The historical Stavoren was granted city rights between 1060 and 1067, making it the oldest city in Friesland.
Stavoren began to decline in the late Middle Ages after a sandbank formed outside the harbour, blocking ships from entering and exiting. The appearance of the sandbank is the topic of the Dutch Renaissance folk-tale of the Lady of Stavoren. In 1657, the entire town was submerged in a great flood.
Modern Stavoren is a village with a population of less than 1000 within the municipality of Súdwest-Fryslân. It is one of the stops on the Elfstedentocht, (literally, "eleven cities tour"), an ice skating contest/event which occurs when the winter temperatures provide safe conditions.
A ferry for pedestrians and cyclists operates between Stavoren and Enkhuizen, with increased trips during summer months.