A weekend break in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch)

Stuart Forster looks at things to do and places to visit during a weekend break in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch).

Don’t be confused by the fact the Dutch city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch is also interchangeably known by its informal, abbreviated name, Den Bosch. This is a compact city with medieval origins and plenty to offer for a weekend break.

The city centre has a cobbled marketplace and numerous brick buildings on narrow lanes. It’s a pleasant place to stroll around, with plenty of bars and cafes to dip in and out of.

Brabant is not Holland

Locals are proud of their heritage and quick to point out their city lies in Brabant, which is part of the Netherlands but not Holland, which is a different province. They like to think of themselves as more laid back than the folk up north and will tell you this is the region to head if you enjoy good food and drink.

“We’re Catholics here so enjoy our beer and partying, then go to Confession and cleanse ourselves of sin, especially after the Carnival season, when this city goes absolutely crazy,” I was told jokingly by one resident in a conversation outside of a bar.

Attractions in Den Bosch

Arguably the best-known landmark in Den Bosch is St John’s Cathedral, a 73-metre tall Gothic-style place of worship housing an ornate pipe organ that was built between 1618 and 1638. The ramparts, surrounding the old town, are also worth wandering along. The citadel is a fine example of star-shaped, 17th-century, military architecture.

You can take a boat tour around the narrow canals of the city centre. In places, this means heading underneath buildings and passing colourful but grotesque sculptures based on the creatures depicted in paintings by Hieronymus Bosch.

Bosch died in the city in 1516. His works depict moralistic and religious scenes and are distributed in leading art museums. His The Garden of Earthly Delights, for example, is in Madrid’s Museo del Prado. You can view the details of all his paintings on copies displayed within the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center (Jeroen Boschplein 2). The attraction within a former church hosts a recreation of his studio, more of the sculptures based upon his demonic creatures plus an astronomical clock that shows scenes from the Last Judgement.

If you enjoy art and history then head to the recently renovated museum quarter. On 24 May 2013 a ceremony was held to officially reopen of Het Noordbrabants Museum (North Brabant Museum), which is physically connected to the neighbouring Design Museum Den Bosch (De Mortel 4).

The Stedelijk has a collection of art jewellery and ceramics and hosts regular contemporary art and design exhibitions.

Het Noordbrabants Museum (Verwersstraat 41) is located within the 18th-century military governor’s mansion and tells the story of the region’s heritage, history and culture from prehistoric times onwards. The highlights include archaeological finds from the Roman era to products designed and produced in Brabant. The museum’s impressive collection of artworks includes paintings by Vincent van Gogh, who was born in nearby Zundert.

2015 marked the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death, which was commemorated by the Van Gogh Inspiration Year in Het Noordbrabants Museum. The museum displays work by the renowned Dutch artist.

I could easily have spent longer than a weekend in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and heartily recommend a visit.

Quirky but interesting

The city was founded by Henry I, the Duke of Brabant, in the late 12th century. The name ‘s-Hertogenbosch translates to ‘the duke’s forest’ while Den Bosch means simply ‘the forest.’

Detail of work by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450 - 1516) at the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center.
Detail of work by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450 – 1516) at the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center.

Ideas and Recommendations

Time for a coffee

If you’re indecisive but love coffee then Den Bosch will prove a nightmare for you; the number of cafes is prodigious. If you enjoy music, pause in De Toonzaal (Prins Bernhardstraat 4-6), which locals recommend for its free Thursday evening concerts. High teas are served in ‘t Opkikkertje (Markt 38), a café with terrace seating on the marketplace plus a traditional, partially wood-panelled interior housing a collection of frog ornaments.

One of the highlights of any coffee break has to be trying a Bossche bol. Their enormous cakes are essentially a spherical take on the chocolate éclair. Jan de Groot (Stationsweg 24) is said to be one of the best places to try one of the Bossche bollen.

Take something home

If you enjoy browsing market stalls then plan to be in the city on a Saturday when they are erected on the marketplace and in adjacent streets.

For a pair of traditional wooden shoes, head to master clog maker Frans van Kuijk (Voorstraat 47). Dutch souvenirs are available in De Kleine Winst (Markt 29).

It’s beer o’clock

Be prepared for a long night if you head out on the weekend in Den Bosch, which is renowned throughout the Netherlands for its gezelligheid. Ask for a precise definition of what that means and you’ll be met by a lot of umming, arring and shoulder shrugging but it boils down to warmth and hospitability. In pubs, it means people are quick to chat with strangers.

The compact ‘t Bonte Palet (Hinthamerstraat 99) makes claims to being the city’s smallest pub and is crammed with bric-a-brac. De Gouwe Sleutel (Koninginnenlaan 28) is a laid-back, long-established bar with a wide selection of draught beers.

Don’t be surprised if you see people standing chatting on the streets with glasses in the wee hours of the morning.

Time to dine

Breton (Korte Putstraat 26, tel. +31 (0)73 513 4705) is a cosy brasserie-style restaurant with a modern, neutral interior. I chose to sit outside, under the canopy, where I could watch life unfold in the lane around me. Grilled prawns, served in a garlic sauce, followed by a rib eye steak proved a good start to an evening out in the city.

Choosing the three-course menu in Zaher (Orthenstraat 87, tel. +31 (0)73 879 5185) means you’ll have an opportunity to taste a selection of Afghani cuisine. The hospitable owner took a few minutes to explain the influences behind the cuisine he serves and introduced each of the dishes, some of which are spicy while others are mild and fragrant.

Where to stay

Booking one of the four rooms or two suites of the 3-star Stadshotel Jeroen (Jeroen Boschplein 6; tel. +31 (0)73 610 3556) places you in the centre of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, adjacent to the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center. The rooms have single beds and are located above Brasserie JB, where Fairtrade teas and coffees are served.

The 125-room Golden Tulip Hotel Central (Burg Loeffplein 98, tel. +31 (0)73 692 6926) is a comfortable, 4-star hotel with rooms overlooking the cobbled market square in the heart of the city. There’s a fitness room up on the seventh floor. The hotel has a brasserie overlooking the marketplace plus the fine-dining Restaurant De Leeuwenborgh, serving French and Dutch cuisine.

Getting to ‘s-Hertogenbosch

KLM flies into Amsterdam Airport Schiphol from regional airports across the United Kingdom as well as international airports around the world. By train ‘s-Hertogenbosch Central Station is a 65-minute ride from the railway station at Schiphol.

Further information

Find out more about the city and its attractions on the ‘s-Hertogenbosch Tourism Board website.

See the Visit Brabant website for information (in Dutch) about this province in the south of the Netherlands.

Visit Holland has information about the city, the surrounding region and the Netherlands as a whole.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.

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The central railway station in 's-Hertogenbosch.
The central railway station in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

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