The Frysian Coast

[Nature & landscape] - [History] - [Cultural Heritage] - [Visitor information] - [Addresses]

If a Dutchman thinks about Province of Friesland, he usually thinks about the elfstedentocht, fierljeppen, kaatsen of skûtsjesilen, all traditional sports closely related to Friesland. But Friesland is more than that. It is a place of peace and tranquillity, of nature and water. A place to cycle, hike, sail of one of the many waters, go shopping the villages and cities and enjoy a wealth of culture and nature.
The landscape is very open, with an occasional village or city. There are 11 cities in Friesland, each with its own identity and charm. The number of inhabitants varies from 700 (Sloten) to 90,000 (Leeuwarden). It is remarkable that all cities are located in the western part of the Province. Most cities thank their city rights and their wealth to trade shipping, because of the proximity to the Zuiderzee and the Middelzee. By changement of the landscape through setting up polders and reclamationg land several cities have lost their seafront location.

See also general information on the Wadden Sea.
See also general information on the The Netherlands.

Nature and Landscape

Sea and Coastline
Waddenzee: shallow coastal see, part of an international tidal sea very much the breeding grounds for the Noordzee. Home to Common Seals, Grey Seals en various species of coastal birds and fish. The Frysian land is guarded from the sea by sea dikes. The land on the seasides of the dikes are the former reclameted land area’s.
Lauwersmeer: this used to be the Lauwerszee (meer = lake, zee = sea). The dikes were built in 1969, part of it is owned by the Dutch Military (Marnerwaard), the remainder is a National Park under construction with mainly grass and reed, swamp forests and water. Especially the grasslands are home to a rich flora (such as orchids and Parnassia); important as breeding grounds for stilt-walkers (especially the ruff) important as a place of rest for migratory birds and winter guests (ducks and geese). The National Park is open to visitors on cycle tracks and hiking paths. Birds in the Lauwersmeer (Dutch site)
Bantpolder (113 ha): landside dyke polder, important to brentgoose, breeding ground for several stilts (such as black-tailed gotwit and avocet) and resting and wintering area for many thousands of barnacle geese. Not open for visitors.
Peazemerlannen (480 ha): former reclameted land area’s, a large part of which has developed to a salt marsh as a result of a breach of the summer dike in 1973, important to birds, amongst others sterns, avocets, ducks and geese. Not open for visitors, but the summer dyke offer a good view of the Park.
Bildtpollen - Noord-Friesland Buitendijks (2430 ha): two adjacent reclamated land area’s, consisting of silt, salt marsh and summer polders on the edge of the Waddenzee. The summer polders and high salt marsh are grazed, the salt marsh and lower marsh flood in high tides. The salt marsh vegetation consists of Sea Aster, Rice grass and Salicornia and many other species. The area is of great importance to breeding birds and to migratory birds and winter guest (ducks and geese). The area is open for visitors except for the breeding time (April-15 July). During this time the area is closed for visitors, apart from the Zeedijk and a hiking path.

