Navigation Menu+

Zeeland Travel Guide: Experience the History and Beauty of Middelburg

Posted on Aug 14, 2023 by

« Previous: Discover the Netherlands: Zeeland Province | Next: Domburg: Beach, Art and Nature on the Zeeland Coast »

What better place to start our discovery of the Zeeland province than Middelburg, the province’s capital? This old city with around 48.000 inhabitants is one of the most popular destinations in Zeeland. For our Zeeland trip, we chose Middelburg as a base from where we could travel around the area.

Discover Zeeland and Middelburg

Zeeland is a province in the south-west of the Netherlands, close to the border with Belgium. When you think about Zeeland, you think about the sea, wide beaches, fishermen and a long, sad history of flooding and battles with the sea. Zeeland is a popular destination for beach holidays (for locals and German tourists). This province fascinated me before even setting a foot anywhere near its meandering lands. I’m a big fan of everything sea related, and Zeeland (“the Land of the Sea”) is one of those places that sparked my curiosity, with its long naval history, sea people and sea fairytales.

Middelburg is one of the first three fortified cities built in the Walcheren area to protect against vikings attacks. It received city rights in 1217. During the Middle Ages, it was an important trading centre between England and the cities of Flanders, and it continued to grow in importance over the centuries. In the Dutch Golden Age (17th century), Middelburg was the second most important trading city (after Amsterdam) for the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The town was also a centre for lens crafting. The invention of the microscope and telescope is often credited to Middelburg spectacle-makers (including Zacharias Janssen and Hans Lippershey).

Cosy street Middelburg

This rich history is still visible in the city today, in the long list of historical monuments that were preserved. During the World War II, a third of the city was destroyed in the bombing and the fire that followed, but most of it was restored after. Six hundred buildings, including historical monuments, were destroyed, but the human casualties were not too big, because the city was evacuated a few days before that. Walking through the city, you see places marking this tragedy, like the place where one of the bombs fell, pulverising the house that was standing there.

Middelburg is a jewel of a town, with beautiful streets and impressive intricate architecture in the preserved old buildings like the Stadhuis. What I noticed to be different in this part of the country, compared to the north, was that houses are predominantly white or pastel colours. A fun thing while walking around was to check the name of each home, written above the door, dating from a time when houses didn’t have numbers. Another distinctive feature of Middelburg is that the houses have cellars with entrance from the street. There are also several gates in the city, arched above the streets and marking the entrance to various areas.

The house name

What to see and do in Middelburg

Because the train ride from Amsterdam takes about 3 hours, I’ve decided that discovering Zeeland will require a few days of staying there, instead of my usual day-trips. So I asked a friend to accompany me, and booked a few nights in Middelburg. We’ve arrived in Middelburg in August, but the weather was very moody. Each day was a mix of sun and October-like weather. The rain and wind were very unfriendly, but we didn’t give up. The shops were running out of rain jackets and we fought to buy some for ourselves. We walked in the rain, and we walked in the sun. We enjoyed Middelburg very much. There are many things to see and do in Middelburg, and we did our best to cover as many as possible.

  • Stroll around the old city centre. Walking around the old city is the best way to discover it. It’s not big, and, like most Dutch towns, can be covered on foot. Walk from one monument to another, stopping at one of the cool cafes for a drink or bite, and walk some more.
  • Boat ride. See the city from the water with a boat ride. We didn’t take the boat, as the weather was not very inviting. We preferred to brave the strong wind on land, not on the water.
The Abbey Middelburg

  • The Abdij (the Abbey). One of the most beautiful places in Middelburg is the medieval Abbey, a round building complex with a square plaza in the middle. It includes the abbey tower, called Lange Jan (Long John), and two churches, the Koorkerk and the Nieuwe Kerk. The Abbey was built in the 12th century, but restored a couple of times. The last restoration was after the bombing in 1940, when much of the complex was destroyed. The forty bronze bells in the carillon at the top of the Lange Jan tower melt in the scorching heat, but the Zeeland tapestries were saved, being rolled up in zinc tubes and placed beneath a specially laid concrete floor, before the war. The square plaza was used as a meeting place for centuries, and it’s a peaceful place where you can rest under the green tree canopy, savouring the shade and the quietness. The abbey halls, with tall, stained windows, transport you back in time, and the luxurious rooms tell the stories of the past. I also liked the herb garden, with the old water pump in the middle of it.
Lange Jan

  • Lange Jan. The tower, destroyed by fire a couple of times, stands still tall and invites visitors to climb the 207 steps for a panoramic view over the city.
  • The Nieuwe Kerk and The Koorkerk (The Choir Church). These two churches belong to the abbey, and they are connected through the Wandelkerk (the Walking Church), which is simply a walking area between the two. The Koorkerk dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries, is the eastern part of the Abbey complex. It has the oldest organ in the country, the Nicolaï organ, which was built in 1479 (but only the empty case of it).
  • Zeeuws Museum. This museum, situated in the Abbey complex, tells the story of the Zeeland’s past. It has an splendid display of traditional costumes, as well as world-famous tapestries depicting 16th century naval battles.
Stadhuis Middelburg

  • Middelburg Stadhuis (the Town Hall). In the main market square, the Markt, stands proud the building considered one of the most beautiful in the country (voted in 2009 the second most beautiful). And for good reason! This impressive building, built in the late Gothic style, with a facade adorned with statues and gargoyles, will charm you immediately. What you see nowadays is not the original building, from 1520, but the restored Town Hall. It was destroyed, together with many other monuments, in the bombing of WW 2, and the restoration lasted decades after. Currently, the building is not used by the town hall but hosts the University College Roosevelt and the exhibition space of the Stichting Beeldende Kunst Middelburg, in the Vleeshal. You can visit the Stadhuis with a guided tour. Unfortunately, when I was there, there was a fair in the market square, and I couldn’t get a proper picture of the whole building.

