By Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska
When you think of the Netherlands you immediately mention Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague. But the Netherlands has much more to offer than this. Visit with us virtually the city of Heerlen located in the south of the Netherlands, in the region of South Limburg. It is situated just 25 km from Maastricht, around 11 km from the German border and around 30 km from the Belgium border.
Heerlen is part of the city region of Parkstad Limburg, an agglomeration of about 250,000 inhabitants and encompassing 7 municipalities. It offers an amazing portion of history, culture, nature and entertainment.
It is a university city and it has Brightlands: an international open innovation community where entrepreneurs, researchers and students work together in various fields including health, sustainability and digitalization. It is an event city where you can meet the best breakdancers and watch theatre, dance and music performances from around the world.
But it is more than this.
Do you know that Heerlen has 233 national monuments, the oldest building in the Netherlands and one of the oldest cinemas?
Do you know that in Heerlen there is a secondary school founded by Franciscans which consists of a chapel which is a national monument, a palace called a Glass Palace, an exposition that will get you back in time 2000 years and a rich mine history?
Do you know that Heerlen is a Dutch graffiti capital, it has a moon district and offers the biggest furniture shopping area of Europe and amazing nature with wild animals?
And last but not least do you know that Heerlen is one of the highest cities above sea level in the Netherlands and is located just a stone’s throw away from the highest point in the whole Netherlands?
Let’s check with us why it is definitely worth visiting Heerlen. We will present our selection of 21 reasons but there are definitely more than 21 reasons to visit my home town Heerlen.
- The Roman bathhouse. The Roman bathhouse in Heerlen is the oldest building in the Netherlands and it was built around 40 AD. You can see it in the archaeological museum: Thermen where you can learn about the Roman Heerlen and Roman South Limburg and admire a rich collection consisting of Roman objects from and around Coriovallum: the Roman city that is situated below Heerlen. The Roman bathhouse is a real masterpiece and is the best preserved Roman bathhouse in the Netherlands. It consists of 500 meters of Roman wall work and some 2500 m2 of floor space.
The Thermen museum is also presenting a hyper realistic exposition entitled ‘’400 years of bathing’’. Thanks to 360-degree video images you step back 2000 years in time and travel in time, from the creation of this unique place to the last bath guest. The public bathhouse was discovered just before the Second World War and the museum was launched in 1977.
2. Do Vondst. De Vondst which can be translated into a ”finding” is a beating heart of archaeological region of Limburg, an experience place where archaeology is truly tangible. De Vondst opened two years ago, on October 11, 2018 and it is a center for archaeology. A unique combination of a depot for archaeological objects, a company which is specialized in the restoration of archaeological objects and a department which is skilled in public heritage are located in the building called De Vondst.
The local government of Limburg came up with the idea that all citizens of Limburg should have the possibility to discover their archaeological history. Therefore, a public space has been created in De Vondst which visitors can enter for free. There, they can discover all kinds of stories about archaeological research and findings, they can discover how archaeological objects are restored and they can participate in archaeological activities such as sorting and registering of archaeological materials.
What is really unique about Vondst is that you can view the entire studio of Restaura, the company that restores archaeological objects. You can see in real live how the restorers work. Last but not least in Vondst temporary exhibitions around special themes as World War 2, The Roman period and right now the prehistoric period in Limburg are organized.
So when visiting Heerlen you have a unique combination of visiting De Vondst where you discover the story of archaeology and then you visit the Thermmenmuseum (which is located next to De Vondst) where you can discover the biggest Roman bathhouse in the history of the Netherlands.
It is believed that Pancratiuskerk was started to be built in the 10th or 11th century. The church was first mentioned in 1065 in a deed of donation from the church of Toul. During this time the counts of Are-Hochstaden who revered Pancratius as a saint ruled in Heerlen. The church that Dirk van Are-Hochstaden built in Heerlen was therefore named after this saint. The tower was built in 1394. The tower served also as part of the defence mechanism for the Landsfort Herle (medieval fortification). Inside the Sint-Pancratiuskerk you can see some church treasures, including a Romanesque sedes sapientiae (a seat of wisdom.) It is a statue of Mary sitting on a throne and holding her child Jesus on her lap.
