Even older than Amsterdam, Doesburg is a fortified city where the Oude IJssel flows into Gelderse IJssel, a branch of the Rhine.
In Medieval times trade on the IJssel was booming, and during this period Doesburg was the economic capital of a region called the Doesburg Quarter, part of the larger Zutphen Quarter.
The IJssel began to silt up in the 16th century, so much of Doesburg’s finest heritage is late-Medieval, like the city hall, weigh house and Church of St Martin (Martinikerk). Mustard has been produced in Doesburg for well over 500 years, and there’s a mustard-making museum to check out, while mustard soup is a traditional preparation that shows up on local menus.
1. Historic Centre
Doesburg was granted city rights in 1237, six decades before Amsterdam, and the street pattern has remained largely the same since Medieval times.
Being at the confluence of the Oude IJssel and Gelderse IJssel, Doesburg had real strategic importance, but has escaped widespread damage since the French army departed in 1674. The city’s sophisticated defences remained unused, allowing more than 150 buildings in the centre to gain national monument status.
Most of the top sights and attractions in Doesburg are listed below, but the compact, walkable centre, with gaslights and brick houses decorated in flowers, is a treat even if you have no particular destination.
The first Sunday of the month is Culturele Zondag, when almost 30 workshops, galleries and museums open to the public.
In the summer holidays, guided tours of the city centre are given by the tourist office on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at 15:00.
2. Museum de Roode Tooren
To see how people lived and worked in Doesburg and its immediate environs in days gone by, you can drop by this well-curated regional museum.
The exhibition has a tobacco shop interior from 1894 and a grocery store from 1880 and then 1940. In display cases there’s a compelling assortment of items relating to arts and crafts, religion, trade, agriculture, folklore, textiles, archaeology and geology.
There are models depicting the city in 1560 and 1655, as well as a model for a remarkable pontoon bridge that served as a crossing on the IJssel until the road bridge was completed in the 1950s.
The shop sells all kinds of heritage products, like handmade toys, puzzles, traditional candy, Dutch “reading boards” for kids and Doesburg mustard.
3. Het Arsenaal 1309
Established as a nunnery in 1309, this tall building with two rows of dormers in its roof became an arsenal for the newly fortified city in 1730. From then on the building became homes and then an antiques shop.
Now the Arsenal 1309 is a multiuse amenity for the city.
You can visit to soak up the history of the building and its courtyard.
But there’s also the Grand-café, wine store, whiskey distillery, a dance studio and cinema screenings in the evenings.
During the restoration some interesting things were brought to light here, like a graveyard for 50 people on the site of the car park, and the opening to a Medieval lime pit in the basement.
And if you’re up for some entertainment after dark in Doesburg you can find out what live shows or club nights are in store.
4. Doesburgsche Mosterdfabriek
Doesburg has been making wholegrain mustard since the middle of the 15th century and you can learn about the city’s relationship with this condiment at a mustard factory-turned-museum.
The factory added an exhibition in the 1970s, collecting old-time mustard-making equipment from factories that had closed down in Doesburg.
You’ll find out how Doesburg’s mustard industry came about, why people ate so much mustard in times past and watch the old mustard-making utensils at work.
And since you’re in Doesburg, you have to sample the local speciality, mustard soup.
This can come with bacon in the time-honoured fashion, or smoked salmon for a modern interpretation of the recipe.
5. De Waag
Weigh houses like this lovely example at Koepoortstraat 2 were a feature of Medieval Dutch cities, as a place to weigh goods brought into town to calculate excise duties.
Doesburg’s brick-built weigh house is from 1478 and has stepped gables with Nederrijn Gothic pinnacles.
The tenant of the weigh house had the monopoly on the sale of foreign beers in Doesburg, so De Waag was also a pub and warehouse for beer.
The pub is still in business today, making it one of the longest running catering establishments in the Netherlands.
Try to get a table in the basement, where you can dine under a cross vault.
6. Société Musée Lalique Pays Bas
On Gasthuisstraat there’s a museum for the master of Art Nouveau and Art Deco glass design, René Lalique (1860-1945). The location is a delight, in two houses listed as national monuments, and with dainty stained glass windows.
The museum has a dazzling collection of Lalique’s perfume bottles, glass sculptures, jewellery and ornamental vases.
Also in the exhibition are touch screens where you can zoom in to view the secret details and symbols Lalique added to many of his pieces.
And at the time of writing there was a year-long exhibition for the glasswork of Marc Chagall, up to June 2019.
7. Doesburg Defensive Lines
You only need to look at a map to identify the intricate defensive system protecting Doesburg by land from the south and east.
These embankments, trenches, ravelins, ramparts and batteries were built in 1700 and designed by the famed military engineer Menno van Coehoorn.
Now they’re in 30 hectares of open countryside and combine military history with unfettered nature.
To the south, on marshy ground by an arm of the IJssel is the simpler low defence line.
Now wetlands with dense reedbeds, you can amble across the low defence line by setting off from the Turfhaven or Kraakselaan roads.
The high defence line is to the east and more complex as it was built to protect Doesburg’s most vulnerable flank.
This side has been left closed to the public to allow nature to flourish, but tours are given several times a year via the Museum de Roode Tooren.
A Dutch national monument, Doesburg’s city hall is a pair of two Medieval buildings that were merged in 1663. The Wijnhuis, a 14th-century former wine cellar with a stepped gable and blind round arch windows, lies to the west, while the 15th-century Schepenhuis (house of the Aldermen) is on the corner of Roggen- and Koepoortstraat and also has a stepped gable, with Nederrijn Gothic pinnacles like the weigh house opposite.
If you get the chance to go inside, the basement has fine cross vaulting with Gothic keystones, while the mantelpiece in the council chamber features decorative stuccowork depicting Solomon’s judgement and composed in 1665.
Beside the mustard factory on Meipoortstraat you’ll come to a passageway marked “Gildehof”, which leads through to snug courtyard bounded by shops trading in antique books, arts and crafts, fashion, curiosities and specialty foods.
In the middle is De Zwarte Kat (The Black Cat), which sums up the Gildehof.
This is a homey emporium selling a bit of everything, from candles to vintage lighting, second-hand books to decorative arts.
Make sure to investigate Azijnmakerij Piperita, which has a large range of vinegars, including garlic, basil and elderberry, as well as homemade wax candles, honey and lots of different kitchen herbs and teas.
At 94 metres, the Doesburg’s Martinikerk has the eighth tallest church tower in the Netherlands.
This tower hasn’t had an easy time, as it was damaged by lightning strikes in 1547 and 1717, and badly damaged first by the French in the 1672 and then the retreating German army in 1945. The tower was fully restored in 1945 and like the nave and chancel has a late-Gothic design.
Go inside if you can because there are some interesting fittings, including several ledger stones from the 16th century, as well as 17th-century chandeliers and furniture like a pulpit, stalls and a communion table.
In the south aisle there’s a 15th-century painting of Agnes of Rome, while there are traces of paintings in the vaulting of the “Anna choir”, dated to about 1530. Concerts take place regularly at the Martinikerk, as well as recitals on the Walcker organ, installed in 1916.
11. Veluwezoom National Park
West of Doesburg the landscape becomes hillier as you approach the Veluwezoom National Park.
These hills, composed of sand were moulded by glaciers during the second to last ice age, some 150,000 years ago.
In 15 minutes you can reach one of the highest points in the Veluwe, the Posbank at 90 metres and blessed with dreamy views of the heathland, which turns a gorgeous shade of purple in late July.
In autumn you can come to the red deer in rut, when the stags clash and roar to compete for does.
Even closer to Doesburg is the Heuven estate, one of a few historic properties on the south side of the park.
Here you’ll find the Veluwezoom’s visitor centre where there’s a playground for children, and information about the park’s plants and animals.
12. IJssel River
The IJssel is hailed by some as the most beautiful river in the Netherlands, and could occupy you for days if you take detours into its wetland regions and along tributaries like the Oude IJssel to the south of Doesburg.
Right in Doesburg you can connect with the Hanzeroute, 133 kilometres long and on the course of the merchant vessels that used to sail the river in the days of the Hanseatic League.
This winds along dikes and over meadows that are often underwater in winter.
Starting on the Oude Ijssel at Laag-Keppel you can catch a ferry to Arnhem or Zutphen.
The IJssel can be just as rewarding if you plan to nothing at all and watch the boats drift by from the newly landscaped quayside on the west side of the city.