Eindhoven is probably not the place many people would put at the top of their city trip bucket list, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. The hometown of electronics pioneer Philips is a breeding ground for innovation and design, and has a lot of surprising and unique experiences on offer. Trot Op! booked a room for the weekend and checked out the scene.
As a kid, Eindhoven only meant one thing to me: Luc f*cking Nilis, baby! After all, Eindhoven was home to football club PSV, and in the 90s Nilis was one of the main strikers there. He was a wonderful player. An artist at a time when the Belgian national team mainly consisted of a bunch of butchers with brisk moustaches and crooked noses, spared from all basic ball handling skills. Men built like lumberjacks, with a hard tackle and all the grace of a dying buffalo, who somehow looked fifty at age twenty-five (google Franky Van der Elst and Lorenzo Staelens: they looked like middle aged dads in their teens). Nilis was one of the only exceptions to that rule. Okay, the man had a nose like a toucan’s beak as well, but he could effortlessly curve the ball into the top bin from thirty yards out, time and time again (click here for possibly the best highlight reel in world football). Ahead of his time, he was both fat Ronaldo’s and Ruud van Nistelrooijs favourite team mate. Both of them came to full football maturity playing next to Nilis. But I digress. The point I wanted to make is that I didn’t actually know the city of Eindhoven. I never got any further than the airport to catch the occasional low-cost flight. This turned out to be a tragic mistake, and one I was only able to correct this very summer. Because Eindhoven, my friends, is awesome.
What to do in Eindhoven: 8 unique tips for a weekend in the City of Light
Located barely an hour’s drive from Antwerp, Eindhoven surprisingly is the fifth largest city in the Netherlands. This is mainly because of Philips opening its factories here 125 years ago. As a result, the place grew from a provincial hamlet with a few thousand inhabitants into one of the most important industrial cities in the country. Nowadays, those factories have long since moved to other places, but the spirit of Philips still lingers in Eindhoven. Today it’s no longer an industrial city, but a place for innovation, creativity and design. As a result, you’re not exactly walking through your standard Dutch town full of canals and stepped gable roofs here. Eindhoven is a city of repurposed industrial heritage, remarkable museums about technology and innovation, and strange buildings that seem to have been put in random places out of nowhere. Calling Eindhoven beautiful might be a bit of a stretch, but it certainly is hip, surprising and interesting. Which coincidentally makes it the perfect destination for a Trot Op! blog post, and gave me the ideal excuse to bat signal my busty bestie Floor to partake in this new adventure. And an adventure we had! Take a look at our eight top experiences in Eindhoven.
1. Strijp-S: from an old industrial complex to Eindhoven’s new hotspot
Well would you look at that! Eindhoven’s most unique district is not located in the city centre, but just outside it. Strijp-S used to be called the forbidden city. This wasn’t because some lost Chinese emperor had his summer residence here, but because it was a Philips business park where only employees were allowed entrance. In the glorious year 2000 however, the doors were permanently opened to everyone. This was because the last factory had just closed down and because the Philips head office had long since moved to Amsterdam. Instead of letting the site whither and crumble – the Belgian way – they decided to turn the whole thing into a creative hotspot radiating solid Berlin vibes. There’s beautiful street art everywhere, stylish residential towers were erected in between the old factory halls and a varied mix of companies are housed in each building: from startups to restaurants, workshops and cosy little vintage shops. Here’s a small selection of what’s on offer (only places I visited myself). Bakkie040 is a coffee shop in a container training homeless people as baristas (you can order an extra cup for a random stranger here); Area 51 is the largest indoor skate hall in the Netherlands and probably Europe; Intelligentia ICE sells ice cream in all kinds of crazy flavours in an over the top retro setting and MU Hybrid Art House is an art gallery where a new exhibition runs every so often. This time we were able to enjoy a massage chair soothing you with sweet little whispers through its headphones, just to then bombard you with statements on the total control it now has over you. Nightmare material, but good fun nonetheless.
