Located within the Netherlands province of Brabant, the city of Breda offers a variety of historic attractions, including preserved Medieval fortifications, a traditional town square, and a canal system offering guided boat tours.
The municipality of Breda derives its name from the term brede aa, which refers to the nearby confluence of the Mark and Aa Rivers. Prior to the official municipal charger of Breda in 1252, the region spent several centuries as a fief of the Roman Empire. Throughout the Medieval Period, the city was sold to the supervision of several successive members of Dutch nobility. During its supervision by the House of Orange-Nassau from the late 15th century through its revolutionary capture, the city became a popular residential area for Dutch nobility and expanded its presence as a major economic center within the Brabant province. Throughout the 16th century, the city experienced significant adversity as the result of a major fire in 1534 and a surprise siege by Spanish forces during the Eighty Years’ War in 1581. Though the city was temporarily reclaimed by Dutch forces in 1591, it fell under Spanish rule again in 1624. In 1667, the city served as the site of the signing of the Treaty of Breda, which famously brought an end to the Anglo Dutch War, and in 1795, the city was overtaken by French revolutionaries. During World War II, the city fell under German occupation until its liberation by the Polish Army in 1944. Following the war, the city served as the site of the Koepelgevangenis panopticon prison, which housed the infamous “Breda Four,” four German officials imprisoned for their war crimes throughout much of the 20th century.
Today, Breda is located within the Netherlands’ North Brabant province and is home to more than 170,000 residents. The city has earned a reputation as an educational and business center and is home to the Benelux Union headquarters of a number of international corporations, including Toshiba, Texaco, General Electric, and ExxonMobil. Its central location between Rotterdam and Antwerp makes the city a popular and convenient tourist destination for visitors interested in its rich historic architecture and cultural attractions.
Many of the city’s Medieval structures have remained intact and make the city a popular destination for European history enthusiasts. The city’s Old Town area is surrounded by a circular canal with moats and a harbor, constructed during the city’s fortification. Its focal point is the Grote Markt central square, which features cobblestone paved streets with a variety of cafes and restaurants offering outdoor plaza seating and showcases the character of historic European city centers. Several notable historic sites are located within the square, including the Grote of Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk, or “Church of Our Lady,” an intricate Gothic-style building which towers over the city’s skyline and showcases a 97-meter-high bell tower. Renaissance-style adornments are highlighted within the church’s interior, including an immense pipe organ, ornate columns, and high-vaulted ceilings. Nearby, the Sint Antoniuskathedraal Roman Catholic church, constructed in 1837, showcases Neoclassical architecture and houses an opulent golden altar and wooden organ.
Guided tours of Breda Castle are offered daily, showcasing the historic 12th-century castle’s Spaniards Hole fortress gate and blokhuis guard tower. A gallery within the castle showcases exhibits on the castle’s history and associated public figures such as Count Henry III, and a library preserves historic archives. Visitors may also explore the city’s canal system as part of canal boat tours, which last approximately one hour and showcase a variety of area landmarks.
Several public parks are located within the city, including Valkenberg Park, situated between Grote Markt and the city’s railway station, which showcases a Barony Monument dedicated to the House of Orange’s historic influence on the city. The 1,200-acre Mastbos Park, located just south of the city, showcases expansive pine woodland areas and offers picnic sites and walking trails. Cultural sites within the city include the Begijnhof Museum, which preserves 19th-century houses, churches, and gardens, the Breda Museum, which displays regional art, and the Reptile House De Aarde, which houses a wide variety of reptile and amphibian species. The Polish War Cemetery also honors Polish World War II soldiers who gave their lives in service of the city’s liberation.
Ongoing Programs and Events
A number of annual festivals are held throughout the city, including Liberation Day festivities in commemoration of the city’s liberation by Polish forces during World War II. In April, organized festivities are held in honor of King’s Day, and in May, the Breda Jazz Festival brings more than 250,000 visitors to the region. Other annual festivals include the Carnaval celebration in February and the Breda Barst and Dance Tour Breda open-air music and dance festivals.