The IJsselmeer is a shallow sweet inland lake, remainder of the once grand and barren Zuiderzee, which was finally tamed in 1932 by the construction of the Afsluitdijk. This dike closed off the Zuiderzee. The IJsselmeer is of great importance to water birds, for the water management and it is home to species of fish such as perch, kolblei?, carp, rudd, pike and pikeperch.
Sandbanks, which are a reminder of the Waddengebied can be seen from the Afsluitdijk until Lemmer. These sandbanks are formed in the former Zuiderzee, a tidal marsh landscape with shoals, banks and channel passageses formed bij alluviation and throw. As a result of currents and waves, narrow bracebanks were created.
After the constructions of the Afsluitdijk, the tides disappeared and the water became sweet. The water level was lowered, causing the bracebanks and plates to become permanently dry. Soon after, these dry areas called surfaces, were covered with plants such as reed, shrubbery en bushes and they became important for breeding birds and migratory birds. The Northern coastal area harbours a lot of shellbank and the water soil contains a lot shell grit, a reminder of the Zuiderzee.
Makkumer- en Kooiwaard (1680 ha): this large surface which is divided by a large channel is thanks to the mowing regime home to orchids; of importance to breeding birds such as Bittern,Spotted crake, Water rail, Avocet, Harriers and Terns, in wintertime for ducks, geese and swans. Not open to visitors but clearly visible from the sea dike at Piaam (Kooireid).
Workumerwaard (700 ha): the shell banks and grassy plains are the ideal breeding ground for the Stern (Common tern, Little tern), avocet and grouse; grazing provides an open vegetation with several different kids of Orchids. Not open to visitors in the breeding season, the rest of the year open for visitors holding a ticket (for sale at the town hall of Workum).
Bocht van Molkwerum (420 ha): important resting area for birds, especially in winter. Only accessible through the trail leading to the bird hut, but very visible from the sea dyke. On the southern shoreline, between the coast and the bracebanks, there usually is a broad shallow stretch of water. This open water and the barren sand plates are ideal for a great diversity in birds, the protected areas are:
Mokkebank (1400 ha): the sandbanks covered in reed and shrubbery are surrounded by water; important resting and breeding grounds for futen, ducks, geese, Coots, Swans, Stilt-walkers, Terns, Spoonbills etc. Not open to visitors but clearly visible for the seadike and from the bird hut at Laaksum.
Steile Bank (1200 ha): barren sand plate, surrounded by water. Resting area for several birds such as ducks, geese and cormorants. Not open to visitors but clearly visible fro the seadike just West of Oudemirdum

Cultivated landscape
The Northern sea clay area is mainly characterised by grassy plains, therefore it contains a lot of cattle breeding There are only a few buildings, a few farms are scattered on the vast plains. In the Southwest on the shores of the IJsselmeer there are a few peat grounds and swamps. The low and wet areas were given the chance to develop in a natural way, because they were unsuitable for agricultural use. The low turf swamps developed into lush and very varied nature reserves. A part of the area outside the dikes has been impoldered and is in use as cultivated land. Because they area is located below sea level, the polder waterways sometimes contain brackish water. Sometimes this can result in an a very special brackish water flora.

Nature Management
Many nature reserves are being maintained by the It Fryske Gea. This foundation maintains over 50 separate nature reserves, with a total surface of over 18.700 hectare. The Water Board (Wetterskip Fryslân) is in control of the dikes and water management.

Nature centres
Fries Natuurmuseum: the Frysian Landscape, whale exposition. Schoenmakersperk 2, Leeuwarden. Tel. +31 (0)58 2129085.
Natuurmuseum Dokkum: nature in North - East Friesland. Kleine Oosterstraat 12, Dokkum. Tel. +31 (0) 519 297318.
Mar en Klif: information centre on Nature and Landscape in South-West Friesland. With a badgerburch? and Herb garden. Entrance fee obligatory. De Brink 4, Oudemirdum. Tel. +31 (0)514 571777.
Natuurhistorisch Museum It Fûgelhûs: collection of over 200 different species of birds and the history of the corals. Buren 8, Piaam, tel. +31 (0) 515 575681.


Origin. Friesland has for hundreds of millions of years been part of a shallow coastal see, but during the many ice ages the Southern North Sea Area kept on falling dry, because much of the water was contained in the polar ice layers and in glaciers. During the Riss ice-age or Saalien, 200-125,000 years ago, Friesland was completely covered with ice. Because the ice layers retracted and returned, the clay in the Gaasterland was deposited. Forced up by the ice and compiled from loam and gravel and rocks of various sizes, originating from Scandinavia, the coast was forced upwards. This formed the clay loam humps of the Frysian cliff coast, to which Urk, Wieringen and Texel also owe their existence. After the Riss-ice-age Friesland was flooded by the sea, which caused depositions of sand and clay. Finally the final ice age arrived (Würm-ice-age, 70-10,000 years ago), which caused the North sea area to become dry land again. The ice did not reach The Netherlands this time, but it came as far south as Northern Germany, Friesland was characterised by a tundra climate. At the end of the ice age the sea level rose again and protected by a series of beach walls (which would be formed into the present Waddeneilanden), an enormous waddenarea was created approximately 7,000 years ago, which covered Northern and Western Friesland.

