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Experiencing Groningen’s feast of culture

You can think of Groningen’s culture and nightlife as a spinning carousel. “It really serves all the different groups of people at different times. There's like this carousel and in each moment you have a group that’s going out and another group which goes to sleep”, says Anastasija Zihareva.

Anastasija came to Groningen in 2012 to study International Communication at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences and then International Pop Culture at the Minerva Art Academy. She stayed on because of the balance between career opportunities and emotional attachment to the city. She works on internationalisation policy and projects for the City of Groningen (Akkoord van Groningen) and is very passionate about life in all its aspects.

One of her roles in the city is to represent the interests of internationals on Groningen’s Night Council. This is a council that deals with all things related to the city’s nightlife to ensure that everyone who visits can enjoy a night out safely.

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On the photo (by Sebastiaan Rodenhuis): Groningen Night Council, Anastasija on the left

“I really like Groningen because it’s so compact. But at the same time, because of so many international people coming and going, you have a feeling that you’re connected to the whole world,” explains Anastasija.

With practically all parts of the city within cycling distance, Groningen adopts a relaxed vibe during the day, one which you won’t find in the bigger cities further south. As the sun sets, the nightlife starts.

“Groningen has one of the best nightlives in the Netherlands. It’s very unique and we have no curfews. Each venue decides for itself when it wants to close,” says Anastasija. She explains that students are known to work really hard but also for partying really hard.

“Almost every day, if you go to the main streets there will be something going on,” she adds. That’s besides all the different house parties happening every day of the week.

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Is it safe?

“It can always be safer of course. But compared to many other Dutch and European cities I think it’s pretty safe. People still feel like a community and check up on each other. Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend that someone goes under a random sketchy bridge in the middle of the night. But I think in general, Groningen nightlife is pretty safe,” Anastasija reassures us.

The nightlife music scene in Groningen is not restricted to a specific genre. In the two main party streets, you’re more likely to come across DJs mixing classic party hits. But a lot of the nightlife venues also cater for people who are into urban or techno music to mention a few examples.

Sun’s up, park’s packed

If you still have energy left over from the previous night of partying, then you’re in luck! A vibrant nightlife is just the tip of the iceberg in this bustling student city.

During the day there are all sorts of markets. Some are perfect for foodies to find fresh produce and exciting ingredients to incorporate into their meals while other markets cater for people on the hunt for a new piece of vintage clothing. There are many community initiatives by different groups and organisations.

“Many communities like those of vegan people, people fighting for LGBTQ+ rights, people who really like noise music, they organise their own events. So there are a lot of hidden gems,” says Anastasija. There are also dozens of student associations, each with their own history and character, which organise activities throughout the year.

If you don’t feel like spending a cent, you can hop on your bike and follow one of the many picturesque cycling routes the province has to offer. Alternatively, you can pack your picnic basket and find a cosy spot by the lake. When the sun is out you’ll spot people flocking to Groningen’s central Noorderplantsoen park for drinks and games on the lawn.

A colourful cultural calendar

Today, Groningen has developed fixed staples in its cultural calendar which is quite full considering its size. There’s always some sort of cultural event, festival, or theatre performance being organized in the city’s various event venues. An increasing number of artists, both established ones and up-and-coming ones, recognise Groningen’s potential.

“Three years ago Sting came here to a festival. This year Green Day will be here. All these kinds of legends come to Groningen,” explains Anastasija.

One of Anastasija’s main highlights in the summer is the performing arts festival, Noorderzon, which takes place in the Noorderplantsoen park. Artists from around Europe and beyond come here for 10 days in what can be described as a boom of culture.

“It’s usually very accessible for everyone. So it’s really a moment when the whole city comes together”, says Anastasija.

In January, the spotlight shifts to the annual Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) which acts as a showcase for musical talent, giving people the chance to present themselves to an international audience.

Noorderzon Speelweide

An international vibe

According to Anastasija, the constant flow of people from all kinds of different cultures has a big impact on the city.

“Constantly people from all kinds of different cultures interact with it and bring their dishes and their views to Groningen. ‘Oh, in my culture we do it differently’ they will say. So all the time there’s this dialogue going on, comparing things,” says Anastasija. “I think it really enriches the city,” she adds.

Keeping track of it all

With so much going on it might be overwhelming to keep track of it all. After all, you don’t want to miss any good events. Luckily for you, Anastasija also happens to be the brains behind Here & Now which is a website that lists what events are happening and where. The events are categorised by genre and the information is also presented in English. Once you’ve settled in Groningen, you can also ask around your network for tips on where to go. “Usually people will tell you,” says Anastasija.

Are you a trend watcher? Or are you more about the culture? Perhaps you consider yourself as a night animal or you’re into the alternative scene? Here & Now also curated venue suggestions based on people’s interests which you can browse here.

Anastasija feels that a unique feature of Groningen is the variety that it offers.

“You can have radically different experiences within 24 hours here. So I think that's a good selling point. Like if you’re up for a party it's a place to be in. If you're up for like a good cultural experience, we have a really good theatre,” explains Anastasija.

Student tips

We also asked Groningen’s student ambassadors about their favourite spots to hang out at in town.

Rodrigo, 30, Mexico: My favourite cultural spot is the Forum Groningen. Why? Because of its versatility and its innovation. We usually associate culture with museums and exhibitions of our history. The Forum Groningen offers a whole range of cultural options, from independent and international movies to virtual reality and video games exhibitions. Often the exhibitions are well incorporated into the space and are part of the experience of the whole Forum.

Maria, 22, Romania: My favourite culture spot would be Forum. For nightlife it’s Sunny Beach. Sometimes they have cultural evenings or country-inspired parties.

As you can see the Forum Groningen is very popular among people in Groningen, including with internationals who want to study there, attend an event, or even watch a movie. It’s an award winning building in the heart of Groningen that offers panoramic views of the city. It’s well worth a visit.

Your turn to experience Groningen!

“I have never met anyone who would say: Oh, there's nothing for me. And I've met people with very niche interests,” concludes Anastasija.

Whether you’re coming for the weekend or staying here for the next year, all that’s left is for you to immerse yourself in the city and marvel with your own eyes at this feast of culture that Groningen has to offer!

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