! A pancake ship sounds amazing. I love your detailed descriptions, it feels like we’re traveling along with you. Now I’m getting a major case of wanderlust!

      1. I’m with EM! You’ve got great descriptions. It sounds like such a lovely town. And from what I understand, when you bake with THC it’s a lot more potent than just smoking it in any case…I can only imagine in the Netherlands!

  3. I have never heard of Groningen; however, we did have neighbors who were from Amsterdam and insisted that there were so many wonderful towns like this that people should visit other than just Amsterdam. Love hearing about all of your travels!

  4. Love the spacecake story! 🙂 I have never heard of Groningen but it sounds like a beautiful city and the pictures are gorgeous. I didn’t realize you were a vegetarian. I still eat fish but I lean pretty hard on the veggies and it can be tough when you travel to find food that you can eat.

    1. They are pretty good in The Netherlands about delineating the veggie options on the menu. But I still had one mishap where I ordered a veggie dish and there was beef in it :/

  5. “Have you ever been to or heard of Groningen?” – No and No…but I now feel like I know way more about that cute little town than I did a few minutes ago…space-cakes and all 🙂

    Sounds like you’re having an awesome time Stefanie and thanks for keeping us in the loop!! The jam session must have been awesome!!

    Take care and all the best.


    1. The jam session was one of the highlights of my whole trip. Truly magical. Music and community are both so powerful- which I’m sure you already know 🙂

  6. Hahaha! That is hilarious about the weed cakes! Honestly, it sounds like fun to me, even thought I’m not really a recreational drug user, either. Your trip sounds like it was fantastic!

  7. Wow you’re lucky the weather looks so awesome. I tried space cakes once and just did the 18 hour sleep without feeling high or anything, just very tired. Should have a piece on the night stand for a sleepless night!

  8. This portion of your trip sounds absolutely lovely! I’ve never been to the Netherlands, but I’m looking forward to making it there at some point. I’m not much of a smoker, but edibles are a different story! 🙂

  9. That town looks so charming! You are really giving me the travel bug. Why can’t cities in the US be as cute?! I hope you enjoy Amsterdam!

  10. Lol, love the baked pot goodies! I had never heard of Groningen and have not been to the Netherlands but I do want to make it there some day. The next time we make it over to Germany it’s definitely going to be on the itinerary.

  11. I never heard of that city. Yeah the consensus is right, funny story about the cake. Never tried that stuff, but now I know what to expect if I go to Amsterdam. LOL. Stay away from Sketchy. HA

  12. I loved reading through your trip recap. Sounds like a fun time, especially the spacecakes and relaxation days! If a vacation isn’t for that, what is it for? Enjoy your time!

  13. Never been to or heard of Groningen, but it sounds like you had a really fun time. Reading travel posts totally makes me want to plan a trip. I sometimes struggle with finding veggie options especially when I’m in unfamiliar surroundings (even domestically sometimes). I do eat some chicken, but no beef or pork.

  14. Thanks for this brilliant piece, I’m planning on doing a semester abroad in Groningen and this has been really informative!

  15. Just read both this post, and the following one on Amsterdam. Sounds like you had a great time! I’m from Oregon looking to get my bachelors degree in Europe, and I’m heavily considering both University of Amsterdam, and University of Groningen. Groningen has a program more fitted to my needs, but I’m worried I won’t get the same immersive, exciting, “student life” atmosphere as I would in Amsterdam. Having briefly experience both cities, what are your thoughts on this?

    1. I think Groningen would actually be fantastic. I really enjoyed the smaller feel of it and it’s such a fantastic city to explore- and SO close to Amsterdam. Either way, they’re both fantastic, and I’m sure you’d be happy in either 🙂

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