Top choice in Leeuwarden

No single sight evokes the undercurrent of explosive creativity pulsating through the Frisian capital quite like this 19th-century prison-turned-cultural centre. Dozens of entrepreneurial start-ups and young businesses now occupy the old cells; artist workshops, tattoo parlours, artisan boutiques and a designer hostel fill cell block H; while trendsetting Proefverlof is the hippest place in town for a canal-side bite or drink. Guided tours, led by a former prison guide complete with uniform, kick off from the latter.

The majestic jail complex, with its handful of vast interior courtyards and fanciful turreted entrance, stands on the site of the town's first blokhuis (blockhouse or fort), built in 1498 under governor of Friesland, Duke Albrecht of Saxony. In 1580 much of the original building was torn down following its occupation by, and subsequent expelling of, Spanish troops. It later became an ammunition depot, gunpowder warehouse and detention centre. From the 19th century until 2008, it served as the provincial jail.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Leeuwarden attractions

1. De Waag


The petite weighing house dominates Waagplein; butter and other goods were weighed here from 1598 to 1884.

2. Fries Museum

0.23 MILES

The provincial museum occupies an imposing glass-fronted building sporting a striking wood-and-steel roof that projects out over Wilhelminaplein. The…

3. Natuurmuseum Fryslân

0.35 MILES

Let your angels run rampant in this natural history museum, covering Friesland's flora and fauna. Highlights include a virtual bird-flight simulation …

4. Keramiek Museum Princessehof

0.39 MILES

Pottery lovers will adore the Netherlands ceramics museum. Here you'll find the largest collection of tiles on the planet, an unparalleled selection of…

5. Historisch Centrum

0.42 MILES

Read up on the town's history at the city archives, home to a permanent exhibition on the history of Leeuwarden. It also organises guided tours led by…

6. Obe Paviljoen

0.43 MILES

Named after the local Frisian poet Obe Postma (1868–1963), this contemporary wood-and-glass pavilion is razor-sharp in both architectural design and the…

7. Oldehove

0.48 MILES

At the northwest corner of the historic core stands the notoriously off-kilter Oldehove – Friesland's rival to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Things went…

8. Eise Eisinga Planetarium

10.69 MILES

The Eise Eisinga Planetarium is named after its builder, an 18th-century wool comber with a serious sideline in cosmic mathematics and astrology. Between…