Visiting Elburg: history in a square

The map of Elburg looks like that of an American town. Completely square, with straight roads. But looks deceive: Elburg is a medieval town, with cute houses, cobbled pavements and an historic atmosphere. It is a perfect destination for those interested in visiting an old fishing town along the former Zuiderzee and wanting to avoid the crowds in places such as Volendam. But there is a lot more to Elburg, as this was one of the hanseatic towns of the Netherlands. That means it is a lot older than the fishing towns close to Amsterdam.

Travel advice during the COVID-19 or corona virus outbreak
At this moment the Netherlands is in an almost  complete lock down. Museums, restaurants, bars, everything is closed. Postpone your visit to a later date. I will keep you posted!

Houses and hollyhocks in Elburg

I must admit, I had heard of Elburg often enough, but I only came around to visiting very recently. When we arrived, the first thing we saw was a giant parking place just outside of the old town. That made me realize that this is not a true off the beaten track destination. However, Elburg isn’t overrun by tour groups. I noticed that most of the tourists were either from Holland or from Germany, traveling independently.

Why visit Elburg?

Elburg is a cute little town. It has a dreamy atmosphere with its small houses and cobbled streets. Almost as if it has been forgotten by time. When visiting Elburg, it is lovely to just wander around through the narrow alleyways. As it is so small – and walled – you will never get lost. Strangely, many people stay on the main thoroughfare, where the shops are, so that can be quite crowded. But once you’ve taken a side street, silence reigns and one could imagine having been transported to another age.

A tiny bit of history of Elburg

The glory days of Elburg are long gone. Those took place in the late Middle Ages and are strongly connected to the power of the hanseatic league or Hansa. This was a network of trading cities in northern Europe. A kind of medieval EU! The power of this league was at its height in the late Middle Ages, bringing great wealth to its members. If you’d like to know more about this league visit the Hanse website.

A side note on the square city plan
During those days Elburg was so wealthy that the city council could decide to rebuild the entire town. After a couple of great floods in the 14th century, they wanted to move further away from the wild waters of the Zuiderzee. This is how the present day square city plan came into existence. Elburg didn’t grow naturally, no, it was entirely planned! It also explains the strange location of the church at the very edge of town. The bishop only gave permission to rebuild the church at a new location at a very late stage. So contrary to in other towns, the church doesn’t have a central location.

In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries economic power shifted from the hanseatic cities in the east to Amsterdam in the west. This made the position of Elburg a lot less strategic and the economy pretty much came to a standstill. The city didn’t expand any more. This is why you can nowadays still visit this pretty old town just as it was over 500 years ago! Well, OK, almost, as they do have electricity now, and internet and TV’s and cars. (And a modern residential area outside of the old center)

Luckily for the Elburgers they did still have their location on the banks of the Zuiderzee, so they could make some money by fishing. Nowadays they present themselves as a former fishing town of the Zuiderzee. While that is true, the people of Elburg never got rich fishing. The building of the Afsluitdijk (the dam closing off the former Zuiderzee from the North Sea) and the creation of the Flevopolder right in front of them in the 20th century didn’t help either.

If you’d like to know more about the former Zuiderzee visit the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen.

What to see and do when visiting Elburg

Of course, you should see the old town. Elburgs old town is only 250 by 350 meters large. So it is easy to see it all. Make sure that you check out the smaller and quieter alleys and streets too. If you want to see Elburg from above head to the church and climb the tower for a view. The tower is open to visitors Tuesdays to Saturdays in the afternoons, but only in the summer season.

You should also visit the harbor of Elburg, just north of the old town. You can recognize the local wooden ships by the initials EB painted on the hull. It is quite small, but nice to see.

View of Elburg harbor

Visiting the Elburg museums

For such a small town, Elburg has a remarkable number of museums. Unfortunately their websites are in Dutch only, but I decided to include them anyway. Perhaps you can get an idea by looking at the pictures. I think this shows that the English speaking crowds haven’t discovered Elburg yet. You might see this as an opportunity!

  • In the Elburg history museum you can learn more about the golden age of Elburg. The casemates of Elburg belong to the museum too, and in the summer they’re open to visitors (closed Sundays and Mondays);
  • Museum Sjoel Elburg delves into the history of the Jewish families that lived in Elburg since 1700 (closed Sundays and Mondays);
  • In the historic forge you can experience how the blacksmiths used to work (only opened Wednesday, Friday and Saturday afternoons);
  • The small fishing museum will tell you more about the history of Elburg as a fishing town (opened July to 15 September in the afternoons, closed Sundays and Mondays);
  • Go see old organs in the museum of historic organs (closed Sundays and Mondays);
  • Or visit the Bottermuseum, about the typical boats of this region (opened on Saturdays roughly from May to 15 September).

A boat trip

Elburg harbor
The harbor of Elburg

If the weather is nice, you could go on a boat tour on the Veluwemeer lake. This is the tiny bit of water between Elburg and the big Flevopolder. I haven’t been myself, but it sounds like a relaxing thing to do. You should check it out at the local Tourist Info (VVV) or directly with the shipping company. They only do boat tours in the summer months, and not on Sundays.

