Heerenveen is a Friesland city of 30,000 whose sporting prowess belies its modest size.
Thialf, the top speed skating rink in the Netherlands is here, and that’s big news for a country where all competitions are bogged down.
Local football team SC Heerenveen will forever be synonymous with famous striker Abe Lenstra, but has also helped to develop some modern talents such as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
In the 17th century, Albertine Agnes, Countess of Nassau, the widow of William Frederick, the Governor of Frisian state, established the estate of Oranje Oud in the same borough.
In the 19th century, some prominent families from the area established their own small estates in Ornanjewoud.
These gorgeous mansions are private, but have an excellent art museum and a 17th century park open to the public.
1. Belvedere Museum
Dedicated to modern and contemporary art, the Belvédère Museum is located in Oranjewoud and is named after the watchtower in the park in the 1920s.
The museum is an award-winning, low-impact building spanning a canal, opened by Queen Beatrix in 2004 and working primarily with Frisian artists including Jan Mankes, Gerrit Benner and Thijs Rinsema.
The exhibition takes you from the 19th century to the present through realism, impressionism, expressionism, constructivism and new imagery.
When we wrote this at the end of 2018, the performances of Dick van Arkel and Tjibbe Hooghiemstra were inspired by the Friesland Marsh and Frieswoden Forest green landscapes, respectively.
Speed skating is the Dutch’s forte, with the country taking twice as many ISU Speed Skating World Cup appearances (986) as its closest competitor the United States (436) over the past 35 years. One of this speed skating cathedrals is Thialf, a 12,500-seat ice sports complex that opened in 1986 and was refurbished in 2016. The outdoor ice rink next to it dates back to 1967 and was unveiled by Princess Christina.
Thialf is the top ice skating venue in the Netherlands, hosting two World Cups each season, as well as the home games of the Frisian Flying hockey team, which compete in the Eredivisie.
The track is known for its speed, with world records tumbling at different distances each season.
Check out the opening hours, from September to March you can try the ice on the famous 400-meter track or the casual Krabbelbaan.
Skate rentals are available, as well as a 30 x 30 meter rink for young skaters.
3. Cracked state
A municipal building since the 19th century, this Baroque mansion was ordered in 1648 by grietman (roughly equivalent to the mayor) Johannes Sytzes Crack. In Frisian tradition, the name of the house is the owner’s name, the Crack’s name and the state (property). Crackstate is protected by a moat, crossed by a bridge built in 1775, and iron gates dating from 1819. Climbing the gable is a lantern, which is believed to have been used as a watchtower since the 1960s.
A prison was added to the basement in 1890 and was used as a torture chamber during World War II.
On a lighter note, Crackstate is now a wedding venue adjacent to a new town hall built in 1993.
This magnificent villa was built in 1640 for grietman Amelius van Oenema.
After inheriting two local noble families, Oenemastate became the official office of the grietman of Heerenveen in 1828 and then the town hall of Heerenveen from 1876. On the balustrade below the fine central skylight, there are panels documenting the building’s construction and restoration in 1876. After the 20th century villa was sold, it is now a grand cafe worth a visit to see the exuberant ceiling painting.
5. Heerenveen Museum
You can learn about the history of Heerenveen at this local museum, which showcases historical artifacts, archaeological artifacts and the work of regional artists such as symbolist Jan Manx.
There’s an exhibit on the distinguished families who lived in Oranje Ude and their poorer compatriots in the peat cuttings, and a highly detailed scale model of Heerenveen as it looked in 1830. You can follow the life and career of the prolific Heerenveen striker Abe Lenstra (1920-1985) and learn about the town’s long-standing links with industry, as well as famous Dutch manufacturers such as bicycle brands Batavus and Koninklijke Smilde.
There’s also a sculpture garden, changing exhibits of contemporary art and a museum shop designed to resemble a 19th-century Heerenveen pharmacy.
6. Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis Museum
Part of the Heerenveen Museum, but officially a separate attraction is this biographical collection dedicated to the first socialist of the Dutch Parliament.
Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis (1846-1919) represented the Frisian People’s Party and was elected in 1888, lasting three years in the House of Representatives, after which he leaned towards anarchism and revolution.
During his tenure, he proposed universal suffrage, the eight-hour day, the introduction of a minimum wage, an end to the Dutch war in Aceh, and many other policies that were a bit too progressive for the period.
In four areas you can view some of his personal possessions, reveal his private life, read excerpts from letters, view his library and assess his influence on the Netherlands at the turn of the century and today.
7. De Overtuin
Oranjewoud’s park has been open to the public since 1953. From the 17th century, it is as old as Oranjewoud and has been updated to keep it fashionable, first in the 18th century Baroque and then in the 19th century English Landscape Park.
The park itself is a Dutch heritage, with its canals, oaks and beech boulevards having been around since its establishment in the 17th century.
In the landscape garden, winding paths lead through woods and kidney-shaped water features.
Rhododendrons here date back to the 1800s and are spectacular when they bloom in June.
To the east, you can climb the 18-meter-high concrete Belvedere Tower (1924), after which the nearby museum is named.
8. Welgelegen Windmill
The beautiful workwear mill on Tjepkemastraat was built in 1849 and was restored in the early 1970s to wind mill flour again.
The upper level containing the mill machinery is thatched, while the lower level is made of brick and was raised 6 meters in 1898 to raise the sails above the surrounding buildings.
Mill lovers can visit on Saturday mornings to check out Burr and Cullen stones, cogs, shafts and gears, all in motion if the wind blows.
In this shop, you can peruse a variety of flours, from spelt to six-grain bread flour, all made the old-fashioned way at this 170-year-old mill.
9. SC Heerenveen
The local football team is one of those teams like Athletic Bilbao, Bayern Munich or FC Barcelona that evokes a real sense of regional identity.
SC Heerenveen’s coat of arms is the Frieslad flag, with blue and white diagonal stripes embellished with “Pompellide” heraldic water lily leaves, which look like a heart.
The Frisian national anthem, De Alde Friezen, is sung before every domestic match at the 27,224-capacity Abe Lenstra Stadium.
It opened in 1994 and is named after the club’s greatest player, who went on to score better than 1 to 1 during his 18-year stint with “De Superfriezens”. SC Heerenveen has an average attendance of 20,000 so the atmosphere is great, but it also means you should be able to get tickets if you sign up for the free club card first.
10. Friesland Lake
Heerenveen is located on the east side of the Lake District, Lake Friesmeren, popular in the Netherlands but little known among overseas tourists.
Intertwined with rivers and canals, these 35 lakes are actually man-made, formed by peat cutting starting in the Middle Ages.
One thing you can do is cycle through the easy-going countryside, passing herds of Frisian cows.
You can rent a bike from Heerenveen Tweewielers in the city centre, and the tourist office at the Heerenveen Museum has plenty of maps and leaflets.
In summer, the lake opens up a world of water activities, be it excursions on a traditional boat, sailing, stand-up paddle boarding, kitesurfing, windsurfing or kayaking.
You can also use the network of canals to reach the lake from Heerenveen.
Bootverhuur Kalf, a rental center on the Heeresloot Canal, has a fleet of small motorboats, some of which do not require a license.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Heerenveen, The Netherlands
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