Dordrecht: Stepping back in time
2020-11-17 | By Anuja Tipnis-Randive
Dordrecht, a South Holland city locally known as Dordt, has eight centuries of rich and varied history.
Getting to Dordrecht
Its central location makes Dordrecht easily accessible by rail from most of the Netherlands. An original alternative is to take the train as far as Rotterdam, then hop on the waterbus from a pick-up point along the River Maas. The journey passes Rotterdam’s industrial buildings, the stunning Dutch countryside, and the windmills of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Kinderdijk (the world’s largest windmill network) before arriving in beautiful Dordrecht.
Dordrecht was granted city rights by William I, Count of Holland, in 1220, which means 2020 is the city’s 800th birthday. Many celebrations planned to mark this momentous year have been postponed, so there is a lot to enjoy in Dordrecht this year and in 2021 too.
Keep an eye open for celebrations and events across the city–from neighbourhood parties, street art and nature walks, to festivals, museum specials, theatre and music, and even a women’s football competition (summer 2021).
The birthplace of a nation
Founded in 1275 as a monastery, Het Hof van Nederland (the Court of the Netherlands) is probably best known as the venue for the First Free Assembly of States in 1572. Twelve cities, under the leadership of Dordrecht, renounced Philip II of Spain, and recognised William of Orange as their stadtholder (national leader).
In honour of the city’s 800th year, Het Hof is housing an ‘800 years of Dordrecht in Resistance’ exhibition detailing the city’s historical significance and the struggles of its residents.
Predominantly an island surrounded by three rivers, Dordrecht’s charm comes alive from the water. Discover a different view of the city from a waterbus or a boat tour. Relax and enjoy the calm waters of the historic harbours and drift past ancient quays, or even spend a night at Villa Augustus, a 19th century water tower offering unique hotel rooms and a lively café-restaurant in its former pumping station.
A city for walking
Dordrecht is also perfect for walking. Start at the 700-year-old Groothoofdspoort (City Gate), constructed in the gothic style, and walk past medieval houses, magnificent mansions, museums and some of the oldest churches in the Netherlands.
Be sure to take in the picturesque views from the Three Rivers Point–the meeting of the rivers Oude Maas, Beneden Merwede and Noord, the busiest river confluence in Europe–before an idyllic stroll through the Hooikade or simply roam around the city’s marketplaces. A walk through Dordrecht leads to hidden surprises, such as the 11th century old Grote Kerk, Huis van Gijn and the Dordrecht Patrician House.
One of the city’s architectural gems–on the Three Rivers Point–the Groothoofdspoort was originally built in the 14th century. In the past, counts and kings landed at this spot, and it is said that even Napoleon arrived here. Its façade was designed by Gillis Huppe in 1618 and shows the Dordrecht maiden sitting in the ‘Garden of Holland,’ holding a palm branch in her left hand and the city shield in her right hand. The façade is based on an earlier design by the Dordrecht painter Gerrit Gerritsz Cuyp.
Founded in 1842, the Dordrechts Museum is one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands and houses an impressive collection from six centuries of Dutch art. Current exhibitions at the museum include the work of impressionist Willem Bastiaan Tholen, Dordrecht artist Jaap Schlee’s remarkable drawings, the ‘Life of Leather’ exhibition, and Robert Zandvliet’s fifty-metre-long mural Aan’t Groothoofd–a ‘panoramic water reflection.’
Great for autumn and beyond
Dordrecht is an under-appreciated Dutch gem for a day trip or even a weekend stay. With its gezelligheid (cosiness), gorgeous canals, stunning architecture, river views and history, Dordrecht is a great place to visit this autumn, or at any time.
About the author
Anuja Tipnis-Randive is an expat living in Amsterdam who loves travelling solo and exploring cities.