4. Medieval fortification: Landsfort Herle used to be a heavy fortification with a moat, it is now more or less the present Pancratiusplein/Pancratiussquare. It is believed to be built by the counts of Are-Hochstaden/Here van Are and its wall is believed to be one of the oldest still recognisable in the Netherlands. The fort had three gates and it had two towers: the church tower and the Schelmentoren. The Schelmentoren is a national monument and served as a prison tower. And it existed already in the 12th century. It was probably built by the first count of Are (Germany) Theoderich van Are.
Heerlen was ruled by the dukes of Brabant from 1244 and after the secession in 1388 became a free kingdom with its own jurisdiction.
5. Mines and mine museum. Roman and medieval traces are still present in Heerlen as well as its mining past. Heerlen was a centre of the coal mining industry in the Netherlands from the late 19th century. When you check the names in the telephone book you will be surprised by the number of foreign names, such as Polish, Slovenian, Czech, Hungarian Italian and many others. These were the foreign mine workers who contributed to the international character of Heerlen and its economy. For example mine workers among Poles were recruited in Silesia and Poznań and transported by trains to work in the mines between 1923-1931. About 6,000 Poles lived in Limburg around 1930. In 1931, when the world crisis broke out, the most foreign workers suffered most. Their number here even decreased by half. They were brought to their homes back by trains from nearby Aachen, some of them moved north to Scheveningen to work as fishermen.
In Heerlen you can visit the permanent collection of the mine museum which takes you to life in and around the mines from 1898 to 1974. The museum is located in The Schachtgebouw- building built in 1897 by the architect A. Mehler and which is a national monument.
6. Frits Peutz and Glaspaleis/Glass Palace, also known as SCHUNCK. Frits Peutz’s, a city well-known architect, legacy consists of at least 10 buildings in Heerlen and Glaspaleis built in 1935 is a pearl. Glaspaleis is located in the city center, next to the Pancratiuskerk at the Pancratiusplein. In 1995, it was declared a national monument.
In the 1999 it was placed on a very prestigious list of the world’s 1000 most important buildings of the 20th century created by the International Union of Architects. Only 13 buildings in the Netherlands are on this list! It is one of the most spectacular examples of early Modernism in The Netherlands. Cultural institutions such as a museum of modern art, library and a spectacular restaurant Mijn Streek offering a fabulous view over Heerlen are located there.
7. Bernardinuscollege. It is the oldest secondary school in Heerlen founded in 1911 by Franciscans. In 1913 it was attended by the first students. It consists also of a Bernardinus Chapel which is a national monument.
Many famous people attended this school including Jo Ritzen, Dutch minister of education, Jan Mans– Dutch politician, mayor of many Dutch cities and our friend or Frans Timmermans Minister of Foreign Affairs, First Vice-President of the European Commission.
8. Castles. When in Heerlen you will also have a chance to visit spectacular castles. Hoensbroek Castle whose oldest part stems from 1380 is one of the largest and most beautiful castles in the Netherlands and is a national monument.This enormous castle consists of more than forty castle rooms and is a museum.
Do not miss Kasteel TerWorm which is now a breathtaking castle hotel and a restaurant. TerWorm Castle, a national monument, beautifully situated in the valley of the Geleenbeek, was built around 1400.
Two families owned the castle. The van Gitsbach family, called Van der Worm and the Cortenbach family. It changed the owners afterwards several times becoming in 1917 the ownership of Oranje- Nassau mines and then of Van der Valk concern. TerWorm Castle underwent six renovations in 500 years. The current appearance of the castle dates from 1890. In 1920, an outdoor swimming pool was established there and was closed permanently in 1985. Heerlen population in 1983 protested against the plans of the OGON, a subsidiary of the Oranje Nassau mines, to turn the estate and Castle TerWorm into an amusement park and by doing so saved the national heritage.
Eyckholt Castle, also known as Eijckholt or Oude Eijkert, is a ruin of a castle which is a national monument. It is situated in the current landscape park of TerWorm Castle.
9. Watermills. Around Heerlen you can find various brooks and you can admire watermills. For example Weltermolen from the 14th century, Eikemdermolen from the 15th century, Oliemolen from the 16th century.
