Meppel is a small city in Drenthe, Netherlands. The city has a little less than 35.000 inhabitants and it is the fourth largest town in the province of Drenthe. Meppel is known as a tourist-friendly town with friendly people and nice surroundings. It has a lot of opportunities for tourists and also around the small town there are great things to explore. The picturesque village of Giethoorn is just about 10 kilometres away and larger towns as Zwolle, Leeuwarden, Groningen and even Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht can be reached by car in less than two hours.
The written history of Meppel began around 1141 AD, when it was nothing more than a couple of farms at the place where three small rivers (Reest, Wold Aa and Beilerstroom) merged into one bigger river, the Sethe (currently known as Meppelerdiep). The city acquired city rights in 1644, which were once again confirmed by Napoleon in 1809. This strategic position made Meppel developing to a regional trading town, which it still is today.
The presence of many canals, a relatively large Jewish community and many trading contacts with Amsterdam during the nineteenth century resulted in Meppel getting the nickname Klein-Mokum or Klein-Amsterdam. Although most of the similarities between Amsterdam and Meppel faded away over the years, there still are strong connections between the two places. Each year in August there is a festival in Meppel for which busloads full of Amsterdammers head to Meppel for a day full of old-fashioned Dutch songs and canal festivities. Since a few years there even is a canal parade in the canals of Meppel on this day.
Meppel is historically seen a relatively important place in the transportation network of the Northern Netherlands, and as such, it can be easily reached by both road and rail.
The nearest airport is Groningen Airport Eelde, located just south of Groningen. It is very small however, having only a few flights per week to London and some holiday destinations. From Groningen Airport Eelde it is about 45 minutes to Meppel by car. If you come by public transport, you first have to take bus 2 or 9 from the airport to the railway station in Groningen and then take one of the 2 trains per hour to Meppel.
It is likely more convenient to fly to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, one of the biggest airports in Europe with connections all across the globe. From Schiphol Airport, Meppel can be reached by car in less than 1.5 hours (given there are no traffic jams) or by train in 1.5 hour (one direct train per hour, one with a change of platforms in Zwolle).
Meppel is located at the intersection of the A28 (Utrecht-Zwolle-Groningen) and A32 (Meppel-Leeuwarden) highways and is therefore an important transportation hub in the Northern Netherlands. The overview below shows some indicative driving times from Meppel to other locations in the Netherlands.
- Groningen - 1 hour
- Leeuwarden - 50 minutes
- Zwolle - 15 minutes
- Utrecht - 1 hour 15 minutes
- Amsterdam - 1 hour 25 minutes (via Emmeloord-Almere)
- Rotterdam - 1 hour 45 minutes (via Utrecht)
- The Hague - 2 hours (via Utrecht-Gouda)
Meppel is also connected by regular bus lines to towns and villages in the surroundings. The overview below shows the most frequently used bus lines that might be of interest to a visitor.
- Assen via Havelte, Diever and Smilde: line 20 (Qbuzz)
- Zwolle via Staphorst and Rouveen: line 40 (Syntus)
- Hoogeveen via Ruinerwold and Ruinen: line 32 (Qbuzz)
- Zuidwolde via De Wijk: line 34 (Qbuzz)
To reach Giethoorn from Meppel, take the train to Steenwijk (any train to Leeuwarden also stops in Steenwijk) and then take bus 70 to Giethoorn (direction Zwolle), or in the summer months you can also use bus 249 from Steenwijk.
There are four trains per hour to Zwolle (17 minutes) and four to Leeuwarden (45 minutes), two per hour to Groningen (50 minutes) and one train hourly to both The Hague (2 hours) and Rotterdam (2 hours). The train to The Hague also stops in Almere, Amsterdam and Leiden, while also providing an hourly connection to Schiphol Airport. The train to Rotterdam also stops at Amersfoort, Utrecht and Gouda.
Historically, Meppel is seen as the gateway to the Northern Netherlands by boat due to its convenient location nearby waterways (rivers and canals). It is still possible to arrive here by boat, but only with your own ship/vessel. This is a great way to explore the surroundings, especially those to the west of Meppel.
Everything of interest from a tourist's perspective is easily reached on foot. The city centre is only a 5 minute walk from the railway station. If you for whatever reason intend to visit the residential areas however, there is a local bus line (line 1) that goes from the railway station to the neighbourhoods of Oosterboer, Haveltermade and Koedijkslanden, stopping at the station each time between going to the neighbourhoods. It also stops in the city centre.
Meppel is not a very famous nor a very unusual town, but it is prized for its quiet and tourist-friendly atmosphere. It is particularly nice as a base for visiting the surrounding regions, as it has ample facilities in terms of shops, bars, restaurants and the like. The historic town centre and the Oud-Zuid neighbourhood are nice enough to make Meppel a half-day's destination of its own, however.