Friesland gets shaped. In the many thousands of years following the ice age, there were spells in which the sea retracted. During these spells, turf areas (base marsh) could develop, which were repeatedly flooded and covered by sea clay. Both processes lead to an heightening and enlargement of the area, the seawater could barely flood the high land and could only deposit fine silt, which caused the formation of the ?knipkleigebieden? in the Frysian coastal area, which turned out to be suitable only as grassy plains. The Waddenarea decreased in size but still entered the high lands through the Lauwerszee (in-between Groningen and Friesland), the Middelzee (straight through the Frysian countryside) and the Vlie (between Vlieland and Terschelling). In the 11th century it expanded at the expense of Almere, a number of marsh swamps Southwest of the Frysian cliffs. These formed the Zuiderzee, which would increase dramatically afterwards, also due to major storm in the 13th century.
Habitation and excavation. After the last ice age, the Gaasterland and its surroundings have become inhabited approximately 5,000 years ago, amongst others by the builders of the hunebeds and the Vlaardingenculture-people. The clay soil was inhabited in 700 BC. These inhabitants discovered that these grounds were very suitable for herds of cattle and sheep. Due to the reoccurring floods they could only inhabit artificially high plains, the famous knolls (Terpen), which are very characteristic for the Frysian countryside. These knolls usually continued to grow in size due to addition of manure and refuse. From the 9th Century churches and graveyards were added as well. The largest knolls were constructed in Westergo, the area between the Vlie and the Middelzee (ranging from the North-Frysian coast southwards, to the East of Leeuwarden, reaching Sneek and Bolsward).
The Frisians in the coastal area hardly knew agriculture. Cattle, skins and wool (this became famous as the Frysian sheets) were traded in a different area for grain. In the 8th and 9th century, Stavoren turned into an important trade centre, followed in the 10th century by Dokkum, Leeuwarden and Bolsward. The Frysian salt had become a very valuable trading good, extracted from the peat soaked with salt.
Impoldering To decrease the effects of the storm floods and the soil setting of the marsh, a start was made in the 11th century with the building dikes around the salt meadow to desilt the area and to increase the quality of the grassland. Abbey communities are the first to start this. The waddenarea has seen the development of techniques to reclamate land. Pole shields were erected to increase the sediment of silt whilst drainage moats increased the drainage of seawater. A low dike was constructed after a while to enable grazing of the new land in the summer. Increasing successes were made, in the 13th century the southern half of the Middelzee was impoldered.
Administrative development Since Roman times, parts of Holland and Utrecht belonged to the independent Frysian country. In the 7th century the Franks gained territory and in 718 the Frankian King Karel Martel conquered West-Friesland (below the Vlie) and shortly afterwards the Frysian country up until Lauwers. Inside this empire, relatively independent counties could develop after 800 - amongst others the Frysian countries. Until the 14th century Friesland remained independent and has gained many victories in the conquest for land. The Battle of Warns in 1345 was the last major victory gained by Friesland to maintain its independency.
What followed were a number of defeats. Following these Friesland joined what later became the Dutch province of Holland. Depending on the governing, Friesland alternately did and did not join the province. Stadhouder Willem van Oranje was very loved by the Frysian. When the Southern part of the Republic was conquered by the French, Friesland pledged their loyalty to the Stadhouder and they have resisted being conquered by France.
Afsluitdijk. Plans for closing off the stormy Zuiderzee were already being made in the 19th century. A law for closing off and partly impoldering the Zuiderzee was accepted in 1918, as a result of the design of the Dutch designer Lely. Construction of the 30 km long afsluitdijk to Wieringen, Noord-Holland was started with classical means, such as zinkstukken van rijshout, keileem, sand and clay. Construction of the 30 km long dike took from 1927 until 1932.
Recreation and Tourism. Because of the Frysian lakes and its location at the IJsselmeer, the agricultural Friesland of 1960 encountered an unprecedented development of water recreation. Combined with the recreational tourism on the Waddeneilanden and the attractiveness of the fine Frysian towns, Friesland has become one of the most important areas for Dutch tourism.

