Just near the German border in the east of the Netherlands lies the ancient city of Nijmegen, located on a range of hills close to the River Waal. Having celebrated its 2000th year in 2005, it’s considered to be the oldest city in the country, with the first mention of its existence going back as far as the 1st Century BC.  Today the city is a fascinating mix of the old and the new, where history and modern day life meet and what remains of the ancient buildings juxtaposed between contemporary architecture.

A Long History

The city has a very long history dating right back to the 1st century BC when the Romans first setup camp in this area due to its strategic location.  Being high up on the hills, they were able to get a bird’s eye view over both the Waal and Rhine valleys.  Several years later a village emerged just near the Roman camp which, over the following years, grew as a result of its location on the River Waal.

During the latter half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century the growth of Nijmegen continued at a steady rate with several new bridges being built across the River Waal including a new rail bridge in 1878 and a car bridge in 1936, the biggest in Europe at the time. However by 1940, Nijmegen had been invaded by the German Army and was the first city in country to fall to the Germans.  The war took its toll on Nijmegen; it was heavily bombed in 1944 by the Americans with over 750 people losing their lives.  It was finally liberated from German occupation in 1944 by the British Grenadier Guards.

Historical Remains

Today hardly any of the Roman city remains with just a few fragments of the old city walls being visible near the casino.  The foundations of the amphitheatre can also be seen in the paving along Rembrandstraat, but other than these, there is very little evidence of ancient Nijmegen.  In the Valkhof Museum you’ll find a permanent display which details the history of Nijmegen and which includes various artefacts dating right back to the Roman occupation.  However, due to the damage inflicted on the city during World War II, very few old buildings are left standing.  Between the American bombings and the German shellings, the majority of old Nijmegen was obliterated leaving unsightly gaps to be filled by the modern city planners over the next few decades. Bevrijdingsmuseum has lots of information about Nijmegen’s involvement in World War II and the airlandings which took place in the area.

What to See

Despite the damage caused to the city during World War II, there are still a few interesting historical places to visit.  Valkhof Hill is home to a Carolingian chapel dating back to the 8th or 9th century AD and is also the site of a former imperial castle.  Walking between Valkhof Hill and Burchtstraat, you’ll find the fifteenth century town hall whose outward appearance is definitely far more interesting than what is inside. On the northern edge of the Grote Markt (The Great Market) is a former 16th century weighing house which is now used as a restaurant, while on the western edge is  the entrance to St. Stevenskerk (St. Stephen’s church) courtyard which houses a Latin school dating back to the 15th century. St. Stevenskerk itself was built in the 13th century although its interior was completely destroyed during the Dutch revolution in the 16th century. Just north of St. Stevenskerk lies a row of small 17th century houses which now house a range of tourist shops. 

For those people interested in the history of the city, a visit to the House of the History of Nijmegen is a must.  Situated in the medieval chapel of ‘de Marienburgkapel’ you’ll find all kinds of information and interactive displays which lead you through the highlights of Nijmegen’s history.

Getting Around

There are four train stations in Nijmegen with the main station being connected to the Intercity network.  Added to this, buses operate all over the city making it easy to get around.  Of course, like every other Dutch city, many people choose to use a bicycle, especially as there are many cycle routes through the city with connections to other towns such as Arnheim by the ‘fietssnelweg’ – the fast cycle highway.  

Nijmegen’s Four Day March

Nijmegen has become famous for the International Four Day March which takes place each year on the third Tuesday in July.  The march comprises of four days of walking – the distances vary between thirty to fifty kilometres and a variety of accompanying festivities.  Many people attend this event, particularly veterans of World War II, to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands from German occupation with numbers often reaching in excess of 40,000 participants.