Dordrecht is a very quick day trip from Rotterdam. Just 14 minutes on the train (4 euro), or accessible even by ferry. It’s not too far for a longer day trip from Amsterdam (90 minutes each way and 19 euro) or easily done with a quick one-night stopover, it’s well worth it!

I’ve traveled all over the Netherlands. I’ve been to all 12 Provinces and I’ve explored the major cities from Groningen to Maastricht, as well as most of the smaller towns in between. From Texel to Zeeland, from Zwolle to Leiden, it’s an amazing country.

Ik hou van Nederlands!

With that as background, I can unequivocally say that Dordrecht is a very underappreciated gem. Often ignored, but very much worth a day trip or even a weekend getaway.

day trip to dordrecht
Image: Jim van der Mee from Netherlands [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The charm of going on a day trip to Dordrecht

Dordrecht has all of the quaint gezellig qualities we associate and love about the Netherlands, plus some unique features too. I loved it!

Yes, it’s got gorgeous canals and step-gabled architecture and beautiful people buzzing by on bicycles. Yes, it’s got outdoor squares (Schefferslein and Grote Markt among other convivial spots) where flutjes of beer and plates of bitterballen await. And yes, it’s got the usual touristy straats too! You know the type, with souvenir shops selling junky T-shirts, with a FEBO, and with streets crowded with teenagers and baby-strollers, which could be in any Dutch town (think Kalverstraat in Amsterdam).

But mystical Dordrecht is drenched in history! Also, its quaint harbor-like layout positioned on the banks of the huge Oude Maas River make it outstanding. Dordrecht, in my Dutch travels, is one of the cutest and friendliest of all of the towns I’ve visited in the Netherlands.

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The history of Dordrecht

OK, let’s start with some history: Dordrecht is ancient, one of the oldest river towns in the Netherlands. Claiming a critically strategic geographic position where several smaller rivers converge into one giant one, the town emerged centuries ago as a major trading center and commercial hot spot. It’s claimed that Dordrecht is literally the oldest official town in the country. Having been granted a city charter in 1220, making it older than Amsterdam, Leiden, Haarlem or Utrecht.

And for those early centuries, Dordrecht was one of the most powerful political and trading centers in the land, or, more appropriately, on the water. In 1572, at the beginning of the Eighty Years’ War (the Dutch war of independence from occupying Spain) it was in Dordrecht that political, military and ruling class leaders from all over the Netherlands met to declare independence. War and future independence was sparked here. For Americans, it would be like the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 in Philadelphia, when the newly formed United States declared itself free from England.  Here, in Dordrecht, a similar political event unfolded, more than 200 years earlier.

Dam and harbour of the Maas (Meuse) river, Dordrecht, Netherlands (1890 – 1900). Image: Detroit Publishing Co., under license from Photoglob Zürich [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
To get a sense of the historical perspective, if you’re ever in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, check out the anonymously painted “St. Elizabeth’s Day Flood.”  It’s an amazing painting depicting the tragic events of 1421, when the dykes in the surrounding countryside were breached and 22 villages were swept away in the flooding.  What’s amazing to me about this painting is that most of Dordrecht looks pretty much the same in 2018 as it did then! The Grote Kerk in the left/center of Dordrecht’s old town looks exactly the same, and the view from the top makes you feel as if you’ve climbed right inside the “St. Elizabeth’s Day Flood” painting itself.  So beautiful!  Prachtig!

Where to get started on your day trip to Dordrecht

For a modern visitor to Dordrecht, it’s an easy walking town, very small, central and easy to navigate. Unlike Rotterdam or Amsterdam, it’s so small you can hardly get lost.  Keep wandering around and when you get to the river, turn around.  You’ll likely start your visit from the tiny train station. Look out the window as you approach town for excellent views of the town coming up ahead of you. When you depart the station, you’ll be in a typical Dutch stationplein area.

It will look similar to just about every Dutch town. The same brick masonry laid out in those hypnotic little squares, the same tourist trap restaurants with signage in English and rent-a-bike stands. Luckily, the walk into the town center is very short and fast. The VVV is right along this route. (The VVV is your one-stop tourist information center. This one is excellent. Grab a free map of town or buy tickets to the museum here. The ladies behind the desk might be the most friendly Dutch people anywhere!)

dordrecht-boat-canal
Take a boat ride on your day trip to Dordrecht. Image: Aline Dassel/Pixabay

But the charm of going on a day trip to Dordrecht doesn’t stop there…

Then, after getting oriented, head for the landmark Visbrug, the bridge over the Wijnhaven canal, at the foot of the Stadhuis or Town Hall. Note the two lion sculptures in repose guarding the magnificence of the environment. Wander the streets in this central neighborhood and you’ll see some of the oldest houses in town, many dating from the 1660s.  Stroll down Voorstraat, one of the nicest shopping streets, until you see the noble Augustinerkerk.

It is an elegant old church with a small almost hidden doorway leading to Het Hof, a gorgeous hideaway spot of tranquillity where you can almost sense the ghosts of important town citizens strolling around conducting business deals and gossiping about ships and commerce. Then walk down to where the land comes to a point sticking into the river, the Groothoofdspoort.

This is the ideal spot to just look out over the water and let the mind wander and soak in the ambience. The riverfront views are incredible, take a seat on one of the promenade benches and enjoy the views. You’ll see pleasure boats out on the water bobbing. Perhaps even a huge commercial tanker drifting by like a whale! And you’ll find outdoor cafes on each corner – what the Dutch call “terraces” – dotting the streets. Stop for a coffee or a beer and relax, this is about as Dutch as you can get! Heel mooi.

