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Holiday tips about the port of Harlingen

Today we know Harlingen as the most important port to two of the popular Wadden Islands. From Harlingen the ferry goes to Vlieland and Terschelling. But there is much more to see and experience in this historic city. This is how we list the following for you.

  • The illustrious history of Harlingen
  • Attractions
  • Events in Harlingen
  • The best places to eat
  • Sailing from Harlingen
Traditional flat-bottomed ships at the start of a regatta

The illustrious history of Harlingen

There has been quite a bit of bickering about Harlingen in the history of this town. It all started in the twelfth century, when a lord Ludinga founded a monastery in what was then called Almenum and called it Ludingakerke. He was smart enough to order the monks to dig canals around it.

The origins of Harlingen

This made trading possible and it soon became one of the richest monasteries in Friesland. This commercial shipping all ran via a district west of Almenum called Harlingen. Due to its great commercial success, this district grew explosively and was granted city rights in 1234.

That makes Harlingen as a city older than Leeuwarden, Dokkum and even Amsterdam.

Typical Dutch nature reserve

Harlingen by the sea

As with the creation of the Wadden Sea, the sea also has an influence on a city like Harlingen. For two centuries, Harlingen lies in the shadow of the university town of Franeker “on a winding corner of the coast” as described in history books.

But because of the connection with the sea, prosperity increased. In those days the city is much more western but also here the sea eats away at the land and regularly beats away whole pieces of land. As a result, the city was forced to expand to the North and later to the East.

Harlingen shipyard

It was only in the mid-17th century that the city really flourished as a trading city. The harbours acquired a marine character due to the enormous activity that prevailed and arose there. There were large shipyards, beer breweries, soap and salt factories, stone and potteries, lime ovens, windmills and so on.

Hanseatic cities in the Netherlands

But here too, as with the many Hanseatic cities around the former Zuiderzee, at the time of the creation of the IJsselmeer, Harlingen was surpassed in the centuries that followed by places like Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Nevertheless, as a coastal shipping and fishing port Harlingen remained of great economic importance to Friesland and the rest of the Netherlands.

Fishing in Harlingen

It is certainly not just tourism that this town lives on, fishing has been there since ancient times. Today, various cargo routes are maintained from the industrial port of Harlingen. Among others to Scandinavia. Most of the coasters that come to Harlingen come to load salt at the salt factory. In addition to the Harlinger ships, the Vissershaven also has a large fishing fleet from Urk.

“‘Harlingen is the portal of London.”

-Max Heslinga, Geograaf-

What’s there to see in Harlingen?

Today in Harlingen there is still plenty to do and see. Some of the fortifications are still visible in the city centre, and there are also museums, canals, markets and nice restaurants.

Harlingen city centre

The original ring of canals can still largely be found in the old town centre. Just like the warehouses and the houses built in the Dutch style. In the city you can still see many narrow alleys that form the connection between the canals.

Authentic cottages in the centre of Harlingen

City walk through Harlingen

There are still many historic bridges and locks and you can also take a walk along the many historic canal houses with their impressive facade stones. When you’re out and about you’ll find cozy terraces at one of the canals or at one of the harbours.

Bridge and historic houses in the port of Harlingen

Museum in Harlingen

There is a beautiful museum in Harlingen, as well as regular exhibitions in the various galleries and exhibition spaces in the city.

The Hannema House

The Hannema House collects and exhibits everything that is closely related to the history and art history of Harlingen. Think of this: Harlinger tile and pottery, maritime objects, centuries-old paintings (including Granida and Daifilo by Jacob Adriaensz Backer), photographs, silverware, various old documents and furniture.

Who is Simon Vestdijk

There is also a Simon Vestdijk Room. In this room of the museum, besides a number of other things related to the Harlingen-born writer, you can see his complete work in first editions. In the largest part of the Hannema House you can see a permanent display. In addition, there are regular temporary exhibitions with various themes.

Drawbridge and lock in Harlingen

Events in Harlingen

In addition to the ever-present activity in this harbour town, all kinds of fun events are also organised.

The ‘Visserijdagen’

By far the most famous and loved by the locals are the Visserijdagen [The fishing days], an annual 4-day folk festival full of music & dance that takes place at the end of August every year.

Harlingen Ongeschut

In 2012, this unique event ‘Harlingen ongeschut’ has been put on the calendar. The large lock gates outside the city will be closed so that all the locks in the city centre can be open and can be sailed around freely all evening. This happens on self decorated boats and sloops, through the centre of Harlingen. On the shore there is a lot to see from theatre to live performance and everything in between.

Very worthwhile, a unique experience to see the city from the water but also on foot through the center is the fairytale atmosphere definitely worth it. Bezoek dit event aan de vooravond van je zeilreis naar de Wadden bijvoorbeeld.

Hotel 't Heerenlogement in the centre of Harlingen

The best places to eat in Harlingen

Of course, even in a place like Harlingen, you don’t have to look long for nice restaurants or cosy terraces.

‘t Heerenlogement

One of the most nostalgic places to eat and spend the night is ‘t Heerenlogement. Here you can taste the atmosphere of a really old-fashioned inn.

‘t Noorderke

If you want a nice lunch in a somewhat nautical setting and the coziness of a brown cafĂ©, you can go to ‘t Noorderke at the Noorderhaven. Here you can also have a nice beer and snack


You can eat one or more courses from a varied menu in a former and authentic warehouse at restaurant Nooitgedagt, to be found on the ‘Grote Breedeplaats’. Eating here is also very worthwhile if you’re just starting or ending your slow-travel holiday.

Other nice restaurants in Harlingen

These are just a few of our personal favourite restaurants in Harlingen. Also worth a visit: Fish restaurant de Tjotter, ‘t Havenmantsje, Anna Casparii, Blended by Daan, pizzeria San Marino. Or visit the old-fashioned ‘poffertjes’ stall in the harbour.

Sailing from Harlingen

Various sailing trips and holidays start from Harlingen. Harlingen is the perfect starting point for a summer holiday in the Netherlands.

Combine it with a sailing trip aboard an authentic flat-bottomed ship or visit to one of the 5 Wadden Islands and collect memories of the Wadden Sea and its special cities.

Things to see and do in the port of Harlingen

This post is also available in: Dutch German