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Dutch Provinces: Zuid-Holland

”Discover the Netherlands, Province by Province” project – each month of 2022 is dedicated to one Dutch province.

Dordrecht is a well-hidden gem of a city, in the province of Zuid-Holland, south of Rotterdam and right next to the beautiful National Park De Biesbosch. It somehow escaped my research for beautiful Dutch destinations until one sunny day in spring 2019, when I was in the mood for a day-trip and I opened the map to see where should I go. I like spontaneous trips, and I like them even more when I discover places I didn’t see before. After seeing the city, I kept wondering: “How could I have not visited Dordrecht before?” I thought I crossed all the cities and villages from my “very pretty places in the Netherlands” list, but, somehow, this city escaped my radar for a long time.

Also known as Dordt, this is the oldest official city in the Netherlands (it was granted city rights in 1220). In the past, Dordrecht used to be an important trading power, given the perfect location at the confluence of a few rivers. It also held an important position in the country’s defence, up to the WW2 (you can learn about this at the Museum 1940-1945).

Nowadays, Dordrecht is a charming, relaxed place, perfect for a short trip. I cannot recommend it enough! The historic city centre is beautiful, with narrow streets and canals — as most Dutch cities, you would say; but after visiting many of them, you’ll see that each has its particularities. Here, the houses are right next to the canal’s water, with no borders, like in Venice. I think Dordrecht deserves the title “Venice of the Netherlands” more than any other Dutch city.

Canals in Dordrecht

Dordrecht is an island (also known as Het Eiland van Dordt — “the Island of Dordt”), bordered by the rivers Oude Maas, Beneden Merwede, Nieuwe Merwede, Hollands Diep, and Dordtsche Kil. In the past, it could be reached only by boat, but, luckily, nowadays there are bridges that connect it to the surrounding areas.

Ultimate guide to Dordrecht, the Netherlands

During my first visit to Dordrecht, I’ve spent quite some time in the area around the Grote Kerk (or The Church of Our Lady). The church bells sang for about one hour, sea birds were flying around the church like in a dance, the trees were casting shadows on the pavement, people were passing by in no hurry. I fell in love with the city right there and then.

My favourite part of Dordrecht was the harbour area, with the waterfront and the marina. The old houses, some from 1660, the quiet atmosphere, the gezelligheid of the little outdoor cafés – what more can you wish for? There are a few amazing bridges and monuments around the city, like the former city gate, Groothoofdspoort, and, if you are in the mood for shopping, a few interesting shops are waiting for their clients. I liked very much Bluebirds in the Backyard, a cosy shop and restaurant.

What to do in Dordrecht

A very important thing to know about Dordrecht is that it has around 1000 monuments! That should tell you something about this wonderful city, which, no doubt, it will steal your heart. While it would be difficult to see all of them in a day, you can try to discover as many as possible, on foot or by water.

