A quaint Dutch city with little by way of must-see attractions but plenty of history, Breda is a pretty town somewhere on the train line between Amsterdam and Antwerp. Here’s a quick guide to the best things to do in Breda, including where to stay, what to do, and the best of Breda attractions!
Introducing the Breda, A Dutch town in the South of the Netherlands
Home to a castle, pretty park, and just across the border from Belgium (less than 10 km to be precise!), Breda can be found in North Brabant. A hop, skip, and a jump from the beautiful Belgian city of Antwerp, Breda makes for the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of busy city life…
Located on the confluence of the Rivers Mark and Aa, which in turn give the city its name, other reasons to visit this picture perfect Dutch city include a wealth of history, many eateries (several of which serve traditional Dutch specialities), and lots of Royal connections.
After all, the city has ties with the Holy Roman Empire, William of Orange, and even King Charles II of England! Also worth noting is that while Breda has a population of just a few hundred thousand residents, there are over a hundred bars, a handful of museums, and over a hundred shops to explore!
A brief history of Breda
Though a settlement existed for centuries beforehand, Breda rose to true prominence during the 11th-century, when the city swore allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire (the very same state founded by Charlemagne in the 9th-century).
By 1252, Breda had secured a municipal charter, meaning city rights, including the right to fortification. As a direct result, city walls were built around the main settlement, with an impressive castle in the very heart of it all. During the 14th-century, the city of Breda was sold to Duke Johannes III of Brabant. From then on, the city passed from person to person, including by William of Orange in the 15th-century.
The holder of Breda also held several titles of note; Baron of Breda, Count of Nassau, and Prince of Orange. Unfortunately, a fire ravaged through much of the town in the 16th-century, destroying about 90% of Breda’s buildings. Yet more tragedy was to befall the city when it was besieged by the Spanish during the eighty year war.
During Cromwellian Rule and the Civil War, Charles II spent much of his exile time within the city of Breda. This was thanks to his sister being the widow of William of Orange. Following the end of the Anglo-Dutch war, Breda was then attacked by French Revolutionaries in 1795. During WWII, the city was occupied, before being liberated by Polish forces.
Things to do in Breda The Netherlands
#1 Kasteel Van Breda (Breda Castle)
Of all the castles in The Netherlands, Breda is the city which has its ancient castle just steps away from the historic town centre. A fortified castle has existed on the site since at least the 13th-century when Breda gained city rights.
As such, most of the foundations of Kasteel Van Breda dates back to the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance period, the castle was heavily renovated, leaving behind a beautiful blend of Medieval practicality meets stunning architecture and style. During the 18th-century, the castle was briefly used as a military barracks and hospital.
#2 Park Valkenberg
Between the historic city centre and Breda’s main train station, Breda park is a stunning mix of meandering pathways and clear lakes. Best seen in the summer months when the place is packed with locals and tourists alike, all looking to soak up a little sun, Park Breda is also home to several sections of crumbling city wall.
#3 Grote Kerk (Onze Lieve Vrouwe Kerk)
The most exciting of Breda attractions is easily the large ecclesiastical building in the very heart of the old town. Completed in the 16th-century, this Brabant Gothic church (whose name quite literally translates as ‘large church’) features various frescoes as well as the Prinsenkapel.
Translated into English as ‘Prince Chapel,’ this mausoleum is dedicated to ancestors of the current Dutch Royal Family. A real must-see when in Breda, so ornate is this corner of the church that the ceiling is quite literally covered in gold!
#4 Grote Markt
In the very heart of the city, this grand square is now home to many eateries and beer bars where you can sample some traditional Dutch beer! The Grote Markt (main town square) is where the beating heart of Breda is and so if you’re looking for a place to sit and watch the world go by, this is it!
#5 Begijnhof Breda
If you’ve visited some of the major cities in the Netherlands or Belgium, then no doubt you’ll have come across a Beguinage or two (one of the most famous being the Beguinage of Amsterdam). These historic courtyards were typically constructed to house religious women who had not taken any vows. If you want to learn more about Breda’s beguinage, then there’s a small museum at No. 29.
#6 Wander around Old Town Breda
Truth be told, one of the best activities in Breda is simply to wander around the city’s cobbled lanes and soak up the historic atmosphere. So be sure to bring your camera along as you’ll likely want to snap numerous photos along the way…
#7 Bouvigne Castle
Situated to the south of Breda, the picture perfect Bouvigne Castle is surrounded by its own moat and looks like something straight out of a storybook. Easy to reach on foot (21 minutes) or by bike (7 minutes), Bouvigne Castle is easily one of the most beautiful castles in the Netherlands, along with Kasteel Duivenvoorde. While at the castle, be sure to check out the French-inspired gardens and castle dating back to the 15th-century.
Constructed during the 17th-century, and an extension of the fortifications found at Breda Castle, the Spanjaardsgat is alleged to be the very spot where Breda was freed from Spanish occupation during the Middle Ages. Today, this area of the city is one of the best places to enjoy the sunset in Breda.
#9 Stedelijk Museum Breda
Though Breda is home to several museums, if you make it your mission to visit just one cultural space during your time in the city, make it Breda’s main museum. Dedicated to the city’s rich and diverse history, the museum is home to a plethora of paintings, artefacts, and is a great place to find out more about Breda.
#10 Sint-Antoniuskathedraal (Cathedral of Saint Anthony of Padua)
In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Breda’s cathedral is not the main show when it comes to churches in the city. Instead, the Cathedral of Saint Anthony can be found down a small side street, on the fringes of the historic city centre. Constructed in 1837, the ecclesiastical building lost its cathedral status for a while, before being reinstated as the Cathedral of Breda in 2001.
#11 Admire the Stadhuis Breda (Breda Town Hall)
Situated in the very heart of the main town square (at No. 38 to be precise), Breda’s town hall is all brick architecture and is a great example of the traditional Dutch style from the North Brabant region.
Where to stay in Breda
Due to its compact nature, Breda can easily be seen over the course of a day. As such, I recommend an overnight stop on the ride between The Netherlands and Belgium. There are several great places to stay in Breda. Here are the best places to stay in the city (based on reviews and location):
B&B Aan de Singelgracht: During our time in Breda, we opted to stay in the beautifully appointed B&B Aan de Singelgracht. Located on the fringes of the city park and close to the train station, we loved the quirky decor and room amenities (coffee maker, chocolates, bathroom goodies). Check prices and availability here.
How to visit Breda and tips for visiting
Thanks to transport links to Amsterdam and Antwerp, it couldn’t be easier to reach Breda by train. Though the city itself has no great international airport connections, that of Schipol Amsterdam, Rotterdam The Hague, and Antwerp are less than an hour away by train.
Once in the city, it’s easy to explore most of Breda on foot thanks to its relatively small size and compact nature. If you’re looking to go a little further afield when in the city, then you can always rent a bike at the main train station or make use of the local buses. If you want to get to know the city on a more local level, then consider taking this Breda highlights bike tour.
The best time to visit Breda is easily in the summer months when the days are long, the temperatures soar, and every attraction in the city is actually open. With this being said, the European shoulder seasons (Spring and Autumn) are never a bad time to visit as this usually means fewer crowds and lower accommodation prices!