With more than 600 official monuments there are a lot of nice buildings to be seen in Leeuwarden. Have a look at the beautiful photos of Hans Jellema and read about the 10 best sights of Leeuwarden. Or continue with the hidden or street Art sights.
The Oldehove is a leaning tower in Leeuwarden that became the symbol of the city and the proud of it’s inhabitants. Some locals even say they feel homesick when they can’t see the Oldehove anymore. Construction of this leaning, curved and unfinished tower began in 1529. The city of Leeuwarden had just become the capital of Fryslân and it wanted to show it’s importance. A big cathedral was supposed to replace the old St. Vitus church that stood here. They intended to build a tower that would be higher than the Martini tower(97m) in Groningen and the Dom tower(112m) in Utrecht. If they had succeeded, it would still be the highest church tower in the Netherlands.
But already after 10m the tower began to sag during construction. Architect Jacob van Aken tried to correct it (that’s why it’s curved as well), but that didn’t help either. In 1533 the project was halted and would never resume. By that time Van Aken had already died of ‘chagrin’, a nice way of saying it; he probably committed suicide. What he couldn’t know by then was that he was building the tower on the slope of the mound that was laid here by the first inhabitants. That’s the reason why the tower started to sag, because the soil was not of the same substance. Today the tower is leaning 1.99m, but it won’t sag any more because it has been secured. It’s also possible to enter the tower and climb the 183 steps to the top (you can skip the first half by taking the elevator). A beautiful view awaits you there, if you’re lucky you can even see the Dutch islands of Ameland and Schiermonnikoog. Location: Oldehoofsterkerkhof, Open: Open: Tue-Sun 13:00-17:00 (Mid April – October), Admission charges: € 3,50 for adults and €1,50 for children <12
The Weigh house (waag) is one of the most iconic buildings of Leeuwarden. In earlier days traders had to weigh their goods here before they were allowed to sell it on the market. The Waag was important for a city to be seen as a trustworthy marketplace. It also prevented conflicts between traders and customers. The city also gained some income from the Waag as they charged traders for weighing their products.
The weigh house in Leeuwarden was build in 1595 in Renaissance style. It was primarily used to weigh dairy products as this was the most important product that was sold here. It was closed in 1880 and replaced by the Beursgebouw (now the library). Today the building is used by a Café and has an often used Cash Machine (ATM). Location: Waagplein
The Blokhuispoort is a former prison that is now turned into the cultural heart of Leeuwarden. It was originally built by the Saxons in 1499 as a blockhouse, a type of fort. From here the Saxons and later the Spanish could control Leeuwarden and Friesland. When the Spanish were driven out of Leeuwarden in 1580 it was turned into a prison. A long history of executions, fires, torture and escapes followed. The prison eventually closed in 2007. Today you can do a guided tour by a former prison guard (in Dutch). The guided tours are every Saturday at 14:00 and 16:00h and cost €10,- and include a drink at Café de Bak.
In 2008 a new chapter began for the Blokhuispoort. From then on the former cells of the prison are rented to cultural entrepreneurs. When you enter the Blokhuispoort you can enter the B-wing on the left side. Here you will find a prison like you’ve only seen it on TV. In every cell you will find a shop; a hairdresser, a glass-blower, a painter or a tattoo artist. When you continue to walk you will find an art gallery, Podium Asteriks and Café de Bak. On the other side of the Blokhuispoort there are more creative shops and offices, but also another exposition room. The Blokhuispoort is a must see in Leeuwarden. Location: Blokhuisplein 40, Open: Mon-Thu 09:00-17:00, Fri: 09:00-23:00, Sat: 12:00-17:00
The High or Jacobean Church was originally part of a Dominican monastery that was build here in 1245, it was rebuild and extended many times during the course of time. The Dominicans were also named Jacobean, after their patronage saint Jacob. The church and the ‘Sexton’s House’ are the only remnants of the monastery complex. In 1580 it became a Protestant church. Many elements reminiscent of the Catholic service were removed or plastered over. The beautiful pipe organ was built between 1724-1727 by Christian Müller.
The Stadtholder and his family had a special entrance at the back of the church. This gate is called the Orange gate because of the copper tree with painted orange apples. The gate led to their gallery and burial chapel in the choir. The gallery from 1695 – an elevated seat for the Stadtholder – is just a little bit higher than the pulpit of the preacher. In the choir you can also find the burial chapel of the Frisian Nassau’s. Anna of Orange, daughter of William of Orange and wife of the first Frisian Stadholder Willem Lodewijk (Us Heit), was the first member of the Nassau family that was buried here in 1588. After her, all members of the Frisian Nassau family were buried here with Maria Louise von Hessen Kassel being the last in 1765.
During the French time the new government made a law to remove all the symbols of the privileged classes. The Nassau family was considered to be the most privileged of them all. But because the new government didn’t act after the law. An angry mob stormed into the church in 1795 and destroyed everything that had to do with the Nassau family. Because of this no tombs remain. Only a picture on the wall will help you to imagine how it once was. The glass painted windows in the choir were made in de 20th century and picture historic scenes from the Nassau family. Location: Jacobijnerkerkhof 95, Open: Sat 11:00-17:00 (June-Sept 14), Tue – Thu 11:00-16:00 (July-Sept. 14) Fri 13:00-16:00 (July – Sept. 14), Admission charges: Free of charge
The Chancellery (Kanselarij) was home to the ‘Hof van Friesland‘ (Court of Friesland). This was the highest legal authority of Friesland from 1515 to 1811. The building was build in 1566, and probably financed by the Spanish King Philip II. On the steps you can find 4 lions, representing the 4 parties in the court of Friesland: Oostergo, Westergo, Zevenwolden and the 11 cities. These four parties were always equally represented, meaning that the countryside always had more power over the 11 cities.
