When you’re planning on visiting Zwolle for one day, I can only recommend you to go on a free walking tour in Zwolle to discover this Hanseatic town in The Netherlands. If you’re visiting a new city in The Netherlands, or any country for that matter, one of the best ways to explore it is by walking. This free walking tour in Zwolle is one of the free things you can do in Zwolle, so if you’re on a low budget or simply want to enjoy a new Dutch city by foot, then I’m sure you will think that this article is handy.
If you’re asking yourself ‘Is Zwolle worth visiting?’, then I can only say YES. Zwolle is a town in the province of Overijssel (Zwolle is not found in Holland) and whether you have 24 hours to spend in Zwolle, or just a few hours, this is one of the must do’s in Zwolle. Discover everything from beautiful landmarks and monuments in Zwolle to hidden gems and the most beautiful streets in Zwolle. And from the best parks in Zwolle to the best sights to see in Zwolle city centre.
This Zwolle walking tour will be guiding you to the best unusual places in Zwolle and will show you some of the best activities to do in Zwolle when you travel to this Dutch town. Enjoy the sightseeing in Zwolle and learn why you must visit Zwolle, The Netherlands.
This self- guided and free walking route for Zwolle is around 6 kilometres but can be expanded with some additional places to see in Zwolle to roughly 10 kilometres. Those extensions can be found at the end of this Zwolle city blog.
We are starting our free walking tour in Zwolle at Ossenmarkt 10. The full name of this basilica is the Basiliek Van Onze Lieve Vrouw Tenhemelopneming. This basilica in Zwolle was built from 1394 and restored in the 19th century. The building of this church in Zwolle took place in four different phases. From 1394 until 1399 the choir was built. After that, the transept and the Eastern Bay of the ship were built which finished in 1417. Construction of the oldest church in Zwolle was then resumed until 1452, and the nave of the church was completed in 1454.
From 1454 until 1463 the tower was built, which is nicknamed the ‘peperbus’ or pepper pot for the simple reason that it looks like one. However, back in that time, the tower didn’t have the little hat it has nowadays. The tower of the Grote Kerk in Zwolle (another church) burnt down in 1669. And people wanted a new tower that people would recognize as Zwolle. The part of the tower that makes it look like a pepper pot, the onion-shaped hat, dates back to 1727. In 1815, the top part of the tower in Zwolle was destroyed in a fire, but restored shortly after.
The entire tower is 75 metres high and used to be the tallest building in Zwolle, but an office building from the ABN Amro Bank at 96 metres high was opened in 2006.
Between 1580 and 1810 the basilica wasn’t in use as a church, but after it was given to the Roman Catholics in 1809, the church was restored and in use in 1811. Pope John Paul II granted the church the honour of becoming a basilica on the 18th of October 1999.
My most favourite part about this basilica in Zwolle is that you can visit it and climb a portion of its tower. You can climb it to 51 metres, or 236 steps. This way, you will see the most beautiful view of Zwolle and its surroundings. If it’s not opened yet when you are walking through Zwolle, then just come back here by the end of your Zwolle walking tour. Trust me when I say that the view is more than worth it. Find the opening times of this basilica in Zwolle here.
Fun fact about this basilica in Zwolle: The carillon of the Peperbus tower has 51 bells, which makes it one of the most extensive carillons in The Netherlands.
From admiring this beautiful monument in Zwolle, we are headed to Korte Kamperstraat and then onwards to Melkmarkt 53. This building is called ‘Het Vrouwenhuis’, or the women’s house. Around 1680 it was the house of Pieter Soury, mayor of Zwolle, and Aleijda Wolfsen who was a painter. They got fifteen children and because of that their home was too small. So that bought a house that was located on the back of the other house and connected these two. In 1706 the building was sold by the inheritors to the wealthy Aleida Greve and her sisters. Aleida died in 1742.
In her testament, it said that after she died, the building had to be changed into a retirement home for women who were members of the Dutch reformed church. After 250 years the last inhabitant of the women’s retirements home in Zwolle left in 1984. The ground floor has been turned into a museum where you can see everything that made this house so special. From interiors that date back to the 17th century to a room from 1980. The Vrouwenhuis museum in Zwolle can only be visited in a group and on appointment.
Up next we have Melkmarkt 41. This 16th-century regents house is called the ‘Drostenhuis’. The house was built in around 1551 on assignment by Lord Engelbert van Ensse who had several functions, and one of them was the ‘Drost of Drenthe’, that’s why the house is called the Drostenhuis. A ‘drost’ was a sort of government official that managed and was responsible for protecting a particular area of land. Engelbert van Ensse was a very wealthy man, a catholic and a fiduciary from influential royals such as the Habsburgs and Phillip II. He was also a captain in the Spanish army. The son and grandson became the owner of the house after Engelbert died.
