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Valkenburg Christmas Market Guide

Markets don’t get more unique than Valkenburg Christmas market in the Netherlands. Primarily set within two historic caves, this popular holiday attraction draws visitors from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and beyond each winter. The underground space is full of craft vendors, food stands, and tons of seasonal decorations that contribute to “Christmas City Valkenburg.”

Most people coming to Valkenburg in the winter have likely never experienced a Christmas market in a cave before—it was certainly a first for us. We’ve put together this article to show you what to expect from both caves and the third part of the market known as Santa’s Village.

Geementegrot Christmas Market (Municipal Cave)

Snowman sculpture outside the entrance of a cave.

Endless stretches of corridors greet visitors to the Gemeentegrot (Municipal) cave. A quarry for marl stone since Roman times, the cave is a labyrinth carved out by centuries of miners. For the Christmas market, 2 kilometers of the tunnels fill with over 60 vendors. 

The main part of the Christmas market in Valkenburg, Gemeentegrot is the better cave to visit if you’re short on time. 

Once inside, the light yellow passageways lend an additional glow to all the Christmas light sculptures and decorations. Throughout the market, there are lots of displays designed just for taking photos whether it’s an easy chair surrounded by teddy bears, a sleigh, or lots of seasonal illuminated characters. You won’t leave without plenty of shareable photos.

Christmas light display in a cave including Santa and Christmas trees.

One of the first stands you’re likely to see is Aarts Mergelatelier, a vendor focused on handcrafting unique products out of marl, the very substance that comes from the Valkenburg caves. Among the selection, there are candle holders, Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and many other items to see.

We found that this stand quickly became busy because it was near the entrance and visitors were very interested in the marl crafts. After fighting the crowds for a few minutes, we stepped away to visit some other vendors. Within 10 minutes, the crowds dissipated, and we were able to come back and browse easily—a helpful approach for all the vendors since some spots within the cave can turn into bottlenecks.

Christmas tree decorations carved from marl.

As you walk through the passages, you’ll notice murals and inscriptions on the walls from different times in Valkenburg’s history. Many of them are accompanied by translations so visitors can understand their significance.

The whole experience of visiting a Christmas market underground is unique. The vendors and food sellers are like those you would find at any market, but you never know where the next passage will take you or what you’ll find on the other side of the wall.

Shoppers at the Valkenburg Christmas market in a tunnel lined with Christmas trees.

Vendors here sell a little bit of everything. There are Christmas decorations of all kinds and lots of winter clothes, slippers, and items to keep you warm. We found stands selling vinyl records, vintage signs, and travel-inspired coasters. From handmade soap to specialty candles, shopping options are extensive.

When it comes to food, options underground are a bit limited because of the lack of ventilation, but there are still plenty of Dutch treats to sample. You’ll find your fill of Gouda cheese to try on the spot or take with you. We also found stuffed pastries with savory or sweet filling—like sausage rolls and apple turnovers—plus a selection of soups. The aroma of fresh made stroopwafels is likely to lure you in from a few stands away.

In addition to the food stands, there is also a café-like area to sit and enjoy a beer, mulled wine or Chocomel (hot chocolate). The section has a space carved into the rock that is used like an elevated stage, so at certain times, visitors can enjoy live music with their drinks.

Man selling cheese at a market.

Fluweelengrot Christmas Market (Velvet Cave)

Just a one-minute walk from the Gemeentegrot cave is a second market in the Fluweelengrot (Velvet) cave. Like the first, Fluweelengrot is an underground network of passages occupied by gift and food sellers at the holidays. For the most part, the Christmas market here is like the first cave, though there seemed to be fewer vendors, and the cave was less crowded with more space between the stands.

Below Valkenburg’s castle ruins, the Fluweelengrot cave is much more than just another quarry and the source of many of the castle’s building materials. The cave likely dates back around 900 years and has lots of historical significance that is evident from its carvings. Having fewer people to compete with in the space makes it easier to read the descriptions and appreciate the unusual carvings as you shop.

Santa, large ornaments, and Christmas light display.

Only rediscovered in 1937, the passages have allowed people to pass secretly in and out of the castle and to restock supplies beginning in medieval times. During the 18th century, they provided a hiding place for Roman Catholics who were forbidden from practicing their religion and set up a refuge chapel here. Visitors can still see the altar, pulpit, and confessional from 1797 plus religious carvings on the walls.

During World War II, the Fluweelengrot cave gave American soldiers passage into the hilltop castle where they could map the Nazis’ positions below. Many soldiers left their names on the walls, and several portraits honor their presence.

Altar carved from stone and religious drawings on a cave wall.

Beyond the historical parts of the cave, there is a lot to enjoy in this part of the Valkenburg Christmas market. From candy cane sculptures to life-sized Santas, there are numerous light sculptures and displays for photos among the vendors.

Drinks on a table with Christmas lights in the background.

We found perfume, decorative lace, leather goods, and lots of candy and chocolates for sale among the stands. One artistic vendor offered hand-carved chess sets with the pieces styled in different themes, including medieval royalty, characters from Game of Thrones, and historical figures. A café area offered lots of seating and space to enjoy a drink and bite to eat.

Santa’s Village

In the shadow of a city gate originally from the 14th century, Santa’s Village is the above-ground portion of the market. About 40 wooden chalets and a carousel combine to make this the most traditional part of the Christmas market.

Wooden chalets filled with merchandise at a Christmas market.

As you browse, you’ll find everything from luxe scarves and delicious fudge to more practical items like cell phone covers. While the market is a modest size, it’s full of atmosphere in the city center. The gluhwein (mulled wine) bar is popular, and you can enjoy some warm drinks alongside bratwurst from Santa’s Grill.

On Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, keep your eyes open for Santa. He spends his time in his “Chillroom.”

Hours, tickets, and logistics

The markets run November 17 through December 30, 2023. The caves are open 11am-7pm on weekdays and 11am-7pm on Saturday and Sunday. They are closed on Christmas Day, and hours vary slightly on other holidays. During the week, Santa’s Village opens at 12pm and closes at 7pm Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. On Wednesday and Friday, it closes at 9pm. Saturday hours are 11am-9pm, and Sunday hours are 11am-7pm.

Christmas market shoppers in a cave decorated with light sculptures.

The caves are unique among Christmas markets because they have entry fees. Admission for adults (ages 12+) is €9 during the week and €10 on weekends. Children aged 5-11 are €5 every day. Tickets are booked in half-hour windows and admission is limited to ensure the caves don’t get too crowded.

Tickets must be purchased online in advance, and we recommend buying them as soon as you have an idea of your schedule. They can sell out, especially on weekends in December. You can buy multiple tickets at the same time, if you want to visit both caves, for instance, or one cave and other attractions in Valkenburg.  

Light sculpture of Santa emerging from a chimney.

We spent 1.5 hours in the Gemeentegrot cave and about an hour in Fluweelengrot cave, even when allowing a little time to sit down for a drink and snack.

Our tickets for Gemeentegrot were for the first timeslot of the day. Lines were quite long because many coach tours also seem to begin their days here. When we emerged about 90 minutes later, the lines were much shorter. We did not experience a line at Fluweelengrot where crowds were much less overall.

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