The Cave Markets and Sand Nativity of Valkenburg, the Netherlands

| December 18, 2014

If ever you’ve found yourself thinking, You know, I wonder what a Christmas market in a cave would be like?, then Valkenburg is for you. Located just across the German border in the Netherlands, Valkenburg is a small city that uses its space wisely during the Advent season: two caves, an outdoor market, decorations, sand sculptures, and Santa floating by in a parade.

There are a lot of up sides to the market, but I need to mention the down side. It’s very commercial—there aren’t a lot of handmade items like there are at Schloss Guteneck, Esslingen, and other markets.  The market in the cave is much more like a shopping mall than a Christmas Market, except for the fun decorations throughout. They were selling designer watches and jewelry, body lotions, decorations, bedding…seriously: a shopping mall in a cave.

That said, here are the great features of the markets!


This was a small downtown market anchored by a giant Christmas tree (complete with singing candles). The stalls were a little commercial, but there was a lot of food and drink to be had!

carousel xmas merry-go-round christmas tree

There was a carousel for the kids

merry-go-round xmas carousel

(and me)

Food included potato pancakes – delish!

Food included potato pancakes – delish!

spiral potatoes on a stick

Also yummy: these giant potato spirals

Fish truck, anyone?

Fish truck, anyone?

ugly sweater, rudolph

Or how about an Ugly Sweater for the Christmas party?

cartoon knit hats

Knit cartoon hats for the kids?

coke coca-cola santa christmas truck

Coca Cola Santa and his helpers were hanging out in the rain

santa claus

Coca Cola took and gave out free polaroids with Santa!

Food also included marshmallows bigger than my head

Food also included marshmallows bigger than my head

Candy and cookies, yum

Candy and cookies, yum



There were Santas and snowmen all throughout town, in front of shops and restaurants.

Like this one

Like this one

(and this)

(and this)

The whole town was filled with rows of restaurants; charming even in the rain.

The whole town was filled with rows of restaurants; charming even in the rain.



christmas elves in santa's workshop decorations

The cave was decorated throughout, with Santas, elves, and other Christmas images.

elf beds north pole

Ever wonder where elves sleep?

santa claus mailbox to the north pole

Send your letter off to the North Pole!

santa claus lantern xmas decoration

Okay, I’m not gonna lie, we now own this lantern that blows snow around Santa

snow globe, santa, christmas card, unique christmas photos

Also, family photos

fun unique christmas card photos santa snow globe

“Help, help, lemme outta here!”



Typical villages and pottery for sale

Typical villages and pottery for sale

glass crystal christmas ornaments

And ornaments

beer candles

and…beer candles for the man who has everything



nativity scene

Small nativity scene


Meat. In the cave, at the town market, meat hanging everywhere.

santa's cave netherlands

And lollipops!


Okay, I also now have a bag of this organically-grown garlic, with which I will be unable to recreate the delicious garlic butter we sampled.

cave paintings santa's cave netherlands

One really cool thing about the cave in general, was the art on the walls

santa's cave netherlands

…and that includes sculptures of dinosaurs and fossils



Under another hillside in the city, you enter a world of sand sculptures. It’s the largest sand-sculpted nativity in Europe (begging the question, just how many of these are there in Europe?).

sand nativity europe cave underground

The sculptures (which were not soft like the sand castles you make on the beach) depicted the entire story of the nativity, starting with the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary. There were signs in German, French, and English in front of each sculpture.

sand nativity europe cave underground

The main room was giant

sand nativity netherlands europe cave underground

The nativity scene was lovely

netherlands ski lift

Afterward, we rode the cable car to the top of the hill we were just under



I’d forgotten that there would be a parade on Saturday night, so imagine our surprise to find that it would pass right in front of our hotel window!

valkenburg parade

The first group began dancing with flags

valkenburg parade

Floats and dancers alternated. It was not a large parade, just a local one, but they didn’t skimp on the little floats.

santa parade

Hey! It’s Santa!


So, yeah, it’s a fun time with unique offerings, good food, and Santa. But if you can’t stand commercial markets, then making this trip—if it’s far for you—might disappoint you.

PSA: Make sure your kid packs her damn coat.

Looking for a hotel in Valkenburg?


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Category: Christmas Markets, Christmas Markets, Europe, FAMILY, Family Travel, Photo Gallery, the Netherlands, Travel, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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