Nijmegen: the oldest city in the Netherlands is also one of the nicest!

Yes, Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands — and no, it’s not situated in the Randstad.

Nijmegen is located in the southeast, close to the German border. Its history goes back over 2,000 years, to Roman times, when Noviomagus, what they called Nijmegen back then, was an outpost of the immense Roman Empire.

Put a shovel in the ground, dig, and you will find something old. That would feel like marketing gold in its hands for any city. So, how does Nijmegen use its history in terms of city marketing? Well, pretty poorly is the actual answer.

photo-of-nijmegen-city-square
But how delightful is this city square? Image: Depositphotos

The story of ‘The Lost Tower’

Nijmegen has a questionable track record in dealing with specific historical artefacts such as old buildings, archaeological findings, and recreating the past in one form or another. Historical accuracy is not the main objective here.

For example, the municipality moved ‘the lost tower’ (which they found while digging for a new parking garage) to another area to fit in with their plans for a nearby square.

Another questionable episode is Nijmegen’s dealings with planning a rebuild of the so-called donjon, a tower situated in the Valkhofpark.

Small problem: no one knows how it looked or how high it was, let alone any detail. The local municipality concentrated more on enticing anyone to take the project on and finance it.

For the walk lovers: Vierdaagse!

When people are asked what they associate with Nijmegen, the only answer they come up with is the Vierdaagse. If your pastime involves a lot of walking around Dutch landscapes, then Nijmegen offers the perfect walk.

This event is a four-day long walk that occurs in July each year. It’s one of the biggest walking events globally, with over 40,000 people from all over the globe taking part.

photo-of-people-walking-in-Nijmegen-four-days-march
Thousands attend the Four Days Walk every year. Image: Depositphotos

Unfortunately, poor old Nijmegen never rises beyond tenth place in lists of the most popular cities in the Netherlands. And it cannot be said to have any clear image, apart from its walking event each year.

But each year, the local government assigns a budget to city marketing and tries to bring the city into new fantastic futures. And it always fails miserably.

In the last few years, Nijmegen has had an incredible array of images, such as “knowledge city”, “summer city”, “city of education”, “health”, “smart”, etc.

The one thing they don’t seem to be able to sell is being the oldest city. Just don’t hold it against them; they try their best.

The biggest party in Nijmegen

The city does one thing well. While many people walk for four days during the Vierdaagse, more than a million and a half people visit the city during the Vierdaagsefeesten. In July each year, it hosts the biggest party in the Netherlands.

Themed around the slogan “The walk of the world”, the city is awash with music, performances, parties, markets, festivities and the occasional downing of some form of alcohol.

Vierdaagsefeesten-Nijmegen-throws-the-biggest-party
A view down one of the main streets in Nijmegen. Image: Erik Jannsen/Supplied

During this week, it is probably the best city in the Netherlands in terms of gezelligheid. As one of its residents, I can solemnly vow for this.

Nijmegen goes green

Trying to put Nijmegen on the map, the city applied to become the European Green Capital three times. Finally, the European Commission agreed and awarded the title to Nijmegen in 2018! It was the first city in the Netherlands to win the award.

So, Nijmegen is going green. Massively. Year-round, the city organises activities on sustainability, energy transition and being a green city in the broadest sense.

Nijmegen-centre
Nijmegen has a lot of quaint old houses in its historical centre. Image: Erik Janssen/Supplied

So give this old student city some love; it’s undeniably wholesome and throws the best parties. Perhaps it would be the perfect destination for a day trip!

Do you have suggestions for other places off the beaten path worth visiting in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2018, and was fully updated in November 2023 for your reading pleasure. 

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Erik Janssen
Erik Janssen
Erik is Firmly footed in Nijmegen and is an editor at a local newspaper called De Nijmeegse Stadskrant. He works in the field of environmental finance at BankTrack, a watchdog of banks and their financing regarding environment, sustainability and human rights. He considers himself a Sherlockian.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Nijmegen heeft misschien 3 mooie straatjes en 2 aardige parken, los daarvan is het een lelijke stad met veel ongeïnspireerde nieuwbouw en grijze jaren 60 bouw. Het centraal station is de perfecte metafoor voor wat Nijmegen zou willen zijn geweest, maar niet kan zijn.

    • Een stad is veel meer dan zijn gebouwen. Als je dat niet weet te zien en te waarderen mis je veel. Dat blijkt.

    • Zeker uit Arnhem? Altijd al jaloers geweest op de oudste stad van Nederland. Jullie hebben gelukkig wel een mooi stadion dat altijd uitverkocht is.

    • Planning a holiday there with my partner who was born there. Left in 1952 on a boat to Australia. Has never been back. His parents left as they had no family left to go back to. We want to see if his house’s still there. 3 “dardaval” excuse spelling. STREET. Can anyone help please.

  2. Het “foutje” van het Amerikaanse bombardement is daar de oorzaak van, gelukkig zijn er aardig wat mooie plekjes overgebleven. Loop maar eens een dagje rond …

    • The 22nd of February was also a pleasurable day for my parents on one hand yet I’m sure tainted with great grief and sadness on the other hand, it was the day of that terrible bombing and loss of life, yet on the other hand it was a day of celebration because of the birth of their first child, a son, named Aloysius Artz . Which is me.

  3. Haha zelfs op een Engelse website komen de calimero’s uit Arnhem tevoorschijn! Lachwekkend!! Ga iets met je leven doen gozer.

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