One of the cities that I’ve been quite curious about is Oudewater. This small town in the Utrecht region has a dark secret. For many years, suspected witches from all over Europe have come here, which has left an interesting legacy for this cute and sleepy town. This day trip guide to Oudewater includes a guide on where to eat in Oudewater, the cutest shops in Oudewater, and what to do in Oudewater.
I worked together with the Visit Utrecht Region Tourism Board although all opinions are my own.
Oudewater is a bit tricky to get to compared to some other places in the Netherlands, but if you’re fascinated by its witch history, I’d argue that it’s worth the trip to this adorable town. We ended up biking about thirty minutes from Woerden after renting bikes from the Bike Totaal. The route was very scenic straight out of a postcard with polders, sheep, and canals. You can also take a bus from Woerden if the weather isn’t as good. (Google Maps works well for the Netherlands.) If you choose, you can spend the morning at the Woerden Cheese Market (seasonal) prior to setting off for Oudewater by bike.
Maybe it’s my American upbringing, but as soon as I arrived in Oudewater, it reminded me of Salem. The town has immense beauty and immediately, I was taken with its scenic canals and buildings that go up to the waterline. Salem also has happily played into its slightly dark witch history (also related to witch hunting) and turned the town into a reflection upon its legacy. On a related note, I saw lots of friendly kitties in Oudewater. Take that with a grain of salt!
Lunch in Oudewater
As soon we arrived at Oudewater by bike, we ended up having lunch at 3
Browsing the shops
Close to the city center, you’ll find a number of cute boutiques to step into. My favorite shop had to be the aptly named Hocus Pocus, which is a charming chocolate shop that also sells witch hats. My favorite had to be their chocolate made with apple pie spices, but you can’t go wrong here. They also sell liquor made in town as well as hot chocolate spoons. (I also stepped into the local knitting shop to browse their wool for my next knitting project.)
Canal cruise of Oudewater
Afterward, we took a scenic canal cruise of Oudewater to learn more about the history of Oudewater. Oudewater is a fairly old town with strong ties to the rope industry. You can book a canal cruise in Dutch or English at the tourism office next to the Heksenwaag museum for 6 euros for adults with reduced rates for children.
It’s thought that Oudewater started in the 8th century as it had a key location near the Ijssel river and the Lange Linschoten river. The city gained its city rights in 1265. It suffered immensely during the 80-year war in the hands of the Spanish due to its recognition of William of Orange as their rightful governor. The siege resulted in the murder of nearly the entire town’s population and the destruction of most of the medieval city.
Shortly after this tragedy, Oudewater rebuilt itself and prospered. Cheese and ropes were a major industry for Oudewater, which cultivated hemp to create high-quality ropes used for the boats sailing to Indonesia and beyond. (Van der Lee was the oldest family-run rope company in Europe until 2013 when it was bought up.)
During the canal cruise, we were able to enjoy the views from the open boat, including the interesting City tower, which was part of the medieval city walls. The location of Oudewater made it quite prosperous as it collected taxes, which resulted in a small area on the town outskirts that was used for smuggling. I really enjoyed seeing some of the decorated buildings decorated with ornaments alluding to the rope industry. Quite a few of the buildings were built by one architecture who had his home decorated as a form of advertisement!
Witch Weighing House
Cheese has remained a major industry to this day, which is why the weighing house in Oudewater was built in the 16th century. Oudewater cultivated a reputation for being fair, even gaining the approval of the Holy Roman Emperor for its fairness in weighing.
At the time, witches were believed to be super light, which enabled them to fly. At some point, people started weighing people in Oudewater, supposedly the fairest scale in the Netherlands, to determine if they were witches. Today, you can visit the Oudewater Witch Weighing House, which is a museum about witchcraft. You can read more about the history of this museum and logistics in another blog.
I’d recommend enjoying your time in Oudewater a bit longer before heading back. You’ll find a number of cozy brown cafes in Oudewater, including the cozy Café Tante Pietje, where you can get a beer. After a beer, you could head to dinner at one of the cozy restaurants in Oudewater before heading back to Woerden to catch the train (or dinner).