Heerenveen is the sports capital of the Northern Netherlands and one of the eleven Frisian cities. The city is famously home to the Thialf stadium, the largest indoor ice arena in the country and the stage for many international ice skating tournaments. But there's more to this town, including some nice historic sights, plenty of shopping opportunities and events all year round.
Compared to other Dutch cities, Heerenveen is not very old. It was established around 1550 at the crossing point of two water ways. Those canals were dug out at the order of the "Heeren van het veen", or "Lords of the Peat", from which the city derived its name.
Highways A7 (from Groningen to Sneek) and A32 (from Zwolle to Leeuwarden) intersect near Heerenveen, making the city well reachable by road from all directions. Regionally, the town is also served by the N380 (Schoterlandse weg) and N924 (Rottumerweg).
Heerenveen is a stop on the intercity train from Leeuwarden and Zwolle, and is served by a direct intercity train with only a few stops, and a second intercity train which stops at more destinations on the way. They run once per hour each, providing a connection between the major destinations every half hour. It's about 20 minutes from Heerenveen to Leeuwarden or 40 minutes from Heerenveen to Zwolle. If you're on the train that stops more often, your travelling time is only a few minutes longer, so don't bother waiting for the other one. The sports stadium has its own stop, but is only served by the stop train.
Heerenveen is easily reachable by bike, with many roads leading into town. If you have a boat, you can also get to the city over water. The main waterways are the Heeresloot, the Engelenvaart and the Nieuwe Heerenveense Kanaal. Along this last one you'll also find a yacht harbour (De Welle) .
You'll get around fine on foot, for the major sights and shops. This is not a particularly small city, however, so a bike can be convenient if you want to see even a bit more. Bikes can be rented at the bike parking on the train station, and several hotels rent them out as well.
There aren't too many national monuments to be found, but Heerenveen has a few heritage sights worth seeing. The Crackstate is a 17th century castle and now serves as the city hall. The little tower on the roof was originally probably a lookout post, but now has a carillon. The only remaining windmill is called Welgelegen, Tjepkemastraat 23. This mill was built in 1849. Once used to mill grains, it's now owned by a special foundation and open to public on Saturday mornings.
Other notable buildings include the Oenemastate, Gemeenteplein 33. This 17th century villa served for some time as the city hall, later housed the regional courts and is now a café.
There are no cathedrals or other grand religious monuments around, but two churches are listed as national heritage monuments. First, there's the 18th century Doopsgezinde Kerk, Vermaningsteeg 5. The other one is the 19th century Heilige Geestkerk, Crackstraat 13.
As in any town in this area, the locals love water. Heerenveen isn't exactly a hotspot for boating or other water activities, but you'll find some options in town (especially in the yacht harbour along the Nieuwe Heerenveense Kanaal) and plenty of renting opportunities or sailing courses in nearby towns.
If you've had enough of the water, biking is a perfect way to explore the surrounding of Heerenveen. There are several scenic routes along the lakes and water ways; head to the tourist office to get some maps.
Visit the Thialf Stadium, especially when there's a competition going on. It's one of the major ice skating arenas in Europe.
Heerenveen has a long history of trade, and it serves as shopping centre for the surrounding. There are a good number of larger chain stores, but also smaller boutique shops. All in all, it's a fine place to go shopping. There are a few supermarkets, including:
- Albert Heijn, De Passage 2. 8am-9pm, 12am-6pm on Sundays.
- Jumbo, Gedempte Molenwijk 24. 8am-8pm, closed on Sundays.
- Jumbo, Jister 29. 8am-8pm, 12am-6pm on Sundays.
- Restaurant Het Ambacht, Burgemeester Falkenaweg 56. Probably the best cuisine in town, with nicely plated dishes and fine service too. This place teaches young people the ins and outs of the of the restaurant business. If you're not on a tight budget, this is a great place to eat. €35.
- Spoorzicht, Parallelweg 48, ☎ +31 513 436 973. The menu here is rather limited, but the food is tasty and fresh. They serve good portions and the staff is friendly.
- perBacco, Herenwal 186-188, ☎ +31 513 648285. This is not just your pizza place on the corner; it's an ambitious Italian restaurant serving no pizza, but all kinds of delicious Italian specialities. Interesting detail: you can bring your own drinks! If you have a favourite wine, you're allowed to bring it, with your own cork screw, open, poor and drink as much as you like. €37.50 for 3 courses.
The old town has several pleasant bars, in summer most with outdoor terraces. They're good for some drinks and a chat, but if you want to go out dancing, try
- Bacchus, Gedempte Molenwijk 6a.
- Discotheek Liberty, Kerkstraat 44.
Surprisingly, although Heerenveen is a famous sports destination, lodging options are fairly limited and many are located closer to the stadium than to the city centre. If you have trouble finding a place, consider searching in nearby destinations closer to the lakes. Those are typically more popular with tourists and have ample places to stay. Note also that prices may rise significantly during major ice skating events.
- Fletcher Hotel Restaurant Heidehof, Golflaan 1, Heerenveen, ☎ +31 513-63 02 00. Next to a golf field and close to the Thialf stadium, this place is a 10 minute drive from the city centre. It's a bit outdated but service is friendly and there's a bar and restaurant. Wifi isn't very good, though. From €89.
- Hajé Hotel Heerenveen, Schans 65, ☎ +31 513 618 6 18. Also close to the highways, and fairly outdated, but one of the cheaper places in town. The rooms are okay, if not great, and there's a restaurant and outdoor terrace. This is a good place if you're wanting to discover the surroundings, as they're a bit out of town and have bike rental available. From €49/59 for a single/double.
- B&B Veensluis 20, Veensluis 20, ☎ +31 622698760. This is a most welcoming bed&breakfast, with spacious, clean rooms and excellent service. Try to book well in advance, as it's regularly fully booked. It's a 5 minute drive to the city centre, and there are good opportunities for hiking or biking around. It's also well reachable by taking line 20 or 21 in the direction Leeuwarden, and get out at stop "Veensluis". € 75 for a double.
Pretty much all destinations in the Frisian Lakes district are a short drive from here. Some of the best options include Sneek, Leeuwarden and Franeker. Or, head out to Groningen, the capital of the nearby province with the same name.