Strolling Zierikzee's narrow, cobblestone streets, you'll likely find it easy to imagine the everyday life of its citizens in earlier times, especially if you're here for a colorful Thursday market day (8:30am-4pm). The entrance to the old harbor is guarded by two impressive fortified gates, the Zuidhavenpoort (14th-15th c.) on the south side of the waterway, and the Noordhavenpoort (15th-16th c.) on the north side.
In the center of the Old Town, the Stadhuis (Town Hall), Meelstraat 6 (tel. 0111/454-454) began around 1550 as a covered market. Its carillon tinkles merrily at frequent intervals. On the corner of Poststraat, across from the Town Hall, is the oldest house in town, the 14th-century Huis De Haene (or Templiershuis). Look for the Sint-Lievensmonstertoren (Great Tower; 1454) on the cathedral, west of the Town Hall. For all its 60m (197 ft.) of height, the tower is actually incomplete, since townspeople lacked the funds to take it up to its planned 204m (670 ft.).
Zierikzee's rich history as a maritime trading town stretching back to 976 is presented by way of antique model ships and other exhibits at the Maritiem Museum, Mol 25 (tel. 0111/454-464), across from the Town Hall in the 16th-century 's-Gravensteen building. This was originally the town prison, and its upstairs cells still bear the marks of prisoners who carved their names and other graffiti on the oak walls. The museum is open April to October Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and Sunday from noon to 5pm; November to March, it's open during school vacations only from 10am to 5pm (closed Jan 1 and Dec 25). Admission is 2€ ($3.20) for adults, 1€ ($1.60) for seniors and children ages 6 to 12, and free for children 5 and under.
On a wide Zeeland horizon from which an occasional church steeple rises amid a hazy cluster of red-roofed houses, the former islands of Schouwen and Duiveland are great places to explore by bicycle or car. The handsome little village of Dreischor, 7km (4 miles) north of Zierikzee, is a good target for an excursion. It's ringed by a canal and has a 14th- to 15th-century church with a leaning tower at its heart.
Approximately 17km (11 miles) west of Zierikzee is a great North Sea beach backed by sea dunes, centered on the resort of Nieuw-Haamstede. It curves around from Westenschouwen in the south to Renesse in the north. Many summer visitors' activities in Zeeland stretch no farther than a stint on this beach. At Westenschouwen is the northern access to the monumental Eastern Scheldt Barrier .
The Oosterschelde estuary is an important feeding ground and stopover point for migrating birds, and bird-watchers flock to these parts to admire them.
The Delta Works
For as long as people have lived in Zeeland and in neighboring parts of the delta of the rivers Rhine, Maas, Waal, and Scheldt, their tenancy depended on nature's consent. But on a cold, dark morning -- February 1, 1953 -- that consent was withdrawn. A fierce hurricane sent the North Sea surging across the land to a record depth of 4.6m (15 ft.), drowning more than 1,800 people. Following the disaster, construction began on a massive system of barriers, known collectively as the Deltawerken (Delta Works). This colossal feat of engineering aimed to prevent a repeat performance. It took 3 decades of dredging, dumping, towing, and building to create the network's component parts. Dams on the seaward side close off the former Haringvliet and Grevelingenmeer inlets, now lakes, and more dams and dikes protect the mainland coast.
The most impressive among the engineering marvels is the Eastern Scheldt Barrier -- Oosterscheldekering in Dutch. This string of 65 gigantic sluice-gates, stretching 9km (5 1/2 miles) across the tidal inlet between Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord-Beveland, can be opened and closed during storms and storm surges. The barrier's towers support a four-lane highway.
Middelburg sights you shouldn't miss include the picturesque streets of Spanjaardstraat -- crowned by the monumental Oostkerk (East Church) -- Kuiperspoort, and Bellinkstraat; the 1559 Vismarkt (Fish Market), with its Doric columns and little auctioneers' houses, where Thursdays in summer are arts and crafts market days; the Blauwepoort (Blue Gate); and the Koepoort (Cow Gate).
The side of the elaborate Stadhuis (Town Hall), Markt (tel. 0118/675-450), facing the market square is Gothic and dates from the 15th century; the Noordstraat side, from the 17th and 18th centuries, is classic in style. Inside are Belgian tapestries from the 1600s, 17th-century Makkum tiles, and the Middelburg coat of arms. The banquet hall, originally the first cloth market in the Netherlands, is now used for official receptions and an occasional concert. The doors to the left of the main entrance open to the spacious vaulted Vleeshal (Meat Hall), which hosts contemporary art exhibits. The Town Hall is open for guided tours April to October Sunday to Thursday at 11:30am and 3:15pm. Admission is 4.25€ ($6.80) for adults; 3.75€ ($6) for seniors, visitors with disabilities, and children ages 6 to 12; and free for children 5 and under.
The Gothic Stadhuis (Town Hall), Markt 5, dates in part from 1474 -- look outside for the kaak, an iron brace that locked around a wrongdoer's neck to hold him or her in place as townspeople threw refuse and insults. Over the kaak hang the "stones of the law," which an offender was forced to drag through the town in penance. Although today it's stripped to the bare bricks, the Grote Kerk (Great Church), Oudestraat 26, constructed between 1405 and 1560, is awe-inspiring for its sheer size.
After a stroll through streets filled with venerable buildings, head for the handsome waterfront and the old harbor, which is now a haunt of leisure-time mariners busy with the comings and goings of sailboats. You'll pass the 16th- to 17th-century Schotse Huizen (Scottish Houses) at Kade 25-27, waterfront mansions that belonged to Scottish wool merchants, and arrive finally at the cannon-studded Campveerse Toren (Campveer Tower), dating from around 1500, which was the key to the harbor defenses.
A small passenger-and-bicycle ferry shuttles back and forth across the Veersemeer lake between Veere harbor and Kamperland island; the ride takes just 15 minutes. The ferry sails three or four times a day in May to June and September, on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday; and in July and August daily. A one-way ticket costs 3€ ($4.80) for adults.
The Zeeland Riviera -- The western shore of Walcheren is a string of delightful small seacoast resorts, often called the Zeeland Riviera because of its long stretches of wide, white-sand beaches. A few miles northwest of Vlissingen are Koudekerke, Westkapelle, and Domburg -- all family-oriented resorts. Beaches are safe for swimming, and there are activities aplenty, including boating, golf, tennis, fishing, and walks in wooded areas near the beaches. This prime vacation country abounds with accommodations, including upscale hotels, bungalows, rustic cabins, and camping sites.
In the Old Town, the Oude Markt and the neighboring 14th-century Sint-Jacobskerk (St. James's Church) are well worth visiting. Also, don't miss a stroll down the seafront promenade that's named variously De Ruyter, Bankert, and Evertsen, in honor of those Dutch naval heroes.
The Reptilienzoo Iguana, Bellamypark 35 (tel. 0118/417-219; www.iguana.nl), south of Oude Markt, is filled with animals that childhood nightmares are made of, but that kids seem to love just the same. It's a fascinating introduction to the lives of reptiles, amphibians, and insects. There are more than 500 specimens from around the world on display, from tiny, creepy scorpions to endless tiger pythons, but they're not all scary -- there are frogs, turtles, and salamanders. In the baby room, eggs hatch and young animals crawl out of their shells. The zoo is open June to September Sunday and Monday from 2 to 5:30pm, and Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5:30pm; and October to May daily from 2 to 5:30pm (closed Jan 1 and Dec 25). Admission is 8.50€ ($14) for adults, 7€ ($11) for seniors and children ages 4 to 11, and free for children 3 and under.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.