We always like to travel for as long and as far away as possible, for some reason we think the best things are always found abroad. And of course we have found many beautiful spots all over our world during our travels the past few years. But with the current restrictions we felt more comfortable looking a bit closer to home to spend our holiday.
And sometimes that means you literally don’t even have to go that far. Who knew that Heerlen, only a short 5 minute drive from our place, is the Mural capital of the Netherlands?
Obviously I noticed some pretty cool murals in the past, but I never knew that Heerlen actually was the street art capital of the Netherlands.
Related: List of 24 cool and unique places to visit in Netherlands!
So please let me take you on a tour through Heerlen. I know people like to dismiss Heerlen, but Heerlen is underrated. With its street art it offers something most cities in The Netherlands don’t.
This Heerlen travel blog was written by travel writer and Traveltomtom team member Ashley. She explored Heerlen and its murals on behalf of Traveltomtom, and wrote this blog about her adventures in the city of Heerlen. Look her up on Instagram!
History of Heerlen
The history of Heerlen dates back to the Roman time. The Romans were the first to establish settlement in Heerlen. The Romans built a bathhouse here, of which the remains can be seen in the Thermenmuseum. In the Middle Ages it was a fairly insignificant settlement. Things started to change with the coal mining, which made the little town of Heerlen grow explosively into the second city in Limburg. There is not much left to remind us of the mining history of the city. The shaft building of the Oranje Nassau I is the most striking and direct remnant, and nowadays used as Dutch Mining Museum.
Location of Heerlen
Heerlen is located in the very South of the Netherlands, close to both the German and the Belgium borders. Which makes it easy to combine visiting Heerlen with a trip across the border to Aachen or Liege for example.
Heerlen is also located very close to the famous Heuvelland region, where you can spend several days exploring, cycling and hiking through the most beautiful nature we have here in the Netherlands. This is the view from my suite in Hotel Heerlen.
Best Travel Destination in the World Title
Welcome to Parkstad Limburg. Parkstad Limburg is the fastest growing tourist destination of the Netherlands. Parkstad has the largest indoor ski park in Europe, the longest staircase in the Netherlands, the largest home-improvement boulevard in Europe, the most modern and innovative zoo in Europe and the largest world-themed gardens park in the Netherlands. If this is not enough reason to visit Parkstad Limburg, then what is?
Heerlen is part of the Parkstad Limburg region. This region was announced the winner of the Tourism for Tomorrow Award in the category ‘Best Travel Destination in the World’ in 2016.
WTTC is a global authority on Travel and Tourism located in London. Each year they recognize destinations which show commitment to supporting and delivering sustainable tourism practices.
Before 2016, the Netherlands had never been nominated for a WTTC Award before, let alone a region in the Netherlands as best travel destination.
Parkstad Limburg and Heerlen have multiple reasons why you should visit sooner rather than later and here are the best things to do in and around Heerlen.
Best things to do in Heerlen
1. Kasteel Hoensbroek
The castle of Hoensbroek is one of the biggest castles in the Netherlands. It is located in the city district of Hoensbroek. Very well accessible by car, with sufficient parking spaces, or by public transport from the city center of Heerlen.
The oldest part of the castle dates back to 1360. Because of its very strategic location for the province of Limburg, along the important trade routes to Maastricht, Aachen and Cologne, the castle was expanded in several phases into the largest castle between the Maas and the Rhine rivers.
Nowadays you can tour the castle and see the impressive inside, visiting with kids you can also go on a scavenger hunt, or if you fancy, it is even an official wedding location!
2. Kasteel Terworm
The castle of Terworm is located on the outskirts of Heerlen, at the Terworm estate. A large nature estate and reserve. The castle is located on a completely moated site.
This castle has some very lovely and impressive castle gardens. This garden is a reconstruction based on excavations and research into the French rocco garden, which was created in 1787. Roses, lavender, boxwood and authentic planting indicate the structure. These gardens are public and free of charge. These are also a favorite wedding location.
You wouldn’t say this visiting the Terworm castle nowadays, but in the last decades of the twentieth century the castle fell into major disrepair. This was until it was bought by the Van der Valk Hotel group. They restored the castle to what it is now, hosting a hotel and a restaurant.
The thermenmuseum is home to the best preserved Roman bath building in the Netherlands! It’s in fact the oldest stone building in the Netherlands. It was built between 63 and 73 AD. The museum is home to all kinds of exhibitions, including a permanent exhibition with a varied collection of utensils from the Roman era. Discover how the life in Zuid Limburg changed completely by the arrival of the Romans, 2000 years ago.
4. Nederlands Mijnmuseum
Heerlen is also home to the Dutch Mining Museum. This museum is actually located in the original shaft building of ‘Shaft II’ of the Oranje Nassau Mine I.
Limburg was all about mining in the 1950’s. Literally everything revolved around the mining industry. A world without mines was almost unimaginable in the Limburg mining region those years. Nevertheless the closure of the coal mines was announced in 1965. This museum was opened to keep the deep-nested Mining history alive and to continue to bring together stories of the past.
Fun Fact: The interior and decoration of the rollercoaster Baron 1898 in the Efteling themepark are based on this museum!
5. Murals of Heerlen
Imagine Heerlen as one large open-air museum. As street art capital of the Netherlands, that is what Heerlen is. Both national and international top artists have created art in dozens of places over the past few years, all throughout the city. Many of these murals can be seen by just walking through Heerlen. Keep an eye out, they might be huge, on facades of buildings, but there are some very small ones too.