Below you find a short overview of some attractions in the city of Meppel itself.
- Grote of Mariakerk - The largest and oldest church of Meppel (built in 1422). It is located on the Kerkplein (Church Square), in the very centre of town. It has an iconic tower with a small cupola on top of it that can sometimes be climed for a bird's eye view of the town. Address: Kerkplein 1.
View of the Mariakerk from the Wheem (Grote Markt) square.
- Iameppel Sign - After the famous 'Iamsterdam' sign in front of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was removed by the municipality in November 2018, the local entrepreneurial association in Meppel decided to place a similar sign in the canals of Meppel, as a nice reference to the town's former nickname of Klein-Amsterdam. Location: at the intersection of Gasgracht and Keizersgracht canals.
The Iameppel Sign in the canals of Meppel
- Traditional wind mills - Meppel originally had more than 10 traditional Dutch wind mills, of which 2 still survive. Molen De Weert (Weerdstraat 80) is a working wheat mill, from where you can buy flour and other baking ingredients on Saturdays. The other one is Molen De Vlijt (Sluisgracht 20), which is attractively located on the intersection of three canals. A great spot from where to look at it is from the Boazbrug, particularly at sunset.
De Vlijt, a traditional Dutch windmill located at the Sluisgracht canal in Meppel.
- Old canals - Meppel used to have an extensive network of canals criss-crossing the historic centre. Although many of them were filled during the second half of the 20th century, some of them still are present. Notice that most of the canals are named after their world-famous counterparts of Amsterdam (Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht), which is the reason behind the town's nickname of Klein-Mokum (Little Mokum/Little Amsterdam). Some canals where reconstructed during the last years, and others are planned to be reconstructed.
- Drukkerijmuseum - A nice little museum about how printing techniques developed though the ages. The printing industry used to be (and to some extent still is) an important economic activity in Meppel. Address: Kleine Oever 11.
The Drukkerijmuseum (Printing Museum) in Meppel.
- Oud-Zuid - Literally meaning 'Old-South', this relatively posh neighbourhood was built during the last decades of the nineteenth century by wealthy people who started companies in the course of the industrial revolution (the most notable being Gist-Brocades (a former medicine multinational)). The houses on the Stationsweg and the Zuideinde are especially worth a look. It is north of the Wilhelminapark, west of the railway station and south of the historic centre. This part of town is a protected city neighbourhood under monument law.
- Wilhelminapark - A quiet and beautiful city park, located next to the railway station and a great spot to have an evening walk.
Out of town
- Havixhorst - A beautiful old havezathe (a mansion surrounded by moat which was inhabited by a wealthy or noble family) about 5 km southeast of Meppel at the river Reest. There is a breeding station for white storks called De Lokkerij right next to it. Interesting place to have a short walk or bicycle ride.
- Take a bicycle and cycle around the countryside! In every direction out of town, you may find quite different landscapes; to the west are the marshes and former peat deposits of the Weerribben-Wieden National Park and fishing villages like Giethoorn and Dwarsgracht, to the east and north are forests, ancient dolmens and farmer villages with Saxon farmhouses and to the south you can find extensive green farmlands grazed by black-and-white cows with some traditional villages like Staphorst and the wide IJssel-Vecht Delta.
- Visit the Grachtenfestival (Canal Festival), held every year during the second weekend of June. During the festival the canals are filled with old sailing boats and many recreational yachts and there are performances of sailor choirs and old crafts.
- Visit one of the Donderdag Meppeldagen, held on 6 consecutive Thursdays in July in August. More than 100,000 visitors visit these events each year. The squares of Meppel are filled with stages where local artists hold performances in the evenings. During the day, there is a different theme on each day. The themes change per year, although there always is one of the six themed 'Mokumdag'. On this day, busloads full of Amsterdammers come to visit Meppel for a day of Amsterdam, old-fashioned Dutch folklore. This event is widely known in the region and visited by many young people from the surrounding countryside.
- The Sinterklaasintocht (Entry of Sinterklaas) is always held during the second weekend of November. Sinterklaas and his Pieten'(litt: Petes) arrive from Spain in a steamer full of gifts and candy. This event is traditionally big in Meppel and after the arrival of Sinterklaas from the steamer, he goes around town with his white horse Amerigo to hand out candy to children. This event is held in every Dutch place in the same period, but it is increasingly controversial due to the custom to use black facial paint for the Pieten.
Meppel has everything you need for you daily needs (from large supermarkets and pharmacies to pet stores and bank affiliates), as well as a basic selection of clothing stores (like H&M, Vero Moda, C&A, etc.), but for real shopping you would probably prefer Zwolle or Groningen, just to name two places.
