Harlingen, on the eastern side of the IJsselmeer (Zuyder Zee), enjoys direct access to the North Sea. Its harbour basins, canals, arched bridges and merchants’ dwellings provide vivid evidence of the time when small wooden ships ventured from western Europe to trade with distant countries.
Harlingen received its municipal charter in 1234, and reached the peak of its prosperity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the harbour was surrounded by shipyards, lime kilns, potteries, salt works, mills and the wharfs and drying sheds of the town’s fishing fleet. Whaling vessels sailed from Harlingen, and the export of dairy produce to England flourished in the late nineteenth century. Warehouses with steeply-pitched roofs line the waterways, the names of some of them providing evidence of Harlingen’s trading links with Russia, Poland, Java and Sumatra.
The Baroque Customs House is a prominent feature of the waterfront, and traditional sailing vessels occupy nearby moorings. A clogmaker’s shop still flourishes. The Hannehuis Museum displays silver, porcelain, tiles, models of ships and old views of the town. The West Friesian islands, Terschelling and Vlieland are visible on the horizon across the Wadden Sea, and are served by ferries that connect with the branch railway from Leeuwarden.
A dockside crane has been adapted as the single-room Crane Hotel.