If you have not been to Breda, you’re in for a treat. It is one of the most vibrant and historic Dutch cities you could ever visit. The air exudes royalty and history that could transport you back to the era of kings and queens.
Everything around you says you’re in one of the most picture-perfect, enchanting cities in Europe. Breda is near the Belgian frontier in western Noord-Brabant. Getting here is easy. You can catch a train from the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, going straight to this lovely city that used to be a humble fishing village.
It is also popular for its research and educational institutions, so don’t be surprised to see many students roaming the streets and frequenting the bars. The Netherlands is known for its museums, lovely parks, castles, canals, and well-preserved medieval streets and buildings that you can all see in Breda. Below are the top 10 things to do in Breda.
Get lost in the Pedestrian-Friendly City Centre
Once you arrive in Breda, you will be amazed at the city centre or Old Town. The experience is like stepping into a postcard or a living museum. Sit and sip at a street-side café, take in the view, or stroll leisurely to see interesting architecture and cultural landmarks. Still following the old medieval layout, Breda’s city centre was crowned best inner city in 2009. The picturesque Old Town is a beautiful place to explore on foot, day and night.
A single water stream totally encompasses the heart of the city. Get on a boat or walk along the waterway for your sightseeing. This is the best route to bump into the most important hotspots in this part of Holland.
You might just catch a jazz festival happening while here. Jazz enthusiasts from all over Europe visit the city for its annual jazz shows. The boat rides in Breda could not be more relaxed, especially compared with those in Amsterdam. Minus the crowds of tourists, you have to contend with in the capital city, a boat ride in Breda is very peaceful.
Begin your tour at Grote Markt
In Breda, everything begins in Grote Markt or “Great Market”, which is Old Town’s main square. You may not usually begin your holiday with shopping, but Grote Markt has some of the best boutiques and shopping spots here, so might as well make one or two purchases.
You won’t miss Grote Kerk, a 16th-century church, and the Kasteelplein square, where you can slowly walk around to see old, well-preserved gentry homes and the majestic Breda Castle.Finally, take a peek inside Breda’s elegant Town Hall (Stadhuis).Built in 1767, the Stadhuis is composed of three adjoining houses that combine to create a unified façade.
Through the centuries, the hall has been built and expanded on; several areas have been added, including the Council Chamber and its impressive stained glass, and a garden with an old coach shed (now a conference room).
The oldest parts are the Great Hall and the adjoining Little Town Hall (Cleyn Raedthuys).If you love art, inside the building is a copy of Diego Velázquez’s famous painting, “Surrender of Breda”, depicting a military victory, the 1624 Siege of Breda, during the Eighty Years War.
Take a Tour of Breda Castle
Breda Castle (Kasteel van Breda) is an important UNESCO Heritage Site in the Netherlands. Records say this stunning castle has its beginnings in the 12th century.Breda castle, as you see now, was the ancestral home of the Counts of Orange-Nassau.
It has been pulled down and rebuilt several times through the centuries. It was built in 1530 by Count Henry III, a tutor and counsellor of Emperor Charles V and was later extended by King William III. Henry converted the old fortified military castle into a lovely modern palace.
One of Prince William I’s sons was the first member of the family to live here.Book in advance to get a guided walking tour to see what’s inside. The guide will take you to the two towers, the Spaniard’s Hole (Spanjaardsgat) and the Blokhuis, the palace grounds, the gallery with its collection of artworks and old posters, an extensive library, and the Royal Military Academy, which is housed in the castle. Take a side trip: Spanjaardsgat
Spaniard’s Hole is a large walled water gate that is flanked by twin towers, the Granaattoren and the Duiventoren.
This place is popular because, according to legend, it was here where Adriaan van Bergen and 70 men slipped into the town and liberated it from the Spaniards. Not far is Breda’s Port Quarter, where you can see old storehouses and the remains of the Gasthuispoort, one of three of Breda’s medieval gates.
Be in awe in the Grote Kerk
The Gothic Grote Kerk (“Great Church”) or the Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk), was built in 1290. Be dazzled by the church’s many Renaissance artefacts and designs, most noticeably in t andhe choir. There are Late Gothic choir stalls carved with scenes focusing on the Clergy, as well as a copper font made in 1540 by Joos de Backer of Antwerp.
What really stands out quite literally is Grote Kerk’s magnificent 97-metre tower, looming over the city. It was built in 1509.
