While it’s packed with Dutch history, the southern city of Breda, isn’t well known outside of The Netherlands.
But if you’re looking for a forward thinking city for a weekend break – or longer – where sustainability is being embraced and climate change not ignored, you’d be hard pushed to find a better refuge than Breda.
This small city, 10kms from Belgium, has been voted the best city centre in the Netherlands and it’s not hard to see why.
Stunning medieval squares like Grote Markt now play home to a variety of pastel coloured pavement cafes, craft breweries nestle in amongst ancient arches and the city is ringed by a tree-lined canal, while the River Mark which winds its way from Belgium and ends peacefully in Breda.
“By 2030 Breda will be the first European city to reside wholly within a park”
Hit the water
You can’t experience Breda without getting on the water. Hire an electric boat or head out on an electric tour barge to get a feel for this green-focused refuge.
The canals are put to good use to move residents around, while dozens of bikes silently glide over your head on the many bridges you’ll slip under. The banks are full of insects, greenery and are beautiful to look at, so slow down to Breda’s pace.
Enjoy park life
On a sunny afternoon you’ll find everyone in Breda outside, drinking, chatting and enjoying their parks. Valkeberg Park surrounds the castle Nassau in the city centre – Breda was home to the forerunners of its monarchy for centuries so it has a special place in Dutch history.
In fact Breda is turning the idea of a park on its head. By 2030 Breda will be the first European city to reside wholly within a park.
Also seek out the Begijnhof (alms houses), built for single women in the 1800s and still used today, there are beautiful but small gardens to stop and enjoy a moment to yourself
Support independent craftspeople
From sustainable fashion stores, to tiny lush houseplant shops, Breda is rich in experienced, forward thinking crafts-people and artisans who have settled for a slower pace of life than in Amsterdam or Rotterdam.
Independent shops and cafes thrive here and offer tourists a proper glimpse into Dutch style beyond the big cities.
The entire city feels as if it’s a parallel universe where only great design and incredible style are possible, while residents glide by on rattly bikes and Breda’s respected commitment to a better work/life balance seems to hang in the very air.
Head for the cobbled independent Sint Annastraat to find houseplant heaven at The Green Submarine, J’Adore for vintage fashion or Saar Barbaars for handmade leather bags.
Step into a circular future
Part post apocalyptic shanty town, part off-grid upcycling delight, creative community STEK is a wonder on the riverside.
It has developed over the last 10 years as an autonomous area where individual entrepreneurs can build upcycled studios, shops, restaurants and workshops to develop sustainable services and ideas.
There are no rules (even for buildings), apart from the fact that everyone who is based there collaborates and creates no waste.
From 3D printed recycled plastic lamps and a record store selling landfill rescued LPs to counselling taking place in a rare self supported straw house, it’s all here. Shop at a zero waste shop or book into a barbers made of upcycled windows and doors, STEK feels like a small glimpse into a future where the circular economy is everywhere and we’re all on board for saving the planet.
Chill on the urban beach
Ten years ago Belcrum Beach opened just outside Breda. It’s a short boat ride from the pretty parks that make up this small medieval town and it quickly became one of Breda’s coolest hangouts, offering food, drink and music on imported sand by the water.
Key to it though is the volunteer run, give back approach that Belcrum takes. It host family groups and elderly visitors throughout the week, everything has been created by reusing waste wood and other recycled products, it’s run by solar energy and it’s only accessible by boat and on foot.
On a summer evening it’s where you’ll find a fabulous mix of Breda residents chilling out.
“Breda has big plans to be a ‘city of green’ by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2044”
Going carbon neutral
Breda has big plans to be a ‘city of green’ by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2044.
Its cobbled streets and squares are linked by a network of different sized parks and the local municipality has committed to planting thousands of trees to offset emissions. There are also digital lead plans to improve air quality here.
Discover plant based restaurants
Championing plants and vegan food is big in Breda.
Go high brow at Holy Moly, a cabaret and comedy club come fine dining vegan restaurant. It goes in for tasting menus of incredible depth and creativity that will have been the most dedicated carnivore licking their lips.
For a more casual bite head to BANK15, a creative collaborative space that hands over its kitchen to Breda’s entrepreneurs who want to try out new foodie concepts. They also help people who need a leg up get the hospitality experience they need to move to the next stage of their careers.
How to get to Breda
From the UK, take the Eurostar and change at Rotterdam or Brussels. Take the train to Breda, it takes less than an hour from Rotterdam.