When I think of the Netherlands, my mind automatically wanders to vast tulip fields, impressive windmills, picturesque villages, beautiful cities with canals, and a coastline to die for. In short, the Netherlands is a country that consists of a varied and, above all, fascinating landscape, in which water plays an important role. Did you know that the Netherlands is about one third below sea level? This means that throughout history the Dutch had to be very inventive to keep the water under control. They used mills, pumping stations, polders and dikes. And later they constructed impressive water works such as dams and Delta Works. The Netherlands and water are therefore inextricably linked. Very curious as I am, I went to visit our northern neighbors to experience these water icons for myself. In this blog post I will take you along the most unique things to do in Zeeland and South Holland.
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Holland Land of Water
Anyone who has already traveled to the Netherlands, like me, has probably (in)directly noticed the special relationship between the Netherlands and water. Just think of the many canals, the gigantic watermills, the beautiful, water-rich nature reserves, the typical polder landscapes and the vast North Sea beach. Yes, these are all part of Holland Land of Water.
This time I went to South Holland and Zeeland to experience some unique things to do that learned me more about this special relation between the Netherlands and water. Both provinces are located next to each other in the southwest of the Netherlands. This makes them very easy and quick to reach from Belgium. You can be there in barely 2 hours by car, depending on your place of departure and destination.
You can also easily travel to these regions by public transport. From Antwerp you can take the train to Middelburg in Zeeland or to Dordrecht in South Holland. It takes about 2 hours to get to both destinations and you have to switch trains once.
Unique things to do in Zeeland and South Holland
Discover Dordrecht, the Venice of Holland
I started my trip in Dordrecht, the oldest city in Holland. Well, we, because for this trip I took my dearest mom with me. What neither of us knew was that Dordrecht is completely surrounded by water. It is actually an island within the Netherlands. The cause of this was the St. Elizabeth Flood in 1421. This just to show that the Dutch have always had a turbulent relationship with water. And you can experience that in person during a visit to Dordrecht.
The perfect way to discover Dordrecht is through a walking tour ‘Rondje Dordt’ . This is a walking route of about 5 kilometers through historical Dordrecht. This route takes you along the most beautiful places in the city. You can obtain a map and information guide at VVV Dordrecht. In the guide you will literally find tons of information about this beautiful city. But you can also follow the route through the izi-Travel app.
Some of the most beautiful sights on our Rondje Dordt I found the courtyards, in dutch ‘hofjes’. More specifically the Regentenhof or Lenghenhof. Courtyards are a typical phenomenon for the Netherlands. They were established since the Middle Ages to provide housing for the elderly and mainly widows. The Regentenhof or Lenghenhof was founded in 1755 and is still occupied by only ladies. Men are not allowed. But what made these courtyards so special for me was meeting some ladies who lived there and were happy to tell us all about the history and life in the courtyards. Besides that, the gardens of the courtyards are beautifully maintained and definitely worth a visit.
During ‘Rondje Dordt’ you can get lost in the most cozy streets and alleys while admiring the beautiful facades of the houses. In the architecture you will find traces of the different eras and that makes Dordrecht such a fascinating city. While you soak up history and culture, you can also enjoy some shopping in one of the many boutiques. You can also find many unique antique and vintage shops here. I definitely will be going back for to visit them all.
But you can also enjoy a lovely stroll along the many canals and the historical inner harbors. Through our ‘Rondje Dordt’ we discovered that Dordrecht is a super charming city that has so much to offer!
Imagine yourself in Venice with a cruise through Dordrecht on a classic Italian boat
Besides a walking tour through the city, it is also great to get to know Dordrecht from a different perspective. What better way to do that than from the canals that run through this historical city?
Since Dordrecht is often referred to as the Venice of Holland, a tour in a real Italian boat should not be missing from your itinerary, right? That’s totally possible at Si-Barone!
It didn’t take long before my mom and I realized we were being picked up by one of those classic Italian mahogany boats on the dock. My mom has Italian roots and is a big Italy lover. So it was one of her dreams that came true. And yes, I admit it. I thought it was pretty special too!
We sailed through the historical harbors, along the old quays, houses built in water and admired the lowest window in Dordrecht, which is submerged at high tide. We passed the Groothoofdspoort where the rivers Old Meuse, North and Lower Merwede converge. And just outside the city we raced very fast over this busiest boat traffic junction in Europe. What an unforgettable experience this was!
Si-Barone organizes various tours both in groups and privately. This is possible within Dordrecht, but they also have water taxi service to sail to other destinations. Planning something special such as a romantic date? The you can definitely contact Si-Barone to help you organize an unforgettable experience. They work together with local partners to map out tailor-made tours.
Explore De Biesbosch National Park by canoe
Near Dordrecht you will find the beautiful National Park De Biesbosch. Did you know that this is one of the few freshwater tidal areas in the world? I didn’t! This is due to the Delta Works, which I will tell you more about later in this blog. As a result, De Biesbosch is connected to the sea. At high tide, the fresh water of the rivers reaches De Biesbosch, and at low tide it decreases again.
