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Nijmegen Travel Guide

Market Square, Nijmegen (photo by Andreas Schmidt - Creative Commons Licence)


Nijmegen(Nimwegen in local dialect and in German, Nimègue in French, Nimega in Spanish and Italian ; pop. 160,000) is considered to be the oldest city in the Netherlands. This explains the various spellings used in the past (Nijmwegen, Nymegen, Nieumeghen) and the variants in other languages than Dutch.

The city is adjacent to the German border. Nowadays, a canal (the Maas-Waal kanaal) passing through the western suburbs of Nijmegen links the Waal and Meuse rivers, making of Nijmegen an important point of passage for ships.

Nijmegen was the birthplace of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI (1165-1197), as well as the late-medieval miniature painters known as the Limbourg brothers.


The city was founded approximately 2000 years ago, probably under the reign of Emperor Augustus. The Romans built a military camp south of the River Waal, at a strategic spot where the view from the surrounding hills permitted to control movements around the Rhine, the Waal and the Meuse.

A fortified village known as Oppidum Batavorum developed next to the Roman camp. In 69 CE, the Batavians, a Germanic tribe related to the Chatti, revolted against the Romans and destroyed the oppidum. Once the revolt tamed, the Romans built another, bigger camp, where the Legio X Gemina was stationed. Soon after, another village formed around this camp.

In 103, the Legio X Gemina was moved to Vienna. In 104, Emperor Trajan renamed the town to Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum, shortened as Noviomagus, the origin of the current name Nijmegen. Note that other Roman cities were also called Noviomagus ; for instance the modern Chichester in England and Neumagen, near Trier in Germany.

From the 3rd century, the Franks descended from the modern province of Overijssel to settle in the Meuse and Rhine region. It is said that Charlemagne (742-814) had a palace in Nijmegen.

In 1230, Nijmegen was given city rights by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. In 1247, the city was ceded to the count of Guelders as collateral for a loan. The loan was never repaid, and Nijmegen has been a part of Gelderland ever since. This did not hamper trade; Nijmegen even became part of the Hanseatic League in 1364.

During the Dutch Revolt (1568-1648), trade came to a halt and, even though Nijmegen became a part of the Republic of United Provinces in 1585, it remained a border town and had to endure multiple sieges.

In 1678 Nijmegen was host to the negotiations between the European powers that aimed to put an end to the constant warfare that had ravaged the continent for years. The result was the Treaty of Nijmegen that, unfortunately, failed to provide for a lasting peace.

Sunset on Nijmegen

The old castle was demolished under French rule in 1797, and the city's fortifications were dismantled in 1874. A rail bridge was built over the Waal in 1878, and in 1936 a new car bridge was claimed to be Europe's biggest bridge at the time. In 1923, the current Radboud University Nijmegen was founded. In 1927, a channel was dug between the Waal and Maas rivers.

In 1940, the Netherlands were invaded by Germany. Due to its proximity, Nijmegen became the first Dutch city to fall into German hands. On February 22, 1944, Nijmegen was heavily bombed by American planes, who mistook it for the nearby German city of Kleve, causing great damage to the city centre.

The postwar politics was dominated by (extreme) left-wing parties, and Nijmegen remains to this day the only Dutch city with a solely left-wing government. This earned it nicknames such as Havana on the Waal or Marxograd on the Waal. In November 2005, downtown Nijmegen was the site of the assassination of radical-left political activist Louis Sévèke.



Few Roman remains are visible today; a fragment of the old city wall can be seen near the casino, and the foundations of the amphitheatre are traced in the paving of the present-day Rembrandtstraat. However, the Valkhof Museum has a large collection of Roman artifacts that have been dug up over the ages. Apart from the first-class Roman artefacts, the museum also covers local medieval history. It is housed in the 16-sided St Nicholas Chapel, a replica of Charlemagne's palace in Aachen.

The most interesting buildings around the Grote Markt (town square) are the Waag (weigh house, built in 1612), the 12th-century St John's Commandery, and the 14th-century St Stevens' Church.

Dutch people are addicted to their bicycles. They are everywhere. So it will not come at a surprise that the country has a National Cycling Museum (Nationaal Fietsmuseum or Velorama). The question would be, why is it in Nijmegen, if not to bring tourists to this rather off-the-beating-track destination.


How to get there

Nijmegen is at the crossroads of the E31(from Rotterdam or Duisburg), the E35 (from Essen or Utrecht) and the A50 (from Eindhoven or Arnhem).

If you are coming by public transport, there are a few direct trains from Amsterdam (1h30min), and Utrecht (1h). From The Hague or Rotterdam you will need to get a connection at 's Hertogenbosch or Tilburg, from where it is a further 30min or 45min ride, respectively.

If you are coming from Maastricht, you will need to change train at Roermond. Trains from Germany require a transfer at Arnhem or Venlo. If you are coming from Brussels or Antwerp, change at Roosendaal.

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