A weekend trip to Zwolle? Why not! But even in one day you can see a lot of this Hanseatic city. Old monumental buildings, an old city wall, interesting museums and an old city centre in the shape of a star! Zwolle has it all!
The name Zwolle was first discovered in 1040. What began as a small hamlet grew in the 15th century into one of the most prosperous cities in the Netherlands. In this century it became a member of the Hanseatic League, a partnership agreement between 200 cities that stretched from Russia to France. They traded with each other, but also protected each other. For Zwolle, the 15th century was the Golden Age.
In this article I will take you to some of the most important historical places in Zwolle. Of course there is much more to see, but these 6 sights should not be missed during a day or weekend in the Hanseatic City of Zwolle!
Food & Drinks: Zwolle is known for the best restaurant in the Netherlands, the Librije. But if you fancy an authentic candy, go to the Zwols Balletjeshuis. In addition to typical products of Zwolle, you can also find information here about the city.
1. The most beautiful gate in the Netherlands: De Sassenpoort
The most beautiful gate in the Netherlands? Maybe! It’s certainly an impressive appearance. When you arrive at the canal from the station, you will see the Sassenpoort on your right hand side.
At the beginning of the 15th century this gate was built as part of the city’s fortifications. It served as an internal gate made of trachyte, tuff and sandstone. The beautiful exterior of the building shows how prosperous the Hanseatic city of Zwolle was in the 15th century.
After it lost its function as a defence gate in the 17th century, it was used as a prison. From 1739 the tower was used to house less fortunate families.
At the end of the 19th century, the Dutch State took control of the monument. Time for a restoration! The wooden bell tower was replaced by the current stone tower. For a century the Sassenpoort was in use by the Provincial State Archives in Overijssel and is now used as an exhibition space.
Would you like to visit the Sassenpoort? This is only possible on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. till 5 p.m. (in winter until 4 p.m.). Access to the gate and the exhibition costs 3 euros.
The church without a tower: St. Michael’s Church
There used to be a Romanesque church on the site of the St Michael’s Church. But in the 15th century a new church was built in honour of the dragon’s fighter, the archangel Michael. On top of the roof is a statue of him, but don’t forget the remarkable green version on the market square!
Once upon a time St. Michael’s Church had the highest church tower in the Netherlands, higher than the Dom Tower in Utrecht. But in 1682, the 120-metre-high tower collapsed due to a lightning strike and was never rebuilt.
The interior of the church was a bit disappointing, but that was mainly because they were busy with renovating it (May 2019). Nevertheless, this church has two objects that are normally worth a visit: an organ from 1721 and a pulpit from the beginning of the 17th century.
And after visiting this church it is time for an alcoholic drink at one of the many cafes and restaurants on the market square!
3. Modern art in Museum de Fundatie
Would you like to visit a museum? Well, Museum de Fundatie is the right place for you. This remarkable building was built between 1838 and 1841 in neoclassical style. But the most characteristic part of the building is the ‘cloud’ on the roof. This ‘cloud’ consists of 55,000 white-blue tiles and gives the museum a spectacular appearance.
The museum houses a collection of fine art from the Middle Ages to the present day. But above all, modern and contemporary art predominates. But to be honest, it is a beautiful museum with paintings of Corneile, Appel, Toorop and many other painters from the 20th century.
The museum is open from Tuesday till Sunday from 11am till 5pm. Entrance to the museum costs €14 per person.
View over the city: the Peperbus (Pepperbox)
Another church that should not be missed is the ‘Our Lady for the Assumption’. But this church is best known for its tower, called the Pepperbox. Why this name? Just take a good look at the tower! What does it look like (look closely!)? Right!
The first foundations for a church were built at the end of the 14th century. In 1450 a tower was added. After the iconoclasm of 1566 the church was used for a long time (until 1811) for non church purposes. The Protestant majority in Zwolle decided that the Catholic Pepperbox could not be used as a church.
Climbing the 236 steps of the Peperbus is a funny thing to do! From the tower you have a beautiful view of the Hanseatic city of Zwolle. The costs for this climb are € 3 euros per person. If you look closely you might recognize the star of Zwolle! Okay, it’s almost impossible to see, but the star-shaped city centre is a fact!
The church is open from 1 April to 1 November on Mondays from 13:30 to 16:30 and from Tuesday to Saturday from 11:00 to 16:30. From 1 November to 1 April it is open from Monday to Friday from 1.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. and from Saturday to 4.30 p.m.
5. The city wall and the 23 gates
If you’re going to visit an old city with defences, you want to see the old city wall too, don’t you? On the north side of the city centre there are still some parts of the city wall from the 15th century. If you walk in the street ‘Aan de Stadsmuur’, which means ‘At the city wall’ you can’t miss it!
From the fortifications, only 3 of the 23 gates have survived in addition to the abovementioned Sassenpoort and the city wall. These are the Pelserpoorttoren, the Zwanentoren and the Wijndragerstoren.
6. The Broerenkerk or Waanders in the Brothers
Finally, a church! Or not? In the 15th century the Dominicans founded the Broerenklooster and the Broerenkerk. But from 1580 the monastery and the church were closed and in 1640 they were taken into use by the Protestants. They held their services here until 1983.
Since 1983, the building has been used for various exhibitions and events. But that changed in 2013. Since then it has been in use as a bookstore! The original organ from 1824 is still present and can officially still be used. Waanders in de Broeren is regarded as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the Netherlands.
Waanders in de Broeren is open every day, also on Sundays. On Sunday and Monday the church/shop is open from 12 o’clock, the rest of the week from 9.30 o’clock.
Finally: Monumental buildings in Zwolle
In addition to these 6 important historical sites in Zwolle, there is of course much more to see and do. For example, it is nice to stroll through the shopping street and visit old monumental buildings. Or just sit on the terrace on the market square or along the canal. Anyway, in historic Zwolle you can enjoy several days! I would say: go for it!
Plan your trip to the Hanseatic city of Zwolle
Zwolle is easy to reach by train. From Amsterdam there is an intercity to Zwolle every half an hour. It takes just over an hour to get there.