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If you hadn’t already guessed from the swarm of photos on my Instagram feed, I spent a couple of days exploring Eindhoven last week.
Unless you’re a football fan, you probably have no idea where Eindhoven is. But that’s okay – Eindhoven is a city full of secrets and surprises, and its very existence may well its biggest secret of all. (Oh, and it’s in the Netherlands by the way.)
As much as I love learning about the history of a town and seeing all of the monuments, museums and other artefacts that keep its past alive, my absolute favourite thing about travel is getting to know a city for what it is today. I love travelling because I love getting to see and understand how other people live: where they live, what they eat, how they spend their free time, how they communicate, their approach to life…everything. I love discovering those little quirks that are so different to my own life, such as a commitment to sitting outdoors even when it’s freezing (Copenhagen) or squeezing in some roadside grocery shopping while waiting at a red light (Amman)!
What’s interesting about Eindhoven is it’s very much a city in its infancy. Where other cities have some form of long-established culture or historical identity, Eindhoven is still taking its first steps and writing its own story – and you get the feeling that there are many, many chapters yet to write.
Named by Forbes as the world’s most innovative city, it doesn’t look like that title’s going to anyone else anytime soon. We turned up knowing nothing about the city, and the first thing you notice when you arrive in Eindhoven is that this is a city built on a love of design.
Every building is different from the next, and each is fascinating in its own way. With new design concepts, restaurants and local initiatives popping up all over the city, there’s certainly no shortage of things to do, but you could easily pass a day or two just walking around and taking in the architecture and atmosphere around you. It looks so exciting that I’m already pencilling in a return visit in a year or two to see how the city grows.
One thing I quickly learned is that every place in the city has its own story to share. So here are some of my highlights…
10 reasons to visit Eindhoven
Breakfast at Broodt
Owned by an ex-Philips designer (the city is the home of Philips and the lightbulb!), we couldn’t have started our day anywhere other than the Broodt bakery. Decorated with quirky Pantone chairs, unusually shaped tables and bicycles, the display of fresh bread is enough to make any mouth water – and, apparently, enough to make locals from the nearby villages come all the way into town to pick up. My personal favourite, however, has to be the gluten-free brownies.
My Dutch isn’t far from non-existent, so I couldn’t fully appreciate the name of this quaint little breakfast spot until someone pointed it out and explained: ‘brood’ is the Dutch word for ‘bread’ and the spelling used here is an old form of the word. The owner chose the name for two reasons: firstly, because it’s memorable and, secondly, because it works well for the internet. Which I’m sure any blogger who’s ever struggled to find an available domain name (hello!) will relate to.
As well as giving birth to a number of inventions, Eindhoven has also produced some of the world’s best designers.
After breakfast, we were introduced to one of the city’s most famous designers, Maarten Baas, who talked us through one of his latest projects. Food is as big as technology and design are in Eindhoven, so it only made sense for someone to open a venue that combines the best of both for the 2016 Dutch Design Week. The restaurant, which will feature an exhibition by Maarten, is already fully booked out ahead of its opening and will seat 140 diners every night.
The innovative nature of the city doesn’t stop at invention and architecture; even the coffee is a work of design in Eindhoven.
And there’s no better place to see it for yourself than at Coffee Lab, a cafe-meets-laboratory of some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. Every cup is made using the Rolls Royce of coffee machines, which – you guessed it – was also invented in Eindhoven, and the venue is slowly phasing out the small fridge of bottled soft drinks as they replace them with their own concoctions.
Cheese tasting at JokkMokk
What with all the new innovation taking place throughout the city, you might think that tradition would be practically non-existent here. But that’s not so.
I couldn’t have taken my first trip to the Netherlands without trying some of the local cheeses and Eindhoven is home to an incredibly cute little cheese shop called JokkMokk.
We tried 7 cheeses in total, all of which are made with raw (rather than pasteurised) milk. All of the cheeses are produced locally and one of them is now only made by two farms in the world! I wish we’d had more time to learn about the cheeses – I think I could spend an entire morning just trying them all. Mmm!
As well as a host of small cafes and shops giving the technology and design giants some serious competition in the innovation stakes, Eindhoven also has the largest number of Michelin-starred restaurants outside of Amsterdam. Not bad for a city that’s less than a third of its size, huh?
Our lunch at the very trendy Michelin-starred Zarzo was one of the highlights of the day. We were treated to some really unusual flavour combinations – such as creamed potato and caviar, and melon and leek – all paired with a carefully chosen wine or champagne.
After spending 3 hours(!) at Zarzo, it’s not hard to see why so many Italians flock to Eindhoven for both its design and food.
Strijp-S isn’t actually a restaurant or shop like the other places on this list, but an entire region of the city. It’s arty, upcoming and completely bursting with character and creativity. The Shoreditch of Eindhoven, if you like, but a little less try hard and with a very welcoming feel to it.
You could spend an entire day or more exploring the area of Strijp-S but if you only have a few hours (like we did) then you have to visit the abundance of independent shops and walk around the outdoor area, where there’s so much to take in that your eyes will never get bored.
Ready for a post-lunch pint after exploring the Strijp-S area, we stopped for a little rest at one of the district’s bars, Het Veem. But this was no ordinary bar.
Het Veem is the only brewery-meets-bar in the Netherlands where the beer is brewed in the bar area, so you can drink directly from the tank – and we did just that! And with a menu so long I couldn’t even read half of it and over 700 beers stocked in the brewery’s shop, there’s something to suit everyone’s taste.
After recovering with a couple of pints at Het Veem, we continued exploring the Strijp-S area. Next stop: Intelligentia ICE.
Intelligentia is an ice-cream and chocolate shop serving unusual flavours of both. I highly recommend the Creme Brulée but there’s also a Mandarin & KumQuat flavour for fruity fans. The shop and all its flavours are the work of famous oenologist (that’s someone who makes wine, FYI) Björn Cocu, who travelled to Italy to learn his art before opening up shop back in his hometown of Eindhoven. It’s yet another perfect example of the type of innovative nature that exists all around the city.
What would you do if you can across a deserted factory? One so deserted that the paint still hangs off the walls and a huge hook hangs in the centre of the room?
When Pastryclub owners Jurgen and Richard came across one, they decided to turn it into a kitchen and patisserie serving some of the country’s most delicious sweets, chocolates, ice-cream and tea. And I can’t think of a better way to use a space like this!
You certainly wouldn’t find something like this in the UK, and the whole experience was a little bit surreal – in the best way possible. Look left and you see cabinets stacked with sugary treats. Look right and you see a loft-style room with dining tables and chairs that fold up when you want to squeeze wedding parties in. Look up and you see that huge hook casually dangling above you…
Our final stop of the day was a bar that, like everything else in Eindhoven, has a great story behind it. Calypso is a true story of transformation after its owner took it from a typical bar for young people to one where people of all ages want to meet, eat and drink. The result is a bistro bar with a really warm feel, where children play card games and get everybody in sight involved while their parents unwind with a beer or coffee and some local food. It’s a lesson that many British places could probably learn from.
So… Did I have high expectations of Eindhoven? Given the lack of information online, I really had no idea what to expect. Would I recommend it for a city break? Absolutely. The city has a fantastic, buzzing kind of vibe and I still can’t get over just how friendly and excited everyone was to talk about what they do. It’s a city where anything is possible and new concepts are welcomed and appreciated. But just be warned: like us, if you do visit you might not want to leave.
Have you ever been to Eindhoven? What do you like about travel?