10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Breda
The city of Breda lies near the Belgian frontier in western Noord-Brabant, at the junction of the rivers Mark and Aa. A cultural center with numerous research and educational institutions, Breda has become an important tourist destination thanks to its historic city center with many attractive old buildings and moats. Breda rose in importance in the 12th-century due to the protection of its castle, and from the late Middle Ages onwards played an important role in the history of the Netherlands. Fortified in 1534, it withstood numerous sieges, and the Compromise of Breda in 1566 marked the beginning of the successful revolt against Spanish rule, while the Peace of Breda in 1667 ended the second naval war with Britain and recognized Dutch ownership of the East Indies. The town's fortifications again played an important role during wars with the French in 1793-95 and 1813, and today offer just one of many great reasons to explore this historic old city.
1 Grote Kerk
Built in 1290 in Gothic style, Grote Kerk (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) also shows later Renaissance influences, most noticeably in the choir. The church's magnificent 97-meter tower, completed in 1509, dominates the city, while interior features of note include its Late Gothic choir stalls carved with scenes satirizing the clergy and a copper font made in 1540 by Joos de Backer of Antwerp. Other highlights are its impressive organ and the large painting above it of St. Christopher from around 1500. Be sure to visit the imposing 16th-century Renaissance tomb of Count Engelbrecht II of Nassau and his wife. This fine alabaster masterpiece is one of a number of tombs in the ambulatory, including the monument of Count Engelbrecht I and his son, who died in 1443 and 1475, respectively.
Address: Kerkplein 2, 4811 XT Breda
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Breda
2 Breda Castle
Breda Castle (Kasteel van Breda) first appears in official records in the 12th century and has played an important role throughout the city's history. Several times pulled down and rebuilt, the present castle - the ancestral home of the Counts of Orange-Nassau - was built in 1530 by Count Henry III, tutor and counselor to Emperor Charles V, and later extended by King William III. Henry later commissioned the old fortified castle to be converted into a handsome modern palace, and one of Prince William I's sons was the first member of the family to live in the palace. Of particular note are the two towers, the Spanjaardsgat and the Blokhuis, and the palace grounds, entered by the Stadhouderspoort.
Address: Kerkplein 10, 4811 XT Breda
3 Editor's Pick Begijnhof and the Beguines
The Begijnhof, a district settled by an order of Catholic women known as the Beguines, was established in 1836 (the group itself can trace their roots back to the 13th century). The community's two churches and each of the 29 little houses survived WWII unscathed, and along with the central herb garden with its hundreds of different species of plants, makes for a very pleasant outing (a small museum is also on site). Also of interest is nearby Valkenberg Park, home to the Nassau Barony Monument built in 1905. Designed by well-known architect PJH Cuypers, the monument shows the coats of arms of 20 communes in the surrounding area, along with the lion of Nassau with a royal crown, sword, and heraldic shield.
Address: Catharinastraat 45, 4811 XE Breda
4 Spaniard's Hole
In Breda's Cingelstraat is the remarkable Spanjaardsgat, or Spaniard's Hole, a large water gate flanked by twin towers - the Granaattoren and the Duiventoren - and a length of wall. It was here, according to legend, that Adriaan van Bergen and 70 men slipped into the town and recaptured it from the Spaniards (although the story is a little suspect as the structure wasn't completed until 1610, some years after the city's liberation). Also worth visiting is Breda's Port Quarter, where a number of handsome old storehouses still stand, along with the remains of the Gasthuispoort, one of three of the town's medieval gates.
5 Ginneken and Castle Bouvigne
Just three kilometers south of Breda in the quaint village of Ginnekin is the attractive old Castle Bouvigne, a 15th-century fortress famous for its superb moat and its mix of French, English, and German-style gardens. Part of the original defenses of Breda, the castle was purchased by William I's son, Prince Frederick Henry, in 1614, who made it his headquarters during the siege of Breda in 1637. A stroll around the estate's lovely gardens (open to the public) is time well spent.
