Arnhem – where green and fashion meet

From fashion and design, to Roman history and World War II, Arnhem has something for everyone, writes Stephanie Dijkstra.


Mode_IMG_8245.JPGArnhem is famous for fashion and design. Photo: Xpat Journal

When you approach Arnhem either by train or by car, you begin to wonder why the Dutch complain so much about their country being full. Beautiful forests and meadows stretch as far as the eye can see – right into the city centre.

Reason why, already in the 17th century, Arnhem acquired the name ‘Green City on the Rhine’ and, in 2009, was voted ‘greenest city in Europe’ by Entente Florale – the European Association for Flowers and Landscape.

In the centre of the city you will find two huge, well-kept parks, Sonsbeek and the Zijpendaal estate – both acquired by the city in the 19th century in a desire to foster its ‘green’ image when the owners, under economic duress, put them up for sale.

In these parks you find huge ponds, a terraced garden, the Water Museum, concerts, music festivals and, at irregular intervals, an international sculpture exhibition that focuses on a particular theme (the next one will be from June 15 to September 14, 2014).


The people of Arnhem are rightly proud of this park, which is a popular destination any time the sun comes out – yet what makes Arnhem so pleasant is that virtually every neighborhood has a sizeable park where children, whether they live in stately mansions or cramped apartments, can go out and do what every kid loves to do: romp around, climb, run, and get good and dirty.

Located on the lower Rhine and the Sint Jansbeek (Saint John’s Stream), Arnhem early on became a connection point between all corners of the Netherlands as well as a gateway to Germany, and thus naturally developed into an important trade centre.

But it all started long before there was such a ‘thing’ as Germany or the Netherlands – or even the name ‘Rhine’; proof of human habitation has been found there dating back to 70,000 years ago, belonging to the Neanderthals.

And, of course, the city’s history would not be complete if it hadn’t been inhabited by the Romans – yet, despite its central location, the remains of an encampment that were found are too modest to indicate that it had been of any historical significance.


The name Arnhem derives from arnu (the Germanic word for eagle) and heem (Germanic for home); home of the eagle. During the time of the Romans, despite its modest significance, it merited its own, Latin, name: Arenacum.

Arnhem has several bridges. Photo:

The name Arneym is found in a register dating from 893, when the village was located on the Sint Jansbeek. In 1233, the city acquired city rights, and soon became a favored party location for dukes and counts – as is evidenced by city records listing bacchanals and huge meals, run up by the merry-making nobility.

A trend that was picked up again towards the second half of the 19th century in a more modest and subdued form when many of those who had acquired their riches in colonial Indonesia decided to settle there, constructing neighborhoods and houses that mirrored those of The Hague and giving it its nickname, The Little Hague of the East (Haagje van het Oosten).

World War II

Modern historical importance was acquired by Arnhem during the Second World War, famously depicted in the movie A Bridge too Far, when the Allied Forces tried to take back the city from the Germans.

Encouraged by the liberation of Belgium and the north of France, Field Marshall Montgomery proposed Operation Market Garden, whereby the Forces would capture a number of bridges (Operation Market), such as the one at Arnhem, and use tanks (Operation Garden) to enter Germany from that side.

However, due to a series of disastrous developments, this operation failed and, between September 17 and 26, large parts of Arnhem were destroyed. The reconstruction of the city lasted until the mid-sixties.


Another ‘theme’ that is recurrent in the history of Arnhem is fashion. Already in the early 1900s, hundreds of fashion boutiques could be found in the city center – to cater to the tastes of the wealthy clientele of ‘The Little Hague in the East’.

In the late 1980s, fashion found a new home in the Klarendal neighborhood due to an interesting initiative on the side of its population and local organizations. Tired of decades of deteriorating conditions in their own district, the local population cracked down on violence, drugs and prostitution and essentially cleaned up their neighborhood.

The housing organization fixed up and painted its property and targeted a higher segment of tenants. Also shops were given a make-over and, in an effort to further change the face of Klarendal, a new face – starting with four little fashion boutiques.


Over time, this has grown to almost 30 in this part of the city alone, making Klarendal the Fashion Quarter of Arnhem ( – a logical and attractive destination for graduates of ArtEZ Academy for Art & Design, which has locations in Arnhem, Enschede and Zwolle and offers degrees in fashion, theater, dance, architecture, and art, as well as a conservatory.

The neighbourhood retains its folksy atmosphere and has the feel of a Paris arrondissement, with its leafy squares, art ateliers, fashion stores, Moroccan food markets and a unique hotel: Modez.

Hotel Modez has 20 rooms, each individually designed, together with the rest of the hotel’s interior, by 30 different fashion designers. The elevator alone, called the smallest fashion museum in the world, is worth a visit. Step in, close the door, push the button to the top floor and watch photographed fashion history develop – bottom to top – on various themes as you slowly make your way up.

For lunch or dinner, visit Café Caspar on the ground floor, naturally also reflecting the work of well-known interior designers – as well as the talents of its experienced chefs.


If you want to go shopping, the center of Arnhem offers everything, from upscale department stores, to all the latest brands, as well as antique, jewelry, gift, toy, shoe, chocolate and bookstores (and more…).

Note: though Klarendal is the fashion quarter of Arnhem, DO take the time to explore the quirky little fashion shops in the center as well, which include intriguing fashion & design store Coming Soon, where students and graduates of the ArtEZ Academy as well as established names can showcase their products and clothes in a monthly changing display.

Not only does this ensure that the products for sale there are truly one-of-a-kind, it also provides students with the opportunity to experience and respond to the more commercial aspects of design.


Arnhem’s reputation as a green city is further underscored by its use of trolley buses, first set up in 1949 and still in use in the city’s center. This contributes substantially to a reduction in both air pollution and noise. The trolley also takes you to Burgers Zoo as well as the Open Air Museum, located on the outer edge of the city and also easily accessible by car.

Burgers Zoo was established 100 years ago by Johan Burgers and remains a family business to this day. It not only has a beautiful savannah, the Sonora and Mojave Desserts of Arizona and Northern Mexico, and a tropical rain forest; it also participates in worldwide breeding programs, such as the EEP (European Endangered Species Program) aimed at saving certain animal species from extinction. The Zoo has 35 species threatened with extinction in this programme.

The Open Air Museum breathes history. Photo Wim de Knegt

One stop away is the Open Air Museum, founded 101 years ago, where you can travel through time – either taking a full day on foot, or for those of you whose feet are weary, by tram.

Visit little villages, an old rope factory, a candy store, tiny houses, a wind mill, a rose garden, a maze, and so much more, all authentic buildings transported to the park and inhabited by day by locals in traditional garb who are eager to tell you about life and work over the centuries.

Located in the woods of the Veluwe, a visit to this 44-hectare park constitutes not only an enchanted trip through time but, simply, a lovely stroll through the park.


Visiting the local VVV, as always, will provide you with a host of information, as well as the chance to pick up helpful little booklets such as the Funshopgids, which contains a list of must-dos, museums, hotels, restaurants and specialty stores, and Discover Arnhem, offering a variety of walking and cycling routes through the city, accompanied by a very digestible, concise history of the city.

Speaking of cycling, this is a wonderful way to discover Arnhem, and bicycles are for rent at the train station – including ‘electric’ bicycles that do not require any type of driver’s license or even helmet, but that, by means of a built-in battery, give your every turn of the pedals an extra boost.

It even changes gears automatically and is a very relaxed way of navigating the undulating cycle paths and steep hills of the area (Arnhem and environs, you see, though this being the Netherlands, are not flat).

Renting this wonderful contraption, called an electrische fiets in Dutch, allowed my guide – city councilor Tobias de Groot – to take me on a quick tour of Meinerswijk, a river foreland park which lies on the other side of the Rhine and is sandwiched between the city’s two halves.

Only local traffic is allowed there and it is an oasis of peace and nature, with views of the city on virtually all sides. It might be called a park, but at 450 hectares, you feel as if you have left the city behind you. Here is where the remains were found of a Roman castellum called the Fort of Hercules, which was part of the line of 25 forts that marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire until approximately 400 AD and that could accommodate between 500 and 1000 men.

Nowadays it is home to a dozen Galloway cattle and approximately a dozen half-wild Konik ponies, as well as 94 species of birds, including several types of geese and ducks who spend the winter there. It is a extraordinary experience to be in the middle of Arnhem, yet to be surrounded by silence, water, wide views, hundreds of birds, and galloping horses.

But that is not all; Arnhem offers a wide variety of restaurants (207 officially listed!), from Turkish, to Japanese, to Thai, to yes… Dutch, as well as Fusion, French, International, Vietnamese and Halal