View our latest offers and deals on our offers page! See all offers

Have you ever heard of the Hanseatic League? It was a German trading association in the Middle Ages whose goal was to promote trade: a medieval version of the European Union, but with as many as 150 member cities! While Amsterdam and Rotterdam were still small, insignificant villages, trade and culture flourished in the Hanseatic cities in the east of the Netherlands. The prosperity that trade brought allowed them to build magnificent merchant houses, richly-decorated trading offices and imposing city walls. Painters, master builders, poets and philosophers settled in these towns where money flowed, prospering from it as well.

Plan my Hanseatic Tour

Or view our hansa highlights guided tour here.

To this day, these cities – really more small towns than cities by today’s standards – are authentic and full of historical sights. Each one is a real beauty in its own right: historic streets with beautifully-renovated buildings, surrounded by picturesque landscapes.

That’s why the Hanseatic region is the perfect travel destination for anyone who’d like to discover the lesser-known and less-crowded side of the Netherlands. Here’s a list of which Hanseatic cities are our absolute favorites and what you can experience in each one:

1. Deventer

When you walk through the old town of Deventer, you immediately notice how many original buildings there are. Wherever you look, you’re surrounded by registered historic houses with their ornate gables, medieval churches and centuries-old squares. You can see the Gothic Lebuinuskerk (Lebuinus Church) from afar. Dating to the 15th century, this protected building is the flagship of the city. But the many historical facades do not mean that Deventer is an old-fashioned city. On the contrary, the atmosphere is dynamic, modern and inspiring. Stroll through the streets and discover the special shops, enjoy the hustle and bustle on the lively squares, people-watch from a charming sidewalk café, climb the church tower or visit one of the nine museums.

2. Elburg

A planned city from the Middle Ages? That’s Elburg! If you looked at Elburg from above, you’d see an almost perfect rectangle with straight streets that are more reminiscent of Manhattan than a medieval Hanseatic city. But if you stroll through the cobbled streets of this tranquil place, you’ll come across traces of its long history everywhere: magnificent facades, cobblestones, remains of the defensive walls and the imposing city gate “Vischpoort”.

At the end of the 14th century, Elburg was practically built from scratch in just four years. Then, not quite 100 years ago, life in this former fishing town changed dramatically due to another masterpiece of Dutch engineering: the completion of the dike across the top of the Zuiderzee. It was 1932 and some of the area that was once the Zuiderzee was drained to become farmland: the new province of Flevoland. That meant that the Zuiderzee is no longer on Elburg’s doorstep: Flevoland is! A walk through the former fishing port is still worthwhile though!

3. Hattem

Yes, though you may not believe it when you get there, this is a real town! The historic streets of Hattem are so picturesque that you could certainly mistake it for an open-air museum. It is still visible in many places that Hattem, so peaceful today, was a fortress town in the Middle Ages. Parts of the former city wall and the Dijkpoort city gate have been preserved. As you stroll through the cute little streets, you won’t see any large chain stores. Instead, you’ll come across many unique little shops and restaurants. A tip if you have a sweet tooth: you’ll find your joy in the praline workshop at the foot of the Dijkpoort or in the cozy Bakery Museum.

4. Kampen

Perhaps the most beautiful skyline in the Netherlands can be found in Kampen. It’s not modern skyscrapers that characterize this town, but rather the gables of historic merchant houses as well as old bridges and church towers. Since the 13th century, Kampen’s strategic location at the mouth of the IJssel River has ensured a lively life for the fishermen, craftsmen and merchants who settled there.

In the medieval city center, there are still a striking number of traditional craft shops. One of the hundred or so cigar factories that used to operate in Kampen is still there: stop by De Olifant in the Voorstraat, which still produces 80,000 cigars a week. Or visit the only traditional smithy that still exists in Kampen a few streets away. And in the beer museum you can find out everything about the history of breweries in this Hanseatic city. You can even taste the beer brewed on site according to the original historic recipe. Cheers!

5. Zutphen

If you fancy a leisurely and fun-filled afternoon, Zutphen is the place for you. Zutphen is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands and this rich history is reflected in its lovely streetscape. It is simply wonderful to stroll through the atmospheric streets, past stately merchant houses, medieval churches and historical monuments. During your walk, keep an eye out for the many hidden inner courtyards, the so-called hofjes (pronounced “HOF-yis”). Time stands still in these tranquil courtyards and gardens. Keep your voice down, though: people still live there!

When strolling through Zutphen, you’ll be tempted to peek into one of the many cute shops (especially in the Langen Hofstraat). And that’s no wonder, because the range of shops in Zutphen is really surprising: unique little boutiques alternate with interesting food shops and cozy street cafés – perfect for an extended coffee break!

Explore the Hanseatic Route by bike and boat

Would you like to experience the Dutch Hanseatic cities and the beautiful landscape around them for yourself? Follow the historic Hanseatic route along the IJssel River by bike and boat and discover the charm of this special region. You’ll cycle each day under the guidance of one of our knowledgeable tour leaders. Each afternoon, you’ll return to one of our premium small ships serving as your cozy floating hotel. It’s not for nothing that this is one of our most popular tours!

Looking for an adventure? Click on the video and get inspired.


Do you have any questions about our Hanseatic cities tours or our other trips? We’re here to help! Write us an email to [email protected] or call us at (203)814-1249. We look forward to hearing from you!

Plan my Hanseatic Tour