- Sukade: More upmarket restaurant. Has a great location at the intersection of two canals. Address: Stoombootkade 10.
- De Liberté Pannenkoekenschip: Pancake restaurant located on an old ship. Address: Stoombootkade 12.
- De Nachtwacht: Dutch Masters-themed middle-class restaurant. Address: Groenmarkt 13.
- ZIZO: Has a good-priced three-course menu for €30. Address: Steenwijkerstraatweg 10 (a little out of the centre).
- Restaurant De Tipbrug: Restaurant. Address: Prinsengracht 8.
- Eetcafé de Beurs: Good place for a simple lunch or dinner. Voted the best cafe in Drenthe. Also nice for an evening drink, especially during weekends. Address: Grote Kerkstraat 3.
- Herberg 't Plein: Cosy, traditionally Dutch inn where you can have a filling and simple lunch or dinner during the afternoon or evening. Address: Prinsengracht 1.
- Peking: Chinese-Indian restaurant that also offers some more traditional Chinese, inner-Mongolian dishes. Address: Grote Kerkstraat 10.
- Eetcafé de Beurs: See above. Address: Grote Kerkstraat 3.
- Herberg 't Plein: Cosy, traditionally Dutch inn. In weekends it is crowded with the local young crowd. Address: Prinsengracht 1.
- Stadscafé Oasis: A good place for a coffee or a lunch at the Kerkplein. Especially nice in summer, when there is a terrace. Address: Kerkplein 15.
- De Buren: Bar that attracts a somewhat younger crowd during weekends. Address: Grote Kerkstraat 19.
- Café de Casteleyn: Bar. Address: Grote Kerkstraat 17.
- Bar-Dancing Lord Nelson: Popular spot in the region for young party goers during weekends. Address: Prinsenplein 48.
- City Hotel Meppel: Centrally located but simple hotel. Address: Dirk Jakobsttraat 6.
- Hotel De Poort van Drenthe: Opposite the railway station. Address: Parallelweg 25.
Meppel is a very safe town where no specific safety precautions apply. Use your common sense (like everywhere else) and you should be fine. In the rare case you do encounter any problems, however, head to police office a stone's throw north of the city centre (Eendrachtstraat 28).
Meppel is a very good base to explore some of the less-visited areas of the Dutch countryside.
The surroundings of Meppel are full of interesting locations, both natural and cultural. Some of the most interesting include:
- Staphorst - A culturally interesting village about 5 kilometres south of Meppel. Staphorst is very religious and conservative. The window frames and doors of its older farms and houses are painted in bright green and blue colours, and a fair share of its older inhabitants (especially women) still wear traditional clothing. It is unique in the Netherlands for this. Do not photograph the women without their own permission! The best way to go here is by bike, which you can rent at the railway station.
- Giethoorn - An internationally well-known village that is nicknamed 'the Venice of the North'. In Giethoorn, boats are still the most common transportation mode. In summer it can get very crowded here. It makes a great day trip by bike. Otherwise, see the 'Get in' section above.
- Steenwijk - Small town with one of the higher church towers of the Netherlands. About 10 minutes by train / 12 km by bike.
- Zuidwest-Drenthe - To the northeast of Meppel there is a beautiful region with old, traditional villages full with Saxon farms, forests and ancient dolmen (hunebedden) in two national parks (Dwingelderveld and Drents-Friese Wold. The region is best explored by bike, although it is possible to go here by bus. The region is well-known by Dutch tourists and a lot of pensionados choose to live here after a life of hard work in the Randstad area. Some of the nicer villages here include Havelte, Diever, Dwingeloo and Ruinen.
- Schokland - A former island that used to be in the Zuiderzee, which is now the province of Flevoland. The former village still remains and is nowadays a UNESCO World Heritage Site. About 40 km by Meppel, and therefore best visited by car. No public transport. For the more adventurous among us, one could attempt to go here by bike as a day trip if there is not too much wind.
The destinations below are best visited by car or train:
- Zwolle - Old, hanseatic city that functions as the capital of the province of Overijssel. About 15 minutes away by train or car.
- Kampen and Deventer were also part of the Hanseatic League and therefore also have wonderful medieval city centres. Both are accessible by train with a change of trains in Zwolle. Total journey is about 45 minutes to both.
- Groningen - Vibrant student city with many shops and some of the best party life in the Netherlands. About 50 minutes by train, 1 hour by car.
- Leeuwarden - Capital of the culturally distinct province of Friesland/Fryslân. Leeuwarden was the European Capital of Culture in 2018 and has a nice old city centre. About 45 minutes by train or car.
- The major cities of the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht) all are a one to two hour-train ride away and all have at least one direct train connection per hour.