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The capital city of Friesland province in Holland's north, Leeuwarden was the birthplace of the famous or infamous "Mata Hari", dancer turned spy who was executed by firing squad in France on charges of espionage for Germany. It is known as "The City with 200 Spellings" due to the many different dialects and languages in which the name is spelled.
The city has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2018, so it might be worth getting in before this and checking out what the hoo-ha is about. Dating back to the 2nd Century AD, its streets have been permanently inhabited since the 10th Century. The economic hub of the region, the city sits in a green and water-rich environment overflowing with lakes, quaint villages and places to play. The historic center is a gritty combination of back alleys, cafe-lined canals plus old and new melting pots of urban landscapes. Broad pathways flank the canals perfect for pushing the pedals on a bicycle or strolling aimlessly along.
At one point the city had over 130 windmills but sadly today there is only 1 left standing as a testament to the past. This is where you will find the largest cattle market for the cow jockeys and the largest flower market held annually on Ascension Day in the whole of the Netherlands.
The town is perfect to hire a bike and pedal your way around the historical buildings, ancient monuments and to check out the architecture. The history buffs will be impressed with the Dutch Ceramic Museum housed in a palace from the 1600s and showing off ceramics from as long ago as the 3rd Century BC. You can check out the Oldehove, an old tower made completely out of bricks from which you can get an amazing view over the local countryside. Sitting in a 17th Century building is the Fries Natuurmuseum dedicated to exhibitions of local animals, birds, plants and trees plus a huge whale skeleton discovered in the 1990s.
For the shopaholic there are plenty of places to poke your nose into, especially along Klein Kerkstraat, which was voted as the best shopping street in the Netherlands.
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