You’ve probably seen photos online of the prettiest village in the Netherlands, Giethoorn. Visiting Giethoorn from Amsterdam is a doable day trip from Amsterdam if you’re patient enough to spend two hours getting there independently.
I personally preferred staying overnight at Giethoorn in the picturesque village, so you get to enjoy the sunset over the calm canals without the crowds… Keep reading for my tips for visiting Giethoorn, the Netherlands without a tour. I also include information on how to get to Giethoorn from Amsterdam!
This beautiful Dutch village has no proper roads and it’s known as “Venice of the North.” As someone who’s been to both places, I can’t really say that there’s too much in common beyond the water and how both destinations are beautiful in their own way. Giethoorn is truly a village and supporting 200,000+ tourists each year can be an issue in this town of 2,260 residents.
Giethoorn is certainly touristy (despite what some people write). Despite that, I found its charms as I walked along its stunning canals around sunset after the tour buses had left If you’re traveling with your significant other, family, or even friends, you’re certain to have a blast while boating around.
Giethoorn is estimated to date back to the 14th century as a farming community. The name Giethoorn is actually a bit tragic in origin. In 1170, there was a flood, which killed a lot of livestock, especially goats. Following the floods, many goat horns were found at the bottom of the canals afterward, hence the name “Geytenhoren” [goat horns] in Dutch. It was shortened later on.
(Practical note: You pronounce Giethoorn something like Hate-horn with the first H sounding like a phlegmy G/CH sound. Some Dutch people may not recognize the village if you say the beginning “G” if you say it the same as English.)
Although many people know that canals in the Netherlands were man-made, you can witness the earliest version of canals at the nearby Weerribben National Park, only thirty minutes away from Giethoorn. Early inhabitants in the Netherlands would dredge the soil for peat, which could be used for fire.
Over time, these beds of soil started filling up with rainwater….and the Dutch got their famous canals. In Giethoorn, you’ll find over four miles of canals. Giethoorn became famous after being featured in a famous Dutch movie, Fanfare.
Things to do in Giethoorn
Boating around Giethoorn
Boating in Giethoorn is the main thing to do in Giethoorn. Although you can take a guided tour in a canal boat, I always love piloting a boat given the opportunity. The boats to rent in Giethoorn move very slowly and often include a rubber exterior, so even an inexperienced (and terrible) boat driver like myself can comfortably pilot a boat without risking damage.
We paid about fifteen euros to boat around Giethoorn for one hour, which was enough time to enjoy the natural area around it. The village itself is pretty small although the swampland around it makes it perfect for a scenic boat ride around the city. Some canals are a bit tight to squeeze through, especially during the mid-afternoon.
The boats in Giethoorn are specially designed to run on electricity to minimize noise in the village. Despite this, some people with fancier boats often race by. There are numerous places to rent a boat in Giethoorn, so check the prices prior to committing and bring cash as you might get a cash discount as we did.
Insider tip: There’s a supermarket (Albert Heijn) shortly before the entrance to the village where you can buy affordable beer and snacks. As the boat goes very slowly, practically everyone is enjoying wine as well as beer while boating around. Save money by bringing your own beer and bottle opener (for wine). If you forget, you can purchase a cold beer (and fries) from the fries shop where you can dock your boat.
Walk around Giethoorn (and take photos)
When I had initially read about Giethoorn, I had assumed that there were no roads whatsoever. However, there’s a footpath as well as pedestrian bridges that you can use to navigate the village and other parts of the village have roads for cars (as you would expect). Most bridges closer to the entrance can be a bit crowded as most tourists don’t wander too far into the village. It’s still pretty tough to get a photo without people, but you might be able to once you get outside of the most touristy part of Giethoorn (close to the restaurants).
Although you can rent a bike in Giethoorn, it’s hard biking around Giethoorn due to the skinny bridges as well as the crowds. The few bikers that we saw really struggled to bike around Giethoorn (mid-afternoon) and many just walked their bikes after finding the crowds too unwieldy. It’s a bit of a waste of money given how little you can truly enjoy biking during peak season.
