Rich history and plenty of pleasure, that’s what Doesburg, Zutphen, Deventer, Hattem, Zwolle, Hasselt, Kampen, Elburg and Harderwijk stand for. Each city has its own charm and character. All Hanseatic cities have beautiful and medieval city centers, modern stores, trendy pubs and excellent restaurants. This mix makes the Hanseatic cities attractive destinations just across the Dutch-German border. 2023 is the perfect year to visit the nine Dutch Hanseatic cities as they revive the old Hanseatic League and invite you to the first Hanseatic Year along the IJssel from April.
The IJssel – link of an era
For four centuries, trade flourished within the European Hanseatic League. Already in the early Middle Ages, many merchants transported their goods on ships across European rivers and seas. The wealth that this cross-border trade brought is still visible today in the magnificent merchants’ houses, trade offices, churches and town squares. Around 1500, the center of the Dutch Hanseatic League shifted to the North Sea area. Amsterdam increasingly competed with the small towns on the IJssel, and after the artificial widening of the Rhine, it literally cut off the water of the IJssel and made navigation more difficult.
Some Hanseatic cities are still inseparably linked with a speciality today. What marzipan is to Lübeck, mustard is to Doesburg, balletjes are to Zwolle, and spice cake is to Deventer. The Deventer Koek originated in the Middle Ages and owes its spread to the flourishing trade of the Hanseatic League. To this day, it is made exclusively in Deventer according to the original recipe. Even in the days of the Hanseatic League, the cake, which keeps well, sailed on merchant ships as far as Norway. There were cakes for King Olav IV in exchange for Nordic stockfish.
Zwolle also has a sweet associated with the city’s name. In the Balletjeshuis on the Great Church Square in the middle of the old town, a candy mixture has been made since 1845. The store still has all the old flair of the 19th century. The candies are also still made in the basement of the house according to the original recipe and with natural flavors such as vanilla, cinnamon, licorice or fruit. In the old days, when sugar was rare and precious, the ladies would shove a balletje down their cheeks at tea or coffee time, discreetly sweetening sip after sip.
Public Art and Museum Concepts
Giant murals have been produced by the Dutch artist collective ‘De Strakke Hand’ since 2022. It is a cross-border project, in the spirit of the Hanseatic League. There are first murals in Kalkar, Emmerich, Harderwijk and Deventer. The basis is always a photo of two people who are now citizens of their town. They wear clothes from the Hanseatic period with a subtle reference to the present.
Art in public spaces and modern museum concepts are also many in the Hanseatic cities on the IJssel. Above the former courthouse of Zwolle, in the Museum de Fundatie, an art cloud has been hovering since 2013, clad with 55,000 three-dimensional tiles. The Anno Museum, which will not open until 2022, reprocesses the city’s history. There are also two churches in Zwolle that have been repurposed and are now used as a restaurant and bookstore.
Hanseatic ambience and high enjoyment
Another unifying feature of the Dutch Hanseatic cities is the very good gastronomic offer in historic Hanseatic houses. In Doesburg, for example, you will find the oldest restaurant in the country. It is the Stadsbierhuis De Waag from 1478. Also in the former monastery from 1309 you can enjoy modern cuisine with local products in the restaurant Het Arsenaal from noon on.
In Zwolle, visitors can combine Hanseatic flair with fine dining. Restaurant De Librije, run by Michelin-starred chef Jonnie Boer, still bears the name from the days when it was housed in the old monastery library. Today, diners sit in the glass-roofed courtyard of the former women’s prison.
Excellent cuisine is also offered by Restaurant t’ Pestengasthuys. In the former hospital from the 15th century, Paul Stegman has been cooking at a high level for over 25 years. His wife organizes the service. A small, very personal restaurant with a historic ambience. Currently, the Pestengasthuys holds recommendations from Guide Michelin and Gault Millau.
Thirty kilometers upriver in the Hanseatic city of Deventer, you can also get very close to the sites of the golden Hanseatic era. It was not until 2022 that the spacious church square around the Libuinus Church was redesigned. A dominant car parking lot had to give way and the square was given back to the people. The former Vermeer family bank on the Grote Kerkhof is now home to the boutique hotel Huis Vermeer. In the hotel’s restaurant, you sit in the former living quarters with lush old murals in the midst of Hanseatic luxury of the Hanseatic years. On the other side of the Libuinus Church is the restaurant t’ Arsenaal. This name also stands for history. The restaurant and courtyard border the side wall of the church, where weapons and ammunition were once stored. Today, only chefs sharpen their knives here and provide guests with upscale gastronomy.
Overnight stays are possible along the IJssel in so-called “Hanzelogies”. Whether in a splendid merchant’s house or in a peasant bedchamber, whether in the middle of the narrow streets of the old town or on the banks of the IJssel, the choice is wide.
Recommendations with Hanseatic flair
Restaurant Pestengasthuys in Zwolle
Restaurant t’Arsenaal in Devente
Restaurant Huis Vermeer in Deventer
Restaurant and Hotel Pillows on the IJssel in Deventer
Restaurant Het Arsenaal 1309 in Doesburg
Stadsbierhuys de Waag since 1478 in Doesburg
Travel information for all nine Dutch Hanseatic cities