In De Biesbosch National Park you can enjoy the rare fauna and flora while walking and cycling, but the best way to discover the maze of rivers and creeks is with the canoe.
And that is exactly what we did! We rented a canoe at Drijf Dordrecht and went off exploring. I have to admit that this is the most adventurous canoe trip I’ve ever done here in our region. After all, it is not just sailing down a river, but making your way through the narrow canals of De Biesbosch full of vegetation without knowing exactly where you will end up. Every now and then you had to slalom around obstacles, bend over to sail under tree trunks, … What an epic experience! It immediately reminded me of my boat trip on the Louisiana swamps. Fortunately, there are no alligators here.
Besides all that adventure, you can also enjoy the local fauna and flora in all peace. Take in the scenery, because it’s so magical! In De Biesbosch National Park you can spot a lot of wildlife, besides the many insects that literally flew on us. There are different types of waterfowl, and of course the famous beavers who diligently build their dams here. Sorry, but you’ll have to take the insects on too, so definitely bring some mosquito repellent and sunglasses to prevent one from ending up in your eye.
In short, this is an activity not to be missed when you are in the area. During the summer months and especially weekends it can get a bit busier here. Try to reserve a canoe in time at Drijf Dordrecht.
Good food in Dordrecht
Breakfast, lunch, drinks or dinner? This is all possible at restaurant Het Magazijn. You will find this trendy spot on the ground floor of a beautiful Art Nouveau building in the heart of Dordrecht. Besides the trendy industrial interior, restaurant Magazijn also has a super cozy city garden. And there is a play corner for the little ones. The menu mainly features dishes made with local and organic products. Be sure to try their signature bite while having a drink: a portion of crispy chicken. And I must say the spare ribs were also delicious.
Unique place to stay in Dordrecht
If you want the entire Holland Land of Water experience, then you should absolutely stay at Villa Augustus. This is a 19th-century Dordrecht water tower that has been converted into a hotel. We already passed it on the boat with Si-Barone. I thought it was such an impressive building. When the captain told me this was Villa Augustus, I made an imaginary leap of happiness. I just love to stay in unique accommodations.
It wasn’t until we arrived at Villa Augustus that I was truly enchanted. Not only the building is impressive, but the surrounding gardens are simply gorgeous. It’s also great that the hotel is located near the water. On hot days this is the ideal place to take a dip.
We slept on the top floor. The glass elevator on the side of the building alone is an experience in itself. You have a really beautiful view over the garden and the river. And another plus is that’s is only a 15 minute walk from Villa Augustus to the center of Dordrecht. So you can leave your car in the parking lot and have a drink.
The domain of Villa Augustus is located on the former water supply site. The former pumping station is situated just in front of the hotel of Villa Augustus and has been transformed into a restaurant. Here you can enjoy a delicious breakfast buffet in the morning. But you can also come here during the day for tasty dishes with home-grown ingredients from the impressive vegetable garden.
Off to Zeeland
Experience the charm of Zierikzee
After our visit to Dordrecht we made our way to Zeeland. The picturesque town of Zierikzee is about an hour’s drive from Dordrecht. We had never heard of it and didn’t know what to expect. But again we were pleasantly surprised by this historical gem.
Zierikzee is a small, historic harbor town with an extremely charming center. The best way to explore the town is to just get out there and wander through the narrow streets. You will find plenty of local boutiques, nice bars and eateries. But also many monuments that have been preserved from the past, such as the medieval city gates, the inner harbor, the impressive facades of the buildings and the beautiful wrought iron partitions between the houses.
You can really see that the city is doing its best to honor the historical elements. And this is exactly what makes Zierikzee so charming and authentic. Zierikzee is certainly one of the best things to do in Zeeland
By bike to the Watersnoodmuseum
During your stay in Zierikzee, be sure to visit the Watersnoodmuseum. In this museum, stories about water are collected and told. You can listen to stories about the Dutch water history, the flood of ’53, the reconstruction after the flood, the Delta Works and flood risk management. And is definitely very interesting if you want to know more about Holland Land of Water. The Watersnoodmuseum is located approximately 9 km from Zierikzee, near Ouwerkerk. In good weather you can go there by bike while enjoying the surrounding landscape.
Unfortunately the Watersnoodmuseum was exceptionally closed due to the heat when we were there. But we decided to take the bike ride anyway to explore the surrounding landscape of Zierikzee. We rented a bicycle at Centerpoint and after a few minutes of cycling through the center of Zierikzee we entered the rural polder landscape. In between the countryside consisting of various crops and golden grain fields, giant wind turbines popped up You often see these in Zeeland and are used to generate sustainable energy.
We reached the Oosterschelde dike. This is the dike that broke in several places during the flood of 1953, causing a gigantic disaster. In the meantime, this dike has been restored and you can cycle over it. From here you have beautiful views over the Oosterschelde which is the largest national park in the Netherlands. We stopped at the beach of Ouwerkerk to take in these impressive panoramas.
Unfortunately, they don’t have any food or drink stalls here, so be sure to bring plenty of drinks with you on your bike ride. Since it was so hot, we were very thirsty. We drove past the Watersnoodmuseum along the lush creek area and luckily found a campsite where we could buy an ice cream. After a refreshing ice cream and refilling our bottles of water, we headed back to Zierikzee.