About visiting Elburg on a Sunday

A little warning. As you may have noticed when I talked about the opening hours of the museums, many places of interest are closed on Sundays. Elburg is part of the Dutch bible belt, which means that people are pretty protestant in this area. They believe in Sunday rest. So if you are interested in visiting museums or even in having a nice meal in one of the restaurants, don’t go on a Sunday! On the other hand, if you only want to see the old town and experience the historic atmosphere, Sunday might be a good day, as it will be quiet.

Craft beer in Elburg: Stadsbrouwerij Vos

As I mentioned in other blogs, I am a lover of craft beer and when I visit a new town I always go looking for a nice brewery or brewpub. In Elburg I was lucky, because Elburg has Stadsbrouwerij Vos (literally: “City brewery Fox”). The brewery itself is located in a former eel smokehouse. It is actually a cooperation with Eem Bier, another brewery, that brews its own and the Vos beers here. If you’d like to join a tour, book ahead via the Eem-bier website (button: “reserveer hier”).

If you have already had your share of brewery tours, you could of course also just try their beers in the brasserie right next door. I am talking about Aan de Gracht, meaning “along the canal”. And that is where it is, along the moat that surrounds the old city center. It is a funny place, as it is more of a restaurant than a bar or brewpub. It attracts many people that don’t care much for craft beer.

But still I enjoyed their beers. What I liked about this brewery is that they don’t brew the standard series of Belgian style blondes, dubbels and tripels, but that they chose to brew a porter, stout, barley wine and session ale instead. And not without merit! I also like the fact that they name all their ingredients (such as the kind of malts and hops). So if you are in Elburg and you like craft beer, you know where to go!

Address: Aan de Gracht, Havenstraat 5, Elburg
Website brasserie (in Dutch)
Stadsbrouwerij Vos on UNTAPPD

Elburg Bokbierdag

Beer lovers also know Elburg as the town that opens the Dutch bokbier or bockbeer season. You can visit many bockbeer festivals in Holland in October. But the first one is always in Elburg, at the end of September. They bring in the first barrels by traditional ships and symbolically open the season by opening those barrels. If you’re around in that period this is a fun thing to experience.

About bock beer
Bock beer is a traditional seasonal beer. I say traditional, because the tradition of bock beer goes back to the 16th century. However, traditions seem to have shifted quite a bit over the centuries. Originally these beers were presented in spring, which is still the case in Germany, but in Holland bock beer is now something that very much belongs to the autumn. And whereas bock beer was originally a bottom-fermenting beer style, many Dutch bock beers are now top-fermenting. The only thing they have in common is their dark color. It is interesting to try different bock beers and taste the differences.

Read more about bock beer festivals in the Netherlands.

But I don’t like beer!!!

Don’t worry, Elburg has plenty of restaurants, café’s and bars. You can find most of them at the two main thoroughfares. Remember that on Sundays, these will be closed.

Hiking in Elburg and around

Elburg is situated just north of the Veluwe, the area known for its forests, moors, wild animals and many hiking possibilities. Still, Elburg is not the ideal base if you want to go exploring the Veluwe, especially if you don’t own a car. The real natural beauty starts about 25 km south of Elburg, behind a motorway and a military shooting camp. If you want to go to Veluwe you’d better pick another base such as Otterlo, Arnhem or Apeldoorn.

There are hiking possibilities near Elburg of course! You will hike mostly past farmlands, country houses and their estates and some forests. We went for a 14 kilometer hike and enjoyed it very much. The area was nice and quiet, we hardly met any other hikers. We did run into quite a few sheep though!

Elburg sheep

A couple of suggestions:

  • Landgoedwandeling Elburg (14 km) is the hike that we did. It passes a couple of estates and the Vogeltuinen, gardens where they grow herbs for homeopathic medicine. It also passes through the old town of Elburg.
  • Landgoedwandeling Morren (13 km) in more easterly direction than the previous hike. This one passes through the modern residential area of Elburg for quite some distance, and passes by another estate.
  • Or take it easy with this 2 kilometer Elburg City hike. It doesn’t have a GPS track, but with the map it’s easy to follow the trail. It passes by most of the points of interest.

How to get to Elburg by public transport?

Elburg doesn’t have a train station, which makes it slightly less accessible.

  • The most convenient route is to go to the city of Zwolle by train, and to take a bus from Zwolle to Elburg. This may seem to be a detour, especially when coming from the west, but may still be the fastest and most convenient connection.
  • Another option is to travel via Amersfoort and catch a slow train from there to the tiny railway station ‘t Harde. In ‘t Harde catch a bus to Elburg.

When traveling from Amsterdam, departing from station Amsterdam Zuid may be more convenient than departing from Amsterdam Central Station. Count on at least 2 hours of traveling time one way.

Check your schedule on the public transport website and read my tips about using public transport in Holland. Mind that there are extra rules for users of public transport during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example: you have to wear a face mask when using public transport.

What to do or see after Elburg?

Of course you could visit Elburg as a day trip from towns in the west, such as Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam. As this is not the easiest place to get to by public transport, your visit and travel time combined may take most of the day.

If you have the time and opportunity, you may want to hang out in this part of the Netherlands for a bit longer and visit some other historic towns in the area. Think of Harderwijk, Zwolle, Deventer or Amersfoort.

You could also combine your visit to Elburg with a visit to Hoge Veluwe National Park. This park offers many hiking and biking possibilities, and houses the famous Kröller Müller museum. If you don’t have a car you would need to spend the night in the area to make it happen!

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