Tilburg (population 208,000) is the second-most populous city in the southwestern province of North Brabant, after the provincial capital Den Bosch. While the city is frequently overshadowed as a tourist destination, a marvelous city center, fine cultural institutions, and the only Trappist brewery in the Netherlands make it a stop to consider on any southern Netherlands itinerary.
How to Reach Tilburg:
There are no direct trains from Amsterdam Central Station to Tilburg; one or two transfers are required, either in Utrecht alone or both Utrecht and Den Bosch. Travel time is about 90 minutes. See the NS (Dutch Railways) web site for timetables and fare information.
What to Do & See in Tilburg:
Tilburg's entire city center is a protected historic district, dotted with monuments from various periods; perhaps the most essential of these is De Heuvel (The Hill), the central square, where the locals fetched their water from the only water pump in town, until a water tower was finally erected in the late 19th century. Just off the square, visitors will find both the shop-lined Heuvelstraat and the Korte Heuvel, where cafes are concentrated. On the Oude Markt (Old Market), the St. Dionysius Church - known colloquially as the Heikese Church - stands, crowned with a 15th-century tower. The city also boasts some fantastic modern architecture, such as the central train station, one of the most famous works of the Utrecht-born architect Koen van der Gaast, who specialized in train station architecture.
Museums & Culture in Tilburg:The crenellated Paleis-Raadhuis that dominates the Willemsplein now houses the city hall, but in the mid-19th century it served as a secondary school that prepared pupils for business and trade. One of its first, and certainly its most famous, pupils was painter Vincent van Gogh, who first learned to draw there. In 2009, Vincents Tekenlokaal (Stadhuisplein 128), the spot where the artist used to draw, was restored to its mid-19th-century interior décor; curious visitors can tour the replica studio and even follow art classes on the site. The tekenlokaal is one branch of the Stadsmuseum (City Museum), which has no fixed, central location but a number of decentralized collections.
Lovers of specialist museums should spare some time for the Audax Textile Museum (Goirkestraat 96), the only dedicated textile museum in the Netherlands, an appropriate honor for a city whose claim to fame from the 18th century onward was its textile industry and, in particular, its wool production. To that end, the museum has amassed a permanent collection that includes the raw materials and equipment used in textile production; artifacts from the historical textile industry; and, naturally, the textiles themselves, as well as art from the 1960s onward that prominently features such textiles.
Another unique specialist museum is the Kessels Music Instrument Museum (Eikenbosch 47; open by appointment only, Wed - Fri), where M.J.H. Kessels produced over a half-million instruments for export, from pianos and percussion instruments to brass and woodwinds.
One of the many "wool mills" that once served the city has been converted into a star contemporary art museum. Museum De Pont (Wilhelminapark 1), named after the attorney and businessman Jan de Pont (whose estate called for the museum's establishment), has one of the most essential collections of contemporary art in the country, in an exhibition space that was marvelously refurbished by Benthem Crouwel, the architectural firm responsible for the new Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
Another branch of the Stadsmuseum, the Peerke Donders Paviljoen (Pater Dondersstraat 20) commemorates the life of the Dutch priest who became a chaplain in Paramaribo, capital of Suriname, where he worked with leprosy patients. Beside the life of Donders, the museum is dedicated to the theme of naastenliefde, "brotherly love", where charitable deeds to that end are celebrated.
One of the best-loved museums in the province of North Brabant, the Natuurmuseum Brabant (Spoorlaan 434) is a natural history museum whose collection draws from the world's biodiversity, from animals and plants to stones, minerals, fossils and other relics, an insectarium and a herbarium. Kids and nature lovers will also like Dierenpark Reptielenhuis De Oliemeulen (De Oliemeulen Animal Park and Reptile House) (Reitse Hoevenstraat 30), with its population of reptiles, amphibians, birds of prey, and other unusual animals.
Where to Eat & Drink in Tilburg:
- Sarban Restaurant (Besterdring 2) - Afghanistan may have one of the richest culinary traditions in the world, but there are few spots where diners can sample this special cuisine. Visitors to Tilburg, however, can expect classic dishes like palauw (rice pilaf) and mantoe (savory turnovers) at Sarban Restaurant, the first Afghan restaurant in the southern Netherlands.
- Hofstede de Blaak (Dussenpad 1-3) - It's hard to tell what's most beautiful at Hofstede de Blaak: its location in a picture-perfect villa amid an pristinely landscaped lawn, or the exquisitely plated dishes that look like artworks unto themselves. In any case, De Blaak is consistently named one of the city's favorite restaurants for its seasonal menu of meat and fish dishes and its unbeatable location.
- Taste! (Heuvelpoort 300) - Taste! borrows some of the hospitality of the Hotel Mercure, in which it's situated, for a restaurant that combines excellent service with impeccable meals. With an emphasis on fair and locally sourced foods done up with refined techniques, the restaurant serves a short but impressive menu of French-inspired cuisine.
- Abdij Koningshoeven (Koningshoeven Abbey)
The monastery complex Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven (Our Dear Lady of Koningshoeven) (Eindhovenseweg 3) was established in the late 19th century as a haven for French Trappist monks, who feared that the hostile atmosphere they encountered in France would only worsen. While the situation in France never reached a head, monks were nevertheless drawn to the new abbey, which had to find a means to finance itself; its solution was to open a brewery. Until the present day, the abbey is the Netherlands' only Trappist brewery, and the complex is open to visitors who are curious to learn more about the monastic community and its craft.
Tourist Information Center
Open Mon, 1 - 6 p.m; Tues - Fri, 9.30 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sat, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.