Everyone has heard of Amsterdam and The Hague, but have you considered visiting the Dutch village of Giethoorn? The Netherlands may be a small country but it has so much to offer outside of its main tourist destination, and this picturesque village should be at the top of your list.
If you haven’t heard of Giethoorn, that’s because it is a small village in the countryside about an hour from the border with Germany and 90 minutes to Amsterdam.
This picture-perfect town is known as Dutch Venice, as it is almost completely street and car-free and is instead made up of canals.
While many tourists skip this wonderful part of the Netherlands, it is absolutely worth visiting Giethoorn and the surrounding area. You’ll be rewarded with beautiful pictures, fewer crowds, and scenes that look like they are from a fairytale book.
We’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in this charming village, as well as where to stay and how to get around.
Read on to see why my recent trip to Giethoorn made me consider it to be one of the most beautiful places in the Netherlands.
- Most significant landmark – The many thatched farmhouses
- Best park – Weerribben Wieden National Park
- Best free thing to do – Explore the Giethoorn Walking Route
- Best thing to do with kids – Canal cruise
- Best activity for adults – Electric motorboat rental
- Best restaurant – Café Restaurant De Rietstulp
- Best all-round accommodation – Hotel de Harmonie
Why You Should Visit Giethoorn Village
So, what is so interesting about a small village in the Dutch countryside?
The main thing that draws tourists to Giethoorn is simply that it is a stunningly beautiful village. Little houses with thatched roofs sitting on peaceful canals crisscrossed by wooden footbridges are a photographer’s dream.
Other visitors come for the preserved nature and diverse wildlife in the national park that the village sits in. After exploring Giethoorn town, these travelers will be happy to pack an electric boat with picnic supplies and sit out on the lake to watch wild storks land in their giant nests.
While it’s not a super touristy place, these things do make Giethoorn a popular destination for people from all over the world. Let’s take a look at some of the top things to do there.
Best & Fun Things To Do in Giethoorn, the Netherlands
It may be a small village, but there are quite a few things to do in Giethoorn. In fact, I only made it a day trip from Amsterdam, but I felt like I wanted to stay a night or two to really enjoy it all.
Whether you choose to stay or not, here are the main things to choose from in this fantastic village.
Explore the Giethoorn Walking Route
The main canal that the village of Giethoorn is set on runs north to south, and this is where you will find most boutiques, restaurants, and picturesque views. The village advertises a specific walking route to tour it all, although you may find that you don’t mind just wandering wherever the canals take you.
This is a free and easy way to see the historic buildings of the town and get pictures from the many wooden bridges crossing the water.
It’s an especially great way to spend a sunny day, and you may be tempted to stop for an espresso or a cocktail at one of the few cafés along the water.
Take a Canal Cruise through the Town
For a guided experience on the water rather than the paths and bridges, you can take a canal cruise offered all around town. This boat trip takes place on an electric motorboat, also called a whisper boat here, which is covered and enclosed for days with bad weather.
My boat ride experience was a great one. Our captain told us all about the village’s history, including how thatched roofs were once a solution for the poor but today are a luxury for the rich. He pointed out rare birds and animals as we motored across the water. This is a great solution for families with children, for those who aren’t comfortable driving a boat themselves, and for rainy weather that you want to escape for a bit.
You can usually find tickets just before the boats leave, but if you are going in high season and want to book in advance to be safe, you can make a reservation on Viator here.
See Related: Best Canals in Amsterdam You Need to See
Rent Your Own Boat to Explore the Stunning Canal System
Alternatively, you don’t have to go with a guide on a tour boat. There are plenty of places to rent an electric boat to explore the canals on your own. They are small and simple to drive, and navigating in town isn’t difficult.
Boats are available on the canal behind the church and are not expensive. In sunny and warm weather you can even jump in the lake for a swim. The water depth in the canals and in the middle of the lake is never more than a few feet.
Visit the Museum De Oude Aarde
One of the oldest museums in the area, Museum De Oude Aarde is an impressive collection of minerals, fossils, and otherwise fascinating pieces of nature. Many were found by the museum’s founder, René Boissevain, who traveled all around the remote corners of the world in search of them.
Interesting items include a petrified tree trunk from North America, Australian agates from down under, and amethyst geodes from Brazil. Children can even open up their own geode and discover what’s inside for a small fee.
This is another attraction that can usually be visited without reservations, but if you are a planner or are visiting in the busy season, you can reserve a ticket on Viator here.
Stop by the Old Mennonite Church
The village is somewhat centered around the main church, situated on the main canal. The Mennonites established a presence in Giethoorn almost 500 years ago, and this church dates back all the way to the 1800s.