On the photo you can see Weltermolen which is still open to public and is supported by water from the Geleenbeek (local brook) and water from a man-made pond Weltervijver. The Weltermolen is a national monument and is mentioned for the first time in a deed from 1381 and has always been the property of the Strijthagen house in Welten. The building consists of an elongated one-storey brick section. The square, three-storey tower probably dates from around 1700. The mill fell under the thirlage system and the thirled farmers-suckeners- were obliged to, and against payment, have their mill work carried out in this mill.
10. Parkstad Limburg Theaters: A leading theater with two locations in Kerkrade and Heerlen. Parkstad Limburg theater offers a varied program, consisting of internationally acclaimed performances and local talent.
The present building of the theater was designed by Frits Peutz a city well-known architect ( also designed for example a Glaspaleis and Royal Theater). The construction started in 1958. It took until November 1961 before a new contemporary theater was built on the Burgemeester van Grunsvenplein. The costs amounted to 4,758,852.57 guilders. The opening was celebrated on November 18, 1961 with the opera “Don Carlos”.
11. Royal. This amazing egg shaped building is a national monument and one of the oldest cinemas of the Netherlands. It was designed by Frits Peutz, who also designed the Glasspalace and Parkstad Limburg Theater and by J. Bongaerts. It was created in 1938. The buildings behind the Royal Theater which are younger include another building by Peutz (Rivoli, 1958). It had originally 1180 seats and was the biggest cinema in the region of Limburg and one of the biggest in the Netherlands. Now ”Spiegel Filmhuis” is located here which offers a critical platform with high-profile programs in the field of film, film education and debate.
12. Maankwartier (moon district). It is a new part of Heerlen connecting the north and the south part of Heerlen. It is a new train and bus station and a residential, work and entertainment area.
It is designed by an artist Michel Huisman from Heerlen. You can find there Heliostat with Roman numerals which are gold-plated and other 89 smaller artworks telling their own story and depicting a zodiac sign.
13. Dutch capital of graffiti. Heerlen is famous for its extensive collection of street art, from big murals till small, hidden mini pieces of street art in the center of Heerlen and outside. Artists from all over the world, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, USA, China, South Africa, England, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Ukraine and the Netherlands created their work in Heerlen.
14. Five squares. When in the center of Heerlen you must visit the 5 squares located to one another: Wilhelminaplein, Betaplein, Schelmenhofje, Morenhoek and Luciushof. They are a vibrant and inspiring cultural heart of the city.
Wilhelminaplein is the largest one and used to be a cattle market, and nowadays it is a location for various events.
Betaplein is the location of a Betahouse where creative companies are located.
Schelmenhofje is named after the Schelmentoren which you can admire from this location.
Morenhoek is probably named after a cemetery which used to be located here. During the Spanish occupation around 1600, the deceased Moors who were in the service of the Spanish military were buried here. From the 60s to the early 80s, this place used to be the location of the disco “De Morenhoek” and now of the dance school “Swing Inn” and in the summer a place for outdoor dance parties.
Luciushof is a former monastery garden and is very serene.You can reach it via the former monastery complex on the Putgraaf.
15. Tempsplein and a Sacred Heart statue. Tempsplein is a square which has a special character and status of particular importance for the appearance of Heerlen. An area around this square is an urban expansion plan by the architect-urban planner Jan Stuyt from 1913. The plan dates from a period when Heerlen was undergoing rapid development due to the flourishing coal mining industry. The core of the plan are two city squares, the Tempsplein and the Burgemeester De Hesseleplein – formerly known as Lindeplein and nearby area. Next to the Tempsplein Thermenmuseum and the Vondst are located.
In 1922 the sculptor Toon Dupuis was commissioned to make a Sacred Heart statue in the Tempsplein which was unveiled in 1924. It depicts a barefoot, standing figure of Christ, dressed in a long robe. He keeps his arms spread out in blessing. The statue stands on a natural stone. The sculpture was recognized as a national monument in 1999.
16. Nature. If you are more a nature person Heerlen is also a place to be. You have fantastic pure nature areas and you can encounter beautiful wild animals and flocks of sheep grazing on the slopes.
The Caumerbeekdal is actually located in the middle of the city of Heerlen! The Caumerbeek is an ancient brook that long ago supplied the Roman Bathhouse in Heerlen with fresh, running water. Numerous mills were built later, some of which have been preserved. The Aambos is part of it where you can see the deer park and Oliemolen.
Imstenradebos: offers beautiful views when you climb the steep paths. It is a quiet nature reserve where you can spot birds of prey such as buzzards and owls, bats and deer.
