At the site of contemporary Bolsward, there used to be two small terp villages. Because of their beneficial location (near the sea, which now is the IJsselmeer) they grew to be Bolsward, a well-to-do trade city and harbour in the west of Friesland, a Dutch province. City rights were gained in 1455 after which Bolsward joined the Hanseatic league. After the harbour silting up and the surrounding waters becoming polders, Bolsward developed itself into a butter and cheese trade center in the 17th and 18th centuries.
From the latter period, many buildings contribute to the city's scenery, including the renaissance style City Hall, the Martini church and many handsome façades. Bolsward is also Gijsbert Japicx' city of birth. Japicx is considered to be the founder of Frisian literature. The people of Bolsward raised a statue of Japicx near the Martini church.
Bolsward is also home to the best gin bitter in the world called Berenburg, produced by Sonnema.