Its architecture is considered a bit peculiar when compared to other churches from the period, but is anything in Giethoorn really typical?
It was interesting to hear about how historically families would arrive for Sunday mass by boat, and how it has always symbolized the ‘downtown’ of Giethoorn.
See Related: Most Famous Historical Landmarks in the Netherlands
Learn About Giethoorn’s Past at Museum Giethoorn T Olde Maat Uus
The Museum Giethoorn T Olde Maat Uus (say that five times fast) is also in the village center and just across the canal from the church. It is housed in a typical farmhouse that has been renovated to showcase all things Giethoorn.
Exhibits include antique tools, a fisherman’s house, the farmhouse interior, peat cutting, agriculture methods, and more. There are all kinds of old items preserved from Giethoorn’s past, and you get even more information from the small film and free tour inside.
Admire Weerribben Wieden National Park
The town of Giethoorn sits right in the center of Weerribben Wieden National Park, explaining how the historic beauty of the place has been so well-preserved. In fact, even the architecture is protected- home renovations will only be approved if they keep with traditional aesthetics.
The national park is all around the village, and many of the canal cruise tours offer an extended version at certain times to go deeper into the nature preserves. We saw wild storks in their giant nests, which was pretty amazing. There’s even more to see as you continue into the farther corners of the canals and lakes.
Bike Your Way Through the Giethoorn Cycling Routes
If you don’t want to sit still on a boat and walking is just not going to do it for you, don’t forget that you are in the Netherlands – the land of biking. You can rent bicycles at several places around town if you didn’t happen to pack yours.
Locals can give you information on the best paths to take depending on what you want to see. Many trails also go through the national park, meaning this is another way to see the previously-mentioned natural wonders nearby.
See Related: Best Bike-Friendly Cities in the World
Swimming, Fishing, or Other Activities on Bovenwijde Lake
There are plenty of lakes in the surrounding area, but the main one immediately next to Giethoorn and easily accessible from its canals is Bovenwijde Lake. If you are staying in Giethoorn, many holiday rentals are situated directly on its banks.
You can kayak, boat, fish, swim, or float as you please on this lake. Just don’t dive in, as the depth does not surpass three feet or so even at its deepest point! If you have rented a place with a kitchen and are lucky enough to catch fish, they are safe to cook and eat. The water is clean enough to take a dip in as it’s tested weekly for quality.
Eat at a Traditional Dutch Restaurant, Canalside
If there is ever a place to truly enjoy authentic Dutch food, it has to be in the countryside. Even better is that your restaurant of choice in Giethoorn is likely to have excellent views of the quiet canals.
We ate at Café Restaurant De Rietstulp, a wonderful little place set a bit back from the main canal. They also offer holiday rentals and canal cruises, and this is who we did our canal cruise with as well. It was just as fantastic as our lunch inside!
Our plates were a traditional Dutch schnitzel and a pulled pork sandwich. Pair them with a Heineken or Amstel and you’ve got the perfect lunch.
Take a Day Trip to Nearby Steenwijk, Meppel, or Zwolle
If you are staying in Giethoorn, you may want to see the other towns nearby; and if you are making Giethoorn a day trip, you may as well pass through some of these places on your way in or out after coming all that way. The small and less-traveled towns of Steenwijk, Meppel, and Zwolle are rewarding for the curious traveler looking for a more authentic Dutch scene.
Meppel has a beautiful windmill, and Steenwijk has a history of battle and fortification for war. Zwolle is a bit of a larger city (by countryside standards) and has a lovely old town plus several cool museums.
Catch a Ferry to the West Frisian Islands
This is an off-the-beaten-path thing to do if you have some free time in the Netherlands, as most travelers don’t make it to the country’s islands. Driving a bit north of Giethoorn, you will come to the coast of the North Sea where several islands lie offshore.
Texel is the largest of these islands, but the smaller ones are really quite similar. They are famous for their giant sand dunes and being a haven for wildlife like birds and seals. You will find wandering through their trails, biking their few streets, and watching the tide disappear on these peaceful paradises is quite relaxing.
You will need to take a ferry to reach the islands, departing from several places on the northern coast depending on the island. Confirm with your rental agency that your rental car is permitted to go on a journey like this.
Where to Stay in Giethoorn, the Netherlands
As I mentioned, I would have been happy to stay a night or two in the village rather than drive in and drive out from Amsterdam as most tourists do.
Remember that Giethoorn is small, and the accommodation options are somewhat limited. You won’t find large resorts but there are some wonderful small hotels, guesthouses, and B&Bs that are just right for this destination.
