Oudewater is a lovely little town in the Western Netherlands. Halfway between Utrecht and Gouda and once an important industrial center of the rope industry, this small place is both easily accessible and packed with historic charm.
Before the unification of the Netherlands, Oudewater (or Old Water) was situated right on the border of historic Holland and Utrecht. The origins of the town and its name are largely unknown, but records show that the town gained city rights in 1265, given by the bishop of Utrecht, Hendrik van Vianden. Its location on the confluence of the Linschoten river and the Hollandse IJssel allowed Oudewater to develop as an important industrial center in the 16th and 17th century, with the production of rope being the main economic activity.
Inhabitants of Oudewater are nicknamed "geelbuiken", or "yellow bellies", after the dried, yellow hemp stems that the rope makers used to wrap around their waist as part of the production process.
- Tourist Information Point, Leeuweringerstraat 10, ☎ +31 348 561628. Apr 1 - Oct 31: Tu-Sa 10-16h, Su 11-15h, winter: W, F, Sa: 11-15h. The tourist information point is helpful if you have any questions, but also sells tickets for the boat trips, guided walks and single entry "tourist cards" that give access to both museums.
The N228 passes right through Oudewater on its way from Utrecht to Gouda, and both cities are about a 20 minute drive away. Alternatively, take the A12 highway from Utrecht, and exit Nieuwerbrug. This route may be just a few minutes faster, depending on which part of Utrecht you're coming from, but it's also less scenic.
Situated in the middle of the so-called "Green Heart"-region, Oudewater makes an excellent biking destination. The village can be reached via roads and biking paths from several directions.
The nearest train stations are in Woerden, Utrecht and Gouda. From all those places, direct bus connections run to Oudewater. From Utrecht Central Station, take bus lines 107 or 207, leaving twice per hour from the Jaarbeurszijde. From Gouda, bus 107 leaves twice per hour too, in the opposite direction. From Woerden, buses 105 and 505 run to Oudewater every half hour.
Situated along the Hollandse IJssel, Oudewater is also a popular boating destination. The town has about 530 meters worth of mooring places for visitors, and they're free too.
The town itself is small and getting around is best done on foot. If you're coming here by car, you'll find plenty of free parking facilities in and directly around the center. Biking is great way to see some of the surrounding rural areas and villages, but you'll need to bring your own bike or rent one in Utrecht or Gouda.
There are about 120 registered monuments in the city, and most can be found in the center, on the market square and in the surrounding streets. Wandering around is one of the main attractions, as there's something cosy an historic about this places. For that reason, Oudewater was the filming location for several popular Dutch tv shows, including Swiebertje, a Dutch children's book series brought on screen in the 1960's. The series ran for over 10 years and was highly popular. A statue of the vagabond Swiebertje can be seen close to the Visbrug.
If you're interested in the town's museums, consider purchasing a Tourist Card at the tourist information point (€7,50/2,50 for adults/children) It gives access to the Waag and the Rope Museum and comes with a nice booklet, containing a city walk and information on the town.
- Waag, Leeuweringerstraat 2. Apr 1st - Nov 1st: 11-17h, closed on Mondays. Other months: Fr-Sa-Su, 11-17h. The 15th century Waag, or weigh house, is also called the "witches' scale", as it was used to weigh women and determine whether or not they possessed witchcraft in the 16th to 18th century. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V gave the Oudewater Waag the privilege to perform such test, making it the only official with weight in Europe at that time. There's no proof of anyone ever being convicted for witchcraft here, though, and only a small number of women were weighed there to prove their innocence. Today, it's one of the town's main attractions. The top floor of the building is now a small museum, housing the witch weigh and offering "certificates" to visitors, confirming them to not be witches due to the test results. €5/2,50 for adults/children.
- City Hall, Visbrug. The town's city hall was extensively renovated and renewed in 1887, but was built as early as 1588. On the roof there's a small bell tower, with a 1699 bell made by Pierre Hemony. The building is used for marriage ceremonies but otherwise not open to the public.
