Provincie Overijssel: What to See and Do in the Eastern Netherlands

What to See and Do in Overijssel, Netherlands

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Overijssel, the Netherlands before.


Well, it’s a good thing I’m here.

Overijssel is a province in the east of the Netherlands, and it’s been my adopted home for the last two and half years. One of the reasons I started this blog was to share this region with the rest of the world; and it’s high time I gave a proper introduction.

There’s no denying that life in Overijssel is a bit different than in the Randstad (the part of the Netherlands containing its four biggest cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague, and Utrecht). Around here, the cities are a lot smaller and the livestock more plentiful. Dutch traditions and customs are often kept more strongly, for better or for worse. Perhaps most notably, we don’t get nearly the amount of foreign tourism they do in the west.

And you know what? That’s okay. I love big cities myself, but the countryside exudes its own brand of charm and appeal — and it’s not nearly as far from the Randstad as the Dutch like to pretend.

If you’re looking to explore the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam, consider visiting Overijssel for a day trip or weekend getaway. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.

Windmill de Star (Molen de Star) in Balkbrug, Overijssel, Netherlands

Fast Facts about Overijssel

Pronunciation: OH-ver-EYES-sel
Capital city: Zwolle (ZWOLL-uh)
Biggest city: Enschede (EN-ske-day)
Population: 1,113,529


The IJssel (EYES-sel) is a river that runs along much of the province’s western border — hence, Overijssel is the area located “over the IJssel.” (The combination “ij” is considered one letter in Dutch, pronounced like “eye,” which is why it’s written as the IJssel, not the Ijssel. You don’t really need to remember that, I’m just kind of a language fangirl.)

Overijssel is considered by most Dutch people to be “the country,” and it certainly does live up to that stereotype. I’ve met other foreigners living in the Netherlands who’ve never even heard of it — though I’m not sure whether that says more about the province or those people. (But yeah, let’s be real: it’s probably those people.)

In any case, it’s a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam or the Hague. Aside from the occasional city, it’s covered in a mix of small towns and farmland. People blow up footballs on New Year’s Eve, and when the wind blows strongly, you can smell cows from my balcony.

So yes, Overijssel is definitely country. But then, that’s kind of the point.

What to See and Do in Overijssel, Netherlands

Getting to and around Overijssel

Overijssel is well connected by train and bus service, and you can travel on both using an OV chip card (a prepaid card that can also be used on public transport in many other parts of the country, including Amsterdam). You can also purchase individual tickets at the station or onboard buses.

Zwolle, the capital city, is home to the main train station of the area. It links the south and west to the north, and is easily accessible from any other main station in the Netherlands. In general, any train heading towards either Groningen or Leeuwarden will stop in Zwolle.

To plan your trip(s), you can visit the Dutch railway’s website here and find more public transport options here (both sites are available in either Dutch or English).

Prefer driving yourself? Traffic isn’t much of an issue around here, but you might get stuck going 20 km/hour behind a tractor. It’s funny, but it’s not a joke. Hopefully you’re not in a hurry, and you can just relax and get into the charming spirit of it all. (I mean, this is Overijssel. Where are you going?)

Notable Places to See in Overijssel


If you’re looking for a charming village with tiny winding streets and old-fashioned Dutch architecture, Ommen is for you. Despite its rather small size, it has historical status as a city and sees a fair amount of regional tourism.

Overijsselse Vecht in Ommen

Shops on side street in Ommen

Ommen is located on the banks of the Vecht river (often referred to as the Overijsselse Vecht, to distinguish it from the river of the same name in Utrecht). It’s a glorious place to spend a warm and sunny summer’s day — and yes, we do occasionally have those in the Netherlands.

The town is built around its oldest structure, the Reformed Church, which dates back to the 13th century. There are three old school windmills, for those of you who came to the Netherlands to validate your stereotypes, and a tin figure museum, for those of you who like quirky and slightly creepy museums.

Ommen also hosts an annual summer festival called the Ommer Bissingh, comprising several weeks of markets, live music, and other festivities. The festival begins every July and has existed in some form or another for hundreds of years.

For more on what to see around Ommen and the Vecht river, click here.


People often like to refer to Giethoorn as “the Venice of the Netherlands,” and while I personally think that’s kind of ridiculous, it’s not *completely* off-base. (Key word being completely.) Giethoorn is a nearly-roadless village, famous for its canal system and old-fashioned thatched-roof houses, and it’s a very popular spot for Dutch and foreign visitors alike.

Canal in roadless village of Giethoorn

Thatched-roof houses by the canal in Giethoorn

Giethoorn is pretty small (is anyone else sensing a theme here?), but it’s the kind of place you can easily enjoy for hours. Meander along the pathways and across the quaint little bridges; join a boat tour down the canals; or go for the DIY approach and rent a boat yourself. If you’re interested in local history, check out ‘t Olde Maat Uus, a museum that will give you a peek into the old way of life in Giethoorn. Or just head to a waterside cafe, grab a drink, and watch the world go by (or float by, as it were).

P.S. If you’re wondering how to pronounce Giethoorn, it rhymes with “eat corn,” and the “G” should come from the back of your throat. (And if you just spat a little trying that out, you’re probably doing it right.)