Cultural Heritage

Cities. Since the year 1000 AC, but especially from the 15th until the 18th century, the sea and trade brought wealth to the cities of Stavoren, Bolsward, Leeuwarden and Dokkum, which is still very present, considering the fine architecture of the inner cities. But other cities also have fine examples of historic architecture, such as corbie gables and clock gables, canals and canal houses.
The eleven Frysian cities are:
Leeuwarden: a city filled with patios and shops in a maze of ancient alleys and monumental buildings. Many sights date from the time that the Oranjes viceroys (Stadhouders) still lived in Leeuwarden. A prime example of such a sight is the former Stadhouderlijk Hof (Viccrey Garden) (Hofplein, tel. 058 2162180). Very interesting as well are the Fries Natuurmuseum (Frisian Nature Museum) (Schoenmakersperk 2, tel. +31 (0) 58 2129085) and the Princessehof (Princess Garden) (Grote Kerkstraat 11, tel. +31 (0) 58 2127438). Leeuwarden is also the city 'Us Mem', the proud mother of the Frysian pedigree cattle and home to the crooked tower Oldehove.
Sneek: with its rich history, Sneek is located in the heart of the Frysian lake district. The city centre has many canal and canal houses. The most remarkable monument is the 17th century Sneker Waterpoort (watergate), which is unique in the Netherlands. The building of the Fries Scheepvaartmuseum and the Sneker Oudheidkamer, (Kleinzand 14, tel. +31 (0)515 414057) shows the history of shipping and how life used to be.
IJlst: the ancient centre of IJlst dates from the 13th century. Because the layout of the centre has barely changed since, one can almost imagine having gone back into time. Especially the 'overtuinen' (which guard the city canals) are very nice. The 19th century (former) city hall (Galamagracht 49) has a very fine and fine façade. During the summer, city walks are organised which includes a tour of the canals. (for information please contact the Tourist Information in IJlst, VVV IJlst, Geeuwkade 4, tel. +31 (0) 515-531818). The only still operating wood mill 'De Rat' is open to visitors (tel. +31 (0)515 532619).
Sloten: the smallest of the eleven cities. Its impressive defence lines made Sloten and the canals, walls and Watergates turned Sloten into an unbreakable fortress. The former city Hall, dating from 1759 which houses the museum Stedhûs Sleat (Herenwal 48, tel. +31 (0)514 531541/531611) is very interesting. During the summer. the city marksmen fire the cannon every friday-evening at 8.00 pm.
Stavoren: the statue of the legendary Vrouwtje van Stavoren (Little woman of Stavoren) still look out upon the IJsselmeer at the See sluice. Together with Dokkum, Stavoren is the oldest Dutch city, the inner city of Stavoren is very characteristic. The Hooglandgemaal Johan Willem Friso, one of Europe’s largest mills is very interesting. During the summer there is a ferry service to Enkhuizen (for information , please contact the Tourist Information in Stavoren, VVV Stavoren, tel. +31 (0) 900 5400001), what proves a good combination with a visit to the Zuiderzee museum.
Hindeloopen: although Hindeloopen never owned a harbour, it still developed into a wealthy merchant town. Major export product was the painted woodcraft. Enthusiasts can visit the Eerste Friese Schaatsmuseum (history of ice-skating, photo’s and a collection; Kleine Weide 1-3, tel. +31 (0) 514 521683) and the Museum Hidde Nijland Stichting (amongst others paintings on furniture and traditional garments; Dijweg 3, tel. +31 (0) 514 521420).
Workum: located two kilometres from the Ijsselmeer, the city of shipbuilding and restoration, which has had city rights dating back to 1399. Of great interest are the houses on the dike, which reflection in the water is a marvellous sight. And of course the many splendid facades, the Waaggebouw and the Museum Warkums Erfskip (tel. +31 (0) 515 543155) and the Museum of the painter Jopie Huisman (Noard 6, tel. 0515 543131) Workum has also become famous because of its famous Workum China.
Bolsward: this used to be an important merchant town on the shore of the Middelzee , linked to the Hanze. The historical inner city, a protected site, harbours amongst others the impressive St. Franciscuschurch (Grote Dijlakker 8) and the Martinichurch (Groot Kerkhof, tel. +31 (0)515 572274). The Broerechurch was destroyed by a fire in 1890. The remains are open to visitors. The Plantinga / Sonnema Distillery (Stoombootkade 12, tel. +31 (0) 515 572949) and the Frysian beer brewery Us Heit (Snekerstraat 43, tel. +31 (0)515 577449) are also worth a visit.
Harlingen: Home of the legendary Hansje Brinker, the boy who prevented a flooding by sticking his finger in the dike. You can find his statue close to the ferry terminals. The ports are of great importance to the fishery and the shipbuilders. Of great interest are the Harlinger Aardewerk- en Tegelfabriek (pottery and tile fabric) (Voorstraat 84, tel. +31(0) 517 415362) and the City Hall (Noorderhaven, tel. +31 (0) 517 492222).
Franeker: home of the ancient Frysian sport of kaatsen and until 1811 the Frysian university city. The inner city still offers many historical buildings and facades. 't Coopmanshûs (Voorstraat 51, tel. +31 (0) 517 392192) still shows signs of the university. The Planetarium by Eise Eisinga is the oldest Dutch Planetary which is still operable (Eise Eisingastraat 3, tel. +31 (0) 517 393070).
Dokkum: the city where Bonifatius was killed in 754 AC His spirit is still very present in the oldest and northernmost city of Friesland, thanks to the statue, the chapel, the church and the healing spa. The city walls offer a great walk around the city centre. Of great interest are the Bonifatius Chapel (tel. +31 (0) 519 282007 or +31 (0) 0511 424161), the regional Museum Streekmuseum Het Admiraliteitshuis (Diepswal 27, tel. +31 (0) 519 293134) and the nature Museum Natuurmuseum Dokkum (Kleine Oosterstraat 12, tel. +31 (0) 519 297318).

