Zwolle is the capital city of the province of Overijssel. Due to its strategic location at the junction of several rivers, Zwolle has become a city of wealth (as a trading station) and great charm (its historic city core resembles a multi-sided star surrounded by lovely canals). Zwolle is also popularly known as one of the historic Hanseatic cities (Hanzesteden), a collective whose aim was to protect and foster trade.
In this article, we will give you our recommendations on the best sights and activities Zwolle has to offer.
Zwolle – What to See and Do
1. Museum De Fundatie
Museum De Fundatie, situated on the Blijmarkt, is housed in an imposing former court building that’s popular for its dome-shaped roof (locally called ‘the egg’ or ‘the UFO’). It showcases art from the Middle Ages up to the present time. In addition to its permanent collection, various exhibitions showing Modern Art are scheduled throughout the year.
Due to its massive collection of art (over 7,000 pieces of art!), Museum De Fundatie has a secondary location just 15 km outside of Zwolle, the Kasteel Het Nijenhuis. This museum is housed in a well-preserved manor that dates back to the 15th century. The castle grounds also have an extensive garden where over 90 art sculptures can be viewed.
2. Grote Kerk
The Academy House Grote Kerk Zwolle (a.k.a. Grote Kerk or Sint-Michaëlskerk) is a 600-year-old church known for its ‘contradictions’. You might come across a religious artifact that hints at the city’s religious side, only to go a few steps and come upon an ornate gate that’s claimed to symbolically ‘block’ any recall of Catholic rituals. Either way, a visit to the Grote Kerk will reveal to you the richness of Zwolle’s history.
Our Tip: Entering the church is free but you may want to take a guided audio tour if you want to know the ‘secrets’ behind many of the things you see inside the church.
Another religious place to visit in the city is the Dominican monastery. Opened in 1901, it’s an active church used for various religious events and exhibitions. Tours are available every first Saturday of the month.
4. De Peperbus
If you’re interested in a city view of Zwolle and don’t mind a little exercise, visit the De Peperbus. It’s part of the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Basiliek (Basilica of Our Lady) and is 75 meters high. Climb the tower and be rewarded with a spectacular view of Zwolle. On a clear day, you’ll even be able to see the outline of its star-shaped canals.
Another way to view the city is to go to Sassenpoort (Sassen Gate), the only remaining gatehouse of Zwolle. Constructed in 1409, it’s a Dutch monument that enables visitors to learn how the city’s defense system was organized.
If you prefer to stay on the ground and relax, visit one of the city’s parks. Park de Wezenlanden is just outside the historic city center. It’s a large park with a petting zoo and playground, so it’s great for kids. The restaurant, or park pavilion, even has a little beach area.
Another great park for kids is the Doepark De Nooterhof, where they can learn about nature in an active way. It’s surrounded by ecological gardens and inside the park, you will find a terrace, a water playground, and a barefoot path.
If absolute tranquility is what you’re after, then we suggest Het Engelse Werk, the oldest park in Zwolle. Created in the early 1800s, it was designed to replicate the English landscape.
Zwolle has an extensive area for shopping! The Sassenstraat is listed as one of the Top 10 Shopping Streets in the Netherlands. Other notable shopping streets are the Diezerstraat, Luttekestraat and Oude Vismarkt.
Just like Groningen, Zwolle has a Grote Markt (Market Square) where lovely restaurants and terrace cafes are situated. On Fridays and Saturdays, the place transforms into one big open market where various food items are available.
If you’re into books, drop by the Waanders in de Broeren book shop. It’s a wonderful and massive bookstore with a reading café on the first floor. By the way, it’s inside an old church building!
Hiking, Cycling, and Boating in Zwolle
There are plenty of walking, hiking and biking routes available in and just outside the city. You can get walking and cycling routes at the Tourist Information Points or TIPs located at the Zwolse Balletjeshuis and the Waanders In De Broeren book shop. Alternatively, you can always create your own route using the national fietsroutenetwerk.
You can also take a guided boat tour to explore Zwolle’s many canals or rent a boat and sail yourself. You can rent a classic boat, canoe, or kayak. If you’re a bit more adventurous, rent a water bike or a ‘donut’ (i.e., a round, donut-shaped boat).
Where to Eat in Zwolle
Zwolle is a foodie’s dream location. There are plenty of restaurants but if you’re looking to experience something different (and budget’s not a concern) then consider visiting the De Librije. It’s one of only two restaurants in the Netherlands with a 3-star Michelin rating.
Accommodations in Zwolle
As Zwolle is quite popular, there’s a wide variety of accommodations available ranging from cozy apartments to 4-star hotel stays. For a unique experience, rent a room at the De Pelsertoren, a medieval defense tower, or stay at a ‘boat boutique’ (houseboat).