Friesland Eleven Cities Tour: Self-Guided

Friesland, Holland’s most Northern Province, is a region of lush green farms, boat filled waterways and scenic lakes. Friesland is truly special! Imagine skillful, puffing skaters in the wintry landscapes of the Eleven Cities Tour or Elfstedentocht (whose route you’ll follow by bike), a 125 mile long ice skating race looping through 11 towns in Friesland. The Eleven Cities Tour owes its name to two men who decided in the winter of 1808 to skate past eleven towns in one day, a total of 230 kilometers. To prove they had done it, they obtained the signatures of the owners of cafes or hotels in every town. You’ll see on this tour the Frisian sailing ships called “Skutjes”, hamlets, built on earthen mounds to protect them from flooding and beautiful fortified towns all along the way. Friesland has many handsome 17th century houses and picturesque farms. Occasionally entire town centers have been designated a historically protected area. There are also numerous little museums in Friesland. The Frisians even speak a language of their own! Friesland is an ideal area for a bike holiday. The cycle route winds its way around the province, mainly on quiet lanes and country roads.

Daily Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Leeuwarden.
You’ll arrive today in Leeuwarden, Friesland’s capital, a pleasant town with many interesting museums. It was also the birth town of Mata Hari, the renowned dancer, temptress and purported World War I spy. You can visit her childhood home here. If that is not your interest you might take in the Frisian Museum which provides a comprehensive history of Friesland or the World War II Resistance Museum. You’ll have plenty of time for sightseeing and there are many nice shops close to the boat mooring. Make sure to visit the famous Oldehove – according to the Friesians it leans further than the tower of Pisa.

Day 2: Leeuwarden – Sneek – 28 miles (45 km)
The first cycling day brings you to beautiful Sneek, (or “Snits” as it is called in Frisian), the water sports capital of Friesland. Sneek itself, once a fortified town, is well worth closer inspection. It boasts the unusually ornate and interesting Watergate (1613) and the well preserved town hall, which was built on a “terp”, an artificial hill higher than the surrounding land, to protect it from flooding. Don’t miss the beautiful Martini Church in the center of the attractive shopping streets of Sneek.

Day 3: Sneek – Harich/Balk – 31 miles (50 km)
Today you cycle to Harich or Rijs situated near the IJssel Lake. You’ll pass Sloten, the smallest of the 11 towns of the Elfstedentocht but the best preserved. It is a fortified town that got its town rights in the 13th century and was favorably located on the trade route from Stavoren to Germany. The town has remained the same throughout the centuries mostly because the population of 700 has fluctuated little through the years. In the center admire the beautifully preserved historic merchant homes along the tree-lined central canal and have a tasty lunch in one of the many charming small café’s. In the afternoon enjoy the lovely village of Balk, the main village of the Gaasterland area. Then bike on through typical Frisian landscapes to your final destination for the day, Harich or Balk, both small villages in Gaasterland, the wooded part of Friesland.

Day 4: Harich/Balk – Bolsward – 32 or 36 miles (51 or 58 km)
Bolsward is also a very nice town with picturesque streets, though it is certainly not the only one on today’s cycling itinerary. Stavoren, nowadays famous for water sports, and charming Workum are worth a visit! Stavoren, a tiny harbor village and the oldest city in Friesland received its city rights in 1118. Arriving in the harbor you’ll find some cute streets where you can wander around and feel like you’re back in the 17th century. Continue cycling through peaceful meadows to Workum, a town that flourished around 1300 when other towns lost their connection to the open sea. These towns were all trade cities, with handsome houses from the era of the Hanseatic League and nice churches bearing witness to their glorious past. Finally then you arrive in Bolsward, a charming small town and former trading city with a port in the Middle Ages. There is a beautiful town hall to admire and another 15th century Martini Church.

Day 5: Bolsward – Harlingen – 19 miles (30 km)
On the route to Harlingen, you will cycle past Makkum, a quiet, lovely fishing village on the IJssel Lake. Makkum is well known for its pottery with a distinctive green and red pattern called “Boerenfries” (Frisian farmer). Leaving Makkum you’ll glide through the “heart of Friesland” over old dikes and winding roads to Harlingen. Enjoy your stay in this quiet seaside town, located on the Waddenzee.

Day 6: Harlingen – Dokkum – 39 or 47 miles (63 or 75 km)
You will want to get an early start today so that on your longest day you will have time to visit Franeker, an influential university and market center in the Middle Ages. Here you can admire the elaborately decorated Renaissance town hall and the well-known Planetarium from 1781. This is a truly unique museum, built in the sitting room of the family house of Eise Eisinga, an amateur scientist. It was constructed between 1774 and 1781 in an attempt to quell local fears that a collision among the planets would lead to the Earth’s destruction. To help convince the local burghers that devastation was not imminent, Eisinga made sure that Franeker was represented at the center of the planetarium’s universe. In addition to the planetarium the whole house is now a fascinating museum. After taking the time to visit Franeker, you will continue on to Dokkum. Every Dutch student learns about Dokkum because it is the historic location where Bonifatius (St. Boniface) was murdered in 754. Bonifatius was a Benedictine monk, born in England, who came to Friesland to convert the heathens and he and his followers paid for their efforts with their lives. Dokkum has a chapel, small park and a fountain to commemorate Bonifatius. Dokkum is a pristine, architecturally rich small town with a wonderful, lively center, a number interesting art galleries and a friendly population always welcoming travelers. It is a quite remarkable town, as the streets haven’t changed much since 1650. In the Eleven City Skating Tour, Dokkum is known as the “turning point” as it is the place where the speed-skaters have to take the same route as they came to go back to Leeuwarden.

Day 7: Dokkum – Leeuwarden – 22 miles (35 km)
On the last cycling day, you return to your starting point of Leeuwarden. Along the cycling route, the enchanting Frisian villages Rinsumageest and Burdaard can be visited.

Day 8: Departure after breakfas

Getting There

You will arrive at your leisure (with enough time for the warm-up ride!) at your Leeuwarden hotel. Leeuwarden is a comfortable, direct two hour train ride from Amsterdam or Schiphol Airport. Trains run every half-hour. From the station it’s a 5-minute taxi ride to the hotel (or a 1 km walk).

Meals

Daily Breakfast is included.

Prices and Dates

Check out our Tour Calendar under “Self-Guided Tours”

Tour Length

8 days/ 7 nights

Included
    • – Accommodations in family-owned 3 and 4-star hotels; all rooms with private facilities
    • – 7-speed bikes with cycle bags, pump, lock, and repair kit
    • – Daily breakfast
    • – Daily luggage transportation (Luggage transportation is limited to one suitcase or bag per person not heavier than 20 kilos.)
    • – Detailed route descriptions and maps
    • – Emergency phone number 7 days a week
    *Please Note: A local tourist tax of 2 euros per person per night will have to be paid in each individual hotel on departure!
Bicycles

Included in the tour price are hybrid 7-speed bikes in excellent condition and sufficient for the terrain. They include cycle bags, pump, lock, and repair kit. These need to be picked up from the bike shop, directly next to the Leeuwarden train station.

Level of Difficulty

Daily cycling is on flat terrain and on mostly separate bike paths. Level of Difficulty is easy.

Excluded

– Airfare
– Alcoholic and bar beverages
– Lunches, dinners

Weather

Holland is close to the North Sea and has a moderate sea climate. Average daytime temperatures in April range from 55-65F, in May it starts to get a little warmer. From June-September, temperatures range from 55-70. Rainfall is about 10 days per month.

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