The oldest town in the province Drenthe, Coevorden grew up around a castle on a ford on the road between Münster and Groningnen.
In the 17th century Coevorden was completely reworked as a fortified city by the Dutch military mastermind Menno van Coehoorn.
The pattern of concentric polygonal streets, and star-shaped outer moat all remain to this day.
The piece of moat to the north of the old city centre is now the verdant Van Heutszpark, while the fort’s arsenal holds the municipal museum, and the old castle houses a hotel and restaurant.
Drenthe is a province with a strong cultural identity, which shines through at attractions like the nearby Ellert en Brammert open-air museum.
1. Stedelijk Museum Coevorden
Just off the marketplace, Coevorden’s restored 17th-century arsenal contains the library and this municipal museum.
The museum was completely renovated in 2013 and charts the entire history of Coevorden, from the earliest days of the castle and its Burgraves to the 21st century.
An interesting display here is a 36-metre timeline, with artefacts like fossils, weapons, pottery, tools, book bindings and armour, all enhanced by interactive panels and multimedia.
There are seven scale models of Coevorden from different periods, including one showing the complicated system of bastions and ravelins from the 17th century.
Engaging temporary exhibitions dig deeper on specific historical periods in Coevorden, as well as topics like local music, architecture and folk traditions.
2. Kasteel van Coevorden
At the centre of the city’s polygonal street plan, the Castle of Coevorden dates from 1522 when it was rebuilt by Charles II, Duke of Guelders.
By the 20th century that Renaissance palace had fallen into disrepair and after the brick-built monument was bought by the municipality only a portion was restored.
The castle is now a hotel and restaurant, and can be approached from its former ramparts, which are now green lawns armed with cannons.
The Medieval castle that preceded this building appears on the Drenthe Province’s map and had huge strategic importance, taking lucrative tolls on the transit route between the Hanseatic cities of Münster and Groningnen.
Today the patio is an evocative place for a meal, in green space at the heart of the city.
3. Hervormde Kerk
Coevorden has one of the first Protestant churches to be built in the Netherlands.
This came about in the 1630s when the previous building had become dilapidated.
At first there was a shortage of funds, but money was no longer a problem after a tax was levied on beer sold in Coevorden.
Another fun detail is that during construction of the new church, services were held in a stable.
In the Reformed style, and to encourage full participation, the church has a symmetrical octagonal plan and four bulky pillars in its hall.
The roof tower burnt down in the 19th century, and took the 17th-century organ with it.
The replacement was inaugurated in 1897 and sits on the restored 17th-century wooden gallery.
4. Van Heutszpark
On the jagged course of Coevorden’s old defensive moat , the Van Heutszpark is a relaxing green space where you can picnic by the water or watch the ducks and boats go by on the Stieltjeskanaal.
This waterway marks the park’s eastern boundary and is hemmed by a cycling path under mature trees.
The handsome water tower standing over the park from the south dates back to 1914 and has a 150-cubic-metre reservoir.
Something else to hunt down in the park is the Oranjebank, a commemorative bench built from bricks to mark the birth of Princess Beatrix in 1939. On the wall behind are medallions depicting Beatrix’s grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina, and her parents, the future Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld.
5. Ellert en Brammert
You can brush up on southeastern Drenthe’s cultural history at this open-air museum in Schoonoord.
The attraction is centred on a pair of giants, Ellert and Brammert, who, according to folk tales first written down by the 17th-century historian Johan Picardt, lived in a hut under a moor.
As a side note, Picardt was also a preacher at Coevarden’s Hervormde Kerk.
Anyway, the giants would set traps on paths using bells on strings, and if anyone passing by caused the bells to ring, they’d mug him and beat him with clubs.
The museum goes into more detail on the legend, but has also relocated a set of historic rural buildings to the site.
There’s a church, a village prison, typical sod houses, a schoolhouse, a replica dolmen and displays for traditional trades like peat cutting.
And for refreshments there’s a proper country inn here.
6. Vogelpark “De Lorkeershoeve”
On the road to Hardenberg, this small family-run zoo park has something for all comers.
In the aviaries you’ll come face-to-face with ibises, kookaburras, macaws, parrots, cockatoos, pheasants and an array of waterfowl.
One of the inhabitants, Tommy the cockatoo, may greet you with a cheerful “hallo”. The zoo is in neatly landscaped gardens with ponds, and has a walk-through area where the birds will fly overhead.
Also at the park is a nine-hole miniature golf course, seven holes of billiard golf and a restaurant.
7. Plopsa Indoor Coevorden
Attached to the nearby Center Parcs resort is an indoor theme park with attractions and shows related to TV programmes invented by the Belgian Studio 100 TV corporation.
Aimed at children up to the age of eight, characters like Samson en Gert, Piet Piraat, Mega Mindy and Kabouter Plop are well-known in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Naturally, younger children don’t have to be familiar with these characters to have a fun time at the park’s 18 or so different amusements, including carousels, bumper cars (and boats), rollercoaster, playgrounds and ball pool.
The whole park is inhabited by cheerful mascots in bright costumes, while outside there’s a new petting zoo themed on the classic Japanese animation, Heidi.
8. Beelden in Gees
In a pretty corner of the Drenthe countryside, Beelden in Gees blends a show garden with seasonal exhibitions of modern sculpture.
The garden has ponds, expansive lawns, secluded copses, and borders and flowerbeds all carefully labelled.
There are benches throughout, so you can stop to ponder the water lilies, the garden’s surprising vistas or an artwork.
The garden has two shows a year, with a larger summer exhibition, emphasising sculpture, but also presenting painting and applied art in the garden’s airy pavilion.
More than 30 artists take part in this event from April to September, and then there’s a smaller autumn exhibition from October to December.
9. Museummolen Jan Pol
Five kilometres away in the outlying village of Dalen there’s a fine smock mill, built in 1876 to replace an earlier mill that burnt down after a lighting strike.
The tallest surviving windmill in Drenthe, Jan Pol is just shy of 22 metres, with a three-storey brick base and a three-storey thatched smock above a wooden gallery.
Jan Pol was used for making wheat flour and husking, and after three decades of disuse following the war, was restored in the early-1970s.
You can drop by from the beginning of April to the beginning of November on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons to see the mill’s working cogs and shafts.
Coevorden is on the longest walking trail in the Netherlands, winding down the country’s east flank for 498 kilometres from Pieterburen on the Wadden Sea to Mount Saint Peter, south of Maastricht and on the border with Belgium.
If you’re in the mood for a day hike in Coevorden, you could walk the leg to Hardenberg, 19 kilometres to the southwest, following the path’s famous white-red markings.
The countryside is bucolic on this section of the path, as you enter the picture-perfect Vecht river valley at De Haandrik, and encounter Highland cattle and grazing horses on the way.
Cyclists can also ride beside the Vecht on the LF 16 trail, which traces the course of the river from the source in Darfeld, Germany to the mouth at Zwolle.