The word “international” actually throws me off a bit. Why? Because the International Dollard Route (its official title), merely 204km/127mi long, merely represents the region around the Dollart, a small bay in the northwest of Germany and the north of the Netherlands.
Yup, only two countries, both of which are European, and they call it International.
Either way, this picturesque scenic route is in the heart of East Frisia in northwest Lower Saxony and travels along some pretty places in the Netherlands with educational museums, romantic windmills, and fantastic castles.
There’s some debate as to whether the Dollard Route is 204 or 206 kilometers long, but with a central route that adds two alternate routes it’s kind of easy to get confused. Besides, when you’re bicycling 200km, what’s a couple extra gonna do? ;-)
Oh, didn’t I mention that the Dollard Route was a bicycle route in the first place? Don’t get all excited — the area around East Frisia is like totally flat so there’s no steep grading to navigate.
What’s this Dollard (Dollart in English & German) that I keep mentioning anyway, you ask? Well, that’s the 100 square kilometer Dollart Bay surrounded by salty marshes and amazing local wildlife. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
One of the best things about traveling this bicycle route is that it is totally travel-friendly. Don’t want to schlep your luggage the whole way? No problem, there are tourist programs that’ll bring your suitcases and duffel bags to you. Travel too far to bike your way back? Again, it’s all right — just call for the Bike Taxi (approx 1.80€ per km) and they’ll take you back to wherever you came from.
Start of the Dollard Route
The Dollard Route is circular, so it actually doesn’t matter from which town you start — but I’m kicking it off in the Netherlands. I know I don’t usually put in the towns outside of Germany. However, there are only a couple on the German side of the Dollard Route, so I’ll be nice to our Dutch friends by putting them in. :-)
Slochteren is the first stop with a medieval castle and a Police Hat Museum. Yes, just as fashion has changed for every day people over the years, so too has uniforms (including head gear) of the police.
Traveling towards Appingedam is a real treat — and quite easy since the road is flat as far as the eye can see. This way you won’t be too tired to enjoy the town’s City Museum.
That might be a different story once you’ve arrived in the Dutch town of Delfzijl. The place is still flat, but with all the cycling and walking to see its harbor & port (it’s one of the biggest seaports in the Netherlands), its Aquarium, the medieval churches, and 19th century Water Gate you might be a bit worn out.
Delfzijl also has an interesting pumping station that now does the work of what once took three locks to keep the area dry. If you get a chance stay at the Eemshotel, built right out over the water on stilts — and even has a Turkish steam bath.
From Delfzijl you can take a ferry to Germany, more specifically Emden.
FYI, there is an alternate route that’ll bring you south of the Dollard instead of taking the ferry towards the northeast.
Emden is a remarkable town with a Bunker Museum, three museums totally dedicated to art, a Maritime Museum (what’s a coastal city without one?), Renaissance style houses, a 19th century Windmill, and one of the oldest libraries in all of East Frisia.
This is also where you’ll find the Ostfriesisches Landesmuseum (East Frisian State Museum), filled with all sorts of artifacts from this tea drinking region.
From here we cycle along to the fishing village of Ditzum, which is actually part of Jemgum. You’ll find lots of fishing boats in this hamlet, while there’s a Tile Museum, two Gallery-Dutch windmills (one from the 18th century), a Brick Museum, a Jewish Cemetery, and a nature protected area throughout the other 10 villages that make up Jemgum.
One of the more historical sites in Jemgum is its Liudgeri Church, built in the 9th century by Benedictine monks.
Leer is another town with a multitude of things to do. One being the Tea Museum, proper since East Frisians take tea drinking very seriously — and usually sweetened with Kluntje, a rock candy. The Samson House is a gorgeous example of Baroque architecture, while the inside will show you how typical East Frisian decor looks.
After a stop at the Local History Museum, you’ve got three castles to see. One being the mid-15th century Haneburg, another an 18th century Dutch Baroque known as the Philippsburg, and last being the 17th century Dutch Baroque Evenburg — that even has a moat.
Our next town is Weener, with a population of around 15,000 people spread out over 15 districts. The sites to see in this old port town is the Old Port itself, its Heritage Museum, its musical instruments museum called the Organeum, its 13th century Church of St. George (whose organ is one of the grandest in the area), and the Jewish Cemetery on Graf-Edzard-Strasse.
Where to now? Papenburg, with its Gallery Dutch Windmills and its Gut Altenkamp, a beautiful garden with hedges that are a couple of centuries old. You better come between March and October, as that’s when the Museum Altes Amtshaus (its local history museum) is open.
Not too much left to see along the Dollard Route once you’ve come to Bunde, home to the Dollard Museum (located at Rheiderlandstrasse 3). This museums is one of the best places to learn what the Dollard has to offer — including its legends, animals, constructions of the dykes, and even all about the tulips.
Maybe I should have started my trip here. ;-)
One thing you’ll find in Bunde, as well as a few other places along the way are called Melkhuske. These tiny rest areas are a great place to grab a glass of fresh milk, an ice cream, or some other goodies to nosh on.
The German part of our trip ended here, but with three towns left — why not keep going?
Bad Nieuweschans is pretty small, but it’s a great place to see a glass studio in action, and the Fortress Museum (it’s only open 2 hours a day, Tuesday to Friday). The Bronzegießerei (Bronze Foundry) is both an art gallery & cafe — which makes it the best place to sit for a spell.
Winschoten is where you’ll find the largest rose garden in the Netherlands (as if you couldn’t smell it coming), three windmills, and a 13th century church.
Scheemda’s the last town to see, offering a Baby Carriage Museum and pumping station for the interested traveler.
I enjoyed the Dollard Route so much that maybe I should go back to the beginning and take that other alternate route. Are you up for going around again?
Dollard Route Web Site
Here’s the Web site dedicated to the Dollard Route.