Lifestyle & Culture

Jackie Harding: ‘Tourists think Heusden is a living museum and we’re part of the exhibits!’

I live in Heusden, a cute fortified town in Noord Brabant, on the tourist trail for the Dutch, Belgians and Germans. It’s popular with boat owners and cyclists but rarely discovered by international tourists.


Heusden’s cobbled streets, houses, grassy fortifications, moat and classic Dutch harbor with its two windmills all provide a picturesque glimpse into the late 1500s-to-1600s in the Netherlands and provide a backdrop worthy of Hollywood productions.


The challenge of living in this cutesy tourist destination is mostly centered around the summer months when on a sunny day, Heusden can be overflowing with tourists providing the means for this small town to survive – but also the reason for some local irritation.

Tourists can be a little glimpse into human nature. One of the main traits of a tourist seems to be the lack of regard for personal space. For example, to provide our home with privacy we have shutters on our front windows. We purchased some very unusual ones from a company in the UK. We’re even featured on the company’s blog.

These attract much admiration from passers-by, but strangely, the idea these are to provide privacy doesn’t seem to compute, as they just press their noses against the glass to look in!

The same goes for the two old metal chairs I have placed immediately in front of my windows. They look great but also provide seating for visitors, apparently.

I can’t tell you how many bridal photographers have appropriated the chairs for photo ops, moving my plant pots around for that perfect shot. Then there are the times I’ve walked out of my front door to find someone sitting there eating their sandwiches!


The back of our home is next to the bastions, or grass fortifications, which provide a great place to walk around the perimeter of town. As they are above the height of our walls, tourists stand on the bastions and stare into our homes and gardens.

I think people believe this is a living museum and we are part of the exhibits!

After a few years, I’ve almost become immune to the lack of privacy and put it down to one of the costs of living here, but I can also have some fun with it as I burst out of my front door into someone’s photo of my Dutch clogs door decoration … the quintessential “photobomb.”


As I live on the haven (harbor), the plethora of boats filling the harbor every sunny day provides endless entertainment. Some boat owners, particularly when they are new to the game and flounder around with ropes and knots, are noteworthy. I watch with my fingers crossed as they gingerly exit the boat. Of course, you get the posers with their noisy rumbling speedboats edging into the harbor, usually with a tanned young lady draped along the back.

And then there are the boats full of guys or ladies all out for a day of fun with friends, who get noisier as the day progresses. They leave late at night, shouting their farewells to the locals, all who have gone to bed hours before!

The restaurants are always busy on a sunny weekend, but we often have them to ourselves on a quiet weeknight. The small market, bakery, cheese shop, ice cream store and off-license all remain open partly because of the tourists, and the other stores add colour to our town for as long as they are able to remain open.

Parking is not a problem as we have residents’ parking, but driving in town on a busy weekend can be very frustrating. Tourists often mistake the cobbled streets for sidewalks, as they wander eating ice cream and gazing at the beautiful surroundings.

There are times when we have driven almost close enough to touch people’s calves with our bumper before they realize they are on a road, and sometimes, just for devilment, we like to sound the horn when we are directly behind them!

It’s the little things!

Photo by Jackie Harding

The pros outweigh the cons most of the time:

• We are able to enjoy the endless parade of brides as they come to the picturesque harbor bridge for their photos (and often award them scores out of ten for their dresses)

• The harbor and boat owners provide entertainment when looking from our window, and we are able to enjoy the events a tourist town embraces such as the harbor weekend (Heusdense Havendagen)

• the monthly antique market (Brocante Markt)

• Sinterklaas arrival by boat (photo at right)

• the candlelit shopping weekend in December and the Shanty festival

My husband Martin says he always feels like he’s on vacation when he walks across the bridge to get home after work, and there is nothing better than sitting outside your home drinking your coffee whilst looking at the windmill and harbor and realizing you must live in one of the loveliest spots in the Netherlands.

Yes, the tourists can be intrusive, but in the winter when the town is completely lifeless, perversely, I long for the busy days when the town is full of energy and happy, mindless tourists!


About the author:

Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years, and in the Netherlands for the past seven years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States for as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing. Writing for Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat issues.

She also covered Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here.




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