Image: David Mark/Pixabay

Museums? There are plenty of those to visit on your day trip to Dordrecht!

The big museum to see, definitely, is the famous Dordrechts Museum. It’s great. Sort of like a mini-Rijksmuseum, which is almost better since the Rijkmuseum can almost be intimidating. You can hardly conquer it in one visit! That’s a big dragon to slay. In contrast, the Dordrechts Museum is manageable. But you’ll still want to devote at least a good, solid 2 hours to exploring the important classic art and rotating modern art exhibits, with a stop at a nice gift shop and a typical cafe inside if you want a healthy lunch. Here, in the Dordrecht Museum, you’ll find treasures by Dutch Masters Jan van Goyen (1596 -1656) and Albert Cuyp (1620 – 1691) among many others.

Goyen_1644-53_View_of_Dordrecht
Van Goyen’s “View of Dordrecht” is a masterpiece.  Find it and stare for a while. Suddenly, it will hit you: you are IN Dordrecht and it looks basically the same! A transcendent experience. Image: Jan van Goyen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
And here’s the famous Albert Cuyp, who lived in Dordrecht his entire life and who painted rural landscapes and town scenes which are now immortalized. And for those who’ve walked the atmospheric Albert Cuypstraat in Amsterdam, you know the street, the one with the endless outdoor market with stalls selling everything under the sun. From patat frites to spices to CDs to flowers to pantyhose. Yes, that Albert Cuypstraat in De Pijp neighborhood south of the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam. But now the connection is finally made and you can put a real person’s name to the street!

A little aside: I was wandering Haarlem a couple of months ago. I got lost in a back residential neighborhood where all of the streets were named for, I guess, famous Dutch people in history. Not knowing any of them, I asked my host, who was the street where our Airbnb named for, and she, a native Dutchwoman with multiple professional degrees said, “Oh, I have no idea, but probably another Dutch painter!”

What else is there to do on your day trip to Dordrecht? Grote Kerk of course!

After checking out the stunning Dordrecht Museum, wander towards the Grote Kerk on the other side of town.  You can’t miss it: just look up!  The Grote Kerk (Large or Grand Church in English) can’t be missed.  You can see it from anywhere.  Like those Parisian hotels that boast an “Eiffel Tower view,” which is a scam since you can see the Eiffel Tower from ANYWHERE in Paris, the Grote Kerk looms majestically over Dordrecht as if to guard it’s ancient secrets and spirit. Built over a 150 year span, the Grote Kerk allows visitors to climb the spiral stairs to the top. All 275 steps!

On a hunch, I decided to pay the 2 euros for this privilege.  Climb up, up, up.  While the height wasn’t too formidable, the going round-and-round-and-round in that tight spiral staircase proved to be dizzying and claustrophobic!  Onward!  Almost regretting my decision as my quadriceps started failing about 12 stories up. I started praying to whatever Protestant God would listen to get me to the roof.  Alas, my legs supported me, barely, to the top.  And, man, it was worth it!  Such a gorgeous view of the town and the Oude Maas stretching as far as the eye could see.  Very beautiful. Deep breath, sigh.

Grote Kerk Dordrecht
Image: gvrijswijk/Flickr

Done all of these? Well, have you tried these extras with your day trip to Dordrecht?

I also made time for a quick visit to the Museum 1940. It depicts the Nazi occupation of Dordrecht, the subsequent Dutch Resistance movement, and the story of World War II in the southern region of the Netherlands during a very dark, more recent period of history.  It’s a tiny museum, I mean extremely tiny. Like the ground floor of a townhouse, but the old men who guide you are extremely kind and almost happy you’re there.  I asked about a film, and next thing I knew, they had set up a TV monitor and placed old VCR tapes on for me to watch.  A similar story is told in the Verzets Museum on the Plantage Kerklaan in Amsterdam, which is much larger and more touristy than this charming little spot.

Dordrecht! Yes, Dordrecht.  It’s a great small town for an authentic and historic Dutch experience.  Enjoy!

Have you ever been on a day trip to Dordrecht? Let us know how it went in the comments below! And let us know what you did on your day trip to Dordrecht!

Editor’s note: Originally published in June 2018, updated in November 2019 for your reading pleasure.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I enjoyed reading this article. I’m a Filipina living for 28 years now in Dordrecht. It’s a quaint city that continues to surprise me up to this day. Try to visit during the 1st Sunday of the month. From noontime till 5PM about 70 art shops, galleries, antique shops & studios open their doors to the public. It seems a large number but all are located close to one another in the inner city center. It’s a quite unique experience!

  2. Don’t forget that 5th to 7th June 2020 will see the biennial festival ‘Doort in Stoom’. Even if you think you’re not interested in steam engines, this spectacular festival in the old harbour and river area is not to be missed.

  3. I visited Dordrecht for the first time a few months ago and I look forward to visiting again on my next trip to Holland, I mean the Netherlands.
    And that confusing nomenclature leads to everything the author says being true, except for one thing.
    On my visit to Dordrecht I was told that Dordrecht is the oldest city in Holland. The author says so as well. But, I said, I had just been to Nijmegen where they assured me it was the oldest city.
    I researched it: Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands, Dordrecht is the oldest city in Holland.

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