58km (36 miles) SE of Utrecht; 15km (9 miles) S of Arnhem
Nijmegen (pop. 160,000) has a long recorded history, and boasts dibs on being, officially, the oldest city in the Netherlands. In A.D. 104, the Roman Emperor Trajan granted city rights to the trading town of Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum, which had grown up around a legionary fortress that protected this sector of the empire's Rhine frontier. The city lies in the orchard country of Gelderland's Betuwe (Fertile Wetlands) district, a peninsula between the Neder Rijn and Waal rivers, which in ancient times had been the heartland of the Batavian tribe. An important Catholic center in the mainly Protestant north of Holland, the city is home to the prestigious Catholic University of Nijmegen.
Getting There -- Up to six trains depart every hour from Amsterdam Centraal Station to Nijmegen (only one or two of these is a direct train), and a similar number for the short hop from Arnhem. Buses depart every half-hour on average from outside Arnhem rail station. By car, take A52 south from Arnhem.
Visitor Information -- VVV Nijmegen is at Keizer Karelplein 32H, 6511 NC Nijmegen (tel. 0900/112-2344; www.vvvnijmegen.nl), at the city's Schouwburg (theater). The office is open Monday to Friday from 9:30am to 5:30pm, and Saturday from 10am to 5pm.
What to See & Do
Nijmegen's road bridge over the Waal was a key objective of Operation Market Garden during World War II. A combination of the destruction wrought by that battle, and an earlier raid by U.S. bombers that mistakenly struck the city instead of their intended target in Germany, devastated the old heart of town. Postwar reconstruction was mostly along modern lines. Around the handsome Grote Markt, look for the 1612 Waag (Weigh House) and the Kerkboog vaulted passageway from 1545 with a gable from 1605.
The city's strategic position is clearly visible from the Valkhof (Falcon Court), a park affording magnificent views. It's high on the south bank of the Waal -- this is actually the main continuation of the Rhine, which splits in two after entering Holland -- on the site of a 9th-century Frankish castle. Here, too, are the ruins of the 12th-century Sint-Maartenskapel (St. Martin's Chapel), and the octagonal Sint-Niklaaskapel (St. Nicholas's Chapel) from 1030, called the Carolingian Chapel because of the erroneous belief that Charlemagne ordered its construction. Equally good views are available from the nearby 15th-century Belvedere, a watchtower that now houses a restaurant.
The Groesbeek Heights -- The loftiest peak in this range of hills just off Nijmegen's southeastern flank, along the German border, soars to all of 99m (325 ft.). But for the Netherlands that's more than respectable. In any case, the wooded hills and open country make good strolling and cycling terrain, and host a cluster of surprising attractions.
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