Last Updated on December 30, 2023 by Themepark Freak
Down in the south of the Netherlands, to the east of Maastricht is Valkenburg. While the city itself is a site to see, every Christmas season the Gemeentegrot (Municipal Cave) is decorated and becomes a Christmas Market.
While I’ve been a few times before, this 2023 visit is the first one back in 5 or 6 years. If you’re considering on hitting this Christmas Market, this is my honest review of the Gemeentegrot Valkenburg Christmas Market.
The Gemeentegrot is actually a limestone quarry, so a man made cave. From Roman times, marl blocks were created and hauled out of the quarry to use on buildings. Mining went on until the 1950s when all of the good marl had been mined out.
However, as the cave networked formed, the local residents used them for different things. Between 1936 and 1949 the caves were used to farm mushrooms. During WW2 it was an arms factory, and 1963 to 1970 it was a trout farm. There were also periods where cheese was ripened and mealworms were farmed.
Since the late 1800s until today, tours have been given in the caves. Today, outside of Christmas season, tourists can pick several different tours through the cave.
Gemeentegrot Valkenburg Christmas Market
The Gemeentegrot Valkenburg Christmas Market opens to the public mid November and goes all the way to the 30th of December.
It’s open 7 days a week and for 2023 opens at 11:00 on the weekdays and 10:00 on weekends. It closes at 19:00 (7pm) on all days except the 24th, 26th and 30th where it closes an hour earlier at 18:00 (6pm). The Gemeentegrot Valkenburg Christmas Market is closed on Christmas Day (the 25th of December).
While tickets can be purchased on location, if there are too many people showing up they may close down on site ticket sales. So it’s best to purchase tickets in advanced. Also be aware that there are time slots.
Prices to enter the Christmas Market are as follows:
|Monday to Friday
|Adults > 12 years
|Children 5 – 11 years
|Children 0 – 4 years
|Saturday & Sunday
|Adults > 12 years
|Children 5 – 11 years
|Children 0 – 4 years
The cave is wheelchair accessible and guide dogs are welcome. There are some areas in the cave where the floor slopes up and down, sometimes quite steeply.
Review of the Gemeentegrot Christmas Market
This isn’t my first visit to the Gemeentegrot Valkenburg Christmas Market. While previous visits were busy and crowded, we never went during opening weekend. I don’t advise it.
The line to get into the cave snaked its way down the street, probably a good half kilometer. As you can see from the photo, the weather was less than stellar as well. A pretty typical rainy November weekend to be honest and at some points the rain was really coming down.
Challenge #1: Parking in Valkenburg
Unless you get to Valkenburg early (we arrived around noon), or are really lucky, don’t count on finding a parking spot close to the cave. I think we were waved on from 3 different parking lots and ended up parking a good 1.5 kilometer away. It was actually a pleasant walk to the caves since the rain had stopped. On the way back to the car, it was wet, cold and miserable.
If you’re planning on going with anyone who can’t walk very far, or are in wheelchairs (we had 3 wheelchairs with us) you’ll want to drop them off at the cave.
Challenge #2: The Line to the Cave
As you saw somewhere above, the line to the cave was quite insane. Now, this weekend WAS opening weekend. If I had the ability to choose a different day I’d have let it run a weekend or two. Or I’d have gone during the week.
My husband and I actually lucked out. There was some confusion and chaos from our party where half of the party was dropped off at the cave. Then the others parked cars. Those that were dropped off somehow cut into line and we got our tickets and managed to skip the almost kilometer long line in the pouring rain.
I do have to say that once you get close to the caves, the organization is pretty good. There’s people in brightly colored coats directing both cars as well as human beings. Outside of our chaotic way of getting into line, there weren’t any obvious queue jumpers.
Challenge #3: Navigating the Cave
Only a certain amount of people were being let into the cave at a time, but once you got in it was clear that they were at capacity. It was crowded. Uncomfortably crowded.
Walking through the cave you’re going to have to come to terms with a few things:
- You’re going to be shuffling along
- You’re going to have to wait to get close to any booth
- Other people are not looking out for you
- Other people are not aware of their surroundings (or you)
I think the most frustrating thing I kept running into were people just randomly stopping or standing in the entrance to a side cave. Yes, I’m the person who gets grocery store rage when people randomly stop in the middle of an isle with their cart. You could hear me muttering, “yup, just go ahead and stand there in the entrance, you’re obviously the only person in this cave!” Yea, I’m one of those people. You should see me in a grocery store (it’s really a good thing online delivery exists where I live).
The most enraging moment was trying to get out of the way of someone who thought bringing a double stroller (side by side) was a brilliant idea. In general, wheelchairs and single strollers were pretty ok because they flowed with the traffic. But that double stroller? In the place we encountered it there was no real place for people to get out of the way.
Challenge #4: Eating or Drinking in the Cave
Yes, there were places to get a treat or get a drink of something. There were even seats. Good luck getting close to anything much less finding some place to sit down and eat.
Outside of some whisky liquor that we bought from one of the booths, we didn’t try to pick up anything to eat and drink. There was a little bistro outside of the cave that had an awning where we could stay dry that we had a drink while waiting for everyone else. It wasn’t worth trying to do it in the cave. It was just too crowded.
Final Thoughts of the Gemeentegrot Christmas Market
It’s fairly unique being able to go to an European Christmas market in a cave. However, compared to Christmas Markets elsewhere in Europe, it’s a novelty not a must do.
If our visit weren’t part of a planned family event, there is absolutely no way I’d have gone back. It was hot and crowded when I went before and it really didn’t get much better.
I will say one thing did get a little better though. The few times I visited in the past, the booths in the cave was very commercial. You could find the same commercial garbage at nearly any outdoor market in the country. This time around there seemed to be a lot more Christmas oriented items as well as more hand crafted items.
This, however, wouldn’t be enough to convince me to come back in the future.