Amersfoort, the surprising Netherlands city, crowned ‘European City of the Year’

By Staff Reporter

‘European City of the Year’ is quite the prestigious title, and it’s just been bestowed on a relatively small Dutch city, all thanks to its innovative design. The winner was praised for its quality of life and innovative urban planning.

Nestled west of Amsterdam, Amersfoort enchants with its rich history, well-preserved medieval architecture, and vibrant modern spirit. The awards are given out by the Academy of Urbanism in London, and in 2023, they’ve named Amersfoort as the winner. The Dutch city is located in the Utrecht province and is home to around 160,000 people. 

Known mostly for its surviving mediaeval old town and famous city gate, it’s a great alternative to fill that canal craving in a Dutch city much less crowded than Amsterdam. When it was built, it was also the official middle point of the country, which is pinpointed by the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe church tower.

But why did this little-known place win such a prestigious title? Well, Amersfoort may be on the smaller side, but in terms of urban development and sustainability, it’s pretty mighty. 

Amersfoort’s story stretches back centuries. Archaeological finds whisper of inhabitants as far back as 1,000 BC. Around the 11th century, permanent settlements solidified, strategically positioned near a crucial river fort. Trade flourished, drawing the Bishop’s attention, leading to the establishment of a court and ultimately, city status in the late 1200s.

Throughout the centuries, Amersfoort thrived as a trade centre for tobacco and textiles. Witness the city’s evolution through its imposing walls, expanded over time to accommodate its growth. The iconic 15th-century church tower, a remnant of the devastating explosion in 1787, stands as a poignant reminder of its past.

The 20th century brought both struggle and renewal. The railway’s arrival spurred expansion, followed by the challenges of depression and the horrors of World War II. Today, Amersfoort proudly stands as a symbol of resilience, a vibrant city humming with modern life.

The Academy is made up of scientists, politicians and specialists, and a delegation was sent to Amersfoort in September to assess it. They evaluated sustainability and urban planning, but also how well the city is managed. 

Amersfoort was praised for its success at innovative design, maintaining character and heritage and its great quality of life. The city has achieved all this by limiting car use and offering a bounty of affordable housing. 

With all those perks of functionality and sustainability, plus the quaint mediaeval streets, pretty canals and vibrant squares, it sounds like this award was well-deserved. 

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