While Amsterdam is an incredible city, this article addresses a quintessentially Dutch city: ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
Known affectionately as Den Bosch, the city lies a 45-minute train ride south of Amsterdam. With cobblestone streets, more bike paths than roads (awarded Fietsstad 2011 – check it out!), and a weekend market where stroop waffles are made before your eyes, it’s difficult to get more Dutch than that.
I am lucky enough to have a pocket of friends who live and work in Den Bosch, so when we arrived, we headed to my former office so we could say “Hallo!” before going downtown. Like Amsterdam, Den Bosch is riddled with canals. Unlike Amsterdam, these canals are mostly narrow – similar to Venice. We grabbed some frites (the Dutch are known for fries) and I spent the evening gliding through the protected marshes.
The next day, we took a canal tour of the city. I highly recommend doing this, as it is an interesting perspective and quite fun to duck under bridges as you float by hundred-year-old architecture. Be aware that tours are usually seasonal, so be sure to check Rondvaart op de Binnendieze to avoid showing up to a closed shop. We ended our evening at Jan de Groot, a famous bakery near the train station. You must eat a bosschebol, a large cream/custard pastry dipped in dark chocolate, which is actually like eating a piece of heaven. Go early – the line certainly reflects the demand for these decadent treats.
To make up for Jan de Groot, rent bicycles from Fietspoint Van Deursen, the shop below the train station and head out on the bike paths. It’s €7.50 for a day (valid ID and deposit required), making it a fun, budget-friendly way to see the city. We rented bikes around 9 AM and biked out of town towards the Trappist brewery, La Trappe. Be aware that this bike ride is about 30 km, so it takes some time. Luckily, the Netherlands is a flat country and the path offers plenty of worthy pit stops such as a concentration camp, sand dunes (no, I am not kidding), and beautiful parks. You can take a tour of the brewery, which you should book in advance. The tour includes one beer, but don’t worry, there is a restaurant and bar where you can indulge in bitterbalen (not for vegetarians) and sample the fantastic brews – I recommend the Quadruple. The best part about this day is that train transportation in Koningshoeven is a short bike ride away, meaning that you do not have to commit to a 40 km ride back to Den Bosch.
Finally, you must visit the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center. Bosch was a medieval Dutch painter (1450-1516) known for his religious paintings. Visiting the museum is a trip, and his paintings are fantastically bizarre. The museum offers a discount for students, so bring your student ID and stay a while. His artwork is interestingly curated in chronological order, accessed by climbing a spiral staircase and stopping on five different landings. At the top, you can overlook the city from the tower and almost imagine what life was like for Jheronimus hundreds of years ago. Den Bosch is extremely proud of his work and has life-size statues of some of his creatures in hidden spots throughout the city. If you are a runner, I recommend a scavenger hunt to see for yourself.
No one can deny that Amsterdam is an amazing city. However, if you want a taste of everyday Dutch life, head to Den Bosch and stay a while.