Groningen mashes up small-town charm with smart urban planning and post-modern architecture.

They say there are more bikes than people in the city of Groningen. Spend just a few minutes on the cyclist-friendly streets that line sailboat-filled canals and you won’t find that too hard to believe: since the centre of the city was shut down to cars in the ’70s by a 20-something politician with big ideas, cycling has been the preferred mode of transportation for everyone. Students pedal through the Grote Markt square from one pub to another and mothers zip through back alleys, their bikes strapped with crates of toddlers; at the train station, parking garages are a veritable tangle of spokes. So when you’re ready to make your way through this charming university town, you’re best off doing it on two wheels—it’s the ideal way to explore an impressive array of design that ranges from ancient to postmodern to all-natural.

5 Things to Do in Groningen

Groninger MuseumGo po-mo

The architecture of the Groninger Museum is worth the trip alone: designed by Italian architect Alessandro Mendini, the postmodern design is a riot of colour, pattern and shape. Inside, the exhibits live up to the building’s impressive exterior—this fall, check out satirical sculpture by Dutch artist Joost van den Toorn and a collection of brash German neoexpressionist paintings, which cohabit with permanent exhibits. (The museum’s ceramics collection is one of the most admired in the country.)

800px-Wall_House2Fall in love with a building

Wall House #2 is your second architectural stop: the Le Corbusier-inspired tower was built almost 30 years after American architect John Hejduk’s original design was completed (and in a strikingly different context—it was supposed to be constructed in Connecticut). Now the surreal building is open to the public to explore during regular art exhibitions, and, it’s home for a residency program of visiting architects and artists.

nationaal-park-strand.df214c6bSoak up the sights seaside

Hop a boat to Schiermonnikoog, a tight-knit island community just outside the city. Think white sandy beaches and seaside hotel dining rooms with plenty of vintage charm. Or, if the tide is out, you can even walk there across the largest unbroken system of mud flats in the world: the Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

`MartiniTower.Bikes_credit IlsenoEnjoy the view from the top

The winding, narrow stairs that lead to the top of Martini Tower may not be ideal for the claustrophobic among us, but the view from the bell tower is worth the small panic attack. Pack a little flask of genever, or Dutch gin, to enjoy alongside the twinkling lights of the sleepy city below.

PrinsenhofHotelFall asleep in church

The Hotel Prinsenhof may have been a church back in the 15th century, but there’s no penance here, with gorgeous high-ceilinged rooms complete with loft-level soaker tubs and down duvets. And the Grand Café makes a mean prawn croquette to get you powered up for your day.