The goal of the Hanseatic League, which was founded when Amsterdam was still a tiny settlement, was to expand commerce and spread knowledge. Dutch cities like Zwolle, Kampen, Hattem and Deventer were members of this league, and this chapter in their history is still clearly visible in the many 14th and 15th-century monuments. Most of these are found by the water’s edge, as waterways represented crucial transport routes, and possess a rich history and unique façades. In other words, when in Holland, a visit to at least one Hansa town is almost compulsory.
Hanseatic history leaves impressive modern impressions
Follow the flow of the River IJssel and along the edge of the former Zuiderzee to discover the fascinating history of Holland’s Hansa Towns. These were members of the Hanseatic League, a dominant trade network that crossed from Portugal to the Baltic States by way of Spain, Belgium, Holland, England, Germany, Scandinavia and Poland. Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, the Dutch Hanseatic Towns were centers of prosperity and wealth, commanding the premium trade of salt, food, drink, cloth and other products with Hanseatic ports across Europe. It resulted in impressive growth, development and riches, but by the late 1500s, the League had collapsed, allowing Amsterdam to rise as Europe’s center of trade. Yet centuries later, Holland’s Hansa Towns remain historic beacons filled with thousands of monuments, beautiful architecture, shimmering water scenes, vibrant culture and modern shopping.
Explore nine of Holland’s Hansa Towns
Holland’s Hansa Towns share an impressive period in medieval history, but all have evolved their own unique characteristics and stories over subsequent centuries. Kampen is famous for its 500 or so monuments, but today it’s also a culinary haven and a center for water sports. The medieval center of Zwolle is a bastion of dynamic culture, home to some of the region’s finest art and history museum collections, such as at Museum de Fundatie. The same can be said of 800-year-old Hattem, whose cultural highlights include the Anton Pieck Museum. For a true sense of Hanseatic wealth, visit Hasselt, which looks and feels a lot like a miniature Amsterdam thanks to its canals, bridges and small alleyways.
The city of Deventer is home to Holland’s oldest stone house, library and city park. Time your trip to coincide with at least one of its many fantastic events held throughout the year – and don’t forget to try the famous honey gingerbread either. Zutphen is equally historic, but with its beautiful waterside location, it easily balances medieval looks with modern shopping. In Hanseatic times, Doesburg was the most important fortified city in Holland. Today, its medieval grandeur pairs nostalgia with exceptional cultural offerings. Likewise, the fortified Elburg, which measures a mere 250 meters by 350 meters, was a crucial fishing village. Now its vibrant past can be explored inside atmospheric museums situated next to boutique shops and restaurants. And in Harderwijk, centuries-old churches sit perfectly with modern attractions like the Dolfinarium theme park and surprising culinary delights.
New ways to explore and experience the Hansa legacy
The 125km-long River IJssel was a vein of trade, flowing through the provinces of Overijssel and Gelderland. It connects seven of Holland’s key Hansa trading posts, with Elburg and Harderwijk situated near to where the river flowed into the former Zuiderzee. Get a true taste of history and Dutch culture and cuisine by exploring these Hansa Towns inside and out by way of enlightening walking and bike tours. Explore the preserved waterfronts and harbors, see centuries of history unfold during guided tours of monuments, escape into surrounding woodland to experience Dutch nature at its finest, or feel the wind blowing through your hair as you cycle past the open fields near the IJsselmeer lake. Stop off along the way to taste local delicacies or treat yourself to exclusive fine dining experiences. You can even embrace the merchant lifestyle by taking a cycling holiday along the Hanseatic Route, heading out on two wheels in daytime, then relaxing at night as your boat cruises to the next town.
Watch this video: