The city of ‘s- Hertogenbosch – or Den Bosch as the locals call it – is a delightful place that has it all. There’s something for everyone, from stunning historical buildings and fascinating museums to fantastic shops and cozy cafés and restaurants. While Den Bosch may not have the same level of fame as Amsterdam, Utrecht, or Rotterdam, it’s a city bursting with potential and charm.
Its picturesque streets, adorned with historic cobblestones, create a charming backdrop. The stunning cathedral stands as a testament to the city’s rich history. Trendy bars and a thriving creative sector add a modern twist, blending seamlessly with the iconic Dutch canals that wind through the city. Den Bosch is also renowned for its vibrant festivals, lively events, and its integral role in the Dutch carnival tradition. It’s a city that truly comes alive and adds an extra dose of excitement to your Netherlands itinerary.
Don’t overlook the potential of Den Bosch. It is brimming with captivating attractions. But what truly sets it apart is the warm and inviting atmosphere. You’ll find jazz cafés, charming restaurants, and trendy bars where the locals truly know how to savor the good life. It’s the perfect addition to your Dutch adventure, offering a delightful and unique experience that will make your trip even more memorable.
If you want to know more about this amazing Dutch community, here’s what you need to know:
History of ‘s-Hertogenbosch
The origins of ‘s-Hertogenbosch can be traced to the 12th century when a fortified settlement was established near the confluence of the rivers Dommel and Aa in the Duchy of Brabant. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire back then.
The name’ s-Hertogenbosch means “the Duke’s Forest” in English and is believed to have originated from a hunting lodge that was once situated in the area. The city developed around a large fortification, which eventually grew into a fortified town.
In the late 13th century, Duke Henry I of Brabant granted ‘s-Hertogenbosch its city rights, giving it the privilege to self-govern and administer justice. The city rapidly expanded and prospered due to its strategic location along major trade routes, including the vital waterways of the Meuse and the Binnendieze.
During the Middle Ages, ‘Hertogenbosch became an influential center of trade, commerce, and craftsmanship. The city’s wealth and importance were enhanced by its flourishing textile industry, which attracted skilled artisans and craftsmen. The prosperity of ‘s-Hertogenbosch is reflected in the impressive architecture that can still be seen today, including the iconic St. John’s Cathedral, which was constructed between the 14th and 16th centuries.
In many places, you can still sense its glorious past. The city walls and fortifications of the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, built in the 16th and 17th centuries, have remained intact until today.
In 1629, ‘s-Hertogenbosch faced a significant turning point in its history when it was besieged and captured by the forces of the Dutch Republic during the Eighty Years’ War against Spanish rule. This marked the end of ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s period as a Catholic stronghold and its integration into the Protestant-dominated Dutch Republic. The Reformation Wars changed the course of the city’s history, making it an independent bishopric.
Throughout the centuries, ‘s-Hertogenbosch continued to thrive as an important center of trade, industry, and culture. The city’s strategic location played a crucial role during the Industrial Revolution, facilitating the development of various industries, including metalworking, ceramics, and food processing.
During World War II, the German forces occupied ‘s-Hertogenbosch and the city suffered significant damage during the liberation in 1944-1945. However, extensive post-war reconstruction efforts restored much of the historic city center to its former glory.
In recent decades, ‘s-Hertogenbosch has evolved into a vibrant and modern city while preserving its rich historical heritage. Today, it is renowned for its picturesque canals, well-preserved medieval architecture, cultural events, and vibrant community spirit.
‘s-Hertogenbosch is an underrated tourist destination, attracting visitors with its charming streets, museums, festivals, and culinary delights, such as the famous Bossche Bol pastry. The city’s historical significance, combined with its contemporary amenities and welcoming atmosphere, continue to make ‘s-Hertogenbosch an appealing place to explore and experience.
The Culture of ‘s-Hertogenbosch
Den Bosch has a strong sense of community, artistic heritage, and a celebration of traditions. The city has a rich cultural scene with a variety of events, festivals, museums, and a vibrant arts community.
‘s-Hertogenbosch is known for its warm and welcoming community, often referred to as “Bosschenaren.” The locals take pride in their city and its heritage, and they are known for their friendly and hospitable nature. People can make you feel welcome, and they often display a charming chauvinism that you don’t see very often and that never becomes intrusive.