Other activities in/around Giethoorn
There are a number of other water activities that you can do in Giethoorn, including SUP (stand-up paddling) in the canals. I didn’t have a bathing suit and I was a bit nervous about falling in with all my clothes, so I ended up saying no to this fun activity. Bring a bathing suit if you’re considering trying out SUP in Giethoorn.
Similarly, you can rent a sailboat (if you know how to sail) or learn to sail on the nearby lake. Lastly, the lake close to Giethoorn is particularly windy, so it makes for an ideal place to go windsurfing. Lessons were pretty affordable although once again, you must have your bathing suit with you to go windsurfing. (We tried to convince the owner to let us do it in our underwear; it didn’t work.)
How to avoid the crowds in Giethoorn
If possible, avoid going to Giethoorn during April. April and early May is peak season in the Netherlands due to the tulips in bloom. Sorry to break the news to you, but there are busloads of tourists who come to see the beautiful village without roads as it broke the internet (I kid). With tour buses of 50+ tourists, it’s hard for Giethoorn to feel like an untouched village.
If possible, try to get to Giethoorn as early as possible and/or arrive close to 3pm. Most of the tourist groups head back to Amsterdam around 3-4pm and it’s such a relief to experience Giethoorn without the tourists. Unfortunately, I thought that Giethoorn wasn’t well known…but it’s an open secret. Just be patient and consider staying overnight to get the beautiful canals to yourself in the morning.
Where to eat in Giethoorn
There are a number of restaurants with premium locations (and the prices that come along with that) on the canals of Giethoorn although we ended up at Ristorante Fratelli. This restaurant was family-friendly, affordable, and calm. The pizza and pasta was tasty although you’ll need to reserve ahead for the best views.
I also stopped off at Restaurant Grachthof for an apple pie (super Dutch) and fresh mint tea to share with my friend while my husband ordered a coffee. It was a nice mid-afternoon snack that fit the laid-back feeling of Giethoorn. We also stopped off for cold beer and fries at Snackbar “Geythorn” (be sure to have cash).
On a recent trip, we stopped off at the De Witte Hoeve, which is a pancake house and cafe. It is housed in a beautiful historic home that I assume is a former house from the name. The selection was decent enough with pancakes along with tea, beer, and other drinks. Basic Dutch snacks such as bitterballen are also available. It was raining when we arrived, so it was a nice place to escape the weather until it cleared up. They stock the local Giethoorn-brewed beer.
Where to stay in Giethoorn
There are a number of adorable bed and breakfasts in Giethoorn as well as proper hotels in Giethoorn. After booking last minute, all the hotels in Giethoorn that I wanted to stay at were booked up, be sure to book your hotel for Giethoorn ASAP as they fill up quickly. As a result, I ended up staying a little outside of Giethoorn at the cutest bed and breakfast with a view of the sheep on the farm. For those on a budget, there’s even a hostel in Giethoorn.
How to get to Giethoorn from Amsterdam without a tour
By train: You’ll need to take the train to Zwolle, a gorgeous typically Dutch city. There’s the 70 bus from Zwolle that goes to Giethoorn (final destination: Steenwijk via Zwartsluis). It should take about one hour until you get to Blauwe Hand, the bus stop for Giethoorn. This bus isn’t that frequent, so it’s best to check google maps to see the most efficient route. I recommend starting early as as the bus journey to Giethoorn from Amsterdam can take two hours (or more).
It’s also possible to transfer to the bus to Giethoorn from Meppel and Steenwijk train stations. From Steenwijk, you can take the 71 bus towards Zwartsluis until you reach the bus stop, Blauwe Hand. From Meppel, you can simply take the 79 bus towards Blauwe Hand. It should take about 1 hour from Zwolle.
I found that renting a car to go to Giethoorn from Amsterdam was actually cheaper. I visited Giethoorn with a friend and my husband. We figured out that it would cost almost 25 euros one way to go to Giethoorn for one day from Amsterdam PER PERSON. It was cheaper to rent a car. There’s available parking outside of the historic village that’s free for visitors. It’s a short walk (5 minutes) to the village from the parking lot.
If you’ve read this and thought that this sounds way too involved, you can also take a tour to Giethoorn from Amsterdam where transportation is taken care of.