Though it’s a city — the capital city of the province, in fact — Zwolle is more like an overgrown town, just entering its adolescence and beginning to test its boundaries. If I was going to live anywhere in Overijssel (uh, besides the place I already do live), I would pick Zwolle.

Row houses on the water in Zwolle, the capital city of Overijssel, Netherlands

Main square in the city center of Zwolle, including Grote Kerk (Great Church) and cafes

It’s active enough, but rarely overwhelmingly crowded. The city center is condensed and easily walkable; you can wander the side streets without getting hopelessly lost miles from wherever you meant to end up (not like that happens to me on a regular basis in other cities, or anything).

Zwolle is also full of instagram-worthy architecture — from its iconic “Peperbus” tower, to the remnants of the old city walls along the water, to the weird green angel statue I’ve never been able to figure out.

And of course, you can’t forget Waanders in de Broeren, a 15th century church that’s been converted into a bookstore. Though most of the shop’s design is quite modern, you only have to look up to be transported back in time by the intricate ceilings and organ pipes. Most of the materials for sale are in Dutch, but there is a small section devoted to English-language novels.


In addition to being the biggest city in Overijssel, Enschede is also the easternmost city in the Netherlands, located just a short distance away from the German border.

Oude Markt in Enschede

Enschede is home to Grolsch, one of the most popular Dutch beers, known for its distinctive “swing-top” bottle. Tour the brewery, taste the beer, and learn how its history ties into the region’s. Or explore the city’s artistic side at one of its many museums, theaters, or musical venues.

When you’ve had enough culture, grab a meal or a drink in the Oude Markt, a large and undeniably Dutch city square — complete with a church tower too tall to fit into any of my photos.

Sallandse Heuvelrug National Park

Note: This section briefly mentions Nazi concentration camps.

Sallandse Heuvelrug is one of 20 national parks in the Netherlands, and one of two located in Overijssel. (Salland is a region within the province; the park’s name basically translates to “Salland Hillside.”)

Walking path running between a forest of green trees -- Sallandse Heuvelrug National Park, the Netherlands

If you’ve ever heard the landscape of the Netherlands described as as “ugly, boring, and flat,” this park will show you just how wrong that description is.

The Sallandse Heuvelrug was created by a glacier during the last ice age. Today, its landscape consists of tall forests, secluded meadows, and rolling hills; but its most notable feature is probably the large and vibrantly-colored heathlands.

Tree atop a brightly colored green, red,and purple hillside in the heathlands of Sallandse Heuvelrug -- Overijssel, Netherlands

In addition to these natural elements, the park has a few spots of historical significance. Nearly 1400 soldiers killed during WWII are buried at Holten Canadian War Cemetery, one of the largest military cemeteries in the Netherlands. There is also a memorial for the members of Twilhaar Labor Camp, who were sent to Westerbork transit camp in 1942 and nearly all murdered at Auschwitz.

There are a range of walking and cycling paths running through the Sallandse Heuvelrug, ranging from a few hundred meters to 13 kilometers. You can find more information on the different routes, as well as parking and public toilets, at the visitor center just outside the town of Nijverdal.

Honorable Mention: Ponypark Slagharen

If you’ve seen the “Netherlands second” video* that went viral after Trump’s inauguration, you may have heard of this theme park, located in the town of Slagharen. I’ve never actually been here, but according to the video, it’s the “best ponypark in the world.” I guess that should count for something.

* Link leads to the video on YouTube.

Misc Tips for Overijssel

• Opening hours: Most shops will be closed by 6pm in the evenings and all day on Sundays. Some are also closed on Monday mornings, till midday or 1pm. There are exceptions, but try and plan ahead a little, and don’t assume things will be open whenever you need.

• Language: Like most parts of the Netherlands, Overijssel has its own distinct accents and dialects, even within the province itself. Don’t worry too much about this; if you’re not a Dutch speaker, you won’t even notice, and no one will care.

However, you shouldn’t expect everyone to speak or understand English. Most of them will, especially younger people, but not everyone will be fluent. Also, you should at least attempt a bit of Dutch; even if you can only say two words, people really appreciate the effort.

• Weather: Typically not so different from the rest of the Netherlands. Wear layers, bring a rain jacket, and except conditions to change quickly.

View from top of windmill in Overijssel, Netherlands

As always, feel free to ask any questions or share your own suggestions for Overijssel in the comments.

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Looking for an entirely different Dutch experience from Amsterdam? Consider a visit to Overijssel: a quiet and charming province in the east of the Netherlands, less than 1.5 hours from Amsterdam! Click through for recommendations and tips for this countryside area of Holland. | #Netherlands

Looking for an entirely different Dutch experience from Amsterdam? Consider a visit to Overijssel: a quiet and charming province in the east of the Netherlands, less than 1.5 hours from Amsterdam! Click through for recommendations and tips for this countryside area of Holland. | #Netherlands

Looking for an entirely different Dutch experience from Amsterdam? Consider a visit to Overijssel: a quiet and charming province in the east of the Netherlands, less than 1.5 hours from Amsterdam! Click through for recommendations and tips for this countryside area of Holland. | #Netherlands