2. Strijp-R: top design in Eindhoven
Strijp was an independent municipality next to Eindhoven until after the first world war. When Philips started opening factories here, the place evolved rapidly. Right next to Strijp-S are Strijp-T and Strijp-R (the letters come from the name Strijp, but they didn’t have enough separate areas for the whole word). Strijp-T used to be home to the power plant supplying everything else with electricity. Today you’ll find all kinds of sustainable companies around here. Strijp-R was home to the Philips ceramic factory, where radios and televisions were made for years. The building is still here, but has since been taken over by Piet Hein Eek. This is not only the man with the most Dutch sounding name in history, he’s also one of the country’s most celebrated designers. Piet Hein is at home in many markets, but is best known for the colourful furniture he makes with second-hand wood no one wants anymore. After which of course he will ask a few thousand euros for the finished piece. You either have a business mind or you haven’t. In this large industrial building, he combines his studio with a showroom, an exhibition space, a restaurant and a design hotel with a hidden rooftop bar. Lovely to walk through. Do bring an extra fat wallet if you want to take something home with you as well. www.pietheineek.nl
3. The Philipsmuseum: the place where it all started
Anyone who visits and wants to understand Eindhoven, but skips the Philips Museum might as well just have stayed at home. Here, with the help of a very visual setup, you’ll discover how the company grew a small town into the dynamic city it is today. At the end of the 19th century, they began producing light bulbs here: the museum is located in that original factory. Philips eventually became the largest producer in the world, but over the years its output diversified exponentially. Almost everything was produced (and sometimes also invented) here: radios, televisions, VCRs, electric razors, aviation systems, computers, pharmaceuticals, medical scanners and even equipment for space missions. Philips also stood at the cradle of the cassette recorder, the CD player, the laser-disc (anyone remember the CD-i console no one bought in the 90s?) and even the Senseo coffee machine. Varied catalogue indeed, and a lot of these devices can still be seen in the museum. Try and count how many of them you’ve had in your home throughout the years; it’ll be more than a few for sure. On the upper floor you can try a number of digital games, and there is also a PSV corner to visit. Indeed: PSV Eindhoven owes its existence to the company as well. Sportvereniging Philips was founded in 1913 to keep its employees from getting all too chubby.
PS: Did you know Eindhoven was not named the City of Light because of its light bulbs, but because of a matchstick factory already active before Philips arrived? Every November, Eindhoven lives up to its nickname by organizing the light festival GLOW, turning the entire city into a work of art with lights.
4. Evoluon: a look at the future from the past
There are many special looking buildings to visit in Eindhoven, but the most absurd out of all of them must be Evoluon. This is a ridiculously large construction shaped like a UFO, which was donated to the city in the sixties for the 75th birthday of Philips – yes, them again. Originally this was an interactive science museum full of little tests you could do, which was quite unique at the time. For years it stayed one of the most popular school trip destinations in the country, until the growing competition from similar and more centrally located museums became too pressing and they turned it into a conference venue instead. Recently, for the first time in decades, it’s home to an exhibition again, and a nice one as well. RetroFuture shows how people from the past looked at the future, and juxtaposes these predictions with reality and our own expectations of what’s to come. This is reflected in all kinds of visual material about how people around 1900 thought we’d communicate today or how we’d get around, but also in a lot of crazy health fads from those days (“lose lots of weight with a pack of Marlboro”); old fitness equipment that looked like torture devices and a lot of blueprints of future dreams that were never realized. On the top floor you can float through time and space yourself with some VR-glasses on your face and some bungee ropes around your waist. You’ll see humanity rise and fall, and then dive deep into the future until the entire universe implodes. The infinite emptiness of the cold void surprisingly feels quite soothing, mainly because you get to linger in it a bit afterwards. www.evoluon.com
5. The Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path: Starry Night in real life
A few kilometres outside of Eindhoven, near the place where Van Gogh painted his potato eaters, lies perhaps the most unique attraction of the entire city: a bicycle path that looks completely normal on first sight. That sounds pretty lame indeed, until you take your bike for a ride over it at night. Because it’s only then the Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path (Daan Roosegaarde is the artist who designed it) truly comes to life. Thousands of stones are sneakily hidden in the asphalt. When the sun rises, they suck up the light, only to radiate it again in the dark – a bit like the green, luminous little stars you used to stick on your bedroom ceiling. The result is a bicycle path illuminated by all kinds of swirling patterns in the style of Van Gogh’s Starry Night: a magical spectacle after sunset. You’ll have to be patient for it in summer – you only get the full effect when it’s really dark – but it’s more than worth the wait. Bring your significant other and some music and enjoy the show.
