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Day-trip to Deventer: a beautiful Hanseatic town

Posted on Mar 24, 2021 by

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Deventer is a charming, laid-back city, on the river IJssel, in the East of the Netherlands. It has a rich history and its heritage is visible everywhere around the city, in the architecture and well preserved historical artefacts. It’s truly a well-hidden gem, often overlooked by tourists (but I don’t mind having the streets only to myself!), and a great destination for a day-trip (or even a long weekend).

Deventer is one of the Hanseatic Towns — like Kampen or Zwolle — towns that were forming the Hanseatic League, which was created back in the Middle Ages as a cooperation between merchants and evolved not only into an economical power but also a line of defence (against pirates). The League included around 150 cities and seven countries along the North Sea and Baltic Sea area.

The Hansa Towns were prosperous places, and you can see that when you visit their history-filled streets. They are rich in monuments and beautiful old houses. Located strategically on the river IJssel, Deventer was an important trade place when Amsterdam and Rotterdam were still developing. I love the Hansa Towns; I think they look just precious, like jewels frozen in time; I couldn’t wait to see them for myself after I discovered them for the first time in a blog post!

Church tower Deventer
People relaxing in Deventer

Even so, when I first visited Deventer, on a hot summer day, I didn’t know I was in for such a surprise. I expected a few hours to be enough to explore the city, but when I was there I realised there was a lot to discover. I was thankful in a way that all shops were closed because it was a national holiday, otherwise I would have spent half of my time in the many beautiful bookstores. While the shopping streets were quiet, the squares of the city were buzzing with people, dressed for the Sunday walk. Open-air restaurants were very inviting, and I had one of the best apple pies ever while sipping coffee with a view over St Lebuïnus Church, watching people passing by. Oh, the pre-Corona times! I miss them so much.

Coffee and appeltaart at Vrienden van Vroeger

After I explored some of the cobbled streets, where I met many friendly cats and discovered hidden gardens, I found my way towards the river, and it looked like half of the city was going there as well. Some people were only stopping for drinks and a bit of sun on the long promenade, others were taking the ferry to cross the river, to Plantsoen De Worp, the oldest park in the Netherlands. I spent some time in the sun and then went back to see the rest of the city: the part with the Brik Square and the Bergkerk, wondering why I haven’t visited this charming place up to that moment.

What to do in Deventer

The best way to visit Deventer is by walking. If you get there by train, you can easily make your way from the train station to the city centre.

  • Explore Deventer’s shops and the quirky bookshops in particular. In the 15th century, Deventer was an important place for printing and this history is still visible in the number of printers, libraries and antiquarian bookshops that you can find here.
  • Visit St Lebuïnus Church, with an impressive Gothic architecture. This Church was built between 1450 and 1525 and has changed hands from various religious groups over the years. You can climb the church tower for a panoramic view over the city, all the way to the river IJssel.
  • See De Brink, the main market square. This is where you’ll find many restaurants and bars, because it’s the centre of Deventer’s nightlife. De Brink is a beautiful, large square, surrounded by trees and with a water fountain on a side (a not so common sight in the Netherlands).
  • De Waag building, situated in the De Brink, is the oldest weighing house in the Netherlands and the current home for Deventer City Museum. This building dates from 1550 and it looks amazing (thanks to further restorations). And now for the dark history lesson: on the outer wall of the Waag hangs a large kettle that is over 500 years old, said to have been used for a public execution in the late Middle Ages; a man who had produced counterfeit coins was cooked to death in it. Nowadays this kettle is full of holes, and, according to local tradition, these were shot by footmen of Napoleon’s army around 1809 (source: Wikipedia).
  • The beautiful medieval Bergkerk (the Mountain Church), owing its name to being built on top of a hill (because the Netherlands is so flat, every dune that is a bit taller than normal can be considered a hill). It’s my favourite place in Deventer; the narrow old streets around the church are picturesque and the view you get over the church from the foot of the “hill” is very pretty. The church is not used for worshipping anymore — it’s an exhibition for modern art now.
  • See the oldest surviving stone house in the Neteherlands, the Proosdij. Its main core was built around 1130.
  • Discover Kloostertuin, a hidden green oasis in the city centre. This is just a lovely garden, but the fact that shows up unexpectedly (if you pay attention) makes it a real treat.
Kloostertuin
  • Enjoy a local brew in the De Heks Bierencafe (The Witch Beer Café), which you can find in the de Brink Square.
  • Visit a windmill: the Bolwerksmolen, a former sawmill which is now a museum.
  • Walk along the promenade of the river IJssel, have a drink and admire the Wilheminabrug – the bridge famous for being the location for a movie called “A bridge too far”. You can even walk on this bridge and get to the other side of the river.
  • Talking about the other side of the IJssel, you can take a ferry that will take you to De Worp, where you can walk in the oldest park of the country (unless you go there in winter, when you can find the park partially flooded). From there you can have a nice view over Deventer’s skyline as well.

