Giethoorn, the picturesque Dutch town that has no streets

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Giethoorn, the picturesque Dutch town that has no streets

In the 13th century, the Weerribben-Wieden bogs were a hell of mud and mosquitoes. A group of fugitives from justice settled in them thinking that the long hand of the authorities would not reach such an infected place. They found it littered with the carcasses of animals that had been drowned in recent floods, so they named it Giethoorn (goat’s horn) because of the large number of antlers protruding from the mud.

Eight centuries have not changed the geological configuration of the area. But yes the landscape. What at that time was a place to avoid is today the target of those who want to live the joyful experience of visiting a town in the Netherlands that has no streets and therefore no cars.

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120 kilometers northeast of Amsterdam, on the opposite side of the Ijseelmeer bay, is this town of 2,600 inhabitants that does not even have a Town Hall, since it belongs to the municipality of Steenwijkerland. Its characteristic, which makes it unique, is that the houses and urban facilities are located on originally marshy islets, separated by an intricate network of water channels. There are many bridges that connect the houses, but the possibilities of walking are limited, since they are practically reduced to going from one house to another, which is useless and inspiring if you are not a regular resident.

The inhabitants of Giethoorn, of course, move from one place to another in their own boat, usually moored at their doorstep. Tourists can do the same, as there is a fleet of small motorboats for rent –electric, so as not to disturb the silence that reigns in a town without cars– at very reasonable prices to move along the more than six kilometers of canals in the town.


Tourists visiting Giethoorn can cruise its canals in an electric rental speedboat

Rudmer Zwerver

The urban landscape is cared for with care. The communal lawn is always mowed, and many of the houses dare to go for traditional green roofs, which are expensive and difficult to maintain, but which give Giethoorn an unparalleled picturesque appearance.

Giethoorn calls for a wandering without too many goals, for the pleasure of experiencing the sensation of visiting a water town. But at some point we will have to locate the Farm Museum on the map, which reproduces what a family farm was like at the beginning of the 19th century. It is small but charming, exhibiting the tools and everyday supplies of the time.

The appearance of Griethoorn is due to the exploitation of peat, a common activity for centuries that has almost disappeared today

Griethoorn’s current appearance is due to the recurrent exploitation of peat that has occurred in the area over the centuries. By uprooting this “vegetable sponge”, the water from the North Sea has been taking over the territory, generating canals and ponds. Today this activity has practically disappeared, and the inhabitants of the town work mostly in the big Dutch cities, to which they travel daily… leaving their vehicles parked on the outskirts and reaching them by boat, of course.

Despite being a tourist destination, Giethoorn maintains a very calm atmosphere. The absence of road traffic and no associated noise makes the splash of the boats and the trill of the birds practically the only soundtrack in the town. There are several restaurants and half a dozen hotels. Although foreigners usually invest only a couple of hours in the visit, a particularly lucky idea is to reserve a room and watch the sunset, experience the magic of the lighted houses reflecting in the waters of the canals and also enjoy the sunrise of the day following in a setting just an hour from the lively city of Groningen.

Numerous bridges link the houses of Giethoorn

Numerous bridges link the houses of Giethoorn

In winters when the canals freeze over – more often than you might suspect – the people of Giethoorn move through the streets skating on the ice. It is the only way to “walk” through the non-existent streets of the town.

Giethoorn is an hour and a half drive from Amsterdam, using the A6 motorway. The wetlands of Weerribben-Wieden have the highest legal protection, they are part of the national park of the same name.

Giethoorn is located 120 kilometers northeast of Amsterdam, on the opposite side of the Ijseelmeer bay.

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