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Looking at a map of the Netherlands, Groningen seems a long way from anywhere – but this vibrant, youthful city is among the country's most progressive urban metropolises, with a 40,000-strong student population injecting bags of creative zest into its buzzing cafe culture, hedonistic nightlife and rampant cultural scene.

Groningen was already an independent city-state and key trading centre by the late Middle Ages; the iconic Martinitoren stands as a reminder of this Golden Age, miraculously surviving fierce fighting here late in WWII before Groningen's liberation on 17 April 1945. Groningen's highly regarded university dates to 1614, and its refreshingly car-free centre is a result of zealous town planning in the 1970s that saw the city controversially get rid of motorised traffic from its old town. Dozens of Dutch cities followed suit, but it is pioneering Groningen that remains one of the country's most brilliant cycling cities.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Groningen.