Yes, Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands — and no, it’s not situated in the Randstad.
Nijmegen, located in the southeast close to the German border, is the oldest city in the Netherlands. 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.
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 the dealings Nijmegen has had 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 how they could entice 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 has the perfect walk to offer.
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.
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, with renewed energy, 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”, et cetera, et cetera.
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.
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.
So give this old student city some love, it’s undeniably wholesome, and it 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 July 2022 for your reading pleasure.