On the roof you can find an stepped gable with all kinds of statues. All the way on the top you can see a statue of Charles V, holding a globus cruciger in his left hand and a sceptre in his right hand. The other 8 statues are women, who represent all kinds of virtues. On the left side, from top to down you can see: Justice who’s blindfolded with a sword and scale, Charity with the child, Hope with the anchor and Faith with cross and book. On the right side from top to down you can see: Prudence with mirror and snake, Courage, Temperance with a jug and Harmony with the horn of plenty. Location: Turfmarkt 11
The Saint Boniface Church (Sint Bonifatiuskerk) is a Roman Catholic church in Leeuwarden. It was build between 1882 and 1884 and was designed by architect P.J.H. Cuypers, who also designed the Rijksmuseum and the central train station in Amsterdam. The church is named after the saint Boniface (Bonifatius in Dutch). This English missionary tried to Christianize the pagan Frisians in the 8th century. He tried to persuade them that their pagan gods were false by chopping down their holy oak tree. This was not appreciated by the Frisians who subsequently killed Boniface.
Even though the church is relatively young, it already had some rocky moments. In 1947 a plane hit the top of the tower and lost part of it’s wing. And in 1976 the top of the tower collapsed during a storm. In 1980 the tower got it’s top back. Nowadays you can watch the tower in it’s full glory. Besides the religious service on Sunday, the church is open to the public on Wednesday and Saturday from July to mid September. The 85m high tower is the highest church tower of Friesland. For a little bit of money you can climb it. Location: Bonifatiusplein 20 Open: Wed & Sat 14:00-16:00 (July – mid September) Admission charges: Free of charge, €1,50 to climb the tower
The Central Pharmacy (Centraal Apotheek) is one of the most remarkable Art Nouveau buildings in Leeuwarden. Architect Gerhardus Berend Broekema, who designed the building in 1905, used many characteristic Art Nouveau elements. Like the horse shoe windows and the cast-iron balconies. The most striking element is the tile tableau displaying Hygenia, the Greek goddess of health. Her raised right hand holds a cup of medicine. The snake of Asclepius, the symbol of medicine, winds around her left hand and drinks from the cup. Today, a pharmacy still resides in this building. Location: Voorstreek, Open: 8:30 – 18:00 (Mon-Fri)
The City Hall of Leeuwarden is build on the remains of the old Auckamastins, you can still see these in the basement of the building. The fist stone was put here in 1715 by the 3 year old Willem Carel Hendrik Friso, the son of Maria Louise and later Stadtholder Willem IV. Above the door you can read peace and justice in latin and two statue’s who represent both. The City Hall is still used as an office by the Mayor and Aldermen.
In 1760 they extended the new boardroom at the backside of the building. This part is now used as the main entrance. Behind the old fashioned windows you can see the Orange Hall. In earlier days this room was used as the boardroom and it was flanked by portraits of the old Stadtholders. These portraits have saidly not survived the French revolution, but luckily they have now been replaced by portraits of later kings and queens of the Nassau family. Location: Hofplein 38, Open: Every Wednesday 14:00-16:00 from July 20 – August 24. Entrance: Free of charge.
The Stadhouderlijk Hof is the former residence of the Stadtholders. Stadtholder Willem Lodeijk, also known as Us Heit (our father), was the first recident in 1587. His statue can be seen in front of the building. Allthough the building looks pretty uniform, these were originally three buildings. Every Stadtholder after Willem Lodewijk made the building even more beautifull. When Willem Carel Hendrik Friso became Stadtholder of the whole of the Netherlands, he moved to the Hague and the Stadtholders only rarely stayed in Leeuwarden. In the 19th century, when the building became a royal palace, the outside was given it’s current appearance. In 1971 the building was sold by queen Juliana to the city of Leeuwarden, who subleases it since 1996 to a hotel chain. Do ask if you can take a peak into the beautiful Nassau Hall. Location: Hofplein 29
At first sight the least special building in this list. But this building receives a notification because it’s the birthhouse of Mata Hari. Don’t let yourself be told that her house was burned down, because that’s not correct. The birthhouse is recognisable from the mustard yellow facade, that was restored after a drawing of the hat shop of Adam Zelle. Mata Hari was born here on August 7 1876 as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. In 1883 the family moved to a bigger house at the Grote Kerkstraat. In 1889 her father went bankrupt and the family fell apart. She went to live with her mother at the corner of the Schoolstraat and the Willemskade. After her mother died, she left Leeuwarden at the age of 15 and went to live with other family. At the age of 18 she would marry the 20 year older KNIL soldier and moved to Indonesia.
They got two children, but the marriage didn’t turn out to be a succes and she moved back to Europe in 1902. As a single woman she tried to earn money as an exotic dancer. She called herself Mata Hari, which means eye of the day or the sun in Malaysian. Her mysterious show and beautiful appearance made her very popular. During the first worldwar she was supposidly asked by both the Germans and French to become a spy for them. Finally she was arrested in 1917 and persecuted and shot in October by the French. Location: Kelders 33
All pictures by Hans Jellema. Continue to see the hidden sights or Street Art sights to see more sights. Or go back to All things to see & do in Leeuwarden. Check our various walking tours to discover the city with one of our guides!