Culture History

Road trip in The Netherland: along Hansa Towns

Road trip The Netherlands, along Hansa Towns | Your Dutch Guide

When Amsterdam and Rotterdam were still tiny settlements, 9 cities in the east of The Netherlands were already grand cities and trading ports of great importance. What did they have in common? Their location along the river IJssel. The cities of Deventer, Zwolle, Kampen, Doesburg, Harderwijk, Elburg, Zutphen, Hattem and Hasselt formed the Hansa Towns and still are some of the most beautiful small cities in The Netherlands. The Hansa Towns are a great excuse to take a road trip in the east of The Netherlands.

What are Hansa Towns?

You have probably never heard of Hansa Towns (or Hanzesteden as they’re called in Dutch) and that’s alright, really. Because to be honest, the Hansa Towns are true Dutch hidden gems, and therefore worth discovering. The Hansa Towns follow the IJssel river along the edge of the IJsselmeer. Deventer, Zwolle, Kampen, Doesburg, Harderwijk, Elburg, Zutphen, Hattem and Hasselt were all part of the Hanseatic League, which formed a powerful trade network that crossed from Portugal to the Baltic states. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to find Hansa Towns in Belgium, Germany and Scandinavia, Hamburg being the most famous Hansa city.

The Hansa League were formed in the 14th century and the premium trade of salt, food and drink resulted in prosperous and wealthy cities. By the 16th century, the League collapsed allowing Amsterdam to become Europe’s most important trading centre and launching Holland into it’s famous Golden Age. However, the Hansa Towns remain historic monuments filled with amazing monuments, lovely skylines from the water and vibrant culture. In this article, I will introduce the 9 Dutch Hansa Towns and I am curious to hear which one you like best.

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Deventer | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Deventer | Your Dutch Guide

Deventer

Deventer is probably the most surprising Dutch city you’ll encounter and it’s an absolute favourite of mine. Even though the city was hit hard by bombs during the Second World War the city centre still holds 2300 buildings from Hanseatic times and taking a stroll through the centre of Deventer is like travelling back in time. However, Deventer has some unmistakable modern sides too. The city hosts excellent festivals year round, which are famous throughout The Netherlands. And the possibilities for independent shopping are simply endless.

Read more about Deventer in my city guide Deventer.

Hattem

Hattem may be small, but it’s close to the biggest national park in The Netherlands: Park Hoge Veluwe, a paradise for hikers and cyclists. Hattem is over 800 years old and has several historical monuments to admire, like the Romanesque with foundations that were laid in the 13th century. Furthermore, the small town has no less than 3 museums, of which the Anton Pieck Museum is a real treat.

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Hattem | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Hattem | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Elburg | Your Dutch Guide

Elburg

Since most of the Hansa Towns were so powerful, they were often prey to intruders and attacks, and it doesn’t really matter which of the Hansa Towns you visit, you will see that they all still have impressive city walls, fortifications, towers and town gates with wide canals dug around them. And this is especially visible in Elburg, with its impressive fortification that protects the centre if town, which is only 250 by 350 meters large.

Kampen

Though small, Kampen is still absolutely majestic. The historic centre is one of the most well-preserved in The Netherlands, showing off many medieval monuments like towers, gates and gabled houses. The harbour is one of the nicest features of Kampen and when seated on the boulevard you will often see very special historical boats sail by.

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Kampen | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Kampen | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Zwolle | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Zwolle | Your Dutch Guide

Zwolle

Zwolle is only 15 kilometres from Kampen and this is the largest of the Hansa Towns in The Netherlands. The star-shaped canal and fortification around the old city are stunning and you should absolutely check out the historical Sassenpoort, the only historical gate remaining. Inside the walls, Zwolle holds a fabulous museum for contemporary art, Museum de Fundatie, as well as the best restaurant in The Netherlands, 3 Michelin star crowned De Librije.

Read more about Zwolle in my city guide Zwolle.

Harderwijk

Harderwijk is perfectly located on the edge of Hoge Veluwe national park and at the water at IJsselmeer. There is plenty to see and do as the historical town has 100 national monuments and the entire old town has been declared a protected monument. Strolling through the cobbled streets, along the medieval city walls is like walking in a 16th-century painting. Take a seat and have something to drink at the cosy market square, where you can also admire the medieval, though renovated, town hall.

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Harderwijk | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: 'Little Amsterdam' Hasselt | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: 'Little Amsterdam' Hasselt | Your Dutch Guide

Hasselt

Don’t confuse Hansa Town Hasselt with Belgium’s Hasselt. Though they’re both pretty historical towns, they do have totally different characters. Hasselt is also known as ‘Little Amsterdam’ and when you take in the canals, bridges, quays and locks in the small city centre, you will absolutely understand why. Even the canals are named the same as their Amsterdam big brothers, so do take a walk along Heerengracht and Prinsengracht in Hasselt or take a boat trip to take it all in.

