Slot Loevestein is a 14th century castle in central Netherlands. One of the most visited medieval castles in the country, Loevestein Castle was first built as a home for a Knight, then expanded into a fortress and was later used as a prison. During WWII, the castle was utilised as a storage facility for the National Archives and important works of art. Many Dutch know Loevestein Castle as the infamous prison from which Hugo de Groot, an influential lawyer and theologist in the 17th century, escaped in a book chest – this legendary story is told at schools across the country. It’s this fascinating history that makes a visit to Loevestein Castle absolutely worthwhile. The castle can also be easily be included in a road trip around the Grote Rivieren or Great Rivers of Central Netherlands.
A brief history of Loevestein Castle
Loevestein Castle was built as a single tower around 1361, as the home of Knight Dirc Loef van Horne, and was later expanded into a castle. Recognising the strategic location of the castle, the powerful Count of Holland took control of the castle in 1372. The castle was further expanded into a fortress with higher walls and a deeper moat. In the centuries that followed, Loevestein Castle saw many conquests by local and foreign powers. During the Eighty Years War in the 16th century, the castle switched hands several times between the Dutch and the Spaniards. When the Dutch reclaimed the castle for good, they further fortified the castle, adding ramparts and moats.
The castle became an important part of the Oude & Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie (Old and New Dutch Water Line), a 17th century defense line designed to protect the cities in the north and west (such as Amsterdam and Leiden). This defense line consisted of fortresses and sluice gates, which could be opened to flood the land in order to impede an advancing army. This network of water-based defense systems could literally transform Holland into an island!
The story of Hugo de Groot
In the 17th century, the castle was turned into a state prison. The most famous prisoner was Hugo de Groot (or Hugo Grotius), a lawyer, diplomat, writer and theologist, who was brought to Slot Loevestein in 1619. While there, he began writing some of his most important work such as De jure belli ac pacis libri tres (On the Law of War and Peace: Three books).
His work was highly influential in shaping the principles and conventions of international law – in fact, during my university days, his books were part of my International Relations syllabus. In 1621, with the help of his wife, Hugo de Groot escaped from Slot Loevestein by being transported away in a book chest! He then lived in Paris, Hamburg and Stockholm before dying in a shipwreck in 1645. He was laid to rest in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Delft.
Visiting Slot Loevestein
Slot Loevestein makes for an interesting visit, especially for history buffs and fans of medieval architecture. The entrance ticket includes access to the castle as well as to the permanent exhibitions in the adjacent buildings.
After your visit to the castle, I suggest going for a walk around the meadows, marshes and lakes surrounding the castle. This area is especially great for bird-watching.
Getting to Slot Loevestein
Slot Loevestein (map) is situated at the convergence of two important rivers, the Waal and the Maas (Meuse), in the province of Gelderland, a bit more than an hour’s drive from Amsterdam. Tickets can be booked online and there are two ways of getting to the castle: by car, or by ferry from the nearby towns of Woudrichem or Gorinchem. It can easily be visited as a day trip from Amsterdam but I recommend spending a bit more time in this region of the Great Rivers as there’s so much to see and do. I spent the night at the nearby fortress town of Woudrichem. Search for accommodations in Woudrichem.
Woudrichem (pronounced as Workum in the local dialect) is a charming medieval fortress town (map) a short drive or ferry ride away from Slot Loevestein. This star-shaped fortress town is perfect for a leisurely stroll and a meal. Things to do in Woudrichem include walking along the fortress walls, visiting the imposing St. Martinus Church and the historic harbour. There are also several beaches for a refreshing dip in the summer!
In the town centre, I can recommend ‘t Oude Raedthuys (the Old Town Hall) and Kruiden & Jasmijn for a meal. Another place I can recommend is De Stroming, a lovely waterside restaurant at the historic harbour.
Less than a 10-minute drive away, in the neighbouring town of Sleeuwijk, you’ll find another fabulous harbourside restaurant: Brasserie Boven de Rivieren! If you’re staying the night, I recommend going there for a sunset dinner!
I spent the night at Hoeve Altena, a lovely B&B just outside the centre of Woudrichem. The hosts are absolutely lovely and I enjoyed my stay in their Tiny House!