Visiting Giethoorn has recently been added to everyone’s Netherlands bucketlist thanks to other bloggers and Instagram. Likewise, I was attracted to this beautiful town by all the pictures that made it look like a fairytale come true. As many of us are aware, however, tourism fame changes a place, so if you have Giethoorn on your bucketlist, you’ll want to give this article a read to avoid being disappointed in the experience that you might have here.

Summary: Visiting Giethoorn is a wonderful experience, however, there can be a lot of crowding both on land and in the canals. Go during the down season, respect local people, and plan around tourism group schedules to have the best experience and support the town.

What I Loved About Visiting Giethoorn 

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

The pictures of Giethoorn don’t lie… they just leave a few things out. The town is absolutely magical, and I honestly can’t think of any place like it that I’ve been elsewhere. The architecture of the homes, restaurants, shops, and hotels in Giethoorn looks like it is straight out of a Disney fairytale. Many buildings come complete with thatched roofs and everything.

The canals are likewise magical. From a boat, you can glide along the calm waters, past all the cute buildings. You can swoop under the bridges that serve as walkways for pedestrians. Here and there, when the water isn’t crowded with boats, ducks coast along with you. They fit in perfectly with the atmosphere of the town.

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

Besides the overall vibe you get from visiting Giethoorn, there is plenty to do in the town. I would say that you can find some of the best souvenirs here (more authentic than anything I found in Amsterdam, at least). We also enjoyed some very good food (but a bit expensive). And you can’t beat the atmosphere if you stay on past the tours. Eating next to the canals when they are calm and the town quiets down is lovely beyond words.

Finally, Giethoorn is the perfect gateway for De Weerribben-Wieden National Park, which can be best explored by boat.

The Harsh Reality of Insta Fame

visiting giethoorn

This isn’t the “harsh” reality- it’s just neat. But I didn’t actually take any pictures of the crowds (c) ABR 2017

 All that being said, visiting Giethoorn reminded me a lot of Sedona- the overtourism capital of my own home. That is to say that it had become immensely popular on social media, and that has impacted the destination for visitors and locals alike.

For us visitors, this means that you will be sharing walkways, bridges, canals, and restaurants with plenty of other folks. For me, this is was most noticeable when we came back into town from De Weerribben-Wieden and we wanted to motor through the canals on our way to return our boat. We ended up stuck in a literal boat jam for a good 30 minutes. While I didn’t mind taking in the scenery, maneuvering was pretty stressful. There were several places where two canals merged, and at one of these I ended up running into another boat (at slow speed!) and I got some very dirty looks. When all you want to do is bask in the magic of Giethoorn, it just wasn’t enjoyable and certainly not like the pictures.

On land, things were less stressful overall, but there were a couple times when we opted to not visit a shop or restaurant because of the number of people squishing inside. Although we arrived early enough so that it wasn’t an issue, I could imagine that this may make parking a bit of an issue if you drive yourself.

Certainly, this also impacts local people. Tourism supports the economy in Giethoorn in obvious ways. But so much crowding and attention can also put immense pressure on local people. This is particularly problematic when social media brings a rapid increase in visitation. In any case, as visitors, it’s good for us to keep this in mind and be extra sensitive to the comfort of local people. Without a community, Giethoorn will lose its authenticity and character. Local people should always come first when it comes to tourism. 

Avoiding the Crowds

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

So, is it possible to optimize the good while avoiding some of the bad while visiting Giethoorn? Absolutely, and I think that there are two good ways to do that if you have a vehicle on hand to do some self-driving travel.

(1) Spend the night in town. Most organized tours will be during the day. And a good chunk of the other visitors will likely also just be taking a day trip. This means that you will get the morning and evenings to experience the quieter side of Giethoorn. Of course, the shops will be closed, but just walking the town without the crowds will be well worth staying the night. Furthermore, I doubt there is a more magical experience than staying in one of the local hotel options.

(2) Come early and leave late. If staying the night isn’t an option for you, try to make it out to Giethoorn early in the morning or plan on sticking around past dinner. The morning is the perfect time to walk around a bit, enjoy some tea, and then explore the national park as soon as the boat rentals open up. You could also scout a few of the tours to see when they tend to arrive and depart, and adjust your itinerary accordingly.

