The capital of the Netherlands' Overijssel province, Zwolle was once a mighty trading port. Now it's a beautiful city of around 125,000 people that can be explored by bike. Plenty of festivals, activities to enjoy, and historical museums make it a town that punches well above its weight.
In the 14th century, Zwolle was the hub of the Hanseatic League, growing rich trading across the Baltic and North sea region. These days the medieval core is almost intact, and landmarks like the Pepperbox Tower offer a portal back in time that few other cities can match.
Check out the City Museum (housed in the Drostenhuis, an opulent 18th-century mansion), and don't miss the Museum De Fundatie, one of the finest contemporary art spaces in the Netherlands.
Zwolle has a busy events schedule. From dance events like Kingdance, to the Bevrijdingsfestival (which commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany), and June's Vier Oost theater festival, there are events for everyone.
One of the great things about Zwolle is how accessible it is. The core can be explored on foot, but there's a 30-mile-long cycle route around the city center, and you can even rent "water bikes" to navigate the town's canals.
Giethoorn is just a few miles to the north and is a real treat. Lacking any roads, it solely relies on canals - just like Venice. Kampen is close by too, another Hanseatic port, with a remarkable drawbridge and a quaint medieval center.
Zwolle's best tourist season is summer. From June to September, you can enjoy the cycle paths, swim at lakeside beaches, and attend most of the city's festivals.
Eelde Airport (GRQ) is the nearest to Zwolle, but it's actually quicker to travel from Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS). Just take the Dutch Railways service straight to the city (1 hour 24 minutes, EUR17-20).
Trains run into Zwolle from Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and you can reach the city from most major northern European cities.
From Amsterdam take the E30, then the A50 at Apeldoorn.
Some standout accommodation options in Zwolle include the cozy Sandton Hotel Pillows and the Bilderberg Grand Hotel Wientjes, which features an excellent bistro.
Citycentrum - the center of Zwolle is separated from the rest of the town by a star-shaped man-made moat, and it's a magical place to explore.
Assendorp - south of the center, Assendorp is much newer and is home to an eclectic community of students, artists, and well-to-do locals. It also hosts the city's train station.
Katerveer - Katerveer is a gem of a neighborhood, and is crowned by the sublime Spoolderbos, a beautiful woodland park that visitors can cross to reach the town center.
Local buses are operated by Syntus and provide pretty good coverage. To ride them, you'll need to get an OV-chipkaart. After that, a single journey will cost EUR1.50.
Taxis should charge a flag drop of around EUR5, followed by around EUR3 per mile.
Car rental options include Hertz and Europcar, and rates can be as low as EUR8 per day.
Modern Zwolle continues to be a trading city, with plenty of great stores to explore. Head to the old center and check out boutiques like LIV, September, and La Ropa, or visit the Melkmarkt to find fresh food and drink.
Supermarkets in Zwolle include Jumbo and Spar, where 12 eggs will come to around EUR2.10.
For fine Dutch cuisine like mussels in garlic butter or pancakes and asparagus, check out Poppe, and try Het Wijnhuis for a mixture of gourmet food and outstanding wine. Expect meals to cost around EUR25-40.