We have to be honest here. Eindhoven is not the prettiest of Dutch places to visit by any means. But the city makes the most of what it has, and that includes the best winter festival of lights in the country.
Eindhoven was actually founded in the 13th century but it was not until the start of the 1900s that it really grew, thanks to textiles and tobacco, and to Daf Trucks and Philips.
What there was of the medieval city was largely destroyed by both German and allied bombers during World War II and the post war reconstruction which followed, and which paid scant attention to the city’s heritage.
Today the city’s wealth is still largely based on innovation and technology, thanks in part to its university of technology, and its “brainport” – the term used to describe its economic strategy.
Eindhoven is now the fifth largest city in the Netherlands, with a population of some 240,000 – including a lot of students. It is also a great place to visit in the winter because there is lots to do indoors.
What to do?
Glow with the flow
The Glow festival takes place from November 11 to November 18 this year and is well worth a visit. The works are dotted all over the city centre – blasted across the main railway station, for example, or stretching up high rise buildings.
The theme this year is “the beat” – the first in a trilogy which be followed by “the stream” next year and “the light” in 2025, when the festival also celebrates its 25th year.
Glow is a free festival with a clear walking route which takes around two hours to complete. You can also sign up for a guided tour in a group or private visit. Pick up the map at the tourist board or railway station.
Evoluon looks like a flying saucer that has just landed on the edge of a park. Designed by architects Louis Kalff and Leo de Bever it was a forward-thinking technology museum from 1966 until it was closed by Philips in 1989.
Now revamped and reopened, Evoluon is the headquarters of Next Nature, an organisation that aims to raise awareness about the impact of technology on our lives and the planet.
Inside is a fascinating and very accessible exhibition RetroFuture which looks at how we used to view the future decades, if not centuries ago. It is an absorbing and unpretentious show which will appeal to all ages.
The Van Abbemuseum is one of the first public museums for contemporary art to be established in Europe and has a collection of over 3,400 works, including Joseph Beuys, Marc Chagall, René Daniëls, Marlene Dumas, Sheela Gowda, Martha Rosler, and Lidwien van de Ven.
The museum has an old and a new building, which are joined together around the river front, where you will find a sort of inner lake and great cafe for lunch. The front garden of the museum was designed by Piet Oudolf.
Explore Van Gogh’s early years
If you need a taste of Van Gogh, you can do no worse than hop on a bike or a bus and head for nearby Nuenen, where the artist lived for a time as a young man. He he painted his favourite work, the Potato Eaters, while living there. If you are simply curious about Van Gogh’s time in the Netherlands, you will find plenty to entertain you as well.
Eindhoven is packed with industrial heritage, given its importance to Philips and a host of other innovative Dutch firms. In Strijp-S almost all the old factory buildings have been transformed into shops, restaurants, and creative workplaces. Dutch Design Week (DDW) and the STRP Festival are focused here. You can also take a guided tour.
A fan of Daf cars and trucks? Check out the Daf Museum to complete your nostalgia trip and find out which prototypes never made it into production.
Where to stay
We stayed in the Mariënhage Hotel built into a former monastery and right in the heart of the city. The lobby is home to a light art installation by renowned Dutch design duo, Studio Drift and during Glow, the route takes you through the hotel to admire it. The hotel also has a spacious urban garden and a spa.
Eindhoven has all the main chains as well, given its role as a conference and design centre, so you have plenty of choice for all budgets. Hof B&B is a city centre bed and breakfast with just two rooms.
Where to eat
If you visit Eindhoven for Glow, you will find food trucks scattered around the route so you should not go hungry. Meneer de Boer serves an excellent breakfast up to 3pm, from vegan porridge to a full English. It gets very busy so you may have to wait. For Asian food, Valli’s Corner offers a terrific range of Malaysian dishes while Umani by Han offers plenty of Japanese influences. You’ll also find the usual range of burger bars and fancy French fry joints scattered throughout the city centre.
How to get there
Eindhoven is about 1 hour 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam and 1 hour 40 minutes from The Hague. You can easily get there by car, but the motorways you need to use from the north are often subject to long delays. Parking can also be a problem.
Dutch Design Week takes place in Eindhoven every year in late October and is centred on the prestigious Design Academy.
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