Surely you’ve heard of Venice in Italy: a city built on small islands that has canals instead of roads and gondolas instead of cars. The gondolas are especially stereotypical in romantic movies, driven by a gondolier singing a – presumably – love song. But have you ever wondered what Venice would be like if it were a small village in the countryside, rather than a city with over a quarter million inhabitants? You probably haven’t. However it does exist – believe me or not – right here in the Netherlands, and it’s called Giethoorn.
The comparison of Giethoorn to Venice is not as farfetched as you might think: Giethoorn is actually commonly known as one of the Venices of the North (there’s a few, apparently – try Wikipedia) but similar names like Venice of the Netherlands and Green Venice apply only to Giethoorn.
So what does Giethoorn have in common with Venice? For instance, cars are for a large part not allowed in Giethoorn and, although cycling is also an option, a lot of transportation is actually done by boat. Originally the boats used most were punts, which are driven in the same way as Venetian gondolas are. Nowadays electric- and motor boats are used as well. On top of that, a lot of the houses of the locals are all situated on their own individual islands, accessible only by boat or a narrow wooden walking bridge, of which there are about 200 in the village.
How much more like Venice can it be? Like Venice, Giethoorn, with its small population of roughly 2500, is a huge tourist attraction: it has 800,000 tourists visiting each year. And after reading this article, you may be one of them!
Then what does Giethoorn have to offer? First and most important of all: boat trips. There’s dozens of boat rental companies in Giethoorn. You can choose to either rent a fluisterboot (electric boat) to drive yourself (most boats for rent can seat up to 6 or 8 people) or you can opt to be shown around during one of the many cruises offered. But while Giethoorn’s history is interesting enough for a whole afternoon, there’s also an entire national park that borders the village: Nationaal Park De Weerribben-Wieden. Renting a boat in Giethoorn also gives you access to every corner of it!
The park, covering an area of 100 square kilometres, or 39 square miles, is the largest bog (peat-rich mire) of Northern Europe. Most of the lakes and other waterways in the national park came to be because of peat harvesting. Because of its lakes, the lakes of the park are used for many water sports, besides the rental boat trips. The landscape is unique, as well as the flora and fauna. There’s a good chance that from your fluisterboot you will spot some of the rarer Dutch avian wildlife in the park. With some luck you may even spot (one of) the only two snakes indigenous to the Netherlands: the European adder and the grass snake. Or if very lucky you may catch a glimpse of the holy grail: the otter.
To conclude, for those not too keen on seafaring, Giethoorn is also a great stop on a bike trip; you will still be able to see most of the village this way. The village also has three museums: museum farm ‘t Olde Maat Uus (the house of old man Maat), about the history of Giethoorn; car museum Histomobil, about cars and some other means of transportation, like ice skating. And lastly there’s museum De Oude Aarde (the ancient earth), where you can admire – as well as purchase – gems, crystals and mineral rocks of all kinds.
No matter what catches your fancy in Giethoorn though, an important factor of the enjoyment of your day out there will inevitably be the weather. So be sure to check the weather forecast in advance!
And lastly some practical information and tips:
– The centres for water sports around the lakes are either Ronduite or Blauwe Hand.
– The costs for renting a fluisterboot are, depending on the size, about €70-€100 a day; but renting by the hour is also possible.
– Bring your own food and drinks if you intend on spending the day in a boat! It’s a lot cheaper and it enables you to enjoy lunch in the middle of nature.
– Be sure to pack sunblock and perhaps an umbrella and/or coat!