When you start looking for a city trip destination in the Netherlands, chances are that Zwolle is not directly in your shortlist. It is mainly cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Maastricht that attract the majority of city trippers. We would recommend that you also take a look at Zwolle if you want to make a nice day trip or want to go away for a weekend. Because this capital of the province of Overijssel has everything you need for a successful city trip. Think of monumental buildings, fascinating museums, nice shops and a range of restaurants that make Burgundian-minded people happy. In short: forget the largest cities in the Netherlands and get in the car or train to Zwolle.
According to Percomputer, Zwolle is easily accessible by road and rail. This is due to the fact that the city is a fairly important hub on various routes, including between the north and south of the Netherlands. In the past, the favorable location on the Overijsselse Vecht was the reason that Zwolle was able to grow into an important trading city at a fairly early stage. Golden times began after joining the Hanseatic League in 1407 and acquiring staple rights in 1438. It is not for nothing that some of Zwolle’s most important sights date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Its history as a Hanseatic city has left behind a number of beautiful remains from that time. What is clearly visible on a map, is how the fortifications have determined the street plan of the inner city. The star shape is still clearly recognizable.
Top 10 sights of Zwolle
#1. Museum De Fundatie
One of the most beautiful art museums in the Netherlands is located in Zwolle. Museum De Fundatie stimulates you in all kinds of ways. That starts with the architecture. What a special building this is. Once you have seen this building, you will never forget it. What makes it special is the mix of a neoclassical basis dating from the first half of the nineteenth century, to which a sleek and modernly designed extension has been added. This part, ‘the Cloud’, provides the unique appearance that the museum building now has.
The permanent collection of Museum de Fundatie includes works of art by Dutch and international artists such as Piet Mondrian, Auguste Rodin, Karel Appel and Vincent van Gogh. It is mainly the diversity of art styles that makes a visit to this museum worthwhile, partly because the museum is not too big. As a result, you do not have an overkill of art, but you can enjoy the carefully curated exhibition at your leisure. In addition to viewing the permanent collection, you can visit a new temporary exhibition every three months.
Zwolle once had six city gates. Only one of them has stood the test of time. The Sassenpoort is an impressive reminder of the time when Zwolle was closed at night to keep uninvited guests out of the fortress. The Sassenpoort was built in the early fifteenth century as part of the much-needed city defenses at the time. What will immediately strike you when you visit this gate is its enormous size. It is not the case that this was necessary for practical reasons. No, the people of Zwolle wanted to show the important status and wealth of their city with this imposing gate. The Sassenpoort is now owned by the Dutch state.
#3. Large market
In many cities with medieval origins, the market is the main square of the city. In case a city had several markets, the name Grote Markt was widely used to indicate the largest market. Also in Zwolle. The Grote Markt is the central square in the historic center of Zwolle. This has been the case since this place was filled in in the fourteenth century. The most emphatically present building, the Grote or Sint-Michaëlskerk, dates from the fifteenth century. Anyone who takes a look at this church can admire the beautiful Schnitger organ. The lack of a bell tower is what stands out on the outside of the church. With a height of 115 to 120 meters, this was the tallest tower in the country.
There is a work of art on the Grote Markt that is certainly worth mentioning. It concerns the sculpture “The Glass Angel” made by Herman Lamers. What makes this work of art so special is the material. In this case, it consists of layers of glass.
#4. City wall
Zwolle was once completely walled. Most of the city walls have now disappeared. A place where you can still see part of the city wall of Zwolle is the Thorbeckegracht. In addition to a piece of wall, you can see two old city towers along the canal: the Pelsertoren and the Wijndragerstoren. You can clearly see from the differences in the colors of the brick that every now and then a piece has had to be restored.
#5. Herman Brood Museum
The list of famous Zwollenars is quite long. This includes the artist and artist Herman Brood. He was born on November 5, 1946 in Zwolle. At the age of 54, Brood took his own life by jumping from the roof of the Hilton hotel in Amsterdam. A tragic end for a man who, in all sorts of areas, has made quite a few works of art during his dazzling life. Anyone who wants to discover who Herman Brood was should visit the Herman Brood Museum & Experience. This museum, located in Zwolle, shows different sides of the life and work of this striking Zwolle resident.
#6. Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption is located on the Ossenmarkt. This cruciform church dates from the fourteenth century. Places of interest within this Gothic church are the remains of Thomas a Kempis and the statue of the Zwolle patron Saint Michael. For tourists, the church tower is especially worth seeing. This 75 meter high tower, nicknamed Peperbus, can be climbed. You may go up to the first turn, which is at a height of 51 meters. The second circulation, 14 meters higher, is not open to the public. On the official website of the Peperbus you can read all about the possibilities to climb the tower.
#7. The Libre
The name Librije immediately makes the mouth water of connoisseurs. The Libre is perhaps the best restaurant in the Netherlands. The fact is that the world famous Michelin guide in any case thinks that this establishment of Jonnie and Thérèse Boer belongs to the absolute top of the Netherlands. Not for nothing that Jonnie became the youngest two-star chef in the country at the age of 33. Five years later, the third Michelin star followed, which is seen as the highest attainable within the culinary world. Those who want to enjoy the cooking skills of this master chef need two things: a large budget and a reservation. The latter is quite difficult. On average you have to book about six months in advance.
#8. Broeren Church
Separation makes some church buildings superfluous as religious buildings. Most of them then get another job. So is the Broerenkerk in Zwolle. Once started in the Middle Ages as a Roman Catholic church and then used for Protestant worship from 1580 to 1983. After the closure as a church, the Broerenkerk was restored. Several murals emerged, the existence of which was previously unknown. Since 2013, the church building has been used as a bookshop. Delusions In The Brothersis considered the most beautiful bookshop in the Netherlands. Even if you’re not a book lover, you should pop in to see how special this place is. If you like books, and who doesn’t, then a visit to Waanders is actually a must if you’re ever in Zwolle.
#9. The Women’s House
The Women’s House is located on the Melkmarkt. This monumental building has long served as a home for the elderly. This is a kind of forerunner of today’s nursing home. The will of Aleida Greeve, who died in 1742, stipulated that after her death her house should be used as a home for the elderly. It specifically concerned women who were members of the Reformed Church. The building served this role until 1984. Then the last resident died. The upper floors are now used as student rooms. Museum Het Vrouwenhuis Zwolle is now located on the ground floor. Here you can see how the women have lived here through the ages.
#10. Zwolle Ballet House
The Zwolse Balletjeshuis is a candy store. Not just any candy store. No, this is the place where Zwolse Balletjes have been made and sold since the mid-19th century. This traditionally prepared sweet is a household name in Zwolle. A Zwolse Balletje is a ball of about 2 centimeters made of sugar dough. Originally, the balls were used to sweeten coffee and tea. By adding all kinds of flavors, the Zwolse Balletje quickly became popular as a candy. The store at Grote Kerkplein 13 is still decorated as it was after it opened in 1845. And the delicious Zwolse Balletje are still produced here every week using traditional methods.