Zutphen

Zutphen is a popular weekend getaway destination for a lot of Dutch people and it makes a lovely place to see for foreign visitors too. Zutphen is actually a lot older than Hanseatic times as it was founded by the Franks during Roman times, but like the other Hansa Towns, it became a city of great importance in the 14th and 15th century. The historical central square, surrounded by beautiful historic buildings, is the place to hit the market in the weekend and buy the best produce The Netherlands has to offer and in summer many cafés on the square have outdoor seating, making it the perfect place for people watching. If you’re a fan of craft beer, hop by city brewery Cambrinus to sample some typical locals beers.

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Zutphen | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Zutphen | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Doesburg | Your Dutch Guide

Road trip The Netherlands, Hansa Towns: Doesburg | Your Dutch Guide

Doesburg

Doesburg is one of the most magnificent fortified, historical cities in The Netherlands and absolutely worth a visit. It’s still very obvious nowadays that the city was of great importance from the 13th century until the 15th century. Visit the 94 meters high Martini church and have lunch or dinner and the amazing De Waag building, which dates back to 1478, and which is famous for it’s large and excellent beer selection. A bit more recent, but an absolute must-see is the Lalique Museum with a stunning Art Nouveau collection.

Plan a road trip The Netherlands

  • It’s actually rather easy to visit most of the Hansa Towns by train. It’s a little over an hour to Zwolle from Amsterdam, and it takes 25 minutes to get from Zwolle to Deventer. Deventer and Zutphen are only 10 minutes apart by train. You can use all public transport in The Netherlands with an OV Chip Card, which you can charge as you go. This website is extremely useful for planning your trip from A to B in The Netherlands.
  • If you’d like to visit the smaller Hansa Towns too or if you have a more extended road trip in The Netherlands in mind, you are better off renting a car. You can either pick up your rental car at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport or in the centre of most large cities in The Netherlands.

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    Lorelle
    November 15, 2017 at 4:03 am

    All such wonderful unique towns. Have pinned this for later in hopes that one day I will get to the Netherlands. Thanks Esther 😉

  • Reply
    California Globetrotter
    November 15, 2017 at 9:27 am

    Loving these Hansa towns! Was recently in Gdansk (coming on Monday!) and it really had a similar feeling to Amsterdam and that’s also because they were part of the Hanseatic League! Pinning these for later!!

    • Reply
      Esther
      November 19, 2017 at 9:35 am

      Funnily enough, Gdanks has been on my wishlist for quite some time!

  • Reply
    Lisa
    November 15, 2017 at 10:55 am

    That sounds like such a great road trip route! Love the pictures and I also think it’s great that you don’t need a car but can take the train too!

    • Reply
      Esther
      November 19, 2017 at 9:36 am

      Yes Lisa, this goes for a lot of places in The Netherlands. You can discover loads of places, as everything is pretty close together. No excuses not to go exploring 😉

  • Reply
    Sarah
    November 15, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    Ahhh I am in Amsterdam right now and already hoping I can return someday (not too far) in the future and explore more of the Netherlands. This would be a great start!

  • Reply
    Claire
    November 15, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Never visited that part of the country, it looks pretty. Bookmarking!

  • Reply
    Lydia
    November 15, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    We didn’t get to any of them but I wish we did. Your pics are very appealing!

  • Reply
    Ruth
    November 16, 2017 at 3:57 am

    I have heard about the Hanseatic League but didn’t know the term Hansa was used to describe towns that were part of it. It is difficult to choose favorites but i liked Zutphen a lot. I can see how this is a popular road trip route.

    • Reply
      Esther
      November 19, 2017 at 9:37 am

      Ah yes, Zutphen is very cute!

  • Reply
    Jules
    November 17, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    It is a nice roadtrip to take. We enjoy visiting the cities and seeing how much the Dutch love the water. It is really part of their daily live

  • Reply
    Nell
    November 17, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Wow – the legacy of the Hanseatic League was very much in evidence when I visited Bergen recenly, but I have to confess, I didn’t know much about its origins. And now I have another top destination in mind, for when we next travel to the Netherlands. Thanks for the introduction!

  • Reply
    hilary
    November 17, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    What a wonderful collection of towns! I loved our visit to The Netherlands last year, and sincerely hope I get back there soon! When that happens I’ll definitely be visiting some of these gems! Hasselt sounds wonderful, I’m choosing that one as my favorite.

  • Reply
    Wendy Maes
    November 18, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Ik leer op jouw blog zoveel over plaatsen die zo dicht bij huis zijn. Ik heb echt tijd te kort!

