Although Heusden is quite petite, it has rich history and offers visitors a great experience. Heusden is located on the banks of the River Meuse (Maas) in the Province of North-Brabant in the South of the Netherlands and is one of the walled towns in the country. Seen from the air, Heusden has the shape of a star. In the visitors centre in Heusden, there is a beautifully executed model of the town, so that you can get an idea of how it looks from above. Heusden makes it a perfect destination for a one day trip from Amsterdam, or from another big city (Den Bosch, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Breda) in the Netherlands.
Heusden is not really super touristy, it is more popular among the locals as a biking destination from the nearest big cities, or a weekend escape. It is absolutely charming and much worth the visit. The whole town has been completely reconstructed, but unlike an open-air museum, which serves only as a tourist attraction, Heusden is a place where people actually can live and work.
- 1 Information about Heusden
- 2 How to get to Heusden
- 3 What to do in Heusden
- 4 Where to stay in Heusden
Information about Heusden
History of Heusden
For the first time the name of the settlement is mentioned in 722, but it is only in the 12th century when the town began to form itself around the Castle of Heusden. The first defensive walls around the town were built in the 14th century. At the end of the 16th century the fortifications were reinforced and modernized. Through the centuries the town grew and the defensive walls were expanded further.
Heusden and WWII
Just at the end of the WWII the town suffered one of the biggest tragedies in its history. On the night of 4th to 5th November 1944 there was announced an artillery attack. 170 civilians gathered in the cellars of the town hall to seek shelter. In the early morning of 5th November, the Germans detonated the tower of the town hall which collapsed on the building itself, killing 134 people, a 10% of the town’s population then. Few hours later the town was liberated by a Scottish Division. The detonation of the town hall was investigated as a war crime as the explosives were put in such a way that the tower would collapse onto the building and not on the street, for example. However, those who executed and led this operation were never charged. There are still stories that go around about those tragic events.
Space is scarce in Heusden and the houses do not have front yards, but the people of Heusden are creative, turning the sidewalks in beautiful gardens.
How to get to Heusden
The best way to get to Heusden from Amsterdam or anywhere in the Netherlands, is by car. Just outside the town walls there are three parking places where you can park your car for free. Within the town walls the service is paid and quite restricted. The streets are tiny and the places are limited. So when coming to Heusden by car, please, park outside as the town is too small.
By public transport
With public transportation it takes less than 2 hours to go to Heusden from Amsterdam. First take the train from the central train station in Amsterdam to ‘s-Hertogenbosch (about an hour) and then bus 135 to Wijk en Aalburg (about 20 min). The bus station in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) is next to the train station. You can plan your trip to Heusden by clicking on the Plan my journey button bellow.
Engstraat is a tiny street that connects the Fish Market (Vismarkt) with Bottermark Street. There are plenty of tiny streets and alleys in Heusden with unexpected endings and hidden treasures.
What to do in Heusden
Despite the small size, Heusden is absolutely adorable. Just stroll around and get lost. Well, you can’t really get lost as you would always reach the town walls in less than 15 minutes, no matter where you are.
Sightseeing in Heusden
Heusden was one of the first walled towns in the Netherlands. The building of the fortifications began in 1579 and was accomplished in 1597. However, by the 19th century nothing was left from these once glorious fortifications. Today, the defence works are completely restored according to an old map from 1649. The fortifications are a great place for a walk. You can make a complete circle around the town walking on the elevated fortifications. You will have some beautiful views on the surrounding scenery and the town itself.
The fortifications of Heusden were a complex structure of water, dikes, towers and ramparts. You can witness these beautiful views when you walk from one of the parking places towards the tiny town.
The town hall
The old town hall was completely destroyed by the explosions on the early morning of 5th November 1944. It was one of the most beautiful town hall buildings in the Netherlands, built in 1461. After the war it was rebuilt but not to its previous state. The new building was opened in 1956. Today there is a visitors centre, which hosts various exhibitions. Here you can see models of the old town hall and the whole town including the fortifications.
An unusual view of the Town Hall – from the churchyard of the Grote Kerk. Once one of the most imposing town hall buildings in the country, it was completely destroyed at the end of WWII.
The Bottermarkt street with the town hall at the bottom. It is a busy street with small shops on both sides. The town is ready for Christmas!
In the Middle Ages there were four town gates that would let people in and out of the town walls. Today, there are two completely reconstructed gates: The Ferry Gate (de Veerpoort) and The Wijkse Gate (de Wijkse poort) and remains of a third one – The Herptse Gate (de Herptse poort).