Budget Hotels in Giethoorn
The Black Sheep Hostel
19 Zuiderpad, 8355 CC Giethoorn, Netherlands
If you are on a very tight budget, there is a hostel in Giethoorn. It is located on the main canal and includes free wifi and parking, with boat rental facilities and a restaurant just across the canal. It is also super cool that the building is a traditional Giethoorn house.
Check the Black Sheep Hostel here.
Petersteeg 2, 8355 CC Giethoorn, Netherlands
By increasing your budget just a bit, you can stay at this very pleasant hotel with updated rooms and furnishings. Situated directly on the water, all rooms have televisions and guests love the Dutch-style breakfast. Also interesting is that check-in is performed yourself on a kiosk, meaning that while Giethoorn takes you back in time, you still have modern technology here.
Check the Hotel Giethoorn here.
Luxury Hotels in Giethoorn
Hotel de Harmonie
Beulakerweg 55, 8355 CC Giethoorn, Netherlands
It may not be a luxury hotel by the standards you expect in a major city, but it is one of the best Giethoorn has to offer. That doesn’t mean it’s missing anything important, however. All rooms are spacious with seating areas. There is a large veranda on the water to enjoy the country views. Plus, you have boat and bicycle rentals on-site for village exploration.
Check the Hotel de Harmonie here.
Vacation Rentals in Giethoorn
3 Bedroom Accommodation in Giethoorn
8355 CC Giethoorn, Netherlands
You’ll find that besides the traditional houses, Giethoorn has a lot of small and newer-looking chalets on the water. These are vacation rentals, and there are plenty of them for vacationers who want a little more space or self-catering amenities. Many of them come with boats or bikes to enjoy the village.
Book this 3 Bedroom Accommodation in Giethoorn here.
Getting Around Giethoorn, the Netherlands
Note that Giethoorn does not have a train station, and the only form of public transport is some limited buses that run to the nearby village of Steenwijk. And while the main mode of transportation within the villages is by boat, bike, or walking, it is really best to rent a car to get here.
You can fly into Amsterdam on most international airlines as it is a very well-connected airport. The airports at Rotterdam and Eindhoven are smaller but great for budget flights coming in from other parts of Europe.
My tip is to use Skyscanner and check the box for searching nearby airports. Not only will you be able to see all the airlines and all the prices at once, but the results will also check for cheaper options at the smaller airports that are still relatively close by.
Sometimes, it can be cheaper to take a train into town and rent from there rather than pay airport premium location fees, and these sites will help you confirm if that is the case.
Finally, if renting a car is just not an option for you, you aren’t out of luck. There are many day tours like this one departing from Amsterdam to see Giethoorn and even other nearby sites.
Check sites like GetYourGuide and Viator for all the options. If you definitely want to take trains and buses, visit Dutch Railways to see timetables to Steenwijk.
Whether you rent a car or get there yourself, don’t forget to equip yourself with the appropriate travel insurance for anything that could go wrong and get expensive fast. We recommend InsureMyTrip or World Nomads for inexpensive and customizable plans.
What is the best time of year to visit Giethoorn?
The true tourist season runs from April through October, thanks to the weather. You could visit during the winter months however it will be cold and certain places may be closed. I recommend a visit in late April or May for the best weather, least crowds, and ability to do other things in the Netherlands.
Are there windmills in Giethoorn?
There are not any active windmills, however, you can see the remains of some older historic ones that are no longer in use. For the best windmills in the Netherlands, I recommend a trip to Kinderdijk. You can see a whole bunch of these fascinating pieces of Dutch history, not far from Amsterdam.
Is there anywhere to swim in Giethoorn?
In fact, yes! Our guide told us that locals and tourists enjoy swimming in the large lake Giethoorn sits on during the summer months. It’s never more than a few feet deep. If you are looking for more of a beach experience, there are several small islands off the coast just to the north of the village.
Why is the skull of a goat the symbol of Giethoorn?
Fun fact: hundreds of years ago when the area was settled, the first residents found the skeletons of goats who had gotten stuck in the marshy bogs. In their language, Giet means goat and Hoorn means horn. Hence, they named their village Giethoorn; and this legacy lives on today in the local flag and other town symbols.
Lock In Your Travel Now
Looking for Extra Travel Perks?
Use Skyscanner to book the cheapest flight possible. Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine as you can find flights around the globe and from every airline possible. You’ll be in great shape to get the best price possible.
You must grab a free trial or join Scott’s Cheap Flights Premium to get cheap flight alerts directly to your email inbox. My favorite cheap flight alert was 25,000 Delta SkyMiles to London non-stop.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Want More Destination Ideas Direct to Your Inbox?