Need a city break?
A break from the hustle, bustle and noise of a city? Then head over to Giethoorn, Holland, the picturesque village free from car traffic. Giethoorn is known for its many canals and in the spring and summer, for its colorful flowers. Even in the dead of winter, though, Giethorn will win you over with its charms, namely, its peaceful nature, the charming cottages, the many beautiful boats and the numerous wooden bridges.
This car free village can be seen one of three ways; by boat, foot or bike. Named the Venice of Holland, Giethoorn is a labyrinth of canals. In fact, the village is so dependent on its waterways, that many of the houses cannot be reached by road and the postal service delivers the mail by boat. How cute is that?
Early History of Giethoorn
Located in the municipality of Steenwijkerland, Giethoorn was settled in the 1200’s when refugees (some say fugitives) from Perugia, Italy founded the village looking for a new place to farm. The land was not conducive to farming however, as it was swampy and damp. While attempting to farm their fields, the settlers unearthed large quantities of goat horns. Yes, goat horns. These horns were assumed to be the archeological remains of wild goats that drowned in the All Saint’s Flood of 1170. The villagers then began calling the village “Geytenhoren” which eventually became Dutchified in its present form of Giethoorn.
The marshland, while not ideal for farming, was a great source of peat moss which was burned as both a heating source for homes as well as for fires to cook over. It was also used as roofing material to insulate houses. The early villagers began peat mining with gusto and discovered the best way to move the harvested peat around was on the water. Canals were dug for transportation and the town became dedicated to water transportation.
Today the charming brick cottages are still adorned with peat moss thatched roofs and shiny black, forest green or red shutters. The thatched roofs add to the overall charm of the village, evoke days gone by and keep the tourists coming back, however, while originally the thatched roofs were the result of cheap and plentiful peat moss, today, maintaining the thatched roofs is no longer an inexpensive alternative. The roofs cost 150 euros a square meter and need consistent attention due to weather.
Home to less than 3000 people, Giethoorn is a quiet community with four miles of canals. Many of the residents live on private islands with their main means of transportation are with a canoe, kayak, punts or whisper boats (so named for their silent motor that does not disrupt the tranquility). Homeowners with cars park outside the village in a specially designated lot and then use punt boats to get around. One can also traverse the town on a bike or by foot.
The tranquility, coupled with the beautiful homes, the bridges and in the spring and summer, the flowers, make any journey through the Dutch Venice, unforgettable. One feels peaceful and calm while visiting this unique village. At times, the only noise you may hear are the calls of the local birds. Even the boats have been designed to make as little noise as possible. A visit to Giethoorn is about as close to a natural church setting as one can get.
Getting There and Getting Around
Giethoorn is 55 miles northeast of Amsterdam. You can reach this amazing village via car or train from the city of Amsterdam. If you drive you will be required to park your vehicle near the village centre then walk to the port area where you can rent a whisper boat, a kayak, a punt or take a guided canal tour. The village is small and there are plenty of signs pointing you in the right direction.
It was cold when we visited so we opted to take a covered, guided canal tour that comes with a hot cup of coffee, tea or coco. Not only were we warm, but we learned the history of the town. I highly recommend the guided canal tour.
If you decide to walk or bike, note that there are approximately 180 wooden bridges connecting the town. For some home owners, the bridges are the only way for them to connect to the rest of the town.
If we had visited in the summer, I think I would have enjoyed exploration by bicycle. Giethoorn, true to its Dutch heritage, has extensive bike paths throughout the town. After cycling around the canals, one can also cycle around Lake Bovenwiljde and experience the Dutch countryside, complete with farm animals, wildflowers and windmills. There are a number of affordable bike rental places. As we did not rent bikes, I cannot recommend a specific company, however, we were told good things about these guys.
If you explore Giethoorn by bike or foot you will also discover the many cafes, art galleries and churches tucked into little corners that are not as accessible by boat. From our boat we saw many that I vowed to visit again in warmer months.
There are 2 museums worth nothing as well. The Het Olde Maat Uus Museum takes visitors back to the time when the village was founded and one can experience typical Dutch farm life from years gone by – complete with cooking outside of the house in a special cooking hut. The thatched roofs made cooing indoors too dangerous, so the cooks were relegated to a separate cooking house. Many cooking huts are still on the properties and are visible when touring around.
And, if geology is your thing, you can visit De Oude Arde which touts a large display of rocks.
I, for one, plan on returning to Giethoorn when the weather is better. I want to ride a bike around the village, past the adorable thatched roofed cottages, over the wooden bridges past glorious, colorful flowers, past the lake and out to the Dutch countryside where I will throw down a blanket and lay out a picnic.
I hope you are able to experience the charm of this quaint Dutch village one day too.