- Touwmuseum 'De Baanschuur' (Rope Museum), Reijersteeg 4, ☎ +31 348 567832. Tu-Sa 11-17h, Su 12-17h. This small museum has a nice collection on the product that was so vital for Oudewater's development: rope. It's closed in winter, but if you're willing to pay extra (about €25) they will often open, also in the evening (evening openings in weekend cost €50). Make sure to arrange any special openings in advance, however. €3/1.50 for adults/children.
The town itself is fairly small but the surroundings are quite lovely to explore too, and known as the "green heart" of the wider region. *Hiking and biking is popular and routes are widely available. Many use Oudewater as a day trip biking or hiking destination, enjoying lunch or a drink on one of the town's terraces before returning or moving on. Other fun activities include:
- Boat trip. A boat trip through the compact network of canals in the city comes with a nice explanation of the historic buildings you pass. It's a fun and relaxing way to see the town and understand its history. The tours are carried out with small group boats, take about 40 minutes and leave opposite the tourist information center, which is the place to arrange them. It's best to make arrangements ahead if you want to join an English language tour. €6.
The town center has all the shops you'll need on a daily basis, including supermarkets, drugstores, bookstores and such. The market square and surrounding streets hold most of them, and are also the most interesting area to stroll around. For local delicacies, try the following:
- Hocus Pocus Zoetwaren, Leeuweringerstraat 9. This traditional sweets store takes you back in time, both through it's old interior and the traditional candies it sells. Some typical Oudewaternaatjes (chocolates) or witch hat licorice are a perfect gift to bring back home.
- Bakery Stijnman, Korte Havenstraat 6. Mo-F 7.00-17.30, Sa 7.00-16.00. This third generation family-run bakery has several local delicacies for sale, some traditional ones and some reinvented, as well as a wide range of fresh breads.
The market square is the beating heart of the town, and when the weather allows, local establishments set up several outdoor terraces for food and drinks.
- De Rendezvous Bontekoe, Wijdstraat 25, ☎ +31 348-564865. This casual place serves French inspired dishes. You can either opt to have them in the form of a normal menu, or as a tapas menu, for which the same (but more) dishes come in small portions. Mains from €20, tapas menu from €30.
- Brasserie Joia, Havenstraat 1, ☎ +31 348 567 150. Nice bistro dishes. Vegetarian options are limited and waiting times between courses can be a bit on the long side, but all in all a popular place with many satisfied customers. €32.
- Restaurant Abrona, Broeckerstraat 20. Part of the Hotel Abrona, the staff of this restaurant also consist in large parts of people with disabilities. The service is very friendly and enthusiastic and the food remarkably good. €28.
- Hotel Abrona, Broeckerstraat 20, ☎ +31 348 567466. This cosy hotel is run by people with mental disabilities, offering them a chance to learn skills that might allow them to work in the regular hotel world. Rooms are simple but well-maintained and the staff is very friendly. The hotel has 24 double rooms, all with private bathrooms and free wifi. There's also an on-site restaurant and room rates include breakfast. €72/90 for a single/double.
- Bed & Breakfast De Ruige Weide, Ruige Weide 9, ☎ +31 6 205 46 554. Out of town, this is a good place for those who have their own means of transport or care for a hike. It's a lovely, family-run place with gardens around. The rooms are modernly decorated and the whole thing is housed in a historic farm building. From €70/85 for a single/double.
Hotels offer free wifi and there's good reception for mobile internet services via 3G. For postal offices, head to:
- Postal service point, Leeuweringerstraat 22 (Inside Read Shop bookstore). Open Mo-F 8.00-18.00h, Sa 8.00-16.00. The Read Shop doubles as a post office, offering all regular services including postal packages.
You're in the hear of the Western Netherlands here, and a wide range of famous Dutch destinations are within easy reach. Tourist magnets like Amsterdam (50 minutes), Delft (40 minutes) and The Hague (50 minutes) are obvious choices, but even closer by there are some excellent options. Gouda is a 20 minute drive and famous for its cheese and stroopwafel cookies. Utrecht is a bustling, historic student city 20 minutes in the other direction, and an underestimated destination. Dordrecht is a small and easy to manage town, but with a lovely historic centre, while modern Rotterdam is a great next stop if you love modern architecture.
For more traditional Dutch experiences, consider taking the provincial route to the windmills of Kinderdijk, just over 30km from Oudewater.