Windmills. Friesland has over 70 mills, most of which were built to keep the water away.

Farms. Characteristic to Friesland are head-neck-body farms. Most Frisian farms the frost frames on the sides of the barn are decorated with an owl board, a round façade marking with swans on both sides. These boards used to have a round ventilating hole, through which the owl could fly in and out of the building. Most of these boards have an deeper meaning to them.

Remaining towns, monuments and museums; a selection:

Lemmer: Lemmer used to be an important base for the East Sea Trade in the 17th and 18th Century. A century later it was just a fishing port. Today water still has a large impact for Lemmer, much of the freight and many leisure ships pass the Prinses Margriet Sluice, the gateway to the Frysian lakes and the IJsselmeer. Lemmer has a Antiquity chamber Lemster-Fiifgea, Nieuwburen 1, tel. +31 (0) 514 567595. Ir. D.F. Woudagemaal: Europe’s the largest still operable steam mill which keeps the water from the storage basins at the designated level. A little West of Lemmer.
Museumroute Aldfaers Erf: route through the villages of Allingawier, Exmorra, Ferwoude and Piaam. Kanaalweg 4, Allingawier, tel. +31 (0) 515 231631.
Fries Agricultural Museam: the development of agriculture in Friesland since prehistoric times. Dorpsstraat 72, Exmorra, tel. +31 (0) 515 575995.
Fries Chin Museum De Waag: located in a historical weighthouse dating from 1698. Collection of china from the 17th, 18th and 19th century. Pruikmakershoek 2, Makkum, tel. +31 (0) 515 231422.
Kazemattenmuseum Kornwerderzand: refurnished bunkers and casemates from the military defensive lines, which successfully resisted the German offensive in 1940 until the Dutch surrender. Kornwerderzand (Afsluitdijk), tel. +31 (0) 517 579453.
Epema-State: Frysian estate from 1652, which is still completely in its original state. Open for visitors on appointments only, (entrance fee). Epemawei 8, IJsbrechtum (Close to Sneek), tel. +31 (0)515 412475.
Museum De Striid Tsjin it Wetter: located in and old cheese warehouse. Exposition and collection (archeological finds) concerning two themes: Terp- and slenk landscape around the year 900; construction of the dykes during the middle ages. Ald Hiem 2, Wommels, tel. +31 (0) 515 331625 / 331595.
Mummiekelder: the Wiuwert church contains a tomb with 4 naturally mummified bodies (dating from 1609).In the tomb there are also several dead birds who are not in state of decay either.: Terp 31, tel. +31 (0) 58 2501475 or +31 (0) 58 2501498
Uniastate Bears: Exposition of Frysian estates. Tsjerkepaad 3, Beers, tel. +31 (0) 58 2519263.
Dekema State: the only Frysian estate which is still inhabited and where the moats and canals are still intact; collection of paintings. Dekemawei 5, Jelsum, tel. +31 (0) 58 2574786.
Highest Knoll: perfectly conserved, partly peat stones little church, dating from the 12th century on the highest knoll of Holland (8,80 m above sea level). Guided tours leave from the information centre every hour. tel. +31 (0) 518 411783, Hogebeintum.
Church Museum: Roman knoll church dating from 1250. Kerkstraat 4, Janum, tel. +31 (0) 519 339283.
Museum 't Fiskershûske: four houses where fishermen used to live and where the life of fishermen in 1850 is shown. Fiskerspaad 4-8a, Moddergat, tel. +31 (0) 519 589454.
Anjumer Mill: located in the mill De Eendracht, history of mills in Dongeradeel. Molenbuurt 18, Anjum, tel. +31 (0) 519 321926.
Flax manufacturing museum It Braakhok: located in an original “braakhok”, where until 1900 linen was converted from flax. Foeke Sjoerdstrjitte 9, Ee, tel. +31 (0) 519 518669 / 518360.
Museum Mr. Andreae: located in the old post office of Kollum; antiquity chambers, collection and exposition. Eyso de Wendtstraat 9-11, Kollum, tel. +31 (0) 511 452833.
Agricultural Museum De Brink: Kloosterweg 2, Veenklooster, tel. +31 (0) 511 443992.
Museum Fogelsanghstate: historically decorated 19th century estate, showing the life of the Frysian noblesse; amongst others antiquity chambers and several collections. Kloosterweg 2, Veenklooster, tel. +31 (0) 511 445421.
Antiquity chamber, Dantumadeel. Sikke Boukesstraat 4, Zwaagwesteinde, tel. +31 (0) 511 443422/441807.

