There are these brick houses on either side of a canal. Those houses have pitched roofs with thatch. The footpaths beside the canal are lined with lawns and flower beds. So there you are, rowing your boat, listening to nothing other than ducks quacking, birds chirping, and water splashing. You keep crossing wooden bridges that connect either side of the canal, watching the horses grazing in the bigger farmland on the other side and a lady sitting on a laid back choir woven chair on the other side.
I am talking about the famous destination of the Netherlands, Giethoorn -A pocket of serenity is just an hour-plus drive-by Amsterdam. Here is your complete guide to Giethoorn to enjoy Little Venice without a tour organiser.
What is Giethoorn and Why visit it?
An almost “Carfree AKA Road free” village with waterways, footpaths, cycling tracks and centuries-old thatch-roof houses. The population of 2000+ residents make it super peaceful. Their gardens with colourful flowers make it even more special. It is a total contrast to the party vibes of Amsterdam. Sailing in the countryside water is more fun when you drive the boats by yourselves through the canals. You may feel the time stands still here when you see the village, as nothing has changed in centuries in the picturesque village. But when the boat driver calls you to be back, you will be shocked to know you have spent an hour or more sailing on the water.
This is neither “the hidden gem of Netherlands” nor a village infected with mass tourism. So during peak tourist seasons, you can expect a crowd, but not as much as in Amsterdam.
How to reach?
- By road -It is 125km from Amsterdam. Our buddy Keerthi had hired a car for four days of our trip to the Netherlands. So it was easy to cover 125km in less than 1.5hr to reach there. Finding a parking spot wasn’t a task as it was not the tourist season. But it might give you trouble during tourist season. To know more about hiring a car for self-driving in the Netherlands, read our post ‘ Road trip between two Schengen countries by car.”
- Public bus: This works out cheaper but may be a tedious option if you make a day trip. It takes 2 to 2.5hr to reach there by public bus. To top it, the buses leaving from Amsterdam to Giethoorn are not that frequent.
- TRAIN – The nearest train station in Zwolle. Plenty of trains from Amsterdam central run to Zwolle. The only drawback would be taking a taxi from Zwolle for the next 45km to reach Geithoorn. Here is the link to check train schedules.
Know before you go
- Though the main way of getting around Geithoorn is by boat, there are cycling tracks around the canal. There is road connectivity to a few of the bigger farmhouses at the end of the canal. So Giethoorn isn’t a “boat only to commute” village.
- Day trip – Most tourists make a day trip from either Amsterdam or Leeuwarden. If you make a day trip, arrive early and spend time till afternoon. There are small cafes and restaurants if you want to stay back for lunch, or you can head to Zwolle for lunch and explore the town, cycling and munching some bread from their famous Dutch bakery Museum.
- Can I stay Overnight in Geithoorn – Yes, of course! There are BnBs with houseboats that work for mid-range travellers too. If you are looking for a bit more luxury, there are mansions with bigger gardens and even horse stables. Click here to know more about your options to stay in Giethoorn.
- Best time to visit Giethoorn- April to May is the ideal time to visit Giethoorn for three reasons. The temperature is neither hot nor cold, so it is very pleasant. Second, it is not the peak tourist season, so the prices of restaurants and boat rides will be lesser, and the canals won’t be filled with too many boats as it happens in summers (July -September). Finally, the flowers will still be in bloom in May. Winters are (October-February) are too chilly with no flowers. Summers (June to September) is a good time, but the tranquillity you see in our pictures of our trip in May won’t be there- Tourists love Giethoorn for all the right reasons.
- Things to do in Giethoorn other than boating – Though boating is the best way to explore the village, you can hire bicycles and go around cycling. There are a few museums here housing old cars, precious gemstones and jewels. If you are a museum lover, these smaller house museums are worth exploring. You can even visit a model house to see how a typical farmhouse in Geithoorn looked like. For those who love golf, there is a place for mini-golf too.
- Places to see around Giethoorn – If you are making a day trip to Giethoorn, you can explore Zwolle on the way back. If you are willing to go further ahead, you can visit the castle of Heeswijk too! Yup, there are castles in the Netherlands too. The chik town Roterdam is also closer to Giethoorn.
Boat Renting –
Self-driven boats are super fun and safe, but not everyone can do it unless you have experience. By the above picture, you already must have realised how well we drove our boat. Most of the time, it was our buddy Keerthi who drove the boat. That was probably just two minutes of criss-cross driving and hitting the bunds of the canal. This isn’t a good idea during the peak tourist season to drive the boat if you are inexperienced.