One of the four gates in Heusden from the Middle Ages, fully reconstructed today – the Wijkse Gate (De Wijkse poort)
Today, there is almost nothing left from this once very important castle. It was built in the 12 c. and was one of the biggest castles in Western Europe of its time. On 24 July 1680 a lightning hit the dunjon, where the munitions were stored, and the castle, together with the surrounding buildings and houses, was blown in the air. The only thing that survived after the explosion were the walls of a rectangular tower. The castle has never been completely restored afterwards.
The ruins of the Castle of Heusden that was blown up in the air in 1680 after a lightning hit the dunjon with the munitions.
The Fish Market (Vismarkt)
This is the central square of Heusden. After walking around the town, you can stop for a drink at one of the many cafés at the square. If you want to drink your beer enjoying the yachts and the boats that stop at the marina, take a place at the Havenzicht café. If you a great fan of the Dutch style pancakes, you can have one at the Pannekoekenbakker. A local attraction at the square is the house with a cannonball in the wall – a proof of the turbulent past of this fortified town.
The Fish Market (Vismarkt) is the town’s square. It is surrounded by cafes, restaurants and art galleries, a nice place just to hang out.
The Fish Market (Vismarkt) is a place where locals love to spend their Saturday afternoons. Heusden is also a preferred stop for bikers and motor bikers. If you are sailing a boat, you are also welcome in Heusden.
The famous house on the Fish Market (Vismarkt) that has a cannonball stuck in the wall. You can spot it to the right of the top window, near the bottom of the reinforcing bar. They call the house the Lost Cannonball (De Verdwaalde Kogel). Do you know that you can stay at that house? It has a restaurant and a hotel.
The Visbank is the place where fish was sold. Heusden received its rights to trade with fish in 1357. The Visbank with its 12 Dorian columns is a popular place for taking wedding pictures or just any type of pictures. Through an arched opening, there is a beautifully framed view to the small harbour, the bridge and one of the windmills. Don’t miss to take a picture there! It’s a postcard-worthy location.
A favourite spot for many in Heusden – the arched gate at the Visbank, offers a beautiful view to the small harbour and the windmills.
The Visbank in Heusden, where the fishmongers were doing their business. At the bottom is one of the busiest places for taking pictures in town – the arched gate.
There are 3 windmills in Heusden but they are not original. They were built in the 1970s. Anyway, they complement the skyline of Heusden and make it look very Dutch-like.
When it snows in the country of the windmills, Heusden turns into a fairy-tale town. It doesn’t happen often, so if you are in the winter in the Netherlands and it snows, head to Heusden!
Take an art tour in Heusden
For the art lovers Heusden has a lot to offer. There are many art galleries exhibiting contemporary local artists. It is a pure delight to take a tour around the galleries of Heusden. History and modernity at one place.
Modern art is not only in the galleries of Heusden but also on the streets, so watch out and you will be surprised by strange creatures.
Take a boat trip in Heusden
If you are done with the sightseeing on the ground, you can take a boat trip on the River Meuse (Maas). You can either hire a private boat or you can do one of the organized boat trips. For more information check at the Tourist Office. One of the companies, that does boat trips, has already published their schedule for 2018, but it is only Dutch. They operate between April and September.
Heusden can be easily reached by boat. The town is on the River Meuse (Maas) and has a few harbours. If you don’t have a yacht, you can just stroll around.
Where to stay in Heusden
In case you decide to spend more than one day in Heusden, use the link below to search for deals in the town. The place is not very big, so the options are limited and you have to book well in advance, or you can stay alternatively in Den Bosch or in a neighbouring town.
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Heusden is a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year. If you happen to be in the Netherlands in one of those rare winters when there is snow, Heusden will look like a winter fairy tale. For Christmas the town has a lovely decoration. If you are visiting the Netherlands in October, Heusden is a hot spot for autumn foliage. The channels get covered with yellow and red leaves and as the waters would not bother to move, they will create a thick carpet of leaves. In spring you can see the sheep grazing on the dikes. In the summer you can take part in a 17 c. traditional market and festival.
2018 will be very important year for Heusden as they will celebrate 7 century existence and there will be quite a lot of festivities – one more reason to visit Heusden!
Do you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam for more than one day, then a trip to the Biesbosch is just the perfect thing for you. It is a national park not very far from Heusden, where you can spend a lovely day sailing or hiking. Another national park that you can visit on a day trip from Heusden is the Dunes of Loon and Drunen – an amazing desert-like sand drift area with sand dunes.