Waterside city Dordrecht, the Dutch counterpart of Venice

Dordrecht, city by the waterside

When you say Holland, you say water. If you want to understand how the Dutch people live, a good starting point is to delve into their history and understand their connection to the water. The Dutch have lived in a river delta, a swamp, a coastal zone for centuries. Medieval towns have since their establishment lived with, fought against and befriended the water. Dordrecht today, is a perfect example of the beauty and misfortune of living with water.

As the oldest city of Holland (note: not the oldest city of the Netherlands), Dordrecht offers beautiful old houses along a network of canals navigated by locals, pretty inner city harbours and wide views over the water. The city takes pride in being dubbed ‘Venice of the North’. Like Venice, Dordrecht is situated on an island, which is surrounded by five rivers and emerged from – what a surprise! – one of the worst floods in Dutch history. At My Wooden Shoes we consider Dordrecht the Dutch counterpart of Venice. Aside from its attractive city centre, it has an interesting story to tell from a flood management perspective and, very importantly, there are no tourist crowds.

Dordrecht, Venice of the North
Scheffers square is actually a large bridge

There is an excellent ‘flood management walking tour’ through Dordrecht’s inner city, that you can do by yourself. Download this tour (in pdf) including map and explanation in English. It gives you insight in Dordrecht’s successes and unresolved issues regarding its water management. For a large part, the tour follows the Voorstraat, which happens to be the longest shopping street of the Netherlands but, more interestingly, also the lowest sea flood defence in the country. This dyke protects the city from flooding, but has proved to be too low already a century ago, when water started coming in again. Authorities have not yet come up with a suitable solution how to raise the densely built dyke.

View over downtown Dordrecht with dark clouds
Water in the old city

Moreover, part of the old town is situated outside the dyke and inhabitants have to take measures when water level rises, like placing metal partitions or sand bags in front of their doors to keep the water out. The tour shows proofs of floodings in history and takes you along places where streets are closed off with flood gates and alleys that are leveled up. These and other sights would be easy to miss without doing this tour.

Digging of the Nieuwe Haven started in 1409. The Grote Kerk (church) is located on an elevated spot.

In this tour (approx. 5 km), you’ll learn all water management tricks applied, the shortcomings of the flood defences, which streets are flooded first and at the same time you can enjoy the beautiful old city centre of Dordrecht with its canals, bridges and small cafes. Dordrecht is easily reached by train, but it is definitely more fun and splendidly fitting to take the waterbus ferry from Rotterdam!


Want to see more? Curious minds should click here to discover some fun facts along this route.

  • Costs: the walk is free. The waterbus ferry charges €5.70 for a ticket Rotterdam Erasmusbrug to Dordrecht Merwekade when ordered online. Traveling with an OV-chipcard is cheaper.
  • Address: arrival with the waterbus at Veer Merwekade, Dordrecht (51.819425, 4.675061). If you arrive by train, start the walk at Statenplein, Dordrecht (51.814515, 4.669439).
  • More info: bring your bicycle on the waterbus for free!
  • Bring: print of the walk, camera, walking shoes.
  • Track: Flood management walking tour map and description.


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