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Groningen in the secret gem of the Netherlands

Where does a dad take his seven-year-old when she claims to be the only one of her friends to have never gone abroad?

New York? Too far. Rome? Too expensive. Disneyland Paris? Not very, well, foreign.

So I take Kitty to the Netherlands, a country still associated in my imagination with wooden slip-on footwear, mice on staircases, canals and windmills.

The Daily Mail’s Michael Hodges took his seven-year-old daughter Kitty on her first trip abroad to Groningen, a historic university city in the Netherlands. Pictured is the Noorderhaven canal at night

Not Amsterdam, but Groningen. Where? Well, it’s an historic university city in the country’s northern flatlands with a medieval food market — the Vismarkt — which specialises in herring, cheese and a huge variety of potatoes.

Groningen also has Europe’s premier comic museum, a fairytale tower to climb — the 15th-century Martinitoren — and, a clincher if you’re with a child who likes music, a twice-yearly music festival for the under-12s called My First Festival.

On our first night we go to the Riemer bookshop on Nieuwe Ebbingestraat, where there’s a tiny door that opens into a separate child-sized store for the smaller bibliophile. It’s alongside the Noorderhaven canal, part of the circular waterway around the ancient city centre.

Wherever a street crosses the canal, it must be lifted if there is a boat coming through. As there is lots of water traffic, to Kitty’s delight, we keep encountering vertical walls of road where bridges have been raised.

As well as floating restaurants, bars and houseboats, there is also a child-centred art gallery on the canal. The Groninger Museum is a brash jumble of shapes and angles that bursts from the water by the main railway station.

Built in 1994, it is the vision of designers and architects including Philippe Starck and Maarten Baas. The venerable city is very modern design-conscious — there is a public toilet by architect Rem…

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