Small Towns, Large Vistas

Thatched cottage in Giethoorn, the “Venice of the Netherlands”

Michael and I have now been back in the Netherlands a month and, of course, enjoying it very much — despite another colder-than-usual and rainy summer.  In between teaching and seeing friends, we’ve tried to go on a few side trips.  Most of these have been one-day side trips out of Utrecht, to Amsterdam, Leiden, den Bosch and Giethoorn, the subject of this blog.

A student had mentioned this water-bound village to Michael, and a subsequent Google search brought up only a little information.  Nevertheless, I figured out the train and bus routes and off we went.

Giethoorn is a quaint, lovely village in north-central Netherlands known as “the Venice of the North” or “the Venice of the Netherlands.”  Second to Amsterdam, which is a dozen times larger, Giethoorn has more canals (about 4 miles) than any other locale in Holland.  In fact, the “avenues” of the town are all canals, and the “streets” bicycle paths.  In fact, the bicycle paths are a recent addition.  The preferred way of getting about town is on foot, hoofing it over the more than 50 small wooden bridges, or by “punters” or, more recently, small boats powered by quiet electric motors.

Image (1) a-giethoorn-holland-canals-15.jpg for post 24003

One of the thatched houses of Giethoorn. Notice the two punters to the right. They are flattish-bottomed boats propelled by one person standing in the rear, using a long oar to push off the shallow bottoms of the canals — much like the gondoliers of Venice. 

Giethoorn was established in 1230 by people from the “Mediterranean region.”  (Note:  I did try and find out more specifically what part of the Mediterranean but have been stymied thus far.)  Apparently the landscape was littered with wild goats’ horns, so the fledgling town was name Geytenhorn, or horn of goats.  Later this was shortened to Geythorn and then adapted to Giethoorn.  The shallow lakes surrounding the town were formed by the harvesting of peat from the naturally-forming peat bogs in the area.  Reeds from the marshes were also plentiful, hence the abundance of thatched roofs in the village.  There are about 2600+ year-round residents today in the village, but a thriving, contained vacationers’ area has sprouted up between the town proper and the lake:

Small, cheaply built, rectangular wooden vacation houses such as this were being advertised for sale for 150,000 Euros.

Punters on the lake outside of Giethoorn

Panoramic lake view. There are many such shallow lakes in the area.


It seemed several thatched cottages included art studios, as this one.

Most of the above pictures were taken from a “tour boat,” one of about three dozen that clog the waterways of Giethoorn.  It wasn’t the most informative tour ever taken, and I think next time we’ll venture out on our own.  In addition to the tour boats, vendors are hawking “whisper” boats, electric-motored little dinghies for people who wish to tour on their own.  While I didn’t notice any bike rentals, I’m sure there is at least one in this tourist-oriented town.  However, one can rent bikes at the train station in Steenwijk, the station closest to Giethoorn.

Getting to Giethoorn wasn’t difficult, and we ended up having a lovely time chatting with a gregarious bus driver. From the station you can take Bus #70 or rent a bike for the (approximately) 7m/10 km round trip to Giethoorn and back. As it was, we took the bus, and this friendly bus driver not only made sure we got off at the correct stop, he told us when he’d next be by, and he made sure we were delivered to the train on time.  I love the Dutch!

So, I will close what has probably been my shortest blog ever.  Stay tuned for additional posts on smaller venues in Holland!


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