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An Expat's Guide to Living In Groningen, Netherlands

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Groningen, Netherlands - if you’re not from around here, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it before.

You might be surprised but that’s actually not an uncommon characteristic amongst people who end up living in Groningen. 

Even myself, who has now lived in Groningen for over 5 years, never heard of the city before making it my home abroad. If you're still not sure where it is, Groningen is in Northern Netherlands. It's landlocked but closer to Germany than anywhere else.

The currents of life bring people to Groningen for all sorts of reasons: job opportunities, like becoming an au pair, the career move of a spouse, or even meeting a Dutch partner (that’s how I found myself living in Groningen). Believe it or not, moving to a new country for love is more common than you may think.

Personally, I work remotely as a Pinterest manager and freelance writer. I was able to get my visa to do this and start my company here thanks to my Dutch husband.

The reasons for your relocation will shape your experience living in Groningen greatly. However, there’s some basic knowledge that everyone should have before they start living in Groningen. 

Short on time? Here's the cheat sheet:

💭Living in Groningen might be an unlikely choice but it’s a great choice for students and young professionals that want to live in an international city.
🏠Finding housing can be tough. I recommend relying on your network and an agency to find your long-term accommodation.
🛏️Start off by booking somewhere centrally located and easy to get around, like Prinsenstraat 8 on the southern edge of the city center until you find your long-term stay.
📚Make your transition easier and get a headstart learning the language with Mondly but know that many locals and foreigners living in Groningen speak English fluently.
☂️Although the weather means plenty of dark and rainy days,
☀️Groningen is a wonderful city to call home, especially those looking for a vibrant university feel and plenty of fun things to do after work.

The Groningen Lifestyle

Your options for errands and shopping are very limited after hours in Groningen. And by after hours, I mean after 6 p.m. 

Shops, cafes, and businesses don’t revolve around the 24-hour economy or even really the 12-hour economy. There’s a palatable resistance to the business-round-the-clock attitude that the Dutch associate with American capitalism.  

Note to be mistaken: Restaurants and bars remain open, and some of them open extremely late. A bike ride through Groningen at 2 a.m. on a Friday is a surefire reminder that this is a young university city. 

But, don’t expect a late-night cup of coffee or being able to run out to grab groceries after hours. Night owls: consider yourselves warned. 

Even though I personally agree with the ideology behind this, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss a late-night grocery run or writing session at a diner at 3 in the morning. 

The Dark & Rainy Dutch Weather

You'll get more used to the clouds than to the sun here

Living in Groningen, you’re forced to reckon with whatever is happening outside in a way that I’ve personally never experienced living elsewhere. 

Pack a rain suit, wear it proudly (it looks silly), and always throw it in your bag for unexpected downpours. 

It’s a wet and dark climate, and there’s no waiting for that to pass before you bike to the market. 

But beyond the rain, there is an even more powerful weather force: the winter darkness. Being faced with the lack of sunlight in the winter is akin to a dementor from Harry Potter sucking the lifeforce out of you. 

This may sound dramatic, but I’ve brought some data to back me up. 

On the longest day of the year, those living in Groningen experience 16 hours and 58 minutes of daylight. The sun rises at 5:06 a.m. and sets at 10:02 p.m. Hallo cookouts, beers in the sun and late summer nights. 

The shortest day, on the other hand, brings only 7 hours and 31 minutes of daylight. The sun rises at 8:46 a.m. and sets at a bleak 4:17 p.m. (all data courtesy of timeanddate.com). 

It knocks the wind out of you. I’ve purchased a vitamin D lamp to help me wake up in the morning, but that’s simply a band aid. If you’re having a final appointment with your doctor at home before you move, I recommend talking about Vitamin D supplements as well.

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Learning Dutch...Or Not

Not unlike the other provinces of the Netherlands, Groningen has its own local dialect. It’s called Gronings, and don’t worry, you really don’t need to learn it. 

Except for one specific word: moi

In Dutch, the word “hi” is “hoi” (pronounced how it looks). 

In Gronings, the word “moi” means hi

But the word “moi” in Dutch means beautiful. 

Are you still with me? 

The takeaway: when the cashier at Albert Hein says “moi” to you, do not awkwardly mumble back “thank you.” They are not calling you beautiful! They are simply greeting you in the local dialect. 

If you're eager to learn the Dutch language, I suggest getting a headstart by using an app, like Mondly. Just know that to learn dialect, you'll have to do it in person. While it'll be helpful (and necessary) to learn Dutch if you're aiming for citizenship, generally speaking, it's not necessary as pretty much all locals speak fluent English.

Best Areas to Live in Groningen

A sunset view of a canal street in Groningen and the boat up front has been decorated with big white bulbs
There's canal streets here, too

I'm going to start out with the not so great: like many cities in the Netherlands, Groningen is having a bit of a housing crisis.

This means finding an apartment can be a tall order. Fear not though, with so many students coming in and out of the city, it's not impossible, it just might take some more work that you planned.

Here are a few top recommendations of best neighborhoods to start your search:

  • City Center (Binnenstad): This area, of course, has the most going on with plenty of bars, restaurants, shops, and things to do. Rent can be a lot higher here than in the outskirts.
  • Oosterparkwijk: If you want plenty of green space and lower cost of living, this is a good neighborhood. Plus, if you're in med school here, you'll be close to the main hospital.
  • Korrewegwijk: While the entire city of Groningen feels really international, this neighborhood is the hub of it. You'll enjoy loads of really great Asian restaurants.
  • Oosterpoort: This part of Groningen is known as the trendy or alternative area. It's really artsy, lively, and full of young people and plenty of things to do day and night.

