This summer I had the chance to visit Friesland, a destination that you may not be very familiar with or even heard of. That’s okay, because by the end of this blog you’ll be looking up flights to the Netherlands to visit this magical place! First, let’s discuss how you’ll pronounce the location when reading it, as the word Friesland is going to come up a lot. To sound like a clog-wearing, cheese-devouring native, pronounce Friesland as “Free-sss-lan”. I promise you, no one will spot your British roots with a bit of practice!
So myself and our Dutch blog-writer Margje decided to take a campervan up to the most northern part of the Netherlands to experience a weekend in Friesland. This trip was particularly special to me as my father, who had passed away the year before, was Frisian, and it was an aspect of our heritage I had never really had the chance to explore.
Before the Trip
First, let’s look at the things you need to consider before starting your holiday. Experienced motorhome travellers, feel free to skip this step. Although you might miss something you never thought of, or a new camping hack that revolutionises your holidays!
Decide your route. You’ll see our below, which is rather small given that we only had two days to make this trip. There is far more to be explored, so if you go I recommend taking a good 5 nights to truly get the Friesland experience. We made this map after our trip, as we didn’t want to get too stuck in the planning. Instead we had a list of tips provided by one of the campsite owners, and Margje’s Frisian upbringing to guide us!
Check the weather. The Netherlands, and most of Europe, was deep into a heatwave at this point. So we needed to PLAN. Normally, I’m a big fan of packing light (I’ll admit I find it a challenge, but a rewarding one as then I can be a smug minimalist to those around me). But given the temperatures soaring past 30 and even 40 degrees, we would need about 2 outfits a day to account for the sweat and smell. Luckily, our campervan had AC… while driving. But no fear, I had a tableside fan to keep us breathing at night!
Packing. Enough clothes, enough undergarments, a swimsuit and more! A book for the evening, a playlist for the road. Plenty of sunscreen and mosquito repellant. A sleeping bag for the evenings (never used due to the heat). Playing cards, although I recommend actually researching games for two people so you’re not forced to follow your travelling partners “rules”.
Sort out your ride! We got to travel in this spacious campervan, and it had plenty of cupboards to store our things, as well as a comfortable bed I slept soundly on. It also had a fridge, stove and oven! There are plenty of similarly great campervans in the Netherlands, so find your dream ride for your trip.
Food. The key to a good trip. While I am a big believer in not overplanning your trip, I do believe in planning your meals. This ensures you have all your ingredients, don;t buy too much or too little, and can enjoy delicious meals! Cooking while camping doesn’t have to be basic, artificial or tasteless. You simply need to prepare! And pack a lot of snacks on the road, we loved salted nuts as in the heat it really kept our energy levels up. Also blueberries and hummus with crackers was heavenly after a long drive!
We departed from Utrecht, another great Dutch city worth visiting for the gorgeous canals and fantastic cafes! It was an hour and a half drive to our first stop, which was also our Friesland accommodation for the first night. Camping it Wiid is located in Eernewoude, and is a large site accommodating all types of campers. From holiday homes to caravans to traditional tents to motorhomes like ourselves, we saw it all! It costs €15 per night for a pitch for two people, including electrical hook up and water. This site isn’t ideal for more free campers, as you don’t have much personal space or privacy, but it is great for families or those looking for a lot of facilities. It had huge shower and toilet blocks, a restaurant, supermarket, boat and bike rentals and more. We had planned to go walking, as the campsite is located in Alde Feanen National Park, but the heat had us dripping by the time we had set up our awning. So we embraced our soak and instead we rented a 2 person sit on top kayak from the campsite for €15. The waters were gorgeous, and allowed us to experience what Friesland is really renowned for. It was amazing to also just float along the water and dip our feet in to cool down. Despite the large quantity of boats on the water, it was never too busy given the intense grid of waterways organising it all, I was simply a little concerned for finding my way back!
But we managed, and then decided to go for a swim before heading for a shower. Then we embarked on the Dutch tradition of a ‘borrel’, eating delicious finger food and drinking beer or wine before dinner! I’m always happy to try traditions and accumulate to a culture, particularly when food and alcohol is involved.
To try your own Dutch borrel, all you need is the following:
Dips. If situated out of the Netherlands, go for hummus, tapenade or aioli type dips. If you’re in the Netherlands, you need to try some traditional Dutch ‘salades’ and filet americain - warning it is not American in the slightest!
Crackers or french bread… or both! We also chopped up some cucumber and carrots to dip in, for that fresh kick.
Cheese! A Dutch borrel is nothing without cheese, it’s like a Dutch man without his bicycle. You have full freedom in choosing your cheese, but try keep it Dutch with some Gouda if you can.
Olives are always a great addition, cherry tomatoes too. Fun fact: in the Netherlands they call them “snoeptomaat”, translating to candy tomatoes.
Something to drink! We did a taste test of different Dutch beers - boy, do they have many! But you can also go for something non-alcoholic, like some sparkling water, lemonade or nice juice.
Camping It Wiid
9264 TP Eernewoude
Due to heat and the exhausting activity of borreling, we were asleep by 10pm and thus woke up extremely refreshed at 8, and ready to take on Friesland! Before sleeping we did manage to take in the most stunning sunsets, pictured above. I began to really understand my Dad’s deep rooted love for Friesland, and why he was so desperate for me and my sisters to experience it as well.
