Located within the Netherlands province of the same name, Groningen is the largest city in the northern Netherlands and is home to the University of Groningen and a number of historic and cultural attractions.
Though the earliest written documentation of the city of Groningen dates back to 1040, the area’s use as a village is believed to date back as far as 3950 B.C. according to archaeological findings in the region. Major city settlement dates back to the 3rd century A.D., and by the 13th century, the city had become such a major economic center in northern Europe that fortifications were constructed to secure its perimeter. The city became incorporated as part of the Netherlands in 1536 when it fell under the rule of Habsburg ruler Emperor Charles V, and in 1594, the city became part of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces. In 1614, the University of Groningen was founded as a religious organization, which led to the city’s rapid expansion. In 1672, the city was protected by its fortifications from invasion during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, an event that is commemorated annually on August 28. During World War II, the city’s Grote Markt was largely destroyed by enemy fire.
Today, Groningen is the largest municipality and city center of the eponymous Netherlands province and is the largest city in the northern Netherlands. As of a 2007 European Commission survey of 75 large and moderately-sized cities, the citizens of Groningen were determined to be Europe’s most contented citizens, and in 2009, the city was certified as a fair-trade town. It is home to a population of approximately 200,000 people, including a student population of 50,000 at its universities, which makes the city the youngest city demographically within the Netherlands.
The city is known as a university town for its Hanze University of Applied Sciences and its University of Groningen, the latter of which is the second-oldest extant Dutch university and is known as the alma mater of Nobel Prize winners Ben Feringa and Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, European Central Bank president Wim Duisenberg, and Dutch national astronaut Wubbo Ockels. A Universiteits Museum is offered at the university, showcasing a variety of historical, technological, and cultural exhibits. Many other cultural museums are offered, including the Groningen Museum, which was designed by architect Allessandro Mendini and showcases one of the best modern art collections in the world, and the Het Noordelijk Scheepvaart Museum, which displays the history of the Netherlands’ water transport and canal system.
The city is home to two large central public market squares, the Grote Markt and the Vismarkt. Within Grote Markt, the historic Martinitoren clock tower is highlighted, along with the Martinikerk Gothic church. The Groningen Public Library, designed in 1992 by architect Georgio Grassi, was constructed adjacent to the historic Calmershuis, the city’s oldest house, dating back to 1250. A Hanseatic House still conducts business according to Hanseatic tradition, importing products such as coffee and tea from Hamburg, jam from Copenhagen, and marzipan from Rotspon and Lübeck. A walking tour of sites from the city’s Hanseatic period is available through Grote Markt’s Tourist Information Office.
A wide variety of name-brand and boutique stores are available within the city’s Herestraat shopping district and on streets near its two marketplaces, including the Folkingestraat, which features a variety of artisan and secondhand shops. Several popular theaters and concert venues are offered, including the Stadsschouwburg city theater, Martini Plaza, and the Oosterpoort. Many of the city’s cafes also feature live music, including Jazzcafe De Spieghel and Peter Pan, which frequently showcase performances by Prince Claus Conservatoire music students. Other popular local restaurants include Etcafe’t Koetshuys and De Zevende. As a university town, the city offers a wide variety of nightlife opportunities, including many cafes that stay open late at night for bar service.
Ongoing Programs and Events
Groningen has earned a reputation as a major cultural center in northern Europe for its Treaty of Groningen program, a collaboration between the University of Groningen and its medical center, the Hanzehogeschool Groningen, and the city government to develop the city as the northern Netherlands’ top knowledge and innovation city. A wide variety of cultural programming is sponsored throughout the year, including the Noorderlicht Festival, one of the top five photography festivals in the world. Since 2016, the city has been the host of the International Cycling Film Festival, which is held at the arthouse cinema Oude Rooms Katholieke Ziekenhuis. The University of Groningen’s annual student orientation week is Europe’s largest student-focused event, offering a variety of job and club fair activities for students to become involved in sporting, political, and cultural institutions in the city. An annual Good Friday Flower Market is held on the Friday before Easter each year and is the largest market of its kind within the northern Netherlands region. Other annual special events include Eurosonic Noorderslag, an annual music festival presenting more than 100 European bands.