This Dreamlike Medieval Dutch Village Has Water Instead of Roads—Here’s the Weird Reason Why

This Dreamlike Medieval Dutch Village Has Water Instead of Roads—Here’s the Weird Reason Why
A picture designed by The Epoch Times using imagery from Tatsiana Hendzel, OlenaPalaguta/Shutterstock
Michael Wing
3/10/2024
Updated:
3/10/2024
0:00

A fairytale come true—the picturesque, dreamlike Dutch town of Giethoorn, where water replaces roads, fits the simile to a tee.

It’s a medieval town in its earliest origins, harking from the 13th century, and still features rustic, traditional thatched roofs.

Under these charming old-fashioned roofs, you might take shelter from the rain and feast on Dutch apple pie or sip on frothy Giethoorn home-brewed beer. What could be more Dutch than that?

But the feature the town is most famous for is actually its maze of some 176 tranquil canals that run along the rows of old houses, with trees lining, lawns abutting, and pedestrian bridges striding over the waterways. It really is a lot like a storybook.

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(rob3rt82/Shutterstock)
(piotr iłowiecki/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)
(piotr iłowiecki/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)
(SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock)
(SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock)
(OlenaPalaguta/Shutterstock)
(OlenaPalaguta/Shutterstock)

This unique aquatic aspect of the town has garnered it the informal title of being the “Venice of the North.”

It may be quiet, but that’s not to say it’s not busy; visitors aplenty arrive by bus to see the town made famous by the internet. This secluded little spot, about 75 miles northwest of Amsterdam, has become somewhat of an open secret.

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(Gabriela Beres/Shutterstock)
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(hans engbers/Shutterstock)
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(ariadna de raadt/Shutterstock)
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Although it’s busy, tourists tend to be respectful of the town’s some 2,800 inhabitants while traversing the walkways, snapping pictures, and using quiet boats with electric motors, aptly called whisper boats.

Since there are no real roads in Giethoorn, getting around by boat is the way to go, though there are roads leading up to a parking lot from which one may walk into town.

Riding a rental bike along the walkways, as some tourists do, one might wind up dodging and weaving, or even tumbling, through the throngs of people, or squeezing across narrow bridges—which is probably why you see so many walking their bikes along the canals.

(R. de Bruijn_Photography/Shutterstock)
(R. de Bruijn_Photography/Shutterstock)
(Mint Berg/Shutterstock)
(Mint Berg/Shutterstock)
(SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock)
(SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock)

One might ask, why all the canals? Or, why were they dug instead of building roads?

What we know for sure is that the Netherlands’ early inhabitants dredged the soil in these lowlands for peat—partially decomposed vegetation—which made good fuel.

It’s conceivable, then, that rains filled the trenches that were dug, leaving waterways which became a more convenient means of transportation than using roads—perhaps because they were being flooded too often.

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(Gaspar Janos/Shutterstock)
(Gabriela Beres/Shutterstock)
(Gabriela Beres/Shutterstock)
(Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock)
(Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock)

Thus, the story goes, flooding in this area engendered the town’s name: Farmers found numerous goat horns here following the Flood of 1170. Giethoorn stems from “Geytenhoren” in Dutch, which means “goat horn.”

Along the main canal thoroughfare, or Binnenpad, it gets busy sometimes, particularly during spring and summer, peak period for tourists. Guided tours can be observed. There are hoards in larger boats on easy day trips organized by guide companies that require less planning.

For those less fond of crowds, one might prefer the 2.5-hour train ride before transferring to the number 70 bus. One might arrive in a rental car for fewer headaches. The surrounding Dutch countryside is, in a word: enchanting.

(Gabriela Beres/Shutterstock)
(Gabriela Beres/Shutterstock)
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(NiglayNik/Shutterstock)
(fokke baarssen/Shutterstock)
(fokke baarssen/Shutterstock)
(Tatsiana Hendzel/Shutterstock)
(Tatsiana Hendzel/Shutterstock)

Meandering off the beaten trail, there are more secluded areas of Giethoorn; off-season, in the fall or even winter, also presents less crowds. If you can find a piece of solitude in this dreamy town, the scenery may conjure a Monet painting.

Visitors usually want to stay for an hour or two to get the full feel. You can stroll the canals, visit souvenir shops and art galleries, and stop in for a beer or Dutch apple pie. There are old-fashioned Dutch restaurants with thatched roofs.

If hospitality is on your mind—quiet mornings, tranquil evenings on the water, and so forth—bed and breakfasts await you in the canal town.

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