Delve into prehistoric Groningen on this varied, 44-km cycling route. Beginning and ending in Groningen’s historic Grote Markt, the route invites cyclists to peddle through thousands of years of prehistory to discover stone age burial sites and some striking geological features left behind by the glacial period. Stop off at picturesque villages along the way and discover some of Groningen’s top attractions.
- Cycle through glacial landscapes carved out in the Ice Age some 150,000 years ago.
- Encounter world-famous Stone Age burial sites called dolmens, built using glacial boulders.
- Start and end your tour in historic Groningen, itself built on an Ice Age hill ridge.
Glacial landscapes of the Hondsrug region
Stretching out to the southeast of Groningen, the Hondsdrug area is characterized by four straight hill ridges carved out by an enormous ice sheet some 150,000 years ago. The most prominent of these is the Hondsrug itself, which runs for 70 km from Groningen to Emmen. With some of the most unique natural landforms in the country, the Hondsrug area was declared a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2015. It all makes for a striking backdrop to an adventurous 44-km cycle route, which follows in the boulder-strewn wake of the prehistoric ice sheet and crosses from Groningen into the province of Drenthe and back again.
Stone Age dolmens
The Hondsrug has been inhabited for 100,000 years; since some of our earliest ancestors came here to hunt mammoths. Visible reminders of early settlers to this region dot the landscape. In particular, the Stone Age dolmens – or burial chambers – created some 5,500 years ago using large, smooth boulders carried here from Scandinavia by an ice sheet.
As the oldest surviving monuments in the Netherlands, the dolmens attract visitors from all over the world. The first you’ll encounter on this route are in Midlaren, at the most southerly tip of the route. Named D3 and D4, these dolmens are virtually intact. The bones of the deceased have long since decayed, but when the chambers were excavated in 1870 they were found to still contain burial gifts such as earthen pots, amber jewelry and stone weapons and tools. Some of these items can now be seen at the Drents Museum in Assen.
Continue along the route, which loops back up to Noordlaren, to see the second dolmen site of the tour – an impressively large monument known as G1. It’s the most northerly of the Hondsrug dolmens. From here on, you can continue to spot ancient burial mounds as you pass through the Noordlaarderbos forest – also a popular location for wildlife enthusiasts thanks to its population of rare birds, deer and foxes.
Noordlaren and the Zuidlaardermeer
En route to the dolmen sites, cyclists can take in the picturesque village of Noordlaren, which borders the Zuidlaardermeer lake. Don’t miss the 800-year-old Bartholomeüs church, with its views across the Hunze glacial valley, and the still operational flour producing windmill. Stop at the Waterpark de Bloemert on the shores of the Zuidlaardermeer to discover the story of the water of the Hondsrug area – from ice and meltwater, through swamps and streams, to percolating water and drinking water.
Historical gardens and the convent of Essen
Other highlights of this cycle route include one of the oldest botanical gardens in the Netherlands at Haren, which features 20 hectares of varied gardens, including a Chinese garden with an authentic Chinese teahouse. And near to the gardens lies the site of a former medieval women’s convent at Essen. The Yesse convent is long since gone, but you can still spot part of its protective moat, carved into the fields where it once lay.
During the final stages of the cycling route, as you pass by Haren once more, this time heading northwards, you’ll follow the stream valley of the Drentsche Aa from the Paterswoldsemeer lake, back into the heart of historic Groningen.
Total distance: 44 km
· Start and end point: Grote Markt, Groningen
· Funnelbeaker culture
· Essen and the former Yesse convent
· Hortus Botanicus Haren
· Rijksstraatweg and boulder
· Water Expedition Gateway and Zuidlaardermeer
· Dolmens D3 and D4 in Midlaren
· Dolmen G1 in Noordlaren
· Besloten Venen
· Sassenhein Lake
· Stream valley of the Drentsche Aa
· Groningen on the Aa
Editor's pick: Why not begin your cycling adventure with a bird’s eye view of Groningen from the top of the 100-meter Martinitoren (Martini Tower), handily located at the route’s start point in the Grote Markt.