The building is currently the home of the Stedelijk Museum Zwolle. Here you can explore period rooms that date back to the Regent’s time and Dutch Golden Age as well as artworks.
Then we will walk to Steenstraat, Nieuwstraat, Roggenstraat, Bitterstraat, A Plein, Waterstraat and Buitenkant to end up at Achter de Broeren 1.
Here you can find the most famous – former- church in Zwolle: Broerenkerk. It was founded in 1465 as a Dominican monastery church. The monastery was closed in 1580, and the church was used for protestant worship services from 1640. The Jewish community in Zwolle used parts of the nearby monastery as a synagogue from around 1760. The final monastery church was closed after 340 years of protestant worship services in 1983. After the closing, this church was restored for five years, and during the restoration, they found beautiful ceiling frescos.
From 1988 until 2010 this building was used as an exhibition space as well as an event location. Since 2005, the Broerenkerk was slowly changed into a bookstore, cafe and cultural centre in one. In 2013 one of the most beautiful bookshops in The Netherlands was opened in Zwolle; Waanders in De Broeren. Walk inside this bookstore in The Netherlands and admire the stunning ceiling.
Up next we will walk over to Krabbestraat 63. Here you will find the Wijndragerstoren, which is a wall tower that was part of the city wall and the fortifications of Zwolle. These remains date back to between 1475 and 1500. But that wasn’t the first city wall that had to protect Zwolle. There were remains found of an early city wall that dates back to before 1300 and another that was built to replace the older wall in the 14th century. These walls surrounded the entire city and originally had 23 towers, and only the Zwanentoren, Wijndragerstoren and Pelserpoorttoren remain.
At Broekenkerkplein 13 you will find the former monastery that the Broerenkerk monastery church (the book store) was a part of. This is now the location of restaurant Librije which has three Michelin stars, and it’s placed in a building that dates back to 1467. Now we will walk over the Pelserbrugje – which is the most beautiful bridge in Zwolle – and then we will discover Thorbeckegracht which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful street and canal in Zwolle.
Then walk to Diezepoortenplas and Koewegje to end up at the Oosterkerk. This church in Zwolle is a beautiful one that is found near one of the canals in Zwolle and dates back to 1888. Then continue this Zwolle free walking tour to Groot Wezenland, walk over the bridge called Kerkbrugje, to the Plantagekerk. This is yet another church in Zwolle and construction started in 1873. The church was officially opened on the 25th of July 1875. In 1880 central heating was added inside the building and then a toilet facility was created in 1881.
After that, you must walk to Diezerstraat 93. This building is called ‘Het Witte Kruis’, or the White Cross. This building is made in 1904 in the jugendstil architectural style on the assignment of a pharmacy that was planning on using that building. In the middle of the building, you can find an image of demigod Asclepius, who was the god of medicine. Then walk to Diezerstraat 58. Here you can find the building ‘De Witte Leeuw’, or the White Lion. It was built in 1666 as a brewery, which you can also see by the beer barrels on both sides of the dormer, as well as a house for beer brewer Albert Brouwer.
It is known in Zwolle that there was a beer brewery going by the name ‘De Witte Leeuw’ at least in 1560, and after its relocation to this building people are unaware for how long this brewery stayed at this location. Just below the centre window of the 1st floor, you will see why the building has its name; there is a white lion on the building placed here. This lion has a blue ball under its claw, which refers to the nickname of people from Zwolle; blauwvingers, or blue fingers.
Up next we will walk to Wolweverstraat, Walstraat, Van Nahuysplein and then finally to Sassenstraat 51. Here you will find the only city gate that remains in Zwolle, called ‘Sassenpoort’. It is said that this gate was the inner city gate within the fortifications of Zwolle and that it was connected to the outer city gate. It dates back to 1409 and was built with mostly trachyte and tuff.
At Schoutenstraat 4, you will find a Walloon church. A part of this church was a chapel that was found in 1360, but most of the current building dates back to 1504. This church has been in use as a Walloon church since 1686. In Walloon churches, the services are mainly in French, and the same thing still happens in this church in Zwolle. After admiring this old chapel in Zwolle, we will continue to walk further towards Samuel Hirschstraat 8. Here you will find the synagogue of Zwolle
From 1747 until 1758, the Jewish community in Zwolle was located in a building in the Bitterstraat. But the rental contract couldn’t be renewed, so they had to find another location. However, that’s when the community wanted to build a synagogue. Instead of granting them a building site, the synagogue went to the current building of restaurant De Librije in September 1758.
By the end of the 19th century, the city canal next to the building was continually flooding, which meant that the building was slowly starting to wear down. The Jewish community had to search another building, and this time they took the plans for building a new site out of the dust. They bought five buildings in the Schoutenstraat, and after that architect, F.C. Koch (from Zwolle) made the current eclectic design. This synagogue was opened on the 21st of July 1899.