Some other important items to see here are the Prince Chapel (Prinsenkapel), a colossal organ (one of the biggest in the country), a large painting of St. Christopher from around 1500, the 16th-century Renaissance alabaster tomb of Count Engelbrecht II of Nassau, and the monument dedicated to Count Engelbrecht I and his son.Take a side trip: St. Janskathedraal (‘s-Hertogenbosch)
If Grote Kerk piqued your curiosity for cathedrals and religious treasures, travel some 50 kilometres to the east to see ‘s-Hertogenbosch or St. John’s Cathedral (St. Janskathedraal). St. John’s Cathedral is one of the most popular and enchanting churches in the Netherlands and the biggest in the country. It is 115 metres long and 62 metres wide.This Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral was built between 1280 and 1312.
It houses important relics such as rich medieval sculptures, the 13th-century painting of “Our Sweet Lady of Den Bosch”, reliefs of the life of John the Baptist and the ring of seven chapels built between 1480-96 around the choir.
You most probably know that the Netherlands is host to several important and unique museums in the world. The most popular one here is the Stedelijk Museum Breda, which opened in 2017 after the former Breda Museum and the Museum of the Image (MOTI) were combined together.
Stedelijk Museum Breda is the city’s municipal museum, and it features different disciplines, including photography, architecture, fashion, science and even gaming. This is an important museum for its focus on Breda’s unique contribution to arts and religion.The museum is nestled in the “Old Men’s House” (Oudemannenhuis).
In the 13th century, it was a home for elderly men and was later converted into the city’s first hotel. Two other major museums in Breda are the Begijnhof Museum (featuring the history of the Beguine community) and Museum de Kerkschat (featuring religious relics).
Learn about Begijnhof and the Beguines
Visit the iconic Begijnhof district, which is the home of a community of Catholic women known as the Beguines. The community was established in 1836, but the Beguines believe their order was first formed in the 13th century.
This is a curious little place that is full of learning, history and religion. You will see the Begijnhof Museum, two old churches and 29 little houses that survived WWII unscathed.Take a side trip: Valkenberg Park and another museum.
While here, it is worth walking to the nearby Valkenberg Park (Stadspark Valkenberg). It was built in 1905 to house the Nassau Barony Monument that shows the coats of arms of 20 communes in the surrounding area, along with the lion of Nassau with a royal crown, sword and shield.
Walk a bit further, and near the park, you will see Miniaturenmuseum Breda, a lovely museum of dolls and several scale models of everyday scenes from the city.
Visit a zoo
Take a break from palaces, cathedrals and museums to see some reptiles at the Reptile House Earth (Reptile House De Aarde). It is not exactly a zoo because it houses only creepy-crawly creatures such as crocodiles, lizards, turtles, snakes, scorpions and spiders.
It’s a fun place for families to visit, as they would let your children handle some of the reptiles. Feeding times are always fun and exciting to watch.Breda does have a zoo. If you are travelling with children, spend some time with animals at Wolfslaar Breda petting zoo.
Make your way to Ginneken and Castle Bouvigne
Breda is near very interesting tourism hotspots that you should definitely include in your itinerary when in this part of the country.Three kilometres to the south is the quaint village of Ginnekin.
Come here to see the attractive, old and mysterious Castle Bouvigne (Kasteel Bouvigne), that is surrounded by a moat. It is a well-preserved 15th-century fortress with French, English, and German-style gardens.
The castle used to be part of the original defences of Breda until Prince Frederick Henry turned it into his headquarters during the siege of Breda in 1637. Admission is free. Come for a lovely stroll in the lovely gardens.
Take a hike in The Mastbos
Go a bit further to the south to see the Mastbos, a beautiful park with more than 1,250 acres of land. Mastbos is one of the country’s oldest forests and has been tended and replanted numerous times through the centuries. Scots pines were replanted as early as 1505.People come here for the park’s lovely walking trails with rich flora and fauna. The view is just amazing; you could imagine that the forest used to be a popular hunting ground for the aristocracy.
Travel to Efteling
Twenty kilometres away is yet another important Dutch landmark – the Efteling. This is the quintessential Dutch amusement park and one of the oldest theme parks in the world. It is twice the size of Disneyland in California, which means you need more than a day to explore it.
Efteling is unique, mysterious, quirky, yet delightful. Come here to see more than 30 attractions in different fantastical realms: Fairy, Adventure, Travel and Alternative. This is definitely a must-visit destination in the Netherlands.
Breda is an old yet modern city that has a lot of punch. You wouldn’t regret coming here. After a busy day of touring and sightseeing, you can wind down in one of the city’s many cafes and bars or just hit the sack in one of Breda’s lovely hotels.