Visit Zwolle, The Netherlands, if you feel like a fun day trip. Zwolle offers the opportunity to visit the pretty east of The Netherlands. The small city should absolutely be on your to-visit list since it’s only an hour by train from Amsterdam. Discover the gorgeous buildings, splendid museums, winding lanes, design shops and excellent restaurants in Zwolle.
- By train
When you arrive in Amsterdam by plane, you can easily catch a train to Zwolle. It will take you a little over an hour to get to Zwolle by Amsterdam central station or Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Check out the exact timetable online. To travel on public transport in The Netherlands you will need an OV Chip Card that you can charge as you go.
- By car
If you’re driving with your own car, or if you’ve rented a car, it’s very easy to get to Zwolle from anywhere in The Netherlands. You can park in various parking garages around the city centre. If you decide to stay the night (and you should) I advise you to book a hotel with parking space.
- Planning your trip
Looking for a nice place to stay? There are great hotels in Zwolle, as well as many lovely Airbnb’s.
Van der Valk Hotel Zwolle
Van der Valk is a top choice when staying in The Netherlands and the hotel in Zwolle is no exception. The hotel is situated outside the city centre and a great option if you’re arriving by car and want to see some other sights in the area. The standard rooms in the hotel are superior rooms, so you’ll be sleeping in grand and comfortable rooms, upgrades are available for very little as well.
Pillows Boutique Hotel
Location-wise there is no better hotel in Zwolle to stay at than Pillows Boutique Hotel. It’s only a stone’s throw away from both the train station and the city centre. And the rooms are so very lovely.
If you love staying in an Airbnb, Kevin’s industrial loft is just the ticket. The oft is perfect if you prefer to have that bit more space than your average hotel room. And the loft is just that: spacious, light and wonderfully decorated with lots of nice design details. You’ll have a living room, a luxurious bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen at your disposal.
It is probably hard to imagine, but when Holland’s top cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam were still meaningless little villages, Zwolle was a sprawling city of great importance. The cities’ location near the IJssel river meant Zwolle was part of the powerful Hanseatic League, which made it an important trading port and cultural centre from the 11th to the 15th century.
But Zwolle is even older than that. With a discovery of a woodhenge south of the city, historians were able to conclude that Zwolle was inhabited from the Bronze Age on. The formation of the modern city started in the 8th century and Zwolle was granted city rights in 1230.
Since Zwolle was part of the Hanseatic League, the historical city is walled with a star-shaped fortification, which is very distinctive for Hanseatic cities. Exploring what’s inside those city walls will easily occupy you for a day, making Zwolle a lovely day trip from Amsterdam, though there is more to see and do. I highly recommend visiting the stunning ‘Venice of Holland’ Giethoorn when you’re in Zwolle, as this town (that has only waterways and no roads) is one of the prettiest towns in The Netherlands.
Cycling in Zwolle
The best way to get to know any Dutch city is by bike, and Zwolle is no exception. This guided bike tour is the perfect way to get to know the city. A very knowledgeable guide will take you along the pretty canals, fortresses and historical buildings of Zwolle. And you’ll make a stop to taste some typical local delicacies.
Zwolle by boat
Zwolle has a fine system of canals, so the city is pretty prefect to see from the water. You can either join a canal boat tour or rent a boat yourself. If you’re travelling with your kids, why not rent a pedalo or a standup paddleboard. So much fun!
Locals have actually baptised the tower of the Church of Our Lady as Peperbus (peppermill) as the tower has such a distinctive shape and can be seen from everywhere in the centre of Zwolle. You can climb the 234 steps of the tower to enjoy a beautiful view over the city, as well as see the remains of Thomas à Kempis, a German theologist who moved to Zwolle where he became a devotee of the Brethren of the Common Life.
Museum de Fundatie
Museum de Fundatie is considered one of The Netherlands’ top museums and is, without a doubt, the top thing to see in Zwolle. The main building is quite classical, but a surreal addition was connected to the rooftop, depicting (what I think is) a glistening cloud. The museum stages high-quality contemporary exhibitions.
If you have read this article you know that The Netherlands has a thing for opening (amazing) bookshops in grand churches. And there is also an amazing bookstore in Zwolle. Waanders is situated in the old Broeren church and the light and bright building, with the impressive organ in the centre, is filled with an amazing collection of books. If it’s all a little daunting, the café is a great place to relax.
Moonloft is just a great concept store and a fabulous place to go on your shopping spree in Zwolle. There are clothing and lingerie, jewellery, ceramics, glasswork and stationery to choose from.
Since Zwolle was once a fortified city, people in the Middle Ages could only enter the city through one of the city gates. Only one of these gates remains nowadays: Sassenpoort. You can see this grand gate at the corner of Wilhelminasingel and Sassenstraat. The latter is also the best street to find independent and colourful shops.
Day trip to Giethoorn
Giethoorn is a highlight in the east of The Netherlands and an absolute must-see. Plus, Giethoorn makes for a perfect day trip from Amsterdam. However, when you’re in Zwolle Giethoorn is just around the corner so you may as well visit while you’re there. Take the train from Zwolle to Steenwijk. There take bus no. 70 which takes you to Giethoorn. Use website 9292ov.nl to plan your trip.
Giethoorn is called ‘the Venice of Holland’ as it is a town that hasn’t got any streets and is connected through canals, walking paths and bike trails. Giethoorn is actually built on water, and to say that Giethoorn is charming is a complete understatement. In spring and summer, Giethoorn can get extremely crowded as it’s only a small town and it has become extremely popular with Asian tour groups. So see if you are able to visit outside these seasons, or visit the northern part of Giethoorm, which is a bit quieter.
Discovering Giethoorn by water is an absolute must-do. Near the tourist office electric boats, bikes and canoes are for rent. If you’re pressed for time, but you’d love to visit Giethoorn when you’re in Amsterdam, there are (almost) daily day trips from Amsterdam to Giethoorn.
Lots & More
Lots & More is my new favourite restaurant in Zwolle. It’s an easy find, right across the historical Sassenpoort. Try to grab one of the seats outside as it’s perfect for people-watching, and order a lovely breakfast, brunch or a salad for lunch. You can compose all the dishes to match your taste, it’s perfect.
Taking a break is great at Stadscafé Blij, a lovely restaurant on the ever-vibrant market square of Zwolle. In the morning it’s a great place for coffee and cake, during lunch you can order scrumptious salads here and the evenings are best for a cocktail and burger from the extensive menu.
Cocktails with matching hotdogs, or the other way around. What a clever concept. Dogtails is an excellent bar and restaurant to try when you’re visiting Zwolle. Order one of the hotdogs with some excellent coleslaw on the side and try one of the amazing cocktails.
De gillende keukenmeiden
De Gillende Keukenmeiden, which translates into ‘the creaming kitchen maids, is one of the loveliest restaurants at a pretty square in Zwolle. The outside seating is the best part of the restaurant, with funky parasols, bunting and colourful potted plants. Order a freshly made lemonade and a piece of one of the homemade cakes.