Many people in the Netherlands only know Dordrecht as the station where you sometimes have to switch trains, or as the place where two years ago King’s Day was celebrated by the royal family. But very few know how old Dordrecht is, and how much this city has to offer. Let alone tourists from outside our country. So, what exactly can you do and visit in Dordrecht? Let me tell you!
1. Villa Augustus
Approximately one kilometer outside the historical center of Dordrecht you’ll find a very special place: Villa Augustus. The old monumental water tower was renovated and made into an atmospheric hotel. The old pumping building has transformed into a trendy restaurant. The water basins in between have made room for a huge garden full of fruits, vegetables and exuberant flowers. The gardens on the other side of the water tower are world-famous for the special combination of a romantic lush garden and an Italian renaissance garden.
Villa Augustus is located adjacent to the river Wantij, offers a view of two other rivers (Noord and Oude Maas), and gives you a thorough feeling of peace when you wander through the gardens. Take a seat on one of the benches amidst all the flowers and hedges or enjoy a delicious piece of lemon or chocolate cake. Wander through the gardens, read a magazine in the café, or buy some nice cookbooks, dishware or fresh vegetables in the shop. Entrance to the gardens is free.
2 The Old Dutch Harbors
Dordrecht is like a small version of Amsterdam. It has cute canals, beautiful old facades and warehouses, old steamships docked in the harbor, and old gnarled trees. The three rivers surrounding Dordrecht meet each other at the famous three-river-spot, which is called Groothoofd.
The harbors of Dordrecht aren’t very big, but that makes it even better to wander through. They are small and compact, but still stately and atmospheric. Take a rest on a bench at the Aardappelmarkt, where you’ll have a splendid view on one of the harbors and the old Church. Alternatively, you can enjoy a drink on one of the terraces at Groothoofd. If you like, you can even book a canal tour (which is called ‘Dordtevaar’) and get to know more about the history of this city. Don’t forget to also look around you and above you to see the beautiful old facades that tell of the old Dutch Glory.
3 The View from the Church
The old cathedral of Dordrecht hides a special story. The tower of the church is very skewed, which gives the skyline of Dordrecht a peculiar but playful character. In 1339, the construction of the tower began. The idea was to make it as tall as 108 meter with a 50 meter high spire. Sadly enough, the soil was too weak to bear the tower and so it was too dangerous to build the spire on the tower. They placed several gigantic clock faces on top and declared the tower as finished. Nowadays you can climb the tower for only €1. After climbing 275 steps, you can enjoy the beautiful view of the cute small facades, the city center, and the rivers.
4 Special Shopping
Dordrecht has some lovely shops where you can find beautiful stuff. At Groenmarkt 72 you’ll find ”t Leesbeest‘, a paradise for booklovers. The shop is full of old books and has a very enthusiastic owner who can tell lots of stories and loves to give you some advice. Not far away from this shop, you’ll find ‘Bluebirds in the Backyard‘, a very creative spot. This relatively new shop sells a beautiful mix of vintage, handmade, furniture, and clothing, made and sold by local entrepreneurs in a happy bohemian atmosphere (with live music on Saturdays!). If you walk a bit further, you’ll end up on Wijnstraat 82, where “Pandora” is located. Pandora is a unique oddities shop and a perfect place to find something new every time you enter the shop. Books, paintings, sculptures, design, antic, vinyl records or dishware. Look around and be surprised!
5 Festivals all around
In the last few years, Dordrecht worked hard to make the city more attractive for young people and tourists. And with success; by combining old famous festivals with new initiatives, they created a delicious cocktail of festivities in the city center! There is the famous book market every year in early July. During the Christmas season the whole city center bustles with life because of the cozy but very big Christmas market. The city is also overfilled with activities in summer. You can enjoy live art making and music on the Groothoofd square every weekend. Every Monday evening lots of people come to enjoy the live music festival Palm Parkies (named after the beer brand Palm). In June another big festival – Wantijpop – is organized in Wantijpark (where even bigger artists like Blaudzun come to play).
Then I haven’t even told you about the open air piano concert at the Beverwijcksplein square, the summer festival Zomerklanken (literally ‘Summer Sounds’), and, of course, the very big Big Rivers Festival. During this last festival in Juli, hundreds of bands and artists make live music in the city center for three whole days.
6 The Waterbus
Another great thing about visiting Dordrecht is how you can combine your trip with lots of other great activities in the Netherlands. Did you know that there is a waterbus between Dordrecht and the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam? You can easily spend a day in Dordrecht and then add a weekend in Rotterdam to your city trip. What’s even better: one of the waterbus lines stops halfway at one of the most famous sights of the Netherlands: Kinderdijk. You can take your bicycle on the waterbus for free, look for a nice seat inside the bus, or enjoy the fresh air at the back of the bus. Enjoy the ride and admire the typically Dutch landscape, villages, and cities along the route.