Now we are going to walk to Nieuwe Markt, Sassenstraat, Krommejak, Koestraat, Bloemendalstraat, Oude Vismarkt and we will end up at Sassenstraat 2.
Here you will find the city hall of Zwolle, which exists out of two parts. One part dates back to the 15th century (but was modernised in 1821) and the new section was finished in 1975. In the 90s the building was deemed too small, and a lot of employees were moved to another town hall in the neighbourhood Hanzeland in Zwolle.
Continue your free walking tour in Zwolle to Goudsteeg 17. Here you will find a building that is called ‘Huis met de Hoofden’, or house with the heads. The eastern part of the building dates back to around 1464; the western part is a little bit younger. Then you will walk to Koestraat.
After that, you continue your Zwolle tour to Blijmarkt 18. Here you will find one of the leading museums in Zwolle, called Museum De Fundatie. This museum is located in the former palace of Justice that was designed by Eduard Louis de Coninck from The Hague and built between 1838 and 1841. It has been a museum location since 1994, but it has only been the home of Museum de Fundatie since 2004. The oval-shaped addition on the roof of this building in Zwolle has been added in 2012- 2013. This is a new exposition room, plus it offers one of the best views in Zwolle.
Then walk to Buitenkant 8 and 14. Here you will find remains of the city wall of Zwolle that date back to the 15th century. After admiring that old part in the centre of Zwolle, we will continue our tour to Suikerbergsteeg, Potgietersingel, Kalverstraat, Kamperstraat, Luttekestraat, Papendwarsstraat,
Papenstraat and Praubstraat.
Our next stop on this Zwolle tour is a courtyard. At Praubstraat 27 you will find the Hof van Zuthem, or courtyard of Zuthem. Knight Alof van Suythem first founded this courtyard in Zwolle in 1350. The current patio was built on assignment by Alof van den Rutenberg in 1535, who was the Lord of Zuthem. This courtyard was expanded several times, but the last time it happened was in 1787.
Up next we will walk to Lombardstraat 4, where you can find a former bank and police station which is partly dating back to 1490. Walk to Grote Markt and then to Voorstraat. After that, we are almost at the end of our free walking tour in Zwolle, The Netherlands. Walk to Luttekestraat 2-4, where you can find a former Vleeshuis or meat house. This is where butchers came together to discuss things, share information and more. This building dates back to 1469. It was used between 1605- 1880 as a weighing house.
Now you will walk to the final stop of this Zwolle free walking tour; Grote Markt 18. Here you find the Grote Kerk, or Sint- Michaëlskerk. The patron and the guardian angel of the church is the Archangel Michael, and a statue of the angel can be spotted on the roof of the vestibule. The current church was built between 1406 and 1466. On the 17th of December 1682, the 15th-century tower of this church in Zwolle collapsed. This happened because the tower was weakened due to several lightning strikes in 1548, 1606 and 1669. Zwolle had the tallest church tower in The Netherlands (between 115 and 120 metres high), but lost it after the collapse.
Are you looking to expand your free walking tour in Zwolle?
If you’re positive that you want to walk more than those 6 kilometres, then I can recommend you to add the following places to your Zwolle tour.
- Assendorperstraat 27
- Here you will find a Dominican church and monastery in Zwolle. Construction was started on the 3rd of May 1900, and it was officially opened on the 12th of December 1901. The Dominicans didn’t have a place in Zwolle since 1580. Currently, there are still around 7 Dominicans living in this monastery.
- Stationsplein 16
- Here you will find the train station of Zwolle (so you can also use it as your starting point). The first train station of Zwolle was opened on the 6th of June 1864. It first connected the train from Utrecht via Zwolle to the town of Kampen, as well as Arnhem to the city of Leeuwarden. This was a temporary building and was demolished in 1873. That’s when the current train station Zwolle was opened. Later on, many more train connections were added.
- Vondelkade 175
- Here you will explore the only remaining traditional Dutch windmill in the city of Zwolle, called De Passiebloem (the passionflower in English). This is an oil mill with stockrooms and dates back to 1776. 100.000 kg of seeds, 80.000 cookies and 530 barrels of oil could be stored in three basements. There used to be four oil mills on this river, but this is the only one left. It can be visited every first and third Saturday of the month from 10:00- 16:00. And every third Wednesday of the month from 13:00 – 16:00.
- Noordereiland Zwolle
- The Noordereiland, or Northern island, in Zwolle, used to be the place where traders and people who worked in the shipping industry were living.
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I hope you will add this free walking tour in Zwolle to your Zwolle itinerary. During this Zwolle tour you will see many fun and free things to do in Zwolle. Whether it’s spring, summer, autumn or winter, this is one of the things you need to do in Zwolle at all times. I hope you have discovered why Zwolle is one of the places you need to visit and see. As well as why Zwolle deserves more tourism as it has plenty of attractions to explore. Share this post!!