Located in the Netherlands’ province of Overijssel, Giethoorn is a primarily car-free village best known for its boat waterways, which have earned it the nickname the “Venice of the North.” Giethoorn was first settled around 1230 by refugees from areas around the Mediterranean, known as Flagelanten.
The refugees named their settlement Geytenhoren for the large number of wild goat horns they uncovered within the region, connected to a major flood that killed high numbers of wildlife. The region’s name later evolved into Geythorn and eventually to its present-day Giethoorn. The city is located along the Overijssel canal system and uses boat travel as its primary means of transportation, with most houses inaccessible by road and mail service delivered via flatbottom punter boat. Until the 20th century, the region’s economy was primarily centered around the peat extraction industry, which led to the construction of many houses on small islands within the city. By the beginning of the 20th century, the city had earned a reputation as an unusual European destination known for its natural beauty and unique transportation system, leading to the rise of tourism in the region. In 1958, the Dutch feature film Fanfare, produced by filmmaker Bert Haanstra, was shot within the city. The city was an independent municipality until 1973, when it merged with nearby Brederwiede, which also merged with nearby Steenwijk in 2001.
Today, Giethoorn is located within the northeastern Dutch province of Overijssel and is best known for its mostly car-free travel and many boat waterways, which have earned it the nickname the “Venice of the North.” The village features more than 180 pedestrian bridges over its waterways and offers no automobile streets, with all transportation accomplished via walking, biking, or canal boat. More than 800,000 tourists visit the city annually, a number that has risen due to its 2015 inclusion in the 80th anniversary World edition of Monopoly and its appearance in the Chinese documentary Ni Hao Holland. Due to the high number of Chinese tourists to the region following the film, many civic services and businesses within the town offer bilingual signage and service.
The city is located next to Weerribben-Wieden National Park, which spans 100 square kilometers within the Steenwijkerland municipality and preserves the largest peat bog in Europe. Next door to the park, the Het Olde Maat Uus Museum recreates a typical turn-of-the-century farmhouse and features exhibits related to the area’s civic and economic history. The Museum de Oude Aarde showcases a large natural history collection of minerals, fossils, and gemstones, while the Histomobil Museum displays a sizeable collection of historic cars, carriages, and motorcycles.
More than 90 kilometers of canoe trails are offered throughout the city’s waterways, which may be explored via boat rental or guided boat tours. Motorboats, canoes, and whisper boats with electric motors are available for daily rental from several of the city’s shops. Visitors should be advised that boat rentals sell out quickly during the high tourism season, so early morning rental is advised to ensure boat availability. Inflatable balls may also be rented, allowing visitors to skim the water’s surface from inside the structure. Guided boat tours are available from a number of tour services, offering one and two hour excursions aboard punter boats highlighting the city’s 18th and 19th-century architecture. Footpaths run next to most canals for exploration of the city on foot, and bike rental is available for further exploration of the Dutch countryside.
A wide variety of cafes and restaurants are offered within the city center, with many offering outdoor terrace seating overlooking the city’s waterways. Popular restaurants within the region include the Michelin two-star De Lindenhof, Hollands Venetië, and ’t Achterhuus. Overnight accommodations are available nearby at the De Jonge hotel, which offers full-day activity packages for activities such as boat rental and guided tours. The family-operated historic hotel also offers a restaurant serving lunch, dinner, and high afternoon tea. Other hotels in the area include the Hotel Brasserie de Pergola, the Hotel d'Olde Smidse, and the Lodge De Lindenhof.
Ongoing Programs and Events
Annual festivals held within Giethoorn include the Rock Around Festival Giethoorn, which is held the second weekend in July and features rock and roll musical performances. The two-day Folk and Seasongs Festival highlights more than 30 international folk music performers and offers a gala open stage event. The Giethoorn Festival in late June also offers a variety of musical performances.