Alternative Holiday Destination with Kids: Groningen, The Netherlands

This post has been published by our writer Gaia who has lots of useful insider knowledge of the Netherlands (and whose mum lives there). 

Alternative Holiday Destination with Kids:  Groningen, The Netherlands

There’s a city in the North of the Netherlands that you’ve probably never heard of.

Like other Dutch cities it is full of culture, canals and great restaurants but it's also close to the sea so you can enjoy day trips to a car-free island, a train themed adventure park and Europe's biggest seal sanctuary. It's ideal if you want to see the real Netherlands and not the touristy version. 

Welcome to Holland’s best kept secret: Groningen!

  • 2.5 hours from Amsterdam airport by train
  • Beautiful buildings and canals - why not take the canal tour
  • Great restaurants and cafes - kids will love the Pancake Ship
  • Close to Seal Sanctuary and train-themed adventure park 
  • 1.5 hours to Dutch island Schiermonnikoog - hire bikes and ride around it for a day!
  • Historic buildings, museums and roof terraces to view the city from

Getting There

KLM operates 3 flights a day to Amsterdam Schiphol airport from Newcastle International. Flights normally cost us about £500-600 for a family of 4, booking a couple months in advance. You can also take a ferry from North Shields which is ideal if you'd like to bring the car.

Groningen is a 2.5 hour train journey from Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Transport is brilliant in the Netherlands, very reliable, clean and inexpensive.

The train station is underneath the airport and it takes you directly to Groningen central station. You don't need to buy train tickets in advance, the kiosk and ticket machines charge the same price on the day.


There are plenty of options when it comes to accommodation in Groningen. Here are Tripadvisor’s top picks or check out Airbnb if you’d rather stay in an apartment.

We normally stay with family but will be spending 4 nights at Hof van Saksen ( soon, which is a Center Parcs type resort 30 minutes outside Groningen.

My sister and family have stayed there before and rate it very highly so I can’t wait to check it out! I’ll be sharing our thoughts about it later this year.

Food & Drink

There are lots of great places to eat and drink in Groningen.

 The first thing I do when I arrive is to eat a ‘kroket’ (like a potato croquette but filled with pulled pork in a creamy sauce) and ‘patat met’ (chips served with loads of dutch mayo) which you can get in most cafes and fast food places like ‘Febo’ – keep an eye out for massive vending machines selling them, perfect for a quick bite!

You also need to try 'kibbeling' - cod bites with really tasty seasoning which you can get from any fish and chip shop. 

Kids will love the Pancake ship - a floating restaurant in an old pirate ship (

 The Dutch love their pancakes - they're like crepes but thicker here and you'll find a huge selection of things that can be baked into them - bacon, apple and cheese is my favourite! For the kids there are pancakes topped with sweets, a playroom with a pretend steering wheel and balloons to take home. 

A couple of restaurants that I love in Groningen are Konbu streetfood ( for great Southeast Asian street food (great dumplings, ramen and KFC – Korean Fried Chicken) and Four Roses ( – a lovely Mexican restaurant with great atmosphere and tasty food.

For brunch you cant go wrong with CafĂ© Pigalle ( – they’ve been knocking out the best croissants in town since at least the 80’s!

When the weather’s good everywhere offers outdoor seating and the Dutch love to sit and catch up over a ‘borrel’ and ‘borrelhapjes.’ This is a pre-dinner drink (usually a beer or wine) and snacks like cheese, sausages and ‘bitterballen’ (like krokets but round!)

Things to do in Groningen

Canal Tour

It wouldn’t be a trip to a Dutch city without a canal tour! Departing opposite Central Station, this is a great way to see the city and find out about its history.

We did this with the kids last year and they loved it, especially when the bridges had to open and close to let us through. There are refreshments available on the boat so you can have a nice cup of coffee and ‘gevulde koek’ (almond filled cookie) while you sail through this pretty city. Adults €15, under 12's €9. 

Grote Markt & Vismarkt

The main squares in Groningen have markets almost every day which are great to browse for bargains or food. The Grote Markt is the big square which is surrounded by cafes and bars and also has an ice-rink in the winter and the Vismarkt is next to it.

You’ll find tasty treats like massive freshly made stroopwafels, poffertjes (tiny pancakes covered in melted butter and powdered sugar) and ‘oliebollen’ in the winter (dough balls - like donuts but better, freshly made and also covered in powdered sugar! Make sure you try all of them, they’re delicious! 

Forum Groningen:

Forum Groningen is a modern building just off the Grote Markt which contains changing art shows, a library (including kids library with a fun climbing net), a cinema, restaurant and a roof terrace which is really worth a visit – you can see the whole city from it.

Everything is free to visit except for the cinema and restaurant.


You can climb the 300 steps of the biggest clock tower in Groningen which is on the Grote Markt (main square) and there are activities for kids to do and you can admire the city from above while learning about its history. Adults €6, children €4.

Groninger Museum:

This museum is opposite the Central station, in the middle of the canal! There is a charge to visit, but the quality of art is always high and the kids will have fun exploring this wacky building adults €15, under 18’s FREE.

Days out near Groningen


This train-themed adventure park is always a big hit with our kids. Nienoord is 25 minutes drive from Groningen (40 mins by bus, leaves every half hour).

There is so much to do for under 10’s – helicopter, tractor, pony and train rides around the park, soft play and puppet shows and its never busy – we go every summer in the holidays and never have to queue. It’s €8.98 per person (over 2) and is a great value day out.

There's also a swimming pool next door and you can get a combi ticket to enjoy both, we've not yet done that as we always spend the full day in the adventure park!


Schiermonikoog is the smallest of the Dutch North Sea islands and is a really great day out (or you can stay longer in one of the island’s hotels). It’s a 45 minute bus ride from Groningen to Lauwersoog harbour where the ferry leaves from, and the ferry takes 45 minutes.

It’s a car free island, so as soon as you get off the ferry you hop on a bike (book online in advance - and explore this pretty island.

You can get all sorts of bikes to suit families –from bike seats to trailers to tandem bikes! You can even take babies in their car seat in the front trailer.

The island has beautiful white beaches and cafes, a little village and a lake which you can swim or paddle board in and then get chips and ice cream (or wine and nibbles!) from the restaurant next to it afterwards.

Seal Sanctuary

The largest specialised seal hospital in Europe is a 40 minute journey on public transport from Groningen. They rescue seals from the North Sea and bring them here for treatment and recuperation.

There are plenty of seals to look at from babies to grown ups, interactive exhibitions and a natural playground outside which replicates the local wildlife 'waddengebied.' Top tip - the cafe across the road does great food and has a free bouncy pillow for kids to play on. 



I hope you’ve been convinced to check out Groningen when you’re planning your next family holiday. It’s a city full of character and there is so much to do for all the family, and it's not touristy like Amsterdam.

 These are some of the things we like to do but there are plenty more - let me know if you’re planning a visit and if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to help!

Gaia is @toonlunchclub on Insta. 


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