Brunssummerheide is the largest heathland area in Limburg. You can see there pine forests, sand dunes, grassy meadows with grazing horses. The recreational area ‘Brunssummerheide’ is located in the southeast of the municipality of Brunssum and adjacent to municipalities of Heerlen and Landgraaf. Recreational use includes walking, cycling, golfing and horse riding. There is also an observatory.
Terworm, TerWorm Castle- you can see there French rococo gardens and the brook Geleenbeek, hawthorn hedges, meadows orchards. You can also see there the Eikendermolen (mills) from the fifteenth century and ruins of the Eyckholt Castle.
17. Poppodium Nieuwe Nor. It is a must address if you like music regardless your age or music preferences. It organizes a broad spectrum of concerts and dance activities during which the artists from the whole world perform.
In March 2022, the new, large hall of the Nieuwe Nor was opened. This triples the capacity of this amazing place and there is room for a total of more than a thousand visitors in the two halls at the same time. It is also important to point out that Nieuwe Nor is an acknowledged address for promoting new talents.
18. Events. Heerlen is an event city meeting demands of all ages. Just to mention a few.
Carnival: Carnival is celebrated in Roman Catholic parts of the Netherlands. In Heerlen there are various parades organized, on Saturday starting with a unique children parade, on Sunday, the biggest one in the whole Netherlands.
You must also see the smiling donkey statue on the Pancratiusplein. It is rotatably mounted on the pedestal. The smiling donkey is the symbol of the Heerlen carnival association De Winkbülle and was placed on the occasion of the 4x11th anniversary in 1992. ( 11th of November, or in other words 11th of 11th starts oficially the carnaval season) It was unveiled on 23 February 1992 by Mayor Piet van Zeil, together with Carnival Prince Max II.
Cultura Nova is a multidisciplinary summer festival offering a varied programme by (inter)national artists for adults and children including theatre, dance, visual arts and film. The 2019 edition meant more than 60 different companies that presented 200 performances, concerts, films, workshops and lectures at 25 locations in and around Heerlen. Around 23.000 visitors witnessed opening of this festival last year.
Wintertijd (Winter time ) is an event organized from mid December and offers various activities such as skating, curling, sliding, winter café. Hockey shows and much more. https://www.wintertijdheerlen.nl/info/praktische-informatie/
Parkstad Culinair is established in 2013. It is a culinary event in the city of Heerlen, on the Pancratius square. It takes place in the second weekend of September. It is a unique event with a mix of culinary (restaurants), wine, cocktails, music, culture and networking.
The Notorious IBE event (breakdance event), attracts various breakdance dancers. In 2018 breakdances came from more than 50 countries.
The KingsXperience: during the day and night there are various events for all ages to celebrate the The King’s official birthday (King’s Day, Koningsdag).
19. When you visit Heerlen you will visit one of the highest cities above the sea level in the Netherlands! And just within around 20 km from Heerlen you can reach the highest point of the Netherlands: 323 m. The Three-Border Region in Vaals (Drielandenpunt) in Vaals is the place where Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands meet.
20. The biggest IKEA of the Benelux countries was opened in Heerlen in 2008 and since then Heerlen offers the biggest furniture shopping area of Europe, with 120,000 m² floorspace.
21. Last but not least Heerlen offers a big choice of local restaurants and cafes where after a day full of unforgettable experiences you can charge your battery and enjoy the rest of the day in a ‘’gezellig’’ (cosy) atmosphere.
See you in Heerlen and you will see that there are definitely more than 21 reasons to visit this special place!
Author: Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska is an award-winning international journalist, TV correspondent, author, chief editor of international journalism centre, Central and Eastern Europe Centre, board member and a sworn translator. She was born in Warsaw, Poland and has also Armenian blood and roots in Lvov, which is part of Ukraine. She has been living in Heerlen, in the Dutch region of Limburg, since 2005.
Copy rights of the photos belong to the mentioned organisations and/or photographers and we were allowed to publish them with their permission.
Our big thanks to:
Prisca Niël from Schunck for Schunck photos.
Also our big thank for the photos and info to:
Historisch Goud, Thermen Museum, Hoensbroek Castle
See also https://www.vvvheerlen.nl/ for more info about Heerlen and South Limburg