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Designated: 2019
Population: 93,765





Contact Leeuwarden

Poezieroute (c) Sito Wijngaarden.JPG


Leeuwarden is the capital of the province of Friesland. What particularly distinguishes Friesland from the rest of the Netherlands is the Frisian language (Frysk). The majority of residents are used to using two or more languages at the same time. 


Literature in Leeuwarden is straight from the street and often multidisciplinary. Spoken word and poetry appear where they’re least expected, often combined with images in public spaces (graffiti art and landscape projects), theatre (literary performances), music (poetry dubs), or media art projects. 


In Friesland, there are 7 bookshops per 100,000 inhabitants. This province has the most bookstores per inhabitant in the Netherlands.


In 2018, Leeuwarden-Friesland was the Cultural Capital of Europe. It put the cultural wealth of both the city and the province firmly on the map. Literary and linguistic actors joined forces in the extensive, multilingual and multidisciplinary project, Lân fan taal (land of languages).


The concept of ‘Iepen mienskip’ (an open community) is crucial in the Frisian mentality—reshaping society, urban areas, and rural landscapes from the bottom up through community engagement—to build better, more sustainable social, urban, and cultural integration.


Uitgesteld geluk (Happiness Delayed)

A project organised by Leeuwarden UNESCO City of Literature. For this project, we collect one hundred stories from around the world. One hundred writers offer a fresh perspective on beauty and what the world would look like if this kind of beauty was free to manifest. The stories are translated into different languages and presented in 2022 during Arcadia, a triennial one-hundred-day cultural event held in Fryslân, The Netherlands. Thanks to our network, participating writers come from Barcelona, Dunedin, Durban, Edinburgh, Granada, Heidelberg, Iowa, Ljubljana, Nanjing, Odessa, Slemani, Ulyanovsk, Utrecht, Wonju, Wroclaw, and lots of other places around the world.

Story Valley

The idea for the Story Valley project originated from the partners in Leeuwarden, as the city had recently been designated as a UNESCO City of Literature (2019). The city recognised the great opportunities and knowledge that the UNESCO network had to offer and also saw the challenges of Vocational Education schools. The partners realised that more could be done to increase the literacy level (reading, writing, speaking a different language) amongst graduated Vocational Education students and that other European states faced similar challenges. Some students, especially those from migrant backgrounds, only reach a basic level of literacy and experience difficulties in their profession later on. The partners identified a perception that the knowledge of UNESCO Cities of Literature was mainly used in/for Higher Education and not in/for Vocational Education. With Story Valley, colleges are bonded to the local knowledge network in the field of literacy and language (for example, the Cities of Literature and their local partners and cultural institutions). These links are created through using creative expression, art, and storytelling. The project is carried out internationally by the Cities of Literature Edinburgh, Ljubljana and Nottingham.


Explore the North

Explore the North is a wintry urban festival from Leeuwarden for music, literature, theatre and more. Explore the North is also an interdisciplinary production house for makers in the North of the Netherlands. Each year, the festival invites writers, scientists, musicians, and other artists, local and international, to Leeuwarden. With the festival as a primary catalyst, these professional artists create new work and form interdisciplinary collaborations.


As an interdisciplinary production house, Explore the North sought out partners in the Netherlands and abroad to work together on various local, national, and international projects, which share literature, language, and multilingualism as common features.

Examples of productions by Explore the North are Blabbermouth (improvising text and music in ‘trance’ on stage), Poetic Resistance (poetry project about the nature of protesting), Prose Projects (stories made with local people), Pidgin X (creating new democratic languages within a city), Vruchtjes eten/Eating fruits (crossover between theatre, prose, poetry and music) and many more.


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