Eindhoven is the fifth-largest city in the Netherlands, located in the south of the country, not far from the Belgian border. Even so, the city is home to less than 250 thousand residents, many of whom are students or young professionals. Eindhoven has largely flown under the map for tourism, ensuring a relaxed and local take on a Dutch city.
Eindhoven has the nickname the ‘City of Light’, but probably not for the reason you’d think. While it does have a higher density of creative lighting at night, the name comes from the association of the city with Philips, the famed lighting and electronics manufacturer. The company has heavily invested in the city and influenced it significantly, with their touch seen nearly everywhere…
The written history of Eindhoven begins in 1232, when it started as only 170 houses surrounded by rampart walls, with a small castle just outside the fortifications. It grew with a reputation as a trading post, with weekly markets for regional farmers. It was also a common layover on the trade route between the prosperous regions of Holland and Liège.
Unfortunately, by the end of the 15th century, a few hundred years of dark times began. Starting in 1486, Eindhoven was sacked, burned, plundered and pillaged; they would eventually rebuild by 1502, but it wouldn’t last very long. The city would fall at least another three times before it was razed again during the French occupation.
Through to the 19th century, it remained only a small settlement until the industrial revolution arrived. Textile and tobacco industries brought initial wealth back to the city and would remain as a large portion of the economy well into the 20th century. But it was the founding of Philips Lightbulb Factory in 1891 that would truly transform Eindhoven into what it is today.
The population of the city would more than double between the World Wars, but Eindhoven had not seen its last assault. One of the first air raids in 1942 targeted the Philips factory, killing 148 civilians. Further swaths of the city would see large-scale destruction by air raids throughout the war, however the rebuilding paid little regard to historical heritage, with very little original architecture remaining.
Eindhoven was originally settled at the confluence of the Dommel, Gender, and Tongelreep streams. Considering the city was built only on sandy elevations, flooding was not uncommon in the city center through the first centuries. The Dommel was eventually redirected with a dam after the war, but recent efforts have tried to reinstate the original paths of the streams, bringing them through the middle of the city.
Like other cities in the Lowlands, Eindhoven has an oceanic climate. However, the inland location results in warmer summers and colder winters than the highly-populated coastal Dutch cities. However, the trade-off is overall less precipitation throughout the year than the coastal compatriots.
The summer is usually a comfortable 15-25°C, but that may be changing. The record high temperature of 40°C was recorded only in 2019, on July 25th. On the other end of the spectrum, the winter can present cold snaps that fall as low as -15°C for a few days. However, the temperature is normally mild and only rarely dips below zero. The temperate days mean that snow does not stay around for long.
The renowned electronics and engineering industries has attracted world-wide talent, with more than 30% of residents with foreign ancestry. The largest groups that are represented are Turkish and Indonesian, the latter owing to the Dutch colonial days. The result is a cosmopolitan city that largely avoids any specific characteristics or personality.
While only about 5000 people like in the city-proper, within the boundaries drawn by an ancient moat, there are at least four large institutions for higher and adult learning, among many other private schools for courses and training. The student population has driven the popularity of bars, with Stratumseind being the largest ‘pub street’ in the Netherlands.
The overall young and educated residents of Eindhoven has led to a plethora of art spread through public spaces in the city, extending also to both performance art and busking. The Stadswandelpark has over thirty pieces of modern art on display. The city itself is also very green, more than any other Dutch city, with over 30% of the area being green-space.
The young atmosphere also applies to the nightlife, with Eindhoven hosting at least a dozen festivals each year. A particular example also celebrates Philips: the light festival, named GLOW, thanks place in the cultural neighborhood of Strijp-S. In an equally ‘alternative’ vein, there are at least four brothels located in the city, with Eindhoven also having a Red Light District in Baekelandplein, akin to Amsterdam.
While Eindhoven used to have a bad reputation for theft and robbery, efforts since 2011 have drastically reduced crime rates to below the Dutch average.
The culinary vibe of Eindhoven is best described as young and hip. University students often drive up the character of local establishments, while a high population of young professionals ensures a level of quality they have come to expect. Culinary fads abound while restaurants compete on menus, atmosphere and branding.
The city is not without its recognized institutions, with the Michelin Guide well-represented given such a small population. There are two 1-star locations in the city center – one is presented below as an option for lunch! – and a whopping three two-star restaurants are located in the neighborhoods surrounding the medieval center. If your time is scarce in the city, consider simply grabbing something excellent to eat.
If you’re short on time, make sure to check out the Stratumseind and the nearby Sint-Catharinakerk. Food and drinks are plentiful in this area, as are modern and historical sights of the Dutch city.
Steentjeskerk: This church built in 1919 is arguably one of the standout historical buildings in the city, originally named after Saint Anthony. It eschewed the prevailing Gothic preference of the day, for a more Romanesque architecture. From 1984 to 2012, it housed a museum that has since been moved to the site of the Eindhoven Museum. Since 2001, it’s been designated as a Dutch national monument.
Witte Dame/Bruine Heer/Roze Baby (‘White Lady’/‘Brown Gentleman’/‘Pink Baby’): A trio of buildings as monuments to the Philips legacy. The ‘Lady’ is a former Philips lamp factory; the ‘Gentleman’ the former Philips main offices; the ‘Baby’ is Philips’ first light bulb factory. The impressive buildings now house museums, shops, commercial space and many other things.
Lichttoren (Light Tower): The crowning glory of the Philips legacy on the architecture of Eindhoven is their ‘Light Tower’. It’s a modern, hexagonal tower in the functionalist style, gleaming white and covered in windows. It was built in stages and finished in 1921, serving as the Philips headquarters. Now brightly illuminated with LED lights, it’s a sight best seen at night.
The Philips influence has stretched throughout the city, importing the best engineering and technology minds outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. The top talent has brought the entertainment and culinary needs to match, with multiple Michelin-starred establishments around the city.
Wiesen: Proudly displaying one Michelin Star, this lovely eatery is open for lunch. It offers patio seating in the summertime and highlights local produce year-round. With lunch starting at only €45, Wiesen is a relatively affordable foray into haute cuisine. A reservation is suggested, for lunch or dinner, but same-day accommodation is usually available outside peak season.
Eetcafé Spijker: The Dutch version of a classic Diner experience, this cozy establishment offers affordable fare at both lunch and dinner. Their soups and sandwiches are always sure to satisfy, and their vast selection of beer, wine and spirits ensures there’s an option for everyone. The Diner is consistently rated in the upper echelon of local restaurants.
Just across the Stratumseind, you’ve likely already noticed the stately building nearby.
Sint-Catharinakerk (St. Catherine’s Church): Marking the head of the Stratumseind, lies a magnificent neo-Gothic church constructed in 1867 on the site of an older medieval structure of the same name. The highlight of its design are the pair of towers, named after David and Maria, standing at an impressive 73 meters and inspired by French Gothic cathedrals.
Van Abbemuseum: A celebration of modern and contemporary art – based in an equally modern building – it was established in 1936 to bring the styles to Eindhoven. It houses more than 2500 pieces ranging from video to canvas; it is home to the largest collection of art by El Lissitzky. It also proudly displays works from Picasso, Mondrian and Kandinsky.
Eindhoven Museum: Only about one kilometer south of the historical center, the museum is an open-air archaeological ode to the Iron and Middle Ages. It’s a living museum with demonstrations and recreations of every-day life in the time periods. The weekends and holiday seasons are the best time to visit, weekdays are distinctly oriented toward visiting school children.
The city of Eindhoven, like its residents, is young and striving to be something. While a distinct personality of the city is hard to grasp, it is nonetheless an excellent place to spend the day.
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