  • Walking tours. The best way to see the city and discover all its secrets is by walking around. You can choose between a guided tour, the Rondje Dordt (follow a sign posted route around the city), or follow your eyes and let yourself be surprised by what you discover.
  • Boat tours. The second best way to see Dordrecht is from the water. Take a boat tour to explore the canals and admire the old houses and monuments from the water level.
Houses in Dordrecht
  • Visit the harbours. Dordrecht has no canals, but havens (harbours). Voorstraathaven is the main one, the backbone of the city, going through the city center. When in Dordrecht, you must also see the Nieuwe Haven, Wijnhaven and Wolwevershaven. The latest was my absolute favourite. The old warehouses, the big boats and the amazing bridges are a spectacular view!
Dordrecht Haven
  • The Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe-Kerk (“The Church of Our Lady”) or, simply, Grote Kerk, dates back to 11th century. The 65-meter tower contains a carillon with 67 bells, including one weighing 9830 kilos, making it the heaviest bell in the Netherlands (according to Wikipedia).
Dordrecht church
  • See the Damiate Bridge (Damiatebrug). Close to Kuipershaven 18, this iron drawbridge built in 1855 is an impressive view and it was listed as a national monument.
  • The Soap Deer (or ‘t Zeepaert) – one of the best-preserved Gothic houses in the Netherlands and a unique building, consisting of a front and back house. It was built in 1495. The interior can be visited during one of the city’s guided tours. Address: Wijnstraat 113.
  • The Groothoofdspoort. Traditionally Dordrecht’s most important city gate, it’s located at the three-river point — the busiest river crossing point in Europe. The Beneden-Merwede, the Oude Maas and the Noord rivers come together here. It was built around 1440-1450 and was enclosed in 1617-1618 by a new Renaissance gate, which can be seen today.
  • Take the waterbus to Rotterdam, De Biesbosch or Kinderdijk. If you love water and boats, this is one experience you should definitely try during your visit to Dordrecht.
  • Discover the hofjes (courtyards with almshouses around it) of Dordrecht. These beautiful internal courtyards like Lenghenhof or Van Slingelandthof can be visited during your city walk. I love discovering the hidden gardens in every city I visit, and Dordrecht has about seven of them.
Dordrecht courtyard
  • Kyck Over Den Dyck windmill(View over the Dike). The last windmill standing in Dordrecht, built in 1612, was used to produce malt used for brewing beer.
  • Rutte distillery. Visit a distillery dating back to 1872, which is making gins, genevers and liqueurs, see the original shop and join a tasting room.

Museums in Dordrecht

  • Dordrecht Museum. One of the oldest art museums in the Netherlands, is hosting a collection of six centuries of Dutch art, from altarpieces to contemporary art.
  • Museum 1940-1945. This museum, dedicated to the WW2 and how it affected Dordrecht. For a history aficionado, this museum is a gem! It has an impressive collection of arms and artefacts from the war and it gives a lot of interesting information.
  • Huis van Gijn. This beautifully restored house will give you an idea about how the house looked like in the 19th century. It’s your opportunity to see how the houses looked like on the inside in the past and admire the collections of Simon van Gijn, former owner of the house.
  • Het Hof van Nederland. This is a place of great importance in the history of the Netherlands. It was here that  the First Free States Assembly took place in 1572. This was an important event, which helped lay the foundations for the independent Republic of the Netherlands. The building was initially an Augustinian monastery and, over the years, it held various functions, among which being the residence of William of Orange and the Earl of Leicester.
Dordrecht canals

Yearly notable events in Dordrecht

The Dordtse Feesten. From 16 July to 1 August, Dordrecht will be hosting various events like music, dance, theatre, food and more. In 2022, the city celebrates 801 years of existence. The big 800 years celebration that was supposed to take place last year had to be canceled because of the pandemic, so the city decided 801 is also a very nice number!

Dordrecht parks

  • Wantijpark. One of the main parks of the city, featuring a beautiful entrance gate, lakes, wooded areas and a restaurant.
  • Landgoed Dordwijk (country estate). An English style park. The estate gardens can be visited by booking a guided tour.
  • Park Merwestein. The oldest city park in Dordrecht. One of the biggest attractions is the deer pack that lives in the park.

Things to do outside Dordrecht

  • Visit National Park de Biesbosch. One of the last extensive freshwater tidal areas in Europe, home to a variety of birds, animals (including cute beavers!) and fish, De Biesbosch park is a unique experience. The best way to experience it is by water (boat, canoe or sup), to navigate the maze of canals, but it can also be explored on foot. At the Biesboschcentrum you can learn about the five themes of the park: water, plants, beavers, pilot whales and birds. I went to a company event in this park (we did a treasure hunt by boat, between the islands), and I have to say it was one of the best company events I’ve participated to!
  • Kinderdijk. Close to Dordrecht, Kinderdijk is an open-air museum where you can learn about the Dutch water management system. The 19 windmills, built around 1740, are part of this system, keeping the land dry by pumping the water. You can do a day-trip to admire the waterways, dikes and sluices, have a tour boat and visit the museum mills.

I hope I have inspired you to pay a visit to this gorgeous city and its surroundings! And let me know if I missed anything!

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1 Comment

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Dordrecht but I agree that it is a great city. My wife and I went on one of the canal tours which was a great way to see the place.

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