The Randstad: Places to Explore

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Nijmegen

If every cloud has a silver lining, then Nijmegen is no exception. Ravaged by World War II—being so close to the border with Germany, the town was inadvertently bombed by the Allies—it wears a split personality of modernity strutting in a straitjacket of Roman heritage. Pocketed with the scattered remains of ancient settlement, Noviomagum or "New Market," as the Romans called it, is a city which can be enjoyed for its diversity but pitied for its legacy—since it was so devastatingly bombed, and is worse for the wear, it has very little character remaining. Seeming to bear witness to that, the town's casino sits on the remains of a Roman under-floor heating system. Claiming to be the oldest town in The Netherlands (roundly disputed by Maastricht) with a debut in AD 104, Nijmegen starts out appearing a bit stiff, but then grows on you like a pair of well-fitted jeans.

Built on seven hills, like Rome, which makes it clearly unique in an otherwise linear topography, Nijmegen has an upper and a lower town skirting the river Waal near the strategic junction of the Maas/Waalkanal, an understructure of medieval passageways and cellars, and the highest concentration of outdoor cafés, so they say, in The Netherlands. The resident Catholic University Nijmegen gives the town a young, hip style at designer discount prices, making your stay here almost as good a value as it was in its days as a medieval trading center, which can still be explored vicariously in the area of the Begijnenstraat. Splendid river views are afforded from Valkhof, the hilltop site of a revolt against Rome in AD 69–70, and Belvedere Park where there's a fine restaurant in a tower. Nearby is the Waalkade riverfront esplanade, lined with restaurants, shops, and a casino, in back of which is an embarkation point for riverboat trips in July and August.

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