How to Find a Place to Stay

If you're a student moving to Groningen, I recommend you connect with other students already living in Groningen to see if you can get any insider tips on leases coming available or go for student housing. If you're moving to work at one of the international companies here, I'd ask your new co-workers the same thing.

Regardless, working with a real estate agent is typically worth the extra price since apartments don't tend to stay on the market for long.

📍Before you decide which area of the city to live in, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. Start with somewhere central then venture out from there. This will give you the best chance to see where in Groningen is a good choice for you and to be able to house hunt in person.

  • Budget Stay: Prinsenstraat 8: This 1-bedroom apartment is located in the southern part of the city center, on the way to Oosterpoort.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Bed & Office 050: Get more space, natural light, and a small garden at this studio apartment. The house is right on Nooderplantseon, the best park in Groningen.
  • Luxury Stay: B&B Holm: Enjoy a lot of character by booking your stay at this spacious and unique studio. This one will put you right in the middle of the city center.

Making Friends in Groningen

Photo courtesy of depositphotos.com

There are no shortages of internationals living in Groningen. Just sitting in the city center’s best greenspace, the Noorderplantsoen, you will sometimes hear as much English as you hear Dutch. 

It’s not surprising if you look at the numbers: Groningen has a population of about 200,000, with an estimated 25% of that population being students (source: Wikipedia).  

Beyond the student population, there are English-speaking workplaces that attract international talent, most notably being the university itself and the hospital system. 

If you are going to be living in Groningen for an international company, there may be resources there to help you integrate into the local community. When I started living in Groningen, I found friends through Facebook groups for internationals.

In general, the international community is welcoming and vibrant. Most are non-Dutch speakers and many hail from English-speaking countries or have a near fluent language.

Here are some groups that are very active: 

Cycling & Public Transport

A woman on a bike stopped in front of a pond at Noorderplantsoen in Groningen, Netherlands
On my bike at Noorderplantsoen, the city's greenspace

This perk of living in Groningen isn’t actually specific to Groningen at all. Cycling is a way of life in the Netherlands, and honestly it's for the best. 

Public transit in the Netherlands is well developed and properly maintained, but it’s extremely expensive. For example, a train ride from the Groningen Central Station to Station Zuidhorn, only a 9-minute train journey, costs €3.24 one way. You ultimately pay €6.48 round trip for 18 minutes on the train. (prices courtesy of the 9292 public transportation app at time of publication). 

Those prices are enough to deter anyone who lives on a tight budget from taking public transit unless absolutely necessary. 

But, conveniently, everything within the city itself is accessible by bike. Most destinations are within a 15-minute cycle from the center. On the roads, there are more bikes than cars. In the entire country,  there are actually more bikes than people (source: BBC). 

If driving everywhere is your norm, then this aspect of living in Groningen may sound unpleasant. You can of course take the test to get your Dutch driver’s license here (it requires lessons, but they’re available in English), but even if you start the process immediately, you’ll still end up cycling or taking public transit sometimes. 

But keep in mind, driving is simply not the most convenient way to get around Groningen. Cycling is.

Traveling Around The Netherlands & Beyond

Amsterdam could be a day trip but it's more likely an overnight one, photo by depositphotos.com

On a map, every corner of the Netherlands looks accessible. After all, it’s Europe’s most densely populated country and it takes less than four hours to drive from top to bottom.

Yet, in reality, cities are further away than they look.

A 4-hour drive technically isn’t much of a geographical hurdle but having a car is a luxury that most expats don’t have. In reality, it’s not even a luxury that most Dutch locals have. Less than half of the Dutch population owns a car (source: dutchnews.nl). 

Traveling Within The Netherlands From Groningen

If you’re brand new living in Groningen, you may have the itch to explore your new home country before skipping across Europe. 

Of course, Amsterdam comes to mind when. Groningen is located 90 miles/145 km from Amsterdam. The train ride is about 2 hours each way, and costs around €50 round trip. 

Say you want to travel to a concert in Amsterdam, you’ll likely have to stay the night and pay for a hotel as well given that the trains don’t run 24 hours.

Traveling Internationally From Groningen

Without a car, you’ll likely be traveling via the Dutch public transportation network, or via FlixBus.

FlixBus is a large bus network that has routes stretching all over Europe. It’s also cheaper than taking the train, and is obviously more accessible than going and buying a car. 

Here’s a quick look at some popular European getaways, all leaving from Groningen on FlixBus. The length of trips can vary, I’ve selected the shortest available route for the example:

  • Groningen to Berlin on FlixBus: 8:05 hours 
  • Groningen to Paris on FlixBus: 9:40 hours 
  • Groningen to London on FlixBus: 16:15 hours 
  • Groningen to Kraków on FlixBus: 23:25 hours 

I would be remiss to not mention that flying is often even cheaper than taking FlixBus. However, I personally only fly as a last resort because of the environmental impact. 

The only bit of wisdom I have to offer you about finding good flights is to set your departure location to the Netherlands in general instead of just automatically selecting Schiphol Airport. There are many smaller airports that have daily flights around Europe.

Will You Give Living in Groningen a Shot?

For a more technical analysis of living in Groningen, you can reference research from the Dutch government. The municipality of Groningen (Gemeente Groningen) conducted research and published a document in 2017 tackling the question, “How can we make Groningen more welcoming?” 

While you might not be tempted to read a now outdated document written by the local government, it does make me feel welcomed when the government worries over the international student and expat community.

Whatever brings you to Groningen though, I do hope that you learn to enjoy the aspects of Dutch life that make this place unique.

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