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Giethoorn, Netherlands
Photograph: rob3rt82 / Shutterstock.com

Have you heard the one about the Dutch town with precisely zero roads?

Residents of Giethoorn in the Netherlands travel solely by boat, bicycle or on foot

Ed Cunningham
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Ed Cunningham
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While the rest of the world tries (and, so far, largely fails) to tackle its overdependence on cars, one Dutch town offers a vision of a greener, quieter, car-free future. Giethoorn has been without roads for all the entirety of its 800-year history, with residents instead relying predominantly on boats and bikes.

Dubbed the ‘Dutch Venice’, Giethoorn is criss-crossed with more than 55 miles of waterways and 176 bridges that cater to pedestrians and cyclists. Around 2,800 people live there, drawn to the town by its tranquil setting.  

So, how did Giethoorn come to look the way it does? The town dates back to peat-digging in the thirteenth century. Diggers left huge ravines, which eventually filled with water and left islands perfect for secluded, road-free living.

Over the past century, Giethoorn has actively protected its own quietness. The town’s rivers are dominated by motor-less boats like punts and canoes, while motorboats are only allowed if they’re fitted with low-decibel engines.

All that makes the town an incredibly peaceful place to be – and is also great for the environment. Thanks to its fertile peat ground and general tranquillity, Giethoorn has become a wildlife haven. Lush greenery and flowerbeds have attracted loads of birds and fish from the nearby Weerribben-Wieden National Park

Meanwhile, the classic Dutch thatched-farmhouse architecture only adds to Giethoorn’s dreaminess. And there’s more to do than just float around: there are museums dedicated to marine life, fossils and the town itself. In winter, when some of the rivers freeze over, ice skating is popular pastime.

Fancy seeing all this for yourself? Giethoorn is within two hours Amsterdam, and you can get there by train or bus, and then – obviously – boat. To book tours, see the Giethoorn tourism website.

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