There are many places in Europe that feel like a fairytale. However, few of them compare to the car-free village of Giethoorn. Here narrow waterways surround historic thatch-roof houses, and visitors can tour the charming (albeit compact) village by boat or bike, as walking paths and canals replace streets.
That’s right, this idyllic little village has no roads or modern transportation; only canals, walking paths, and 176 bridges. This makes Giethoorn just as peaceful as it is difficult to access. Visiting the vehicle-free village means leaving your car in designated parking lots outside the area and either renting a bike or a boat (or hoofing it) into Giethoorn.
I spent a few weeks in Holland / The Netherlands, and couldn’t leave without a weekend visit to the increasingly famous (thank you, Instagram) car-free town.
Spoiler alert: it was just as cute as I had imagined.
Giethoorn takes curb appeal (or, in this case, canal appeal?) to a whole new level. Many of the houses boast brightly colored wood shutters, while perfectly trimmed hedges augment gardens full of bright flowers. Each corner reminiscent of Hansel & Gretel meets Ferngully (hopefully you got at least one of those references).
If you’re visiting Amsterdam — or anywhere in the Netherlands — and need a relaxing escape from the city, traffic and cyclists, I highly recommend taking some time to visit this picturesque little village (even if you’re just “for the ‘gram”).
Here are some suggestions / tips for visiting Giethoorn, including where to eat / stay and how to get to Giethoorn from Amsterdam:
If possible, try to visit during the off-season.
Since Giethoorn is so picturesque, it has developed a reputation and is getting increasingly more popular. This means more tourists and crowded canals/walkways. If you don’t want hundreds of people photo-bombing your pictures, it’s best to visit on the off-season.
I visited in early October and it was perfect. I may be biased, but I think autumn is the BEST time to visit. Not only did I avoid the crowds that swarm Giethoorn during the summer months, I also couldn’t have asked for better weather (it was sunny and 70+ degrees fahrenheit). Additionally, the leaves were just beginning to change, but the last of the summer flowers were still in tact — making for gorgeous photos. Not to mention accommodations are heavily discounted during the off-season (and don’t need to be booked nearly as far in advance).
Rent A Boat!
The highlight of my visit (and probably everyone’s visit) was renting a boat and exploring Giethoorn’s canals and lakes.
This one is probably a given, but you can’t visit this canal-dominant village without exploring it’s various waterways. This also gives you the chance to see all of the homes up-close, and appreciate the intricate detail of the shutters, roofs and other endearing characteristics that are easy to overlook from the walking paths.
Boat tours are also an option, but I found it more fun / enjoyable to rent a boat and explore the area at your own pace.
Pro Tip: Bring booze and snacks on your boat and enjoy a little floating picnic for an even more adorable / enjoyable experience (just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, add wine.)
My second favorite experience in Giethoorn was renting bikes and exploring the paths and roads that surround the village. There are numerous cute little bars, pubs and restaurants tucked into various areas, so exploring the village by bike was a great way to get the “lay of the land.” Most of the restaurants in Giethoorn were a bit of a walk from our hotel, so biking was a perfect way to gain access to all the different areas.
(This is also a benefit of visiting during the off season, since the paths during the summer would be way too busy to bike down. However, in the off-season there’s less people so you don’t need to get off and walk your bike through the village.
Pro tip: the bridges and paths are very narrow, don’t try to bike across the bridges.
Where to Eat in Giethoorn (And Where to Drink)
For a small town, there are a surprising amount of restaurants tucked away in Giethoorn’s nooks and inlets. Though they aren’t the easiest to locate, the tenacious seeker of good food is rewarded with numerous great dining options. Here are a few suggestions on where to eat in Giethoorn:
When I arrived in Giethoorn, T’Vonder was the first restaurant I found. I chose a table outside and was greeted by a fat, orange tabby cat who joined me for the duration of my visit. Located right on the canal and near one of the parking areas, this restaurant is one of the most accessable and serves up great views from their outdoor patio. Unfortunately, the views and the cat were probably the highlight of my visit, as the food left much to be desired. However, I would still recommend T’Vonder as a great place to grab a drink and an appetizer while soaking in the gorgeous setting.
**I would recommend coming here to enjoy the views and have a drink, but save your appetite for elsewhere.
Grand Cafe Fanfare
The Grand Cafe Fanfare serves up European and Dutch fare in an atmosphere reminiscent of an old Dutch Pub. In addition to brewing their own beer, they have a large selection of local brews to choose from and beer tasting here is a definite “must”.
Beyond that, they have a great Tapas menu with a variety of options and sizes to fit any appetite. They also have designed specific tapa boards to pair with wine or beer, which I enjoyed. Beyond Tapas, the main menu has a good variety of seafood, meat dishes, salads and soups — so there’s something for everyone.
If you’re visiting Giethoorn, this restaurant is a great place to enjoy lunch, dinner, or just some drinks and tapas while exploring the town.
This Michelin-starred restaurant is considered one of the best restaurants in The Netherlands, so it’s a definite “must” for anyone in search of a nice meal while visiting Giethoorn. The executive chef, Martin Kruithof, still cooks at the restaurant daily and has been known to come out and meet the patrons as well as occasionally offer kitchen tours.
The restaurant is attached to an inn, so you can book a package deal including a night at the inn + dinner and breakfast (which is also famous), or just visit for a meal. The food is spectacular and the accompanying wine just as good.
I highly recommend including this famous restaurant in your Giethoorn itinerary.
If you’re in the mood for Italian, Ristorante Fratelli is great place to indulge in pizza and pasta while taking in the surrounding canal views. Located in the center of the village on an isolated island, Ristorante Fratelli sits against a busy canal and boasts beautiful views from the outdoor deck/tables. Inside, the decor is modern and sophisticated. The menu here is extensive and the prices are reasonable (especially given its location).
Overall, this is a great option for dining in Giethoorn. Since its located in the middle of a tourist area, getting a table can be difficult, so reservations are recommended during prime dining hours.
Where to Stay in Giethoorn
Giethoorn is an easy day-trip from Amsterdam or Utrecht. However, if you choose to stay longer than a day, there are numerous lodging options to choose from. (I recommend 1 night, or max 2 nights. There aren’t a ton of things to do in Giethoorn, so 1-2 nights is plenty).
I stayed at Hotel Giethoorn, which was a quaint hotel next to a bike/boat rental shop and a small distance from the center of town.
If I were to do it again, I’d recommend getting an AirBnB at one of the houses in town to get the full experience.
How to get to Giethoorn from Amsterdam
If you’re visiting Amsterdam, Giethoorn is an easy day-trip by train and/or bus. The best way to get to Giethoorn from Amsterdam is to take a train from Amsterdam Zuid/Centraal Station to Steenwijk (it will take around 90 minutes for a one-way journey). From there, take a bus to Giethoorn (the bus station is located next to the train station in Steenwijk). The bus will take about 30 minutes, and a one-way bus ticket will cost you 4 euro. Easy Peasy!
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