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11 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Breda

Written by Bryan Dearsley

The Dutch 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, which boasts many attractive old buildings and moats. One of the top things to do here is to visit the always bustling Ginneken Market (Ginnekenmarkt), a pleasant public square popular for its cafés and patios, as well as its boutique shops and galleries.

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 to 1795 and 1813, and today, exploring these sturdy historic structures — many of which are included in an excellent self-guided walking tour known as the "The Historical Kilometer" (Historische Kilometer) — is one of the top things to do in this wonderful old city. Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions in Breda.

1. Grote Kerk

Grote Kerk

Grote Kerk

Built in 1290 in Gothic style, Grote Kerk, or Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk), also shows a number of interesting Renaissance influences that were added later, 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 (it's one of the biggest in the country) 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 Prince Chapel (Prinsenkapel), along with the monument dedicated to Count Engelbrecht I and his son, who died in 1443 and 1475, respectively.

Address: Kerkplein 2, 4811 XT Breda

2. Breda Castle

Breda Castle

Breda Castle

Breda Castle (Kasteel van Breda) — one of the country's most important UNESCO sites — 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. It was 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.

Guided walking tours are available with advance notice and include such important features as the gallery with its collection of artworks and old posters; an extensive library; and the Royal Military Academy, which occupies much of the property. Of particular note are the two towers, the Spaniard's Hole (Spanjaardsgat) and the Blokhuis, and the palace grounds, entered by the Stadhouderspoort.

Address: Kerkplein 10, 4811 XT Breda

3. Begijnhof and the Beguines Editor's Pick

Begijnhof church

Begijnhof church

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, which includes an original kitchen and living area).

Also of interest is nearby Valkenberg Park (Stadspark Valkenberg), 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. Just outside the park is a delightful dolls museum, Miniaturenmuseum Breda, with a number of fascinating scale models of every day scenes from the city (plus a free coffee with the low, low admission cost!).

Address: Catharinastraat 45, 4811 XE Breda

4. Spaniard's Hole

Spaniard's Hole

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

Castle Bouvigne

Castle Bouvigne

Just three kilometers south of Breda in the quaint village of Ginnekin is the attractive old Castle Bouvigne (Kasteel 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 visit to the castle (free admission) is well worth it, as is a stroll around the estate's lovely gardens.

Address: Bouvignelaan 5, Breda

6. Old Town Breda

Old Town Breda

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)

St. Janskathedraal, 's-Hertogenbosch

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. It's notable not only for its size — it's 115 meters long by 62 meters wide, making it the largest church in the Netherlands — but also for 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. Also of interest are the 25 new angel statues, one of which has been given a distinctly modern twist: it holds a cell phone with a single button, which connects directly with God.

Address: Torenstraat 16, 5211 KK 's-Hertogenbosch

's-Hertogenbosch St Janskathedraal - Floor plan map

's-Hertogenbosch St Janskathedraal Map

8. Stedelijk Museum Breda

Exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum Breda | Jam Willem Doormembal / photo modified

Opened in 2017 after the amalgamation of the former Breda Museum and the Museum of the Image (MOTI), Stedelijk Museum Breda— the city's municipal museum — has earned a reputation for the quality of its displays related to visual culture. Highlights include important exhibits relating to the fields of film and photography, as well as design, architecture, fashion, science, and even gaming. Particular emphasis is placed on Breda's unique contribution to the arts, including in areas of religion and industry.

The museum building itself is of interest. Known as the "Old Men's House" (Oudemannenhuis) for its former role as a home for aging men, it dates back to the early 13th century and started life as the city's first hotel. In addition to its permanent collections, regular visiting exhibitions of art from across the Netherlands are staged here. Guided tours and educational workshops are available, and a café is located on-site.

The city of Breda 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: Boschstraat 22, 4811 GH Breda

Official site: https://stedelijkmuseumbreda.nl/en/

9. Baarle-Nassa and Baarle-Hertog: A Tale of Two Towns

Baarle border

Baarle border | Alix Guillard / photo modified

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 café's washroom, no more than a few feet away, which is officially within the borders of 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

The Mastbos

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

11. Reptile House Earth

Reptile House Earth (Reptile House De Aarde) is one of the newer tourist attractions in Breda (and also the closest the city has to a zoo). It's a delightful place for families to visit, especially as some of the fascinating creatures on display can be handled. While an emphasis is placed on education — along the way, you'll learn about the origins of each species, as well as details relating to their care — you'll certainly enjoy simply watching these fascinating animals go about their business in their large enclosures, especially during feeding times. Highlights include crocodiles, turtles, snakes, and a variety of lizards, as well as scorpions and spiders.

Also fun for kids who like animals is Wolfslaar Breda. One of the top free things for families to do in Breda is to pay a visit to this fun petting zoo and farm that's part of Landhuis Wolfslaar, a popular wedding and events venue with a top-rated restaurant.

Address: Aardenhoek 26a, 4817 NE Breda

Where to Stay in Breda for Sightseeing

We recommend these centrally-located hotels in Breda with easy access to the charming Old Town and other top sights:

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Netherlands Vacation Ideas: For those looking for an authentic Dutch vacation experience, a visit to the beautiful, historic city of Maastricht will expose you to centuries-old architecture and customs. The city of Utrecht is also well worth a stay, and is popular among travelers for its well-preserved cathedral and stunning old castle. The country's largest city, Amsterdam is another must-visit, especially for those interested in exploring the works of the Dutch Masters at the magnificent Rijksmuseum.

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