One prominent aspect of the culture in ‘s-Hertogenbosch is its deep connection to the works of the famous medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch, who was born and raised in the city during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. He’s one of the city’s best-known residents, and you’ll feel as though you’ll meet him in person any moment as you walk in this quaint city. His imaginative and often fantastical paintings continue to influence and inspire artists and visitors to this day. The city pays tribute to Bosch through the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center, which showcases replicas of his works and provides insights into his life and artistic vision.
Festivals play a significant role in the cultural life of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The most famous and unique festival is the Bosch Parade, an annual waterborne procession that takes place on the city’s canals. Inspired by the works of Hieronymus Bosch, the Bosch Parade features imaginative and artistic floats that combine art, performance, and music, creating a captivating and otherworldly experience.
Carnival is also a part of Den Bosch’s culture. This festive Dutch tradition takes place in the days leading up to Lent and involves parades, music, costumes, and lively street parties. During Carnival, the city comes alive with a joyous and colorful atmosphere as residents and visitors join together in the festivities.
Theater and music also have a strong presence in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The Verkadefabriek is a popular cultural venue that hosts a wide range of performances, including theater, dance, music concerts, and film screenings. Additionally, the city has a symphony orchestra, the Brabant Orchestra, which presents classical music concerts throughout the year.
Culinary traditions are also an integral part of the culture in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Local specialties include the Bossche Bol, a delicious pastry filled with whipped cream and covered in chocolate. Visitors and residents alike can indulge in these culinary delights while exploring the city’s charming streets and vibrant squares.
What to Do in Den Bosch
‘s-Hertogenbosch is off the tourists’ radar. It’s a city that few non-Dutch tourists have heard of, but it’s a fascinating, must-visit city in Europe. It’s home to a variety of attractions: medieval architecture, modern art museums, and trendy neighborhoods with rich industrial heritage. Here’s what you can do to enjoy a visit to Den Bosch.
Marvel art at the Noordbrabants Museum
If you are an art-lover, another unmissable thing to do in Den Bosch is to visit the famous Noordbrabants Museum. The museum is housed in what once was a Jesuit Monastery. The first monastery was built in the early 14th century. In 1629, the building was appropriated by the State and became the Governor’s Palace. In 1984, after a short renovation, the building was converted into a museum, and it became the home of the Noordbrabants Museum.
The Noordbrabants Museum is the place where you can learn everything about Brabant’s history, art, and culture: from the Romans that lived on the territory of today’s North Brabant, to the famous medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch, to Van Gogh and up to contemporary art and design. Their Van Gogh collection is always on display.
Immerse yourself in Dutch carnival at the National Carnival Museum
To truly understand and experience the Dutch carnival, a visit to the National Carnival Museum (Oeteldonks Gemintemuzejum) in Den Bosch is a must. Carnival is a lively tradition in the Netherlands, where cities adopt new names during the festivities, and Den Bosch becomes Oeteldonk. Housed in a charming building on the Binnendieze, which once belonged to the Sisters of the Common Life, the museum showcases a fascinating collection of carnival costumes and posters and hosts temporary exhibitions.
Embark on a unique boat tour of the Binnendieze
One of the top highlights in Den Bosch is taking a boat tour along the Binnendieze. This fascinating experience allows you to explore the hidden spaces beneath the houses that are otherwise inaccessible. In the past, the Binnendieze served as the city’s sewer system, but today it offers an exciting adventure for both locals and visitors alike. The Binneindieze is an electric boat tour of the original waterways of the old city, and you get to travel under buildings and see the city’s very foundations.
Explore the Market Square
Discover the Vibrant Market Square The Market Square (Markt) is the lively heart of the city, surrounded by charming buildings. You’ll find a variety of restaurants and cafes where you can grab a bite or simply relax. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the square comes alive with a bustling market offering a wide range of goods. And don’t miss the special farmers’ market on Fridays, featuring delicious local and organic produce. Recently restored to its medieval appearance, the Market Square is adorned with a well and a statue inspired by a 16th-century painting displayed at the Noordbrabants Museum.
Check out their beautiful City Hall
Dominating the Market Square is the magnificent City Hall. Built-in the 13th century and renovated in the 17th century, this impressive building showcases baroque architecture and Dutch Classicism. Inside, the old council chamber is adorned with remarkable tapestries, and the wedding hall boasts luxurious golden leather decorations. You can explore the City Hall free of charge and immerse yourself in its grandeur.