    • Reply
      Esther
      November 19, 2017 at 9:39 am

      Het leuke is dat je al een hoop op een weekend kunt zien 😉 (En hé, ik moet nog zo veel zien in Vlaanderen, hoewel ik er uit de buurt kom)

  • Reply
    Anda
    November 19, 2017 at 5:02 am

    Thanks for letting me know about Hansa Towns. I’ve heard of the Hanseatic League, but not about these towns.
    There seem to be so many interesting things to see in the Netherlands. I began making a list of places I’d love to visit there.

    • Reply
      Esther
      November 19, 2017 at 9:40 am

      I totally see why the towns get overlooked, as they are not as grand as the larger Hansa cities, like Hamburg. But oh, these small places are worth a visit!

  • Reply
    Elaine J Masters
    November 19, 2017 at 5:30 am

    These villages are so full of history and beautiful architecture. I’ve never heard of the Hansa Towns. It’s time I get to the Netherlands.

    • Reply
      Esther
      November 19, 2017 at 9:41 am

      Oh, I hope you make it here one day!

  • Reply
    Moira
    November 19, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    Esther, This is such a lovely guide! I loved reading it and will totally be referring back to it when I travel to the Netherlands.

  • Reply
    Sherrie
    November 19, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    Wow! Is there any town in the Netherlands that isn’t picturesque? I feel like I need to go there and spend a month just wandering and exploring all these wonderful towns.

    • Reply
      Esther
      November 20, 2017 at 1:18 pm

      LOL! Don’t tempt me to make a list of soulless Dutch towns, I know loads. But then, I often just pretend they don’t exist and focus on the pretty ones 😉

  • Reply
    Vanessa Brune
    November 20, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    I’ve spent a week sailing on the JIjssel lake on a school trip and we visited lots of little villages along the way. I guess I need to come back one day to explore the area properly!

    • Reply
      Esther
      November 20, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      That sounds like an awesome trip! Sounds like you know the area already!

  • Reply
    Clare
    November 20, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    I’d love to visit ALL of these, Esther! Doesburg and Hattem both look so pretty, I’ll pick those to visit first. Fabulous discoveries again for

  • Reply
    Jim Boate
    November 21, 2017 at 1:08 am

    We first discovered Deventer while on a cycling holiday many years ago. We have been back several times, it is a great central spot to visit several of the Hansa towns that are less than a days bike ride away.
    We love to go down to De Brink (city square) in the evening for a glass of wine. We are now fortunate to have friends living in this beautiful city.

    • Reply
      Esther
      November 21, 2017 at 8:15 am

      That’s very cool Jim! The best way to discover The Netherlands is by bike (weather permitting!). And Brink is a great place for a drink!

  • Reply
    Michelle
    November 21, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Once again, I’m left feeling inspired by these picturesque Dutch towns that I’d never heard of before! Thanks so much for sharing. Loved seeing the old-school sailboats on the water! Do you think it’s worth staying overnight in any of these towns or would a day trip suffice?

    • Reply
      Esther
      November 23, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      I think if you’d only want to visit one of these towns a day trip is enough, though it would be worth to see a couple more and stay one or two nights in one of the larger cities, like Deventer or Zwolle.

  • Reply
    Agness
    November 22, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Going on a road trip in the Netherlands sounds like an awesome idea, Esther. I’ve lived in Amsterdam for two years and exploring these hidden gems was not something I did. So, I’ve got another reason to go there soon.

  • Reply
    Mini Travellers
    November 23, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    I’ve never visited this part of the Netherlands but I think it looks incredibly pretty. I love the fact that you can be car less too if you lilke.

  • Reply
    Travelling With Our Kids
    November 24, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    These towns look so pretty. We havent been to this part of the Netherlands but we plan to go back one day. We also love road trips so this is right up our street! Great article 🙂 #MondayEscapes

  • Reply
    Kana
    November 29, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Ok this is totally architecture heaven! The photos look absolutely gorgeous! I’d love to visit and do a road-trip out there! Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday, hope to see you again this week! xo

  • Reply
    Catherine
    November 29, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    We visited the Netherlands this summer and loved it, lots of reasons to return and now the Hanseatic towns too #FarawayFiles

  • Reply
    Janine
    November 30, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    All these stops on your road trip truly demonstrate unique charm and beauty in their own right. I would definitely explore each of them and take a heap of photos!

  • Reply
    Erin Gustafson
    November 30, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    Oh this looks like the perfect itinerary to explore little town Netherlands. They are all adorable and I can’t pick just one. Love the harbor with the historic boats – looks just amazing. Thanks for sharing this lesser known part of your beautiful country.

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