Museums to see in Deventer

  • Museum de Waag (Deventer City Museum) is located in the building of de Waag and focuses on the history of Deventer and the region.
  • Speelgoodmuseum (Toy Museum) is an interesting collection of all kinds of toys, old and new, from dolls and doll houses to train sets. A great place to visit with kids.
  • Geert Groote House. The museum is dedicated to the life of Geert Groote, a Roman Catholic deacon, born in Deventer, who was a popular preacher and the founder of the Brethren of the Common Life. He was also one of the founders of the “Modern Devotion”, a renewal movement stood for a personal experience of faith and a simple and sincere life.
  • Charles Dickens Cabinet – a permanent exhibition comprising many showpieces from the impressive Dickens collection of Emmy Strik, initiator of the Dickens Festival. There are numerous books, first editions, prints and figurines of Dickens characters on display and a table set with Dickens crockery.
  • MORE Museum – the museum of modern realism. Over 200 works by leading Dutch realists from the past 100 years are on display.

Yearly notable events in Deventer

Deventer is famous for three annual festivals, which attract thousands of visitors. Of course, this was the pre-Corona times, and I hope they will return when it will be possible.

  • Deventer Book Market. Organised yearly in the first week of August, this is the largest book festival in Europe, attracting around 125.000 visitors. The entire city is lined up with book stalls, amounting for 6 km in total! You can find anything here, from old, rare books, to modern ones.
  • Deventer op Stelten (Deventer on Stilts) is a cultural summer festival. For a weekend in July, Deventer transforms into an open air theatre with over 150 national and international top performances in the historic city centre.
  • Dickens Festijn (Dickens festival). In December, before Christmas, the city is decorated to look as much as possible as a 19th century London, people dress up and roam the streets singing carols. Well, not everyone, but you get the idea.

Deventer parks

Deventer has a few beautiful parks, where people can retreat to enjoy a bit of nature: Rijsterborgherpark, right in the old city centre; Het Nieuwe Plantsoen – listed as a monument and the place where you can find an animal farm; Plantsoen De Worp – across the river; Douwelerkolk – a beautiful park with forest and water; and a few other parks outside the city.

Rijsterborgherpark

What to see around Deventer

There are many places to see around Deventer, most of them requiring an entire day-trip for themselves.

  • You can visit the rest of the nine Hansa towns: Hattem, Zwolle, Kampen, Hasselt, Hardewijk, Elburg, Zutphen, Doesburg.
  • Visit Apeldoorn and Paleis het Loo, a palace with lovely gardens.
  • Hof van Twello: a green area where you can walk barefoot. This path is visited annually by about 20,000 people and leads you on various paths with pebbles, sand, leaves or wood. You can also buy fresh vegetables or eat at their restaurant, in the vegetable garden.
  • National Park Veluwezoom – not right next to Deventer, but close enough. This is the best place to see the heather fields in summer.

Lots of things to see and do for a place you’ve probably never been to, right? I hope this article provided a brief escape and inspired you to put Deventer or the surrounding area on your list with places to visit when the pandemic ends. If you visited Deventer before, or you live there, what do you think of it?

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