Discover the oldest brick building in the Netherlands
Located at the corner of Market Square, you’ll find De Moriaan, the oldest preserved brick building in the country. With its distinctive reddish bricks and turret, it dates back to the early 13th century and represents a classic example of a hall house. It’s believed to be one of the oldest brick buildings in the Netherlands.
Over the centuries, De Moriaan has served various purposes, from a place of worship for the Lutheran community to a theater. Today, it houses the City’s Tourist Office. In the basement of De Moriaan, you’ll find Plein 79, one of the trendiest cafes in the city, offering live shows and music from Thursday to Sunday.
Indulge in the famous Bossche Bol
A visit to Den Bosch wouldn’t be complete without trying the renowned Bossche Bol. It’s a generous-sized profiterole filled with whipped cream and coated in rich dark chocolate. You can get your hands on this delectable treat at the original bakery, Jan de Groot, or at one of the many cafes in town proudly displaying the sign “Original Bossche Bol.” These cafes source their Bossche Bol from the bakery, ensuring an authentic experience.
Marvel at Sint-Jan and climb the church tower
St. John’s Cathedral (Sint-Janskathedraal) – simply called Sint-Jan – is a magnificent Gothic architectural masterpiece and an iconic landmark in Den Bosch. Construction of the church began in 1220 and was completed in 1530. Originally situated outside the city walls, it became a cathedral and the seat of the bishopric of ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1559.
Throughout history, the church endured challenges, including the destruction of interior decorations during the Iconoclastic Fury in 1566 and transitioning to a Protestant church in 1629. It was eventually returned to the Roman Catholics in 1810. The cathedral has undergone extensive restoration, most recently completed in 2012. When visiting, make sure to climb the church tower for a breathtaking view of the city.
Explore modern art and design at the Design Museum
Make sure to include a visit to the Design Museum Den Bosch during your trip to Den Bosch. Originating in the 1950s as an exhibition space for students from the Royal Art Academy of Art and Design, it has evolved into a municipal exhibition center since 1972. The museum has found its permanent home in a purpose-built, contemporary building adjacent to the Noordbrabants Museum. Experience the captivating world of modern art and design showcased in this museum.
Check out the unusual neighborhood of Bolwoningen
In one Dutch community in the city, you can find a unique neighborhood wherein residents live in giant concrete spheres that look like golf balls when viewed from the air. These unusual homes, called Bolwoningen (“bulb houses”), were initially conceived as an experiment for affordable housing. The exteriors of these houses are eye-catching and unconventional, and it looks like you’re in another world after seeing many Medieval sites in the city.
Admire the well-preserved city walls
Den Bosch is proud of its well-preserved city walls and several bastions and city gates. The first walls were constructed between 1220 and 1250, encompassing the present-day Market Square. As the settlement grew, the city walls were expanded in the 14th century. Over the centuries, the walls transformed into fortifications, turning Den Bosch into a formidable medieval stronghold that withstood sieges. While much of the fortifications were demolished in the late 19th century for urban expansion, a significant portion of the walls remains intact. Take a stroll along the ramparts to appreciate their historical significance, and take lots of travel photos with these charming walls as the background!
Treat yourself to some high-street shopping
For those looking to indulge in some shopping, Den Bosch won’t disappoint. The city was recently recognized as the best inner city in the Netherlands, so you can expect a wonderful shopping experience. You’ll find all the major brands and popular retailers, but also explore the picturesque streets dotted with charming specialty stores and boutiques. If you’re in need of new shoes, don’t miss Coozi on Vughterstraat (nr 53), offering an excellent collection of exclusive shoe brands at affordable prices.
Embrace the joyful “Burgundian Lifestyle.”
In Den Bosch, you can immerse yourself in the cherished “Burgundian lifestyle,” which means joie-de-vivre combined with a love for good food and wine. Basically, it’s the art of savoring life. Known as the capital of North Brabant, Den Bosch won’t disappoint when it comes to culinary delights. You’ll find a vibrant dining scene, ranging from cozy cafes to upscale restaurants offering diverse international cuisines. For a true taste of Den Bosch, explore popular dining streets such as Korte Putstraat, Uilenburg, and Parade.