Visitor Info

Possibilities for water recreation in the Waddenzee can be found in Harlingen. The Frysian beaches are located on the Waddeneilanden (islands near the coast).

Inland Waters
Possibilities for water recreation are abundant in Makkum, Lemmer, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Molkwerum, Oudemirdum and Workum. The coast of the IJsselmeer is also the location of several lakes such as Morra, Fluessen and the Groote Brekken. But many other lakes can found in the Frysian Lake District.

Hike & bike
The coastal area offers many possibilities for walking and cycling. Several routs can be obtained at the tourist information desks. There are also 14 signposted cycling routes, 3 short and 2 long distance walks along (parts of) the Frysian coastline. (anwb).

Day trips. Interesting places to go include:
Den Haag, the seat of the Dutch Government
The historical cities of Leiden, Delft and Gouda
The Port of Rotterdam
Seaside resorts such as Scheveningen and Noordwijk
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands.

A Selection of annual events:
Final week of July Ballonfeesten Joure
First two weeks of the Frysian Summer Holiday Sktsjesilen SKS (14-27/07/03)
Final week of the Frysian Summer Holiday Sktsjesilen IFKS (28/07-04/08/03)
First week of August Sneekweek



Otterpark Leeuwarden: until recently named Aqualutra , this park offers visitors a chance to meet several kinds of otters, but also cormorants, raccoon, beavers, polecat, storks, several species of fish, insects and amphibians. Open from the end of April until September, daily from 10 am until 5 pm. From the end op September until April: open on Saturdays, Sundays and school holidays from 10.30 am until 4.30 pm. De Groene Ster 2, Leeuwarden, tel. + 31 (0)511 431214.
Kruidhof: botanical garden with over 2000 species of rare plants, shrubbery and trees, divided in 25 gardens and collections ob over 3,5 ha. open from April until October, from 10 am until 5.30 am., on Sundays from 12. am until 5.30 pm. Schoolstraat 29b, Buitenpost, tel. +31 (0) 511 541253.
Aeolus: technical practical centre with over 50 educational and practical devices. closed on Mondays, open from 11 am until 5 pm, Sundays 1 pm until 5 pm. Hearewei 24a, Sexbierum, tel. +31 (0) 517 591144.
Sybrandy's Leisure Park: one of the largest playgrounds of Northern Holland. J. Schotanusweg 71, Rijs, tel. +31 (0) 0514 571224.

Frysian Province

Tourist Information Desk