In my endeavours to show you what else you can do in the Netherlands, besides a city trip to tourist-heavy Amsterdam, let me suggest you to spend one day in Nijmegen. ‘What is Nijmegen?’ you might ask. And how on earth do you pronounce it? Well, Nijmegen is actually the oldest city of the Netherlands! Once founded by the Romans, today Nijmegen is most famous for its annual Vierdaagse van Nijmegen, or ‘4-day Nijmegen March’. Each July this festive event attracts tens of thousands of participants and spectators from all over the world. Don’t worry though, if crowds aren’t your thing, at other times of the year, Nijmegen is a peaceful city that boasts a beautiful historical city centre.
With its marvellous architecture, wide variety of trendy shops and restaurants and cultural offerings, I discovered that Nijmegen makes for a great cultural city break in the Netherlands. Based on my one day in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, with my bestie Suzanne, l’ll tell you why Nijmegen is worth visiting. (And why I called it a city of Miracles in the title of course!)
Start your one day in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, with coffee at café Bhalu
“Oh, you must be influencers?”
Asks the bartender once we start photographing the Insta-friendly interior of café Bhalu right after ordering our drinks.
It’s about 10am and we just arrived in Nijmegen by train from Den Bosch. We don’t have any specific plans yet, but before we draw up our itinerary for the day, we first need some coffee!
I’m not gonna lie. The walk from the station to the centre of Nijmegen is rather depressing. Once you’ve passed the ugly motorway, you arrive in ‘take-away heaven’. This might be appealing at night after a drink or two, but at this moment the very thought of a doner kebab makes my tummy turn over.
The elegant entrance of café Bhalu immediately stands out amidst all the uncharacteristic shawarma restaurants in the street. The sign tells us they don’t only offer coffee and food but also yoga lessons. We hesitate at first because it strikes us as a tad too hippie for us. (And I never brought my yoga mat with me.)
Thankfully we do decide to go in after all, because this actually turns out to be our best move of the day! Partly because its interior is surprisingly stunning, but most of all because of the helpful guy working there. And I’m not just saying this because he assumed we were trendy influencers!
Things to do in Nijmegen: Follow the Fox!
The waiter is literally full of fantastic insider tips for things to do in Nijmegen in one day and is more than happy to share them with us. While he tells us where to find the best shopping streets in Nijmegen, he eagerly shoves a map in my hands. This is not just your regular city map though, but a FollowFox map that lists various independent shops, cool restaurants and bars.
Since we’re both beer enthusiasts, we quickly agree upon a mini pub crawl along some of Nijmegen’s hotspots in the afternoon. But because it’s still only morning, we decide to hit the shops for a few hours first.
Where to go shopping in Nijmegen: Stikke Hezelstraat
As we finish our delicious coffees, the bartender recommends we should head for Stikke Hezelstraat next. This relatively short shopping street is home to the most wonderful independent boutiques and irresistible home & lifestyle shops.
Everywhere I look, I’m greeted by inviting shop windows. But it doesn’t stay with mere window-shopping today. I treat myself to a cool tote bag from Make My Day because its caption perfectly illustrates the thing that pops up in my head whenever I tell people I’m actually from the Netherlands.
We wander over to the surrounding streets of the historical centre of Nijmegen and find loads more shops there. Besides unique and independent shops you’ll also find all the go-to high street brands are here. This combination makes Nijmegen the perfect city trip destination for shopaholics and fashionistas alike.
We’re clearly none of the above and give up on our (not so exciting due to a less generous bank balance) shopping spree after a couple of hours. My tummy says it’s lunchtime and luckily Suzanne knows just the perfect lunch spot. While we make our way there, we pass a striking sculpture in the main city square (Grote Markt). This turns out to be a depiction of the mythical Mariken.
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Mariken van Nieumeghen in the city of Miracles
Mariken is the protagonist of the 16th-century Miracle Play Mariken van Nieumeghen. This popular story, that I even learned about in school, was translated into several languages, including to English.
The short plot of the story is as follows. Mariken, a girl from a town near Nijmegen, unknowingly meets the devil, calling himself Moenen, and falls under his spell. After having spent seven years in sin with the devil, Mariken regrets her chosen path. When the devil learns she wants ‘out’, he smites down Mariken’s body from metres above the ground. Remarkably, the young woman breaks nearly all her bones but survives the fall. This is thanks to her uncle who witnessed it all and prayed for Mariken. This event is one of the two miracles connected to Mariken. (If you want to know the other one, I’m afraid you’ll need to look that one up for yourself.)
Several centuries after this story was first penned down, you still find references to Mariken all over town. Besides her statue in the Market Square, the typical local treat, Nijmeegs Marikenbrood, and the annual Marikenloop ladies run all carry her name. Mariken has indeed become the iconic figure of the city of Nijmegen. But also Moenen remains ever close-by. His statue stands at nearby Sint Stevenskerk (see photo at the top), staying just outside of Mariken’s eyesight.
Enough of the history for now. Let’s return to the itinerary for one day in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Lunch in Nijmegen: New Dutch Streetfood
Finding the perfect place for lunch in Nijmegen can prove to be a difficult task. Not because there’s a shortage of good places to eat, but because there are simply too many great options to choose from!
Nijmegen is a true foodie heaven and I even notice there are far more vegetarian and vegan restaurants than in most cities I’ve ever been. Fortunately, I don’t have to wrack my brains about where to eat in Nijmegen, because Suzanne is taking me to New Dutch Streetfood – which is located in Marikenstraat!
Unlike what you’d suspect from the name of the restaurant, the menu doesn’t list typical Dutch street food. Instead, you can choose from a broad selection of delicious open sandwiches, salads, soups and more.
I opt for a bagel, generously topped with humus, mozzarella, roasted vegetables, tapenade and pesto. Not surprisingly, I feel like bursting at the seams once I’ve managed to devour it all. Thank goodness for stretch jeans! I’d do anything to have a nap now, but Suzanne has something more active in mind. She suggests going to Museum het Valkhof.
Museum het Valkhof, a must-visit during your one day in Nijmegen, the Netherlands
Since we’re both true culture vultures – Suzanne even studied Museumology – for us a city trip could never feel complete without visiting a local museum.
There’s really no shortage of interesting museums in Nijmegen. But because we’re eager to learn more about the city’s Roman origins, Museum het Valkhof is an obvious must-visit for us. Considering the city’s long history, the museum houses impressive collections on archaeology and ancient art, but also on modern art.
In the end, we spend almost two hours in the museum. While I go round admiring the Roman artefacts – I really am truly obsessed with everything connected to ancient cultures! – I am relieved to feel my bagel is finally going down. Good timing, because after hours of anticipation, we’re finally about to start our mini pub crawl in Nijmegen!
Do you also enjoy visiting old Roman sights whilst travelling? Then don’t skip my article: Visit the Roman Baths in Bath: a must-visit in Somerset, England
Where to eat and drink during your one day in Nijmegen, the Netherlands
From the museum it’s a 15-minute walk to pub and tasting room Proeflokaal Beij Ons, located in east Nijmegen (Nijmegen-Oost). Because it’s a weekday, there’s hardly anyone inside besides us and guests of a fun-looking baby shower.
Suzanne and I each order the beer tasting menu which consists of three smaller servings of different specialty beers. Despite not having fully digested my lunch yet, I can’t resist a portion of bitterballen. These are small deep-fried balls filled with beef ragout, covered in a crispy coat of breadcrumbs. I know right, how could one resist – although my jeans sigh at my decision.
After an appetising tasting session at Beij Ons, we walk over to Bistrobar Berlin, only 5 minutes away, for our last beer of the day. (I did tell you several times it was going to be mini pub crawl, remember?)
I immediately fall in love with the industrial interior of this bar/restaurant and can’t help even admiring the metal ducting running along the ceiling.
Despite the mouth-watering meals on the menu, we look up Thai restaurants in Nijmegen on our phones because aromatic, fiery curries are just ‘our thang’. And so, we end our one day in Nijmegen at Siam Thai Palace. With runny noses and tissues at hand I might add (coz: hot!). It’s the perfect ending to our great day out in Nijmegen.
Now tell me, have I influenced you on spending at least one day in Nijmegen as well?