6. Downtown Gourmet Market: the world on your plate in Eindhoven
Don’t know exactly what to eat and don’t want to crisscross half the city for it? Then head to the Down Town Gourmet Market instead, right in the centre of Eindhoven. Since 2017, this large, beautifully decorated hall – there’s also an outdoor terrace – has been housing more than twenty different restaurants. You can taste dishes from all over the world here. From American burgers and Tex Mex to Indonesian, Indian, Greek and Vietnamese street food, sushi, pancakes, a vegan restaurant, one that only works with cheese and even an ice cream shop: it’s all there and there’s much more to try out. You don’t even have to stand in line like some idiot for it. Via the QR code on your table you can order and pay at different restaurants at the same time, after which the food is simply brought to you. Ah, the age of technology. We tried out sharing dishes from three different restaurants. The portions were epically large, but definitely tasty. Never had to ask for this many doggy bags before. www.downtowngourmetmarket.com
7. Street Art in Eindhoven: from silly walks to bear pits
Admittedly, every self-respecting hamlet has some subsidized graffiti plastered on a couple of crumbling walls these days, but in Eindhoven the offer is extremely large. As mentioned above, Strijp-S is full of street art. See, for example, the huge floor painting on the central square or the larger than life portraits of Die Antwoord and a lot of other artists who once performed here. The bike path that runs from here to the Philips stadium is flanked by a long wall full of superb works that become more football-minded as you get closer to the field. Outside the centre is the cycling junction called Berenkuil (“bear pit”), where you’ll spot disappointingly few bears but instead can admire dozens of murals. The most unique location however, is the Silly Walks Tunnel near the train station. This is another bicycle tunnel, and more specifically one that was painted as an ode to John Cleese’s legendary Monty Python sketch. In 2016, he personally came to take a look at it during the opening. Whether he performed his favourite walk for the crowd, or is even capable of (silly or otherwise) walking these days I couldn’t tell you, but it’ll probably soon be time to start making another wall available for the dead parrot sketch.
8. Motion Imagination Experience: psychedelic adventures in a mall
Our last stop in Eindhoven was one of the more remarkable ones. On the top floor of the Piazza Shopping Center you’ll find the Motion Imagination Experience. This is a dark hall where they’ve set up dozens of light installations and optical illusions, all of which you can try out to take Instagram-worthy photos in. The offer is varied and ranges from a bunch of luminous jellyfish wires to walk through, to a palace of mirrors where you can command endless versions of yourself, moving projections on the floor that respond to your steps and short, flashy 4D films that suck you right into the experience. My favourite was the main hall where you can listen to trippy music with wireless headphones, under psychedelic projections while peacefully rocking back and forth in a swing hanging from the ceiling. Everything seems to happen in slow motion here. Don’t visit the coffee shops before you go, or you’ll stay all weekend. www.motionexperience.nl
Hotels in Eindhoven en extra information
We spent the night in Hotel Mariënhage. It’s located right in the city centre and was built in and around an old monastery. The result is a beautifully designed venue stylishly combining new and original elements. The monastery church was preserved and is now used for events. www.marienhage.com
Our trip was taken care of by the lovely people of Eindhoven365. www.eindhoven365.nl
For more information about the city and what else there is to see, visit www.thisiseindhoven.nl. This is quite advisable by the way. We only stayed in Eindhoven for one night and did not have the time to visit every attraction. There is much more to discover.