You can go on a guided tour if you want. There is a tour every first Sunday of the month, which takes about 90 minutes and takes you past some of the best and most impressive murals and street art. These tours are organized by Heerlen Mijn Stad and the local tourist office.
Of course you can also go on your own journey of discovery through the concrete jungle of Heerlen. Heerlen Mijn Stad offers a city map with a very handy mural route. You can get this map for free at the tourist office.
They also offer a city guide and mural guide called ENNE, where you’ll find a street art map and background information on some of these art objects.
Also very easy is the Street Art Cities app. You can download it for free in the App Store or the Play Store. Search for Heerlen and start exploring! I used the app and the ENNE city guide to explore the murals I wanted to see. There are way too many to explore them all in one day. By doing them by foot, you get to see a whole lot of what Heerlen has to offer, passing the Mine Museum, the city center and the new Maankwartier, see the picture below.
Insiders Tip for Heerlen: looking for something unique, a cool bar in Heerlen?
Heerlen actually has a rooftop bar, Ibiza style! This hidden gem is located at the rooftop of the Bufkes Restaurant at the ‘woonboulevard’.
More things to do around Heerlen: Parkstad Limburg & Heuvelland Region
6. Drielandenpunt in Vaals
Heerlen is located close to some very interesting highlights of South Limburg. Fancy visiting Belgium and Germany at the same time? Visit the Three Countries Point (drielandenpunt), where the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet, accessible for free, all year round.
7. American War Cemetery in Margraten
Also less than half an hour away from Heerlen is the American War Cemetery in Margraten. The only American cemetery in the Netherlands, where 8291 Americans found their last resting place. This impressive site has been visited by several American Presidents in the past.
8. Gaia Zoo in Kerkrade
Just around the corner from Heerlen is the most beautiful zoo of the Netherlands; GaiaZoo. This Dutch zoo was elected 'Best Trip of the Netherlands' in 2013, 2018 and 2020. And with just a 10 minute drive you’re in the middle of the Zoo surrounded by the animals.
Definitely worth a visit if you have the time is the extraordinary city of Valkenburg aan de Geul. Located in the heart of the Heuvelland nature reserve, nestled between mossy green hills, this marlstone city is truly a unique place.
10. Snowworld Landgraaf
Fancy something sporty and snowy? How about the largest indoor ski village of Europe? Located in Landgraaf, neighbour town of Heerlen. Snowworld offers 5 slopes, 4 restaurants, a hotel and an adventure valley with a climbing park and an Alpine Coaster. The climbing park is one of Europe’s largest climbing parks, with over 1000 meter ziplines and two climbing routes.
Looking for some first time ski or snowboard lessons, or are you that professional that wants to go for a go? You’re all welcome at Snowworld. All gear can be rented from Snowworld.
11. Longest stairs in the Netherlands in Landgraaf
Right next to Snowworld you’ll find the earlier mentioned highest and longest staircase, 508 steps in total, in the Netherlands. A very popular spot for locals for walking, hiking, running and working out on these staircases. From the top of these steps you have very nice views overlooking the region, even into Germany.
Van der Valk Heerlen Hotel – City Break Package
Stop searching, because we found you the best place to stay for your city break in the Street Art capital of the Netherlands: Heerlen! Located along the N281, this Heerlen hotel is very easily accessible.
Over the past few years Van der Valk Heerlen has been through some massive renovations and new constructions. In fact, back in 2016 they were right in the middle of all these new constructions and renovations works, when a devastating fire caused a lot of damage. Due to the fire they immediately renovated the main building. Heerlen now has a brand new Van der Valk hotel ready for the future.
Located in the southernmost part of the southernmost province of the Netherlands. Van der Valk Heerlen welcomes you to the South of Limburg, to experience its warm hospitality, its culture and the amazing natural beauty. An unforgettable experience is guaranteed.
Located very close to the city centre of Heerlen, where you can search, explore and find all the amazing murals Heerlen is famous for. You can leave your car at the hotel, free of charge, and start walking from the hotel. Not into walking? You can also rent bikes and scooters from the reception. Make sure to book these in time, so you don’t miss out.
Van der Valk Hotel Heerlen is part of the estate of Terworm. Estate Terworm is a nature reserve offering various possibilities for relaxation. Very suitable for jogging, walking, cycling, with routes from 4 to 7 kilometers.
Also on the estate you will find the 14th century Terworm castle. This amazing castle is part of the Van der Valk hotels, which means you can also stay here if you fancy.
Take home some of the estate, hotel Heerlen offers locally, at the estate, made apple juice, honey and apple syrup.
If you get up early, and go for a stroll at the estate, you might even be lucky to see some wildlife, foxes and deer are often spotted here. I got up early to try my luck. Halfway between the hotel and the castle you’ll see some cherry trees on your left hand side. And I was so lucky, a fox was enjoying the cherries fallen to the ground. It didn’t even notice me, so I was able to get some nice shots.
Responding to the current situation Van der Valk Heerlen has come up with some lovely packages for the summer. One of these packages is the City Break Package. Perfect for the Heerlen city break we had, discovering the murals, the castles and the history of Heerlen and its surroundings. They offer a relaxed city break package with breakfast and a 3-course dinner included, what more do you want?
More Netherlands travel inspiration? Check this list of the best things to do in the Netherlands.
We stayed here ourselves as part of our city break in Heerlen, and can only recommend staying at this van der Valk hotel. The perfect gateway to your city break!
Hope all my Heerlen Netherlands tips were helpful for your next trip. Enjoy and safe travels!