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 is not situated in the Randstad.

Nijmegen, located in the South-East 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, as Nijmegen was called then, was an outpost of the immense Roman Empire.

You can find many historical gems in Nijmegen. Image: Erik Janssen/Supplied

Put a shovel in the ground, dig and you find something old. For any city that would feel like having marketing gold in its hands. 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 how it deals with specific historic artefacts such as old buildings, archaeological findings, and recreating the past in one form or the other. Historic accuracy is not the main objective here.

For example ‘the lost tower’, which was found while digging for a new parking garage, was simply moved to another area in order to fit in with the plans for a square nearby.

Another questionable episode is the dealings Nijmegen has had with planning a rebuild of the so-called donjon, a tower which was situated in the Valkhofpark. Small problem, no one actually knows how it looked, or how high it was, let alone any detail about it. The local municipality concentrated more on how they could entice anyone to actually take the project on and finance it.

For ones who loves walking, they have Vierdaagse!

In the case of Nijmegen, when people are asked what they associate with the city, the only answer they come up with, after some long thinking, is the Vierdaagse. If your pastime happens to involve a lot of walking around Dutch landscapes, then Nijmegen has the perfect walk to offer.

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

Fan of walks? Visit Nijmegen! Image: Erik Janssen/Supplied

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 sort of 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 forth into new fantastic futures. And 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 really try their best.

The biggest party in Nijmegen

Having said that, the city does one thing really well. In July each year, it hosts the biggest party in the Netherlands. While a lot of people walk four days during the Vierdaagse, more than a million and a half people visit the city during the Vierdaagsefeesten.

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.

A view down one of the main streets in Nijmegen. Image: Erik Jannsen/Supplied

Nijmegen goes green

In its ongoing push to put Nijmegen on the map, the city applied three times to become the European Green Capital. Finally, the European Commission agreed and awarded the title to Nijmegen in 2018, making it 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 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 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.

Feature Image: Erik Janssen/Supplied
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2018, and was fully updated in June 2021 for your reading pleasure. 

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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  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.

  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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