So there are a few options for people who have never rowed /driven a boat before.
- Electric boat – For a group of 6 to 8. Either self-driven, or you can hire the sailer.
- Electric Cruise- where you sit inside a glass-covered boat, and sailer will take you around. You can be a part of the other group or can hire the canal cruise for your group solely.
- Sailing Punter boat – Boat for 4 -the traditional ones, where you got to rove manually! There is nothing better than doing the things in their authentic traditional way – If only you know how to rove!
- For couples – 2 seater Canoe with roving.
- For single- Kayaks
Why do I love Giethoorn most
It was 3 PM when we arrived at the Giethroon. The weather was cloudy and chilling; the place was empty. Other than the canal and lush green trees, everything else in the village hid behind the turn of a canal. A family walking the dogs, a man cycling, two or three people sipping coffee in a cafe. It felt like it is a regular town by the canal side. The first impression was as if it is the younger and calmer version of Amsterdam.
As a perk of the offseason, we didn’t have to wait in line to rent the boat. It was Keerthi’s nth time visit to this village, and by then, he had become a” pro boat driver/rover ” of these canals.
Initially, in the broader channel, driving a boat seemed to be more comfortable and effortless. We had to worry about neither overtaking nor making way for other boats. The entire quiet village belonged to a few cute little feathered fellas quacking on water and us. Then, slowly taking a mild turn, the village began to unfold. The canal got narrower. Thatched roof houses with the lush green garden and flowers began to appear. This was like a transition from a modern city to those old days where the boats were the only means. That was a village directly from an old fairytale movie.
The canals were shaded with trees so that the water appeared dark and opaque. This was true “Venice of Netherlands” with almost no other tourists except us. Each house was unique yet similar. Everyone had a houseboat and tiny garden areas—no wonder few celebrities come here to hibernate away from the crowd. We continued further into a narrower canal. Laughing and talking, we felt as if we owned this village. Then, a boat full of tourists came from the opposite diffraction. While I was worried about making way to the other boat, Keerthi handled it like a Pro.
The water splashing, birds chirping, wind hustling were the only sounds we heard other than our own chatting. At times we heard the ducks quacking and chasing the boats added to the charm. Though all the houses are inhibited either by tourists or residents, it looked like all had left their houses for a day. Crossing the wooden bridges, we saw a few cyclists by the side finally. The canals get diverted at multiple points, so you can choose where you want to cruise to deviating from the main canal. The houses got even prettier in the side by canals.
When we thought of dethroning Keetrhi and take over the steering wheel, the canals got narrower. What seemed to be easier was not so easy anymore. A few minutes later, we could see the horizon devoid of trees. It looked as if we were entering an ocean from the canal. All the deviated channels meet at a point here at the big lake. For those who want to get isolated further from the crowd, there are stand-alone houses here. For those who want to chill out in a club, there is a pavilion too.
Well, in that open lake, we decided to try our skills on driving the boat. Letting the lady first, I sat beside her. That serene atmosphere of savouring a serene atmosphere turned into “Fear Factor” mode as my lady began to steer the wheel and drove all over the lake. What looked like a cakewalk sitting in the passenger seat was a herculean task from the first-timers here. That meditative mode was not replaced with screaming and laughing as she turned the wheel every time. Fortunately, we hit nobody as we were the only ones then. Driving the boat at 360 degrees, Sahana managed to bring us to the mouth of the canal back.
Taking over Sahana, I thought I would drive as good as Keerthi. So, praying for no other boats to come from the other direction, I began to drive. It went on smooth until I saw a big mansion with the horses grazing out on the lawn. Mesmerised by this setup, I lost control and hit the bund! Thank god, the boats are strong enough to take this kind of hits. Else, inexperienced people like me driving would have broken the boats.
We realised it is not as easy it looks. Laughingly Keerthi got back to his seat to drive. It is best for all if we both remained in the passenger seat than in the driver seat. Taking a detour in the canal, we went further exploring with Keerthi driving. The less shaded areas made reflections on the water better. The bridges and geese were there everywhere now.
We did not realise when we finished an hour! Thanks to Keerthi for keeping track of time. Parking the boat and handing it over to the owner, we got off the boat ride. By then, more people were jogging and cycling. We headed to a nearby cafe for coffee and Croissants. When the place is that serene, you don’t want to sit inside a hotel. That was an end to a beautiful day with a hot cup of Cappucino and watching the ducks quacking and water rippling as the wind blows.
Have you ever been to a touristy destination and found it to be empty and serene like this? Let us know in the comment section below.