How to Help Giethoorn

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

In many cases, the solution to overcrowding or overtourism that is posed by industry powerhouses is to increase the cost of travel. I don’t believe that this is equitable, and it might not solve the problem. Instead, I think that we as travelers need to step up. We need to prioritize the well-being of the places that we visit and the communities that call those places home. So, in this case, what can you do to help the community of Giethoorn thrive through this intense tourism pressure? Here are some tips:

(1) Respect local people’s privacy and space

While in Giethoorn, you will be walking and boating very near to people’s homes. While it might be tempting to get a look at what private life in this little, idyllic town looks like, give local people their space. No matter where you live, no one should be made to feel like a tourism attraction while they are at home. Stay off people’s lawns. Don’t look through windows. And when you notice local people going about their business, make sure they have the space to do so. Sometimes this will mean making way on a walkway, or being extra polite while driving (even in super bad traffic!).

(2) Being extra polite goes a long way!

visiting giethoorn

Polite chickens (c) ABR 2017

Every culture has a different idea of what “being polite” means. However, there are a few things that I think we can safely say that travelers can do to be extra sensitive  while visiting. Avoid spoiling the quiet atmosphere by being loud. Don’t get so drunk that you can’t control yourself or so drunk that you will start being loud and aggressive. You may enjoy partying, but people living in tourism destinations see wave after wave of drunk visitors, and it ruins their home. If you want to party, visit a bar or club.

When other people around you seem rude, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Of course, if safety is concerned, defend yourself. But if it comes to driving, walking/hiking, shopping, etc. just having that little bit of extra patience can seriously help make the atmosphere more calm and welcoming for all.

(3) Consider alternative locations or the down season

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

While I definitely understand wanting to visit these places, if you think it might be an option for you, consider going somewhere else. In my own home state, Sedona is constantly marketed as the main attraction. And this has ruined the town for local people. However, there are many many beautiful places in my state. If you sampled many of them and missed Sedona, you would actually have a much better understanding of Arizona than otherwise. Visiting Giethoorn is similar. You could miss this location and still leave the Netherlands having thoroughly explored and experienced the county.

The down season or shoulder season is another option that can help with crowding. In the case of the Netherlands, the peak season is July-August, with high numbers of visitors being throughout April-October. So, if you can, you might consider other times to visit. Just check out the weather to make sure that you are prepared.

Getting There

The best way to get to Giethoorn is by car. Although this can be somewhat confusing as the place in the pictures is a little different than what Google will tell you is the town of Giethoorn. In order to find exactly the right spot to store your car for the duration of your stay, have Google bring you to “Parkeerplaats Giethoorn” or Binnenpad 14, 8355 BP Giethoorn, Netherlands.

It will take about 1.5-2 hours to drive from Amsterdam to Giethoorn, depending on traffic. And you should expect to navigate on highways, as well as more rural roads with 1 lane in either direction. You will also be passing through small towns and some beautiful, rural landscapes.

You can take a bus or train to get to Giethoorn, although there are no direct lines between Amsterdam and the small town. So, you will need to do some thorough planning to figure out your route and timing.

If you’d prefer to avoid all that, you can also join a tour. This will schedule you directly for the most busy times, however.

What to Do

 There is a ton to do while visiting Giethoorn for both history buffs and nature lovers.

(1) Rent a boat

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

Rent a small boat from one of the local rental companies, and head out onto the lake. There are a few different water-trails that the rental staff can tell you more about. But there is more than just cruising the town. For us, we loved exploring the wetland countryside. We saw some adorable cows, escaped the crowds for a bit, and took some beautiful pictures. Just be extra patient in town, because boat traffic jams are a thing.

(2) Walk the town

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

While there are tons of pictures that make being on the water seem like the ultimate Giethoorn experience, there is a lot to be experienced from the sidewalk. Take a stroll through the town to enjoy some shopping (support local artisans!) and great food as well. Just know that prices will reflect the attention that the town has been getting.

(3) Visit one of the local museums

There is plenty of history to enjoy in Giethoorn. In fact there are no less than three museums in the main part of town. This includes the Museum of De Oude Aarde, the Museum Giethoorn’t Olde Maat Uus, and Museum De Speelman. There are also others in the area! Lots of explore and learn more about.

Learn More About the Netherlands 

Giethoorn is just the beginning, not even the tip of the iceberg! If you’d like to know more about our experience in the Netherlands check out our short guide to the Netherlands– our other posts on the country are linked there with a focus on exploring the environment and learning more about the history and culture of the Dutch. There are also links to other resources that you can use to plan your trip and learn more.

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