Located in the Northeastern part of the Netherlands is the province of Drenthe. It hosts a number of beautiful and varied landscapes such as dunes, forests, wide rivers, and heathlands. This region of the Dutch countryside is known for the mysterious structures called hunnenbeds or ‘megaliths’ that date back to prehistoric times.
Artifacts recovered in this region go back to 150,000 years ago to the Wolstonian Stage and are the oldest in the Netherlands. If you’re seeking a weekend away encompassing nature and rich history then I suggest you head to Drenthe Netherlands. There is plenty to see and experience.
When is the Best Time to Visit Drenthe Netherlands?
Although the climate in this region is considered temperate it has a significant amount of rainfall throughout the year. Our visit was during the month of June and while we did experience some rain it was still warm enough to wear summer attire and do outdoor activities. I recommend going between the months of April to September because you will have longer daylight hours to explore. Keep in mind that August is typically the hottest month of the year in the Netherlands and we are prone to get heat waves that are above 90F.
Going during the colder months from November to March would not be the best option since temperatures range from 30-40F. Since the Drenthe region is mostly woodlands and forest there will not be much to do after the sun sets aside from being indoors.
Where to Stay?
When you’re looking for where to stay you should consider one of the charming holiday parks. They are typically located in natural areas or woodlands surroundings. There are many accommodations to choose from that can hold two to sixteen people and includes nice amenities such as fireplaces and saunas. We stayed at a cute house in the middle of the forest at a park called Het Grote Zand. It was great because we were close by to many hiking and cycling trails with access to spacious heathlands. The park itself contained an indoor swimming pool, tennis court, a playground for kids, and a restaurant.
What to Do in Drenthe Netherlands?
If you’re a nature lover and outdoor explorer there is plenty in this region to do. Hiking, camping, cycling, fishing, and the list goes on! History buffs will also find the number of museums, historical sites, and landmarks quite enticing. Looking for some nightlife? Unfortunately, Drenthe is not the hotspot for a night out on the town. There are a few restaurants and a bar or two in Assen and Emmen. Your best bet is to go to the bigger and much more buzzing cities like Groningen.
Hit the Trails
This part of the Netherlands has so much space for a range of outdoor activities. Take a leisurely walk, hike to explore the sights, or go mountain biking. Take your pick because there are over 20 trails for you to choose from in the Drenthe area. We went to the Groote Zand Nature preserve in Hooghalen and it was such a beautiful landscape of heath, forest, and sand drifts! There were more cyclists than people on foot because of the long-distance but I totally recommend it.
See the Hunnebeds
A truly significant site to see are these large boulders called hunnebeds scattered throughout the province of Drenthe. They are not just rocks in the ground, but the oldest monuments in the Netherlands dating back 5,000 years in the prehistoric era. They are believed to be burial sites that were erected by members of the Funnel Beaker Culture. The tombs are made up of large boulders that can weigh up to 40 tons. Some of the stories around it are that they were assembled by giants because of the immense size and heavy weight that would be too much for the average human.
You can visit the HunebedCentrum where you can gain more understanding of the Hunebedden and their history. There is an educational museum, replicas of what the houses looked like thousands of years ago, and a stone garden.
In fact, there are 54 Hunebed sites in the Netherlands, and 53 of them you can discover in Drenthe. On our last day, we spent a few hours driving around to find some. It was quite a mystical feeling driving up to large pastures to see these massive boulders by their lonesome. It makes you question how they carried such heavy weight due to the sheer size. Whether you choose to believe in folklore or not, you cannot help but scratch your head on the matter.
A dark part of history lies here in Drenthe Netherlands called Kamp Westerbork which was known as the gateway to hell during World War II. It had various functions such as a military camp and mainly as a refuge that the Dutch government built for Jewish refugees who came from Germany in 1939. However, the most notable is being a transit camp for the Jews, Roma, and Sinti during the Second World War when the Nazis took over the camp in 1942. From 1942 to 1944 nearly 100,000 jews were deported to death and concentration camps in Germany occupied Poland to Auschwitz or Sobibor. Anne Frank was also held prisoner here for two weeks with her family before being sent to Auschwitz then onwards to Bergen-Belsen.
It was a grueling place to be because some prisoners were there for months on end. It was a state of limbo wondering if they would meet death’s door or have another day to live. A total of 93 trains left Kamp Westerbork with the last one departing on September 13, 1944. On April 12, 1945, the last remaining prisoners were liberated by the Canadian Army.
Today, the camp serves as a museum and memorial to past survivors. Fragments of the former camp are still there, giving you a cold glimpse into the past. You will see memorabilia such as old barracks, a train carriage that transported prisoners, and the former home of the lead commander. As you walk along the educational trail you will see placards stating the number of prisoners and date of deportation.
There is also a field with 120,000 bricks that represent the individuals who were prisoners at Westerbork. Kamp Westerbroek is easily accessible by car, bike, foot, and by a free shuttle bus. There are two parts which are made up of the museum and the actual campsite. It’s good to know that entrance to the camp is free. I recommend bringing a bike if possible because the walk can be quite long. There is so much to see in the area such as the huge radio telescopes and walking may be tiring. Lastly, most of the informational text is in Dutch so try going with a tour guide.
Take a Day Trip to Groningen
Groningen has always been on my travel list and being in Drenthe it was only a 30-minute drive away. It’s known for being an old university city that dates back to 1614. While strolling through town you will see quite a few historic monuments because of this. The student population is quite high with 31,000 students out of 200,000 living in Groningen. This is the reason for so many lively restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes that are quite cheap. We had lunch for two at a nice cafe and including cocktails, the price was 20 euros!