  • Kuiperspoort – you might miss this if you don’t look for it in particular. It has several entrances, and the most noticeable one is the one close to the marina, on Rouaansekaai. This door is painted with the red and white pattern with yellow dots that can be seen all around Middelburg, on doors and window shutters. Kuiperspoort is one of the oldest parts of Middelburg, and consists of a few narrow cobblestoned alleys and old houses. It looks different from the rest of the city. This was the area where the Coopers Guild was located, where they would make barrels casks. You will see hooks on the street, that were used to lift material to the old warehouses that are nowadays renovated and used as residential houses. It was my favourite part of the city, and I recommend you don’t miss these picturesque streets!
  • Oosterkerk – an icon of Middelburg, this octagonal baroque domed church has been used as a Protestant church for over 350 years. Nowadays is a space for events and exhibitions.
  • The Sjakie’s Chocolate Museum. You might not expect it, but Zeeland (and Middelburg in particular) has a rich chocolate history. In the 18th century, there were many cocoa mills in Zeeland, used to process the cocoa. By then, the cocoa was consumed as a drink, and the production of chocolate bars started only in the 19th century. “Zeeuwsche Chocolaad” (chocolate from Zeeland) was famous in the whole country and abroad. From the 27 chocolate factories in the Netherlands, sixteen were located in Zeeland: thirteen in Middelburg and one each in Vlissingen, Goes and Zierikzee. There are no more chocolate factories nowadays in Middelburg, but you can experience a wide range of chocolate at the Chocolate Museum.
The Zeeland Archive
  • The Zeeland Archives (Zeeuws Archief) – the regional historical centre of Zeeland, an interesting building.
  • Walk around the old city walls, in a nice green area where you will find also a few windmills.
  • Visit the Middelburg Marina to admire the boats.
  • Other places you will pass by in your walks: De Kloveniersdoelen (former military hospital, public library, and nowadays a cafe and cinema), Sint-Jorisdoelen (used as a hotel nowadays), the Koepoort (one of the former eight city gates), Spijkerbrug (a beautiful bridge in the marina), the Engelse Kerk, Damplein and a few others.

Yearly notable events in Middelburg

The Middelburg Historical Wine Festival – takes place in October, in the beautiful Stadhuis building. Middelburg played an important role in the past in the wine trade, and this festival brings together wines from many countries, tastings and other activities.
Zeeland Nazomerfestivaal – nine days of music, theatre and more, in various locations in Zeeland.

What to see around Middelburg

It’s easy to get to Middelburg by train, but getting around it’s not very easy. The best way to visit would be by car, but if you want to stick to the public transport, make sure you check well in advance and maybe rent a bike while there, to cover the short distances when the bus is not available. Buses’ schedule in Zeeland seems to defy all logic – some don’t ride on the weekends, or they take you to a place on one route and get you back on another. There are some local taxi-buses that you can order in advance, but you’d need to be very organised for that.

These being said, the best places to visit from Middelburg are:

Veere – an idyllic town with a long naval history. Veere was considered the cradle of the Dutch Navy, with the Admiralty of Veere being set up here in 1488. Nowadays, this is a town with a laid back atmosphere, where you can go for water sports and relaxation.
Domburg – a seaside resort that attracted many famous artists in the past. It’s been said that the light is magical in Domburg, and you know, it might be true, as I’ve never seen the North Sea turning such an effervescent green colour in any parts of the Netherlands. You can visit the village as well, and, if you’re lucky, attend one of the ring riding contests!
Vlissingen – an important harbour for centuries, Vlissingen is a pretty place to visit for sightseeing or for a day at the beach.
Westkapelle – another beach destination that is very popular.

Where to eat in Middelburg.

If you like fish and sea food, there is no shortage of restaurants offering the freshest assortment for every taste. If you are a vegetarian, like me, you can check out other places. I liked Jells Lunchcafé & Tuinterras for lunch, and Pannenkoekhuis De Kabouterhut (pancake house).

Kabouters Koffie

Their Koffie Kabouterhut warmed me up when I was soaked by the rain, and the pancakes were delicious. Ayos Lunchroom was also very good and had big portions. What I would recommend not to try is Frietboetiek BT’je Anders, advertised as having “the best fries in Zeeland”. It was a huge disappointment, and the worst fries I’ve had in the Netherlands. So, avoid them!
For the rest, don’t forget to eat a Zeeuwse bolus from any of the great bakeries in town and pay a visit to the Chocolate Lovers shop (unfortunately, it was closed every time we passed by, but it looked very inviting).

To learn more about Zeeland and other Dutch provinces, check out Amsterdamian’s other articles: Dutch Provinces, a Complete Guide.

Stay tuned for more and follow Amsterdamian on Instagram and Facebook for daily stories about life in the Netherlands. Please share this post if you liked it!
Don’t forget to check out my photo book: Amsterdam Through the Seasons!
If you want to buy prints and other cute objects, check out our store on Society6!




  1. Discover the Netherlands: Zeeland Province | Amsterdamian - Amsterdam Blog - […] Zeeland Travel Guide: Experience the History and Beauty of Middelburg […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *