A quaint village on the northern cusp of the Dwingelderveld National Park, Dwingeloo may be small but has a big personality in the summer.
In this season the lush village green becomes a stage for events like an international ceramic art fair on May 30. If your idea of perfect relaxation means blissful walks, bike rides and horseback treks in unspoiled nature, Dwingeloo may be up your street.
The Dwingelderveld National Park has big skies, immense tracts of wet heathland and fens that glisten in the early evening.
1. Dwingelderveld National Park
The park’s northwest boundary grazes the village, so you can walk along country lanes or hop on a bike to be in this landscape.
Dwingelderveld National Park is the largest expanse of wet heathland in western Europe, covering 3,700 hectares.
The countryside varies from sandy hills to damp low-lying heath interspersed with dozens of fens.
Some of these fens date from the last Ice Age, and support an astonishing diversity of wildlife.
Almost all Dutch reptile species reside in the park, along with rare cranberry blue butterflies, roe deer, falcons, buzzards and woodpeckers.
Grazing has been introduced to help maintain the heathland, and close to the visitor centre there’s a thatched sheepfold with a herd of 300 Drenthe Heath sheep, taken out to graze on the heathland every morning with a pair of sheepdogs.
2. Bezoekerscentrum Dwingelderveld
That visitor centre is at Benderse in the park’s southwest nook.
It’s worth making the ten-minute detour before starting your walk or bike ride in the national park to swot up on its wildlife and get some inspiration for activities.
There’s a scale model of the moorland, tips for spotting wildlife, detailed information about the park’s natural species, all backed-up with audiovisual presentations.
You can get a taster of the park’s landscapes at the pond outside, which has a boardwalk and an information panel, while kids can ride the swings and balance on logs among the birches in the play area.
Being one of only two Zeiss planetariums in the Netherlands, Planetron is a major Dutch stargazing attraction.
On Saturday evenings the 123-seater planetarium puts on live shows, speeding you to distant celestial bodies like the North Star, the rings of Saturn and Ursa Major, all the while passing on mind-bending facts.
This commentated feed comes from the observatory’s telescope (the most powerful optical telescope in the country). Afterwards there’s a guided tour through the observatory and you’ll get to peer through the telescope with your own eyes.
If you happen to come on an overcast night you can keep your ticket to return when the skies are clear.
A national monument, Dwingeloo’s 15th-century church opens on Wednesdays and Thursdays during the summer.
The Sint-Nicolaaskerk looks quite like any church in the Drenthe region, for a reason that we’ll come to later.
The tower is thought to be the oldest Gothic church tower in Drenthe, and has an onion dome on its steeple, built in the 1631 at the behest of Drenthe’s drost (title similar to a steward), Rutger van den Boetzelaer.
There’s a contemporary painting of Rutger and his third wife, Batina van Lohn.
The nave was almost wrecked by a fire in 1923, and was given a barrel vault in the restoration, decorated with Art Deco flower motifs.
The organ meanwhile was made in 1886 and was transferred here from the Hague’s Paleiskerk in 1985.
5. De Juffer van Batinghe (The Damsel of Batinge)
One of Dwingeloo’s five historic manors was known as Batinge, and a fictional young woman from this neck of the woods is the subject of a fun local legend.
When the church was being built in the 15th century she took a fancy to the main builder and would ride past each day.
For his part, the builder took a shine to the maiden, and became so distracted that he could no longer do his job properly.
The only way the church could be finished was by sending her away on a trip, but not before she told the builder a dream she had about how the church should be completed.
The builder finished the building to her plans, and the couple married.
And that’s one fanciful explanation for the Sint-Nicolaaskerk’s unusual lines.
There’s a horseback statue of this maiden on the green in front of the church.
6. De Brink
Dwingeloo’s central green sums up the village’s rural character.
Equivalent to a park, the Brink is planted with tall oaks and beech trees, and has many of Dwingeloo’s amenities fronting it.
There’s a smattering of restaurants, as well as the tourist information centre and a bicycle hire shop.
At No. 12 stands the schultehuis dating to 1675, now the official residence for the mayor of Dwingeloo,. There’s a bandstand on the main green, and a historic fire pond, known as “De Riete”. The Brink is the venue for many of Dwingeloo’s public events, including a market on Wednesdays in July and August.
7. Dwingeloo Radio Observatory
When it was unveiled by Queen Juliana in 1956, this radio telescope near Dwingeloo was the largest in the world.
Built by Philips, the national machine factory Werkspoor N.V. and a group of Dutch universities, the dish is a national monument, has a diameter of 25 metres and weighs about 120 tons.
Two galaxies, Dwingeloo 1 and Dwingeloo 2, are named after this instrument, which is still in working order and is used by amateur astronomers and radio operators after a restoration in 2012. For everyday visitors the observatory is a sight that you can photograph on the path beside the Davidsplassen lake in the national park.
Dwingeloo’s countryside and the national park are effortless to visit by bike, and the lack of steep slopes allows you to coast and admire the scenery.
Many of the paths in the park are paved with asphalt and belong to a whole nexus of bike paths equipped with something called “Fietsknooppunten” (Bicycle Nodes), which have clear maps so you’ll never get lost.
As we mentioned above there’s a bike shop right on the Brink in Dwingeloo, Reiber Rijwielen, hiring out tandems, e-bikes, mountain bikes and even trailers for dogs.
Ascension Day (May 30) is a public holiday in the Netherlands, and in Dwingeloo the date is marked with a ceramics fair on the Brink.
This is organised by the prestigious Stichting Keramisten Noord-Nederland (North Netherlands Ceramicists’ Foundation), which consists of more than 200 members.
On Ascension Day the village is thronged with thousands of visitors, as some 90 ceramic artists from the Netherlands and abroad show off their work.
These go far beyond simple trinkets, and can be dazzling pieces of contemporary design, busts or monumental sculptures.
Coinciding with the fair there’s live music, demonstrations and workshops.
10. Oogstdag (Harvest Day)
And if you need any more evidence that Dwingeloo is a rural kind of place, come down on harvest day in mid-August.
This is an agricultural heritage event, when people dress up in typical rural costume and work the land as their ancestors did for generations . At the tiny hamlet of Lhee you’ll get a complete picture of how corn was harvested and processed.
Workers take to the fields with sickles, scythes, horse-drawn harvesters and bind the sheaths.
There’s much more going on, like bakers kneading dough for the outdoor oven, threshing competitions and displays of vintage machinery like an old threshing machine pulled by a steam tractor from 1900.
11. Horseback Riding
Drenthe’s misty moors and woodland are laced with bridleways, and Dwingeloo is the sort of country village that has no shortage of stables on its doorstep.
Close by is Manege De Drift, a riding school that also provides pony and horse hire for experienced riders, for anything from one hour to a whole day.
Supervised treks are also available, both during the day and as the sun is goes down.
Families with small children could take a horse-drawn wagon ride, which you drive by yourself or with a coach driver provided by the riding school.
Other riding options within minutes of Dwingeloo are Stal de Brinkhof, Trail Ranch, Stal Vos and Paardrijcentrum “Zonnetij”.
12. Bosbad de Paasbergen
On the fringe of the national park, just a kilometre from Dwingeloo, there’s an outdoor pool in the middle of a forest.
As one of only two public places to swim locally, the pool is big news in summer, and has a 40-metre slide, a separated paddling pool for smaller children and a spacious sunbathing area.
The pool is attached to two local campsites, Torentjeshoek and De Noordster, which offer a variety of activities for day visitors, like beach volleyball, football and a zip-line.
13. Blauwe Meer
A nature reserve has been founded where an old brick factory and sand extraction site used to be.
The pit dates from the early 20th century and has become a lake with mesmerising blue waters caused by the mineral glauconite present in the sand.
The Blauwe Meer is a magnet for sunbathers and swimmers in summer.
Parents with smaller children may need to take care as the lakeshore shelves quite sharply, although there is a bathing area suitable for non-swimmers by the entrance.
Bring a picnic and you can dine below in the shade of the trees on the surrounding former agricultural land.