Good food in Zierikzee
Restaurant De Proeverij is a family business, located near the historic inner harbor of Zierikzee. Not only this fantastic location, but also the extremely cozy interior with a touch of nostalgia make you feel right at home. In good weather you can take a seat on the terrace. There you can enjoy a view of the picturesque inner harbor with authentic, wooden boats.
On the menu you have a large choice of different dishes. You can choose delicious local and fresh fish dishes prepared with regional products, but you also have meat dishes, salads, vegetarian options and much more. In short, Restaurant De Proeverij has something for everyone.
De Zeeuwse hemel
De Zeeuwse Hemel is located in the city centre in the middle of the maze of narrow, picturesque streets and alleys. What once started as a small shop where you could taste various local specialties has grown into a super charming restaurant with a bed & breakfast attached to it.
You can go there for breakfast, lunch, dinner and so much more. You can even pick up take-away dishes for a picnic. De Zeeuwse Hemel also has a large garden where you can enjoy your meal in the open air.
What makes De Zeeuwse Hemel so special is the interior. By preserving the authentic elements of the historic building and adding its own eclectic twist to the interior, this has become a real gem. You also notice that the staff and owner are very proud of this business and rightly so!
Unique place to stay in Zierikzee
It comes as no surprise that we also stayed the night at De Zeeuwse Hemel. We stayed in the Dam room. A beautiful, large room with a view of the pleasant shopping streets of Zierikzee, the Dam, the Mol and the Melkmarkt.
Here, too, I immediately fell in love with the mix between the authentic elements of the room and the matching furnishing that just completed the whole thing. A real hidden gem in Zierikzee.
And best of all, there was airco! Not unimportant when there is a heat wave.
The next day we traveled to the work island of Neeltje Jans where we could view the Oosterschelde barrier. This gigantic construction is part of the Delta Works that were created to keep the water under control and to avoid flood disasters in the provinces of Zeeland, South Holland and North Brabant .
The Oosterschelde barrier forms a road connection between Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord Bevelan in Zeeland. When you drive over it, it looks like you are crossing a gigantic bridge, but in reality the Oosterschelde barrier is much more than that.
Deltapark Neeltje Jans
To better understand the concept of Delta Works and Oosterschelde barrier, we visited Delta Park Neeltje Jans. This is a theme park with all kinds of exhibits and activities related to water. We visited the exhibition about the Delta Works.
We took a guided tour to really learn more about this topic. To sum it up very briefly. After the flood of 1953, the plan to carry out the Delta Works was approved. This plan consists of 13 parts that together form the largest storm barrier in the world. The Delta works are even considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
One part of the Delta Works is the impressive Oosterschelde barrier. This closable storm barrier contains gigantic, massive gates that are closed when there is very high water during storms and high tides. In this way the water can’t enter the Oosterschelde. This drastically reduces the chances of flooding.
Something you should definitely not miss at Deltapark Neeltje Jans is the Delta experience. This 4d animation lets you experience the flood of 1953. I personally found this to be a very striking experience. The Delta experience shows the destructive power of water and how terrible this was for the people who experienced it.
Also don’t forget to visit the outdoor zone. There you can see the Oosterschelde barrier from up close.
Besides the interactive, educational part, Deltapark Neeltje Jans has much more to offer and is the perfect day trip for young and old!
Looking for seaweed during a seaweed walk
After our visit to Deltapark Neeltje Jans we headed on to the North Sea beach on the work island. Here we had an appointment with Ellen from Wild Wier who took us on a seaweed walk. We didn’t really know what to expect, because the description said that we would also taste seaweed. And if there’s one thing I’m not so keen on, it’s tasting strange things.
Besides to many fish and shellfish such as oysters, crabs, lobsters, shrimps and mussels, you can also find many types of seaweed in the Oosterschelde. Ellen was happy to introduce us to the wonderful world of seaweed. She told and showed us different types of seaweed and what they were used for. The best part was that Ellen did this with so much passion and guided us so well that before I knew it, I already was already tasting wild seaweed. And I have to say, that didn’t taste bad. We even tried different kinds. We definitely experienced this activity with all our senses.
Together we harvested a little bit of seaweed to take home. Ellen showed us how to use our harvest in different dishes. We ended our walk with a delicious appetizer made from seaweed.
Then it was time to return home. On the way back we stopped at the beautiful coastal town of Domburg. There we went for a bite in the trendy beach club OAXACA .
During this trip I discovered a new region of the Netherlands and again I was surprised by how beautiful and versatile this country is. By visiting these specific and unique things to do in Zeeland and South Holland I became much more aware of that special relationship between the Netherlands and water. In 3 days I only experienced a part of Holland Land of Water. But wow, I’m totally impressed!
Want to discover more of The Netherlands? Then you might want to read these:
- A day trip to fairytale town Giethoorn
- Admiring the authentic wind mills of the Zaanse Schans
- Fun things to do during a city trip in Leiden
- A romantic weekend getaway in The Netherlands
Which things to do in Zeeland or South Holland are on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!