Address: Bouvignelaan 5, Breda
6 Old Town Breda
Breda's picturesque Old Town center is a wonderful place to explore, day or night. Surrounded by a ring of canals is the Grote Markt, home to the majestic Grote Kerk and the 18th-century Town Hall (Stadhuis). The oldest part of the Town Hall is the Great Hall, along with the adjoining Little Town Hall (Cleyn Raedthuys). Built in 1767 by combining three adjoining houses to create a unified façade, the building was further expanded in 1898 and again in 1925 with the addition of the Council Chamber with its impressive stained glass. Highlights of a visit include a chance to see a copy of Velázquez's famous painting, Surrender of Breda, and the garden with its old coach-shed (now a conference room). Another attraction, just a few minutes walk northeast of the Grote Kerk, is the Kasteelplein with its old buildings and equestrian statue of William III of Orange.
7 St. Janskathedraal, 's-Hertogenbosch
About 50 kilometers east of Breda is the city of 's-Hertogenbosch, capital of the province of Brabant and home to one of the most attractive churches in the Netherlands, St. John's Cathedral (St. Janskathedraal). Built between 1280 and 1312, this splendid Roman Catholic cathedral was given its present Gothic form between 1380 and 1530. Notable not only for its size - it's 115 meters long by 62 meters wide, making it the largest church in the Netherlands - highlights include the ring of seven chapels built between 1480-96 around the choir, along with its rich medieval sculptures and stained glass. Also noteworthy is the 13th-century painting of Our Sweet Lady of Den Bosch in the Lady Chapel, as well as the numerous carved figures of saints, and reliefs of the life of John the Baptist. Other highlights include the carved Renaissance pulpit from 1566, the large organ from 1635, the baptistery with its fine copper font from 1492, and the exquisitely carved choir stalls from 1480.
Address: Torenstraat 16, 5211 KK 's-Hertogenbosch
8 The Breda Museum
On the south side of the Grote Markt is the old Meat Hall, or Vleeshal (look for the handsome 17th-century sandstone doorway). Together with the adjoining building once occupied by the Marksmen's Guild of St. George, the Meat Hall now houses the Breda Museum, the city's municipal collections. Highlights include numerous permanent exhibits dealing with the art and history of Breda, along with a varied program of interesting temporary exhibits. The Breda Museum also operates a number of satellite collections, the most interesting being the Begijnhof Museum with its history of the city's Beguine community, and Museum de Kerkschat with its important religious relics.
Address: Chassépark Breda, Parade 12, 4811 DZ Breda
9 Baarle-Nassa and Baarle-Hertog: A Tale of Two Towns
About 21 kilometers to the southeast of Breda is the town of Baarle-Nassau, famous for being twinned with Baarle-Hertog, a Belgian enclave in Dutch territory that's been separated from Baarle-Nassau since the 15th century. It's a fascinating place to visit and includes unique experiences such as having a coffee break in the Netherlands and afterwards visiting the cafés washroom, no more than few feet away, in Belgium (without even leaving the building). Markers showing this rather confusing border are located throughout both towns, dissecting roads, houses, and restaurants, sometimes with the structure's national affiliation being determined only by the position of the front door. (All told, 21 such enclaves exist in the Netherlands, while eight Dutch enclaves can be found in Belgium.)
10 The Mastbos
Just a few kilometers south of Breda, near Bouvigne Castle, is the Mastbos, a beautiful wooded park of more than 1,250 acres that has become one of the region's most popular recreation spots. Taking its name from its many tall pines - they were for centuries used for the masts of the Dutch and Spanish fleets - Mastos is one of the country's oldest forests and has been tended and replanted numerous times through the centuries, including 1505 when Scots Pine were planted. Once a popular hunting ground for the aristocracy, the park is now all about the walking trails through the rich flora and fauna, with numerous beautiful views making it a perfect picnic spot.
Address: Mastbos, Breda