Dordrecht is a city in the province of South Holland, approximately 25km southeast of Rotterdam. The city can trace its roots back to the 11th century, making it the oldest city in South Holland and one of the oldest in the country. Its strategic location at the confluence of five rivers in the Rhine-Meuse delta made the city an important port and trading centre as early as the 12th century. I recently visited Dordrecht and found an absolutely charming city on an island, with beautiful historic houses, picturesque harbours and an impressive church: the Dordrecht Minster or Church of Our Lady. I spent a day and a night there, strolling around the historic centre, and discovered some great things to do in Dordrecht.
Things to do in Dordrecht
I’d been to Dordrecht once, many years ago, to attend a dinner party, but I didn’t get to see much of the city then. This time around, I spent a whole day strolling around the historic centre and I absolutely loved it! At a certain point, I wondered out loud why Dordrecht (or ‘Dordt’ as locals call it) doesn’t feature more often in publications about the most beautiful cities to visit in the Netherlands! With its gorgeous inner harbours and more than 900 national monuments, Dordrecht definitely warrants a visit. You can also include Dordrecht in a larger Central Netherlands itinerary.
I stayed at Hotel Dordrecht, a boutique hotel located in a historic building just outside the city centre. From here, it’s a short walk (±5 minutes) into the historic centre, with its long inner harbours that divide the city into several islands. I’ve created pins of the main sights in Dordrecht on the map above. Here are elevn ideas for things to do in Dordrecht:
1. Stroll around the historic harbours
A unique thing about Dordrecht, compared to other Dutch cities, is that the city doesn’t have canals. Instead, it has harbours which dissect the city centre. The main harbour was the Voorstraatshaven (the middle of the three blue lines in the map above). In the 15th century, the Nieuwe Haven (New Harbour) was constructed, and in the 17th century, the Wolwevershaven (Wool Weavers Harbour) was added.
Two iconic Dordrecht monuments stand at either end of the historic centre: the Grote Kerk (Dordrecht Minster or Church of Our Lady) in the south and the Groothoofdspoort (Big Head Gate) in the north. In between, beautiful historic warehouses and merchant houses line the harbourfronts, with bridges connecting the islands. The harbours are packed with leisure boats and yachts. In the southern corner of Wolwevershaven, you’ll also find several Dutch longboats from the early-20th century.
2. Visit the Grote Kerk (Dordrecht Minster)
The Grote Kerk or Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Dordrecht Minster or Church of Our Lady) is arguably the most iconic monument in Dordrecht. Built between 1285 and 1470 in a Brabant Gothic style, the church has an impressive nave, stained glass windows and a 65m high bell-tower. It’s possible to climb the tower for panoramic views of the city and the rivers.
3. Enjoy the view from Groothoofdspoort
The Groothoofdspoort (Big Head Gate) is the original city gate. Built in the 14th – 16th centuries, this gate features the Maiden of Dordrecht and overlooks the confluence of the Meuse, Merwede and Rhine Rivers. It’s a great spot (there are various cafés here) from which to watch boats, yachts and barges pass by.
4. Admire the historic façades
Dordrecht is home to more than 900 national monuments and you’ll pass many of them on a wander around the city centre. Admire the gorgeous façades and gables of merchant houses and old warehouses along the Nieuwe Haven and Wolwevershaven, and the more modest houses which front the Voorstraathaven.
5. Go on a harbour cruise
A great way to tour Dordrecht is to take a harbour cruise with the Dordtevaar. The boats leave every hour from a small pier adjacent to the Wijnbrug (Wine Bridge). You can purchase tickets at the Restaurant Stroper (Wijnbrug 1) or call 078-6130094.
6. Learn about Dordrecht’s past
Dordrecht has a long and rich history that goes back many centuries. The city played a prominent role in the formation of the Netherlands and the development of the Dutch language and culture. There are several noteworthy museums to visit. The Hof van Nederland (‘Court of the Netherlands’), itself a national monument, has a multimedia presentation of the history of the Netherlands and Dordrecht.
Another museum in Dordrecht to visit is the Huis van Gijn (Van Gijn House) where you can see the interior of a 19th century harbourfront mansion.
If you’re interested in art history, I recommend visiting the Dordrechts Museum, which has an internationally-renowned collection of artworks from the 16th century till the present day. While you’re in the neighbourhood, visit the beautiful Arend Maartenshof gate and gardens around the corner.
7. Relax at a terrace
There are many places where you can relax with a drink or have an alfresco meal while you enjoy the scenery or locals going about their day. Some harbourside cafés I can recommend include Finn’s, Merz and Tapasbar t’Vlak. The cafés along Groothoofd, such as Grand Café Groothoofd and Restaurant Jongepier, offer fantastic views of the confluence of the rivers. Another vibrant place to sit and enjoy a drink is the Scheffersplein (Scheffers square).
8. Go antique and vintage shopping
One thing I quickly noticed is the number of antique and vintage shops in Dordrecht. I loved browsing around the curio and vintage shops during my stroll around the city. The tourist office has a booklet describing the Kunstrondje Dordt (Dordrecht Art Walk).
9. Enjoy a top-notch meal
I was really happy to discover that there’s a plethora of excellent restaurants in Dordrecht. As I was there for only one evening, I faced a tough decision! As it turned out, that decision was made for me as I could only secure a table at Bistro Twee33 (233) near the Scheffersplein. The food there was superb and I loved their extensive wine list.
Other restaurants which locals had recommended to me (and which were fully booked for that evening) were DeliCees (fine-dining at Lange Geldersekade 8, next to the Dordrecht Minster), De Stroper (Wijnbrug 1) and Art & Dining (in the Dordrechts Museum).
10. Go on an evening stroll
It’s a simply magical experience to stroll around the harbours in the evening to see the houses and Dordrecht Minster so beautifully lit.
One more tip: if you love gin, I recommend popping into the Rutte Distillery (Vriesestraat 130) where you can tour the place and taste unique gins and jenevers. This award-winning distillery produces a variety of spirits and liqueurs. Try the celery gin, vodka and coffee liqueur. Or just try everything! 🙂
11. Discover the Biesbosch National Park
Dordrecht lies just northwest of the Biesbosch National Park. This national park encompasses the largest freshwater tidal zone in Europe. Seen from above, the park is a maze of rivers, islands, swamps and forests. Rich in birdlife and flora, the Biesbosch has numerous hiking paths, but perhaps the best way to enjoy the park is by boat. Various cruise companies in Dordrecht offer large boat tours in the Biesbosch. On a smaller scale, Pak je Biezen organises electric boat tours of the Biesbosch National Park. Join the ‘Vroeg Op Tocht‘ early-morning tour for an absolutely magical experience!
How to get to Dordrecht
Dordrecht is a bit more than an hour’s drive from Amsterdam, and a half hour from Rotterdam. By train, it’s approximately 1.5 hours from Amsterdam Central and about 20 minutes from Rotterdam Central. A fun (and scenic) way to get to Dordrecht from Rotterdam is to take the Waterbus.
For more information about Dordrecht, visit the tourist office website.