The oldest remains of houses in the city date back to the 2nd century AD. Leeuwarden has been permanently inhabited since the 10th century. It was granted city privileges in 1435. The city was liberated from German occupation in World War II by The Royal Canadian Dragoons in 1945. It is the economic hub of the province of Friesland, situated in a green and water-rich environment, with lakes, villages and recreational areas. Leeuwarden is a former royal residence and has a historic centre, many listed buildings, and a large shopping centre with squares and restaurants. Leeuwarden has been awarded the title European Capital of Culture 2018.
One important cultural and historical event is the Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Tour), an ice skating-tour of eleven cities in Friesland, starting and finishing in Leeuwarden.
Besides the city of Leeuwarden, population centres in the municipality with a population of 1,000 or more are Grou, Goutum, Wergea, Jirnsum, Reduzum, and Wirdum. The municipality is governed by the mayor Ferd Crone (nl) and a coalition of the Labour Party, Christian Democratic Appeal, and PAL-GroenLinks.
The name "Leeuwarden" (or older spelling variants) first came into use for Nijehove, the most important of the three villages that later merged into one, namely Oldehove and Hoek in the early 9th century (Villa Lintarwrde c. 825). There is much uncertainty about the origin of the city's name. Historian and archivist Wopke Eekhoff summed up a total of over 200 different spelling variants, of which Leeuwarden (Dutch), Liwwadden (Stadsfries), and Ljouwert (West Frisian) are still in use.
The second syllable is easily explained: Warden, Frisian/Dutch for an artificial dwelling hill, is a designation of terps, reflecting the historical situation.
The first part of the name, leeuw, means lion in modern standard Dutch. This interpretation corresponds with the coat of arms adopted by the city, which features a heraldic lion. However, modern standard Dutch was not used in this region in the Middle Ages, when the city was called Lintarwrde. Some scholars argue that the name of the city is derived from leeu-, a corruption of luw- (Dutch for sheltered from the wind, cf. the maritime term leeward) or from lee- (a Dutch word for waterway). The last one suits the watery province of Friesland.