In this edition of the Euroculturer City Guides, Luca Gentile (Luxembourgish) shares his experiences of Groningen, where he did both his BA and his first semester of the Euroculture MA at the University of Groningen. After this, he moved to Bilbao to study at the University of Deusto.
The City Guide Project is led by Paola Gosio and Felix Lengers.
Euroculturer Magazine (EM): Why did you choose to study and live in this particular city?
Luca Gentile (LG): Having initially completed my bachelor’s in Groningen I was already used to living in the Netherlands, but the choice of staying in ‘Grunn’ for another semester was made easy by the city itself. It is one of the biggest student cities in the Netherlands and you will most certainly feel welcome here. It is quite small and boasts an even smaller city centre but I assure you it has everything you need! From bars to clubs, the RUG library to Forum, music venues and theatre places, and parks such as Noorderplantsoen which gets filled with Dutch students as soon as a ray of sun comes out. Generally, Groningen has a lot to offer, and the student vibe is definitely worth experiencing.
EM: What are the aspects you appreciate the most about the city and which ones are those that you like less?
LG: The fact that it is a small city is quite a great aspect, as everyone uses their bikes as their main means of transport. Therefore, you are most likely to be only a short bike ride away from your friend’s place. Biking in general is quite a Dutch thing, but in Groningen they take it to another level as the city quite literally belongs to cyclists. Another great aspect is ACLO, a huge student sports organisation that offers access to a variety of sports for a relatively low price! Bars, clubs, and nightlife in general are an obvious positive aspect of the city.
On the other hand, if you are looking for sunny weather, this city might not offer that much of it over the year, but as soon as there is sun the city really bustles with life! Also, the city is quite isolated from the rest of the Netherlands so a trip to Amsterdam will still take 2h by train for example.
EM: Was it easy to communicate with the locals or did you encounter any issues? Do you have any tips on how to deal with the language barrier?
LG: Everybody generally speaks English very well, which makes it really easy to be able to communicate with the Dutch. As it goes for the language, Dutch itself is quite difficult to understand or learn, but as I mentioned, many speak English at a good level, so it is generally not necessary to speak Dutch. If you live in Groningen only for a few months, English will serve you just fine in most social situations.
EM: What is a “must see” in Groningen if you are a tourist who spends only one day in this city?
LG: If you visit the city for one day and the weather is on your side, I would certainly recommend visiting Hoornsemeer, then later going out for a few drinks in one of the many bars and then maybe trying some Dutch food out of the snack wall of FEBO (eierballen!). Last but not least, walk around the city centre and chill in the Noorderplantsoen park.
EM: Do you have any recommendations for day trips in the surroundings of the city?
LG: Because the Netherlands is quite a small country, it is really easy to just take the train and go to Amsterdam or Utrecht for the day. However, if you feel like you want to see more of what the Dutch culture has to offer, instead of being a regular tourist in a big city, I would definitely suggest going to small villages in the province. A great example of this is Giethoorn, where there are no roads but only canals that you have to navigate through with a boat, or the nearby islands up north (Schiermonnikoog or Ameland). If you are searching for some activities, you can visit the Walibi attraction park, go sailing on one of the many lakes in Friesland or go biking through the province.
EM: What would you consider the best local dishes and which places serve them best?
LG: To find some local dishes, you can visit the marketplace near the university, which offers some local delicacies like Groninger koek. Moreover, there are a lot of stands that offer classic Dutch food, like fresh stroopwafels, honey or poffertjes. Bruine jenever is a typical Groningen liquor if you are up for trying something new. Eierbal is also a typical fried snack, a boiled egg in ragout with a breaded layer (which tastes better than it looks or sounds).
EM: Do you have any recommendations for good vegan or vegetarian restaurants or any other specific places?
LG: There are numerous options for vegetarians and vegans in the city and there are constantly new places popping up that serve healthier and more varied options. In general, restaurants already offer vegetarian options. Great places to go to are FLFL, as the name already suggests, a falafel place. Also De Herbivoor and Anat (both 100% vegan) are really nice. If you are looking for specific international cuisine with vegan or veggie options, I would suggest Fatoush or Kohinoor. If you have a sweet tooth, then definitely swing by Feel Good or Bij Britta (which are practically next to each other) and indulge in something sugary. Konbu is also a nice place for authentic Asian cuisine.
EM: Where would you go to have a drink or to spend a night out with friends?
LG: Groningen is considered to be a student city with a vibrant nightlife. There are a lot of bars and clubs in the city centre all within walking distance from each other, so a pub crawl is the way to go if you want to have a great night out. I would suggest starting at Mofongo’s, a great bar right next to the main university building with amazing food and drinks. However, if you do not want to spend that much, it is also really common to sit with some friends at the park or just drink something at home. In the middle of the city you find the Grote Markt (big market) with the bar De Drie Gezusters, which is one of the biggest pubs in Europe.
EM: How do the prices in Groningen compare to your second semester city? What were some of the cheaper goods and what were some of the more expensive goods? (e.g. food, museums, public transport)
LG: The Netherlands itself is not that cheap, so be prepared to spend a bit more on food. You can always go to the local market in the city centre (which happens 3x a week) and get your groceries there at a lower price. For a bike I would definitely recommend getting a ‘Swapfiets’ for the semester, which is a bike you can rent at a low price and the company fixes it whenever there is something wrong with it. They are reliable and it probably won’t get stolen either! In general, public transport is a bit more expensive than in other countries, but you can easily find a deal for a day trip by train within the country for 15 euros.
Small note by Felix Lengers: In comparison with our second semester home Bilbao, Groningen is a bit more expensive, albeit not much.
EM: Which websites/sources did you use to find an apartment in the city and what tips would you give to someone moving to the city?
LG: There are many Facebook groups that offer housing for Dutch and international students. I have to say that Groningen is a really popular city, and that finding housing is a challenge as there are a lot of new students coming to the city every year. Most landlords with available rooms only look for Dutch tenants, which makes it even more complicated for internationals to find a nice room. However, there are other ways for finding a nice place, like Kamernet, which is a website where you sign up to in order to get room advertisements, or SugarHomes, basically container studios you can rent for half a year for 300 Euros (-/+) or through a realtor which is also a really common thing to do.
EM: In short, to whom would you recommend choosing Groningen as their Euroculture semester destination?
LG: Groningen is for everyone! If you like living in a student and lively city, then this is definitely a fun place for you. Students are the backbone of the city and there is always something fun to do or to see, as everything seems very close by in the Netherlands.
Picture Credit: Personal Pictures and Samuel Everett, Flickr