In the Middle Ages, Hasselt was located in the Zuiderzee, a brackish bay in the North Sea, and as a member of the Hanseatic League, he was a major player in Nordic trade in the 15th century.
But after losing business to other, better-located trading posts in the 16th century, Hasselt fell into relative obscurity, remaining a small but fortified town of 7,000. Once an important pilgrimage site, the old centre now has Dutch heritage (more than 70) and a canal ring with typical Dutch sailing barges moored.
The town’s church has a tower that can be climbed, while working windmills and lime kilns provide the epitome of traditional livelihoods.
1. Small Town Tour
The town centre of Hasselt is a Dutch “protected urban landscape” with more than 70 national monuments (rijksmonumenten). Most of these are located in the compact core, still defended from the east by the fort’s defensive points, partly converted into a park.
You don’t even need a map to see the best spots in Hasselt, as the center is bite-sized and broken up by a picturesque canal ring, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
The Ridderstraat is also lovely, meandering through the low brick houses between the canal locks on Zwarte Water and the historic town hall.
Further up, the Nieuwstraat has most of Hasselt’s local shops, such as florists, confectioners and bike shops.
2. Sint-Stephanuskerk Grote
Wherever you are in Hasselt, you should be able to see the tower of this late Gothic church, built during the golden years of Hasselt in the 15th century.
The building has suffered some misfortunes since then, such as the attack by Zwolle’s army in 1657 (more on Vespter’s attack) and the lightning strike in 1725. and the 1806 Knol Organ, while the City Carillon regularly gives concerts on the newly restored carillon.
Head to the Stadhuis in summer and you can book a spot on a guided tour (13:30-14:30 on Wednesdays) to climb the church tower.
On the way up the mountain, you will stop at the carillon’s room for an impromptu performance.
3. Old Town Hall
Just next door in the middle of the Hasselt Central Market is one of the oldest town halls in the Netherlands.
The Oude Stadhuis is also a late Gothic building dating back to 1550 and is well preserved.
Partly shaded by linden trees in the square, the monument has a stepped gable with intricate brick turrets and masonry bands around the windows.
The Oude Stadhuis is the venue for the Toeristisch Informatiepunt (TIP) in Hasselt, so you can get in for free during business hours from Monday to Saturday.
If the schedule is clear, you can visit the stunning wedding hall with 17th century paintings and zoom in on an array of original weapons including halberds, morning stars and arquebuses.
4. Molen De Zwaluw
This delightful workwear mill is in working order and has stood on the east side of the city walls since 1784. There is an earlier mill at this location dating back to the 16th century, while the current building needed rebuilding after a fire in 1857. In 2017, the upper floors of De Zwaluw were thatched cottages, atop a wooden porch and brick foundation.
The sail is nearly 22 meters long and can be seen turning if there is a light wind on Saturday afternoon.
This means the mill is grinding and you are welcome to visit the millstone turning and buy a bag of organic flour.
5. Carl Covance Hasselt
On the northeastern edge of the fortified town, there are a pair of historic lime kilns, preserved as museums.
Lime kilns, which were essential to Hasselt during the Hanseatic League, produced shell lime, a key ingredient in mortar and concrete.
To make this substance, the shells must be heated to temperatures in excess of 1000°C in these ovens.
Peat is needed to light the ovens and is brought in by boat from the nearby port town of Wallenhof, while the shells come from the coast of the North Sea.
The resulting lime is exported to the north and south of the Netherlands.
Open Monday through Friday afternoons, the museum brings a forgotten industry to life using antique tools and documents.
In this provincial town, you might be surprised to find a stately ring of canals, like Amsterdam in miniature.
At Baangracht, Prinsengracht, Heerengracht and Brouwersgracht there are manicured linden trees, beautiful canal houses, locks, piers and lovely drawbridges.
This is probably the most photogenic spot in town, with traditional Dutch boats (sailboats) in the water, iron gas lights and some picnic benches where you can soak for a while.
7. Christopher Fairpard
The best way to see more of the very diverse landscape around Upper IJssel is on a two-day 40km walk.
Christoffelpad uses some of the trails that pilgrims have walked for centuries on their way to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and now lead to Weerribben-Wieden National Park and the IJssel Delta.
On this route you will encounter medieval dykes, woodlands, marshes, canals, rivers, peat bogs, reed beds, modern polders and many spiritual sites associated with the pilgrimage.
Besides Hasselt, the walking tour includes charming and historic settlements such as Zwartsluis and Vollenhove, both with beautiful harbours and built around the trade of the former Zuiderzee.
It might be interesting to see what methods have been used for waterproofing over the centuries.
More so when you remember that the wall was meant to block the sea no longer.
The Zuiderzee, part of the North Sea, was dammed by Afsluitdijk (1932), while the land west of Hasselt was reclaimed in the following decades.
Today a Dutch heritage, Rijksmonument, Stenendijk is over a kilometer long and was first mentioned in 1558. Lots of greenery along the walls and views of De Zwaluw and Sint-Stephanuskerk Grote, so it’s worth a short stop.
In the 1650s, Hasselt was involved in a civil war in Upper IJssel, and this is where the real curiosity about one of the last remnants of the city walls began.
In those days the Vispoort (fish gate) gave access to the waters and later the fish market on the pier.
The monument is fairly understated, save for the stone cannonballs embedded in the brick as you approach the portal from the outside.
This was left in place to commemorate the siege of 1657.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Hasselt, The Netherlands
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