Immerse yourself in history in the Frisian city of IJlst
Friesland’s cities are said to be built on history by dreamers, rather than on large scales. Nowhere exemplifies this more than the city of IJlst, in southwest Friesland which offers visitors a glimpse of history and culture at every turn. Whether you’re watching the world go by while enjoying Dutch delicacies at a café terrace on the Galamagracht canal, or strolling through the centuries-old streets and scenic gardens, you’re always immersed in the history and traditions of the city and the unique province of Friesland itself.
A city since 1268, IJlst’s history is also inextricably linked to water and nature in general. The city is actually named after the river that once passed through it, the old Ee, which flowed from the former Zuiderzee (now the IJsselmeer) to the Middelzee (Middle Sea). IJlst gradually emerged at the crossroads of these three important waterways. It is also one of the Frisian cities visited by the grueling ‘Elfstedentocht’ ice-skating race, known in English as the Eleven Cities Tour. While you’re sightseeing in the city, make sure you visit the charming ‘Het Wapen van IJlst’ hotel, which boasts a cozy cafe, an elegant bistro serving a range of local Dutch delicacies, and e-bike rental to help you fully explore the city and surrounding area in style.
Things to see and do in IJlst
The city and its scenic surroundings are perfect to explore by bike, foot or boat. While you’re in the city don’t miss the chance to step back in time at the 17th-century sawmill ‘De Rat’, a three-story ‘stellingmolen’ (or smock mill) which straddles the River Geeuw. The mill has been in use for more than 300 years and still slices large tree trunks into planks today. Another highlight is the new Nooitgedagt Museum, which traces the history of ‘Nooitgedagt IJlst’, the most famous wooden ice-skate manufacturer in the Netherlands, which closed in the 1990s. The museum offers a chance to explore the company’s fascinating history and see some of the remarkable products it made – including its famous wooden skates, toys and tools – as well as take part in woodworking workshops. The museum is currently making the move into a brand-new building and is temporarily closed.
IJlst was born from water, as Frisian people reclaimed lands from the sea and built new cities. This process, as different generations continued to build new homes from land which once belonged to the water, is the inspiration behind Shinji Ohmaki’s fountain ‘Immortal Flowers: Rikka’ at De Dassenboarch. It is a monument which is formed from old Dutch ‘stinzen’ plants, arranged in the traditional Japanese ‘Rikka’ style. The bouquet of flowers, planted in a vase shaped surface of water, catches and reflects light and the flowers’ own colors. The work was created as part of the Leeuwarden-Friesland 2018 cultural program 11Fountains, in which a fountain was created for each of Friesland’s 11 cities.
Spending the night in IJlst
Overlooking the River Geeuw, the charming hotel Het Wapen van Ijlst offers modern rooms, an extensive breakfast and an informal, elegant bistro restaurant serving gourmet cuisine made with traditional Dutch ingredients. Each of its quaint rooms overlooks the river or bridge, which sit alongside the hotel. As such, it’s the perfect place to venture out into the city and Frisian countryside.