We picked up some fresh bread from the supermarket and enjoyed a large breakfast. We were lucky enough to try the new toppings of famed Dutch company, Fred and Ed. They were extremely useful in squeeze bottles, solving the age-old jam struggle. It was a close call, but the Nutella replica had to be my favourite, and currently holds a place of pride on my kitchen shelf! We then hit the road to explore more of Friesland.
Our first stop was Poptaslot (also known as Heringastate) in Marssum. Founded around 1500 by the noble Heringa family and later owned by the lawyer Dr. Henricus Popya, the estate includes a farm, gatehouse, canals, gardens and more. It had been beautifully preserved, and is open to the public every July and August. We decided not to go for a tour, and instead walked around at our own pace. Then a quick water refill, and on to the next location.
We began driving to the ferry stop that heads to Ameland. On the way we stopped at the seawall by Marrum, it was an area that wouldn’t stand out exceptionally but had a powerful impact. Namely due to the deafening silence. It felt like the rest of the world had ceased to exist, as if time itself had stopped. Here you can climb the Seedyksterto (I won’t even attempt phonetics for that), a converted feed silo that has been transformed into a watchtower. Here you can gaze out across the UNESCO World Heritage area of the Wadden.
Next stop: the village of Hegebeintum. The reason this place made our to-do list? Hegebeintum features one of the largest mounds in the whole of the Netherlands! Mounds may not sound like a thrilling stop on a road trip, but the role they play in Friesland make them a must-see. You’ll find these mounds across the entire Frisian coast, they have been created to offer protection against rising sea levels. You’ll recognize this one by the church topping it, and at the visitor centre you can get tickets to visit the church. If you aren’t ready to leave, you can make use of the free overnight parking offered there.
Next was Holdwerd, the pier housing the ferry to Ameland. You can see the mudflats stretching out, and I found out that there are actually organised walks to Ameland across these, which would take about three hours. A great idea for next time, as Ameland also seems like a beautiful destination to visit! There is also a great piece of artwork here, of a woman looking out over the sea - “Waiting for high tide”.
We managed to tear ourselves away from the amazing view to drive on to Dokkum. This picturesque town is the ideal stop for lunch and a cold drink, as the heat was beginning to hit us hard. We then walked along the cobbled streets, stopped for some traditional Frisian baked goods, and viewed the famed fountain. It is part of the Frisian 11fountains, a concept that placed one fountain in each of the eleven provinces of Friesland in 2018. While here we recommend trying a real Dockkumer coffee (topped with Berenburg, an herb infused gin). But be sure to not drink and drive, and if you choose to enjoy this delicious treat perhaps call it a day at Camperplaats Dokkum.
We chose to keep our drinks PG, and drive on. Passing a bridge renowned for the “Elfstedentocht”, the biggest ice skating race in the world. It is done competitively and for leisure, and takes skaters through the 11 provinces of Friesland. It can only occur when the natural ice along the entire course is at least 15cm thick, meaning the tour is announced and begins within 48 hours! The last race took place in 1997, and each year the entire country eagerly awaits the chance to witness this rare competition again. There is a bridge outside Dokkum centre that the racers go under to get to the last stretch towards the finish at Bonkevaart. This bridge is covered in thousands of handmade tiles, covered in blue glazed portraits of all the skaters who have completed the Elfstedentocht.
After a long and busy day, we reached Camperplaats Leeuwarden, our home for the night. We were extremely excited to spot the harbour, which we had been informed was open for swimming. So we quickly got changed and dived in, ready to wash away a day of driving and sweating. The site is run by a wonderful couple who operate it using a Trustbox. However they often stop by to meet campers, and we got the chance to chat with them. It’s an ideal spot for overnight parking to visit Leeuwarden, which is only a 15 minute bike ride away, and reachable by bus. It also differs from many other overnight parking spots in that it permits camping behaviour, so we got to enjoy another evening on out deckchairs, making our way through the most unique Dutch beers.
De Zwemmer 3,
8939 CA Leeuwarden
Our day began with fresh bread rolls from a nearby supermarket, courtesy of Camperplaats Leeuwarden. They offer many discounts for visitors to their site, so you certainly get more than your money's worth! We then headed back on the road, to return to Utrecht. There we cleaned and returned our home on wheels, the road trip to Friesland was officialy over. But if I were to return, which I definitely plan to, I would factor in more time to visit the city of Leeuwarden. Last year, this Frisian city was named the Cultural Capital of Europe as well as Friesland being awarded Lonely Planet’s #3 in Europe. Their fame is far from over, as the Frisian Islands are currently #30 in the New York Times: 52 Places to go in 2019. So will you be going?
A short but sweet campervan trip to Friesland, which provided views and sights that more than once literally took my breath away. My only regret was not going for a longer period of time, as this stunning region still has so much to explore. With views I can only compare to the Highlands of Scotland or deep into the Welsh countryside, Friesland deserves higher than #30 on your bucket list. So hire a motorhome in the Netherlands, or bring your own campervan abroad, and take a road trip to Friesland. Be sure to visit the stunning Friesland before the rest of the world catches on to its beauty, so that you can beat the hordes of tourists who will flock to this stunning Dutch region.