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Visitor Guide to North Brabant, the Netherlands

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The province of North Brabant (Dutch: Noord-Brabant), often just "Brabant", occupies a wide expanse of land south of the Netherlands' major rivers. Once a part of the Duchy of Brabant, an Imperial State that endured from the 12th to the 17th centuries, the province still retains a distinctive culture and customs, such as Carnival, celebrated only in this predominantly Catholic part of the country. Carnival is an especially apt time to visit the major cities of the province - the provincial capital of Den Bosch, in particular, which hosts the oldest Carnival celebration, depicted even in the 15th-century works of native son Hieronymus Bosch. But the province also boasts perennial attractions that visitors can experience all year round; below is a round-up of each city's claims to fame.

Den Bosch

The provincial capital of North Brabant, Den Bosch, at just an hour's distance from Amsterdam, is well connected to the national capital by direct train lines. The name Den Bosch should sound familiar to art lovers thanks to one of its most famous inhabitants, 15th-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch; his entire oeuvre is reproduced in the city's Jheronimus Bosch Art Center, which has become a major tourist attraction in the city. The perimeter of the historic city center is dotted with restored fortifications from the old medieval walls; within the center is a slew of impressive architecture, such as that concentrated around the Markt (Market), the central square of the city. Underneath the city snakes the unique Binnendieze, Dutch for "inside the (river) Dieze", a subterranean network of canals; as the city rose in population, the inhabitants started to build houses over the canals themselves, which created this special feature of the city, which can be explored via boat tour.

Eindhoven

While Den Bosch is the provincial capital, Eindhoven is the most populous city in the province, at 217,000 inhabitants. The city's atmosphere, moreover, is a world apart from that of the capital; the center, carpeted with modern architecture, inspires reactions from reverence to revulsion. The city's twin claims to fame are its status as a center for electronics, and its role as an incubator for applied arts. Philips Electronics was founded here in 1891, when it produced carbon-filament lamps and other electronics; the influence of Philips can be spotted all over the city (and, indeed, the world). Art lovers won't want to miss the spectacular Van Abbemuseum, one of the most revered modern and contemporary art museums in Europe, whose stupendous collection is matched by its renowned architecture. The Van Abbe and other excellent cultural institutions make Eindhoven an important center for modern and applied art, one that's just an 80-minute train ride from Amsterdam.

Tilburg

Another city whose modern appearance inspires ambivalence in both locals and tourists, Tilburg is often overlooked as a tourist destination despite the numerous attractions it packs into its borders, which include several fine specialist museums. The protected city center may lack in beauty at times, but locations like De Heuvel (the central square) and the Oude Markt (Old Market) furnish splendid examples of historic architecture. The majestic Paleis-Raadhuis, a palace-turned-city hall on the centrally located Willemsplein, not only sports a lovely facade, but is also the spot where Vincent van Gogh learned to draw, back when it housed a trade school. Once a prolific center of textile production, wool in particular, the city honors its past in the Audax Textile Museum, which offers a window onto this crucial period in the city's history; while, in a converted wool mill, the artists and exhibits on view at Museum De Pont push the boundaries of contemporary art. The city also claims the only Trappist brewery in the Netherlands, which is open to visitors who are curious to learn more about the monastic community and its craft.

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