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This past weekend, we visited the Valkenburg Christmas Markets. Although people assume that there’s only one Christmas market in Valkenburg, there’s a reason why Valkenburg is called the Kerststad Valkenburg…
There are three Christmas markets within this charming Dutch city that is extremely close to both Belgium and Germany. This post includes tips for visiting the markets as well as photos of the Geementegrot and the Fleuwengrot.
Why visit Valkenburg
I’ve visited a lot of Christmas markets in the Netherlands and elsewhere and somehow it took this long to finally visit Valkenburg. Valkenburg is a really charming city break, especially during late November and December, when the city transforms into itself into a festive Christmas city with multiple Christmas markets and Christmas-y events.
Valkenburg is quite unique in the Benelux region due to its caves (actually quarries) and it holds the only underground Christmas market in the Netherlands. At least for now, that’s also true of Luxemburg and Belgium too! The sprawling underground Christmas markets in Valkenburg lend a beautiful unique touch to the Christmas market as you often find yourself admiring the cave and its unique features.
General information about visiting the Valkenburg Christmas Markets (2018/2019)
Valkenburg turns into a giant Christmas Christmas Market between November 16th to December 30th (2018). The markets themselves are open between 10am and 7pm on most weekends. (Check hours on Christmas!)
The entrance fee to the Gemeentegrot Christmas Market was seven euros per adult. (Children have free/reduced admission.) For a little extra, you can bundle together the fee with the cost of visiting the Velvet Caves Christmas Market. (We paid 11 euros.) The lines for the Gemeentegrot Christmas market were sizable, so be sure to purchase your ticket online beforehand so that you can skip the line.
We were able to reach Valkenburg without a car by taking the train (with Arriva) from Maastricht. It’s also possible to take the bus to Valkenburg from Heerlen, Sittard, and Maastricht. The fare was about three euros per person. We were able to find a NS special that included fare to Maastricht, which can be seen during the same weekend.
General tips for visiting Valkenburg during the Christmas season
A lot of people plan far ahead to come to Valkenburg for Christmas. Given its location in the south of the Netherlands, Valkenburg makes a great weekend trip from Holland. I’d not recommend going for one day unless you have a car as the train took us about three hours from the Hague.
If you intend to drive, many of the local parking lots were completely full. Plan accordingly as it’s a small town and the town had many police limiting access to roads where the crowds were
There’s no denying that it was crowded,
Where to stay in Valkenburg
I started planning our trip to Valkenburg in September. This seemed quite early, however as many as 85% of the accommodations in Valkenburg proper were already booked up
Geementegrot Christmas Market
The Gemeentegrot Christmas Market is the most famous Christmas Market in Valkenburg and the reason why everyone is here. These caves owned by the town of Valkenburg is a limestone quarry that started around Roman times.
This mountain was quarried until the 1950s and its usage throughout the years means that you’ll see numerous historic artifacts throughout the passages. At various points in history, the townspeople actually lived inside the cave during winter. Since the 1980s, there has been a Christmas market inside of the Geementegrot.
While wandering around the Gemeentegrot Christmas Market, you can browse more than fifty stalls within this labyrinth decorated with numerous Christmas trees and Christmas-y decorations. There are a limited number of stalls where you can purchase food and drinks to consume, including the indulgent Grotbol and Gluhwein (mulled wine) as well as Chocomel (chocolate milk).
The line can be lengthy. I strongly recommend purchasing tickets online, so that you can skip the line! We waited around five minutes while others spent more than 30-40 minutes waiting in the rain
Fluweelengrot Christmas Market (Velvet Cave)
The Velvet Cave holds one of the other famous Christmas markets in Valkenburg. Although it’s not as crowded as the Gemeentegrot Christmas market, we enjoyed it for other reasons. This cave has a lot of historic significance and its filled with beautiful carvings. Some date back to the medieval period and it’s hard to not stop while browsing the cave.
This cave sits underneath the castle ruins of Valkenburg. This castle was heavily fought for and at various points, nobles would use the caves as a means of escaping the castle secretly. It was thought that the owners of the castles made a deal with the devil as it seemed that they would never run out of food and drink
At one point in history, these caves were where religious services were held during the French occupation of Valkenburg. (You can still see the altar!) During World War II, American soldiers used these caves to sneak into the castle ruins to get an overview of Nazi positions in the area. There are several portraits in their honor in the cave.
The Christmas market in the Velvet Caves is considerably calmer although the selection was quite similar albeit smaller than the one in the Gemeentegrot. I still felt there was a lot of value in seeing both as this cave had plaques all over stating the history.
The general city is full of beautiful decorations. Valkenburg is well-known for its charm during other times of the year, but the city truly shines during the Christmas season.
Most of the historic city is decorated with festive banners and lights. Many restaurants are beautifully decorated inside and out, so be sure to give yourself at least an hour to explore the city center. Muntstraat is particularly beautiful due to the towers along the street…
You’ll find some stalls prior to entering the old city along the canal, a good place to purchase snacks and edible gifts. (There were quite a few
Other tips for Valkenburg
As lovers of local craft beer, we loved Café De Grendelpoort. This cozy brown bar makes their own fantastic house beer and it’s hard to beat the lively atmosphere inside. I’ve never had gluhkriek (warmed up Kriek beer), but it might be my new favorite drink of the season! Of course, you can get classic Dutch snacks like bitterballen here.
Limburg is famous for its fantastic food, especially its desserts. Be sure to stop off at any of the cozy bakeries in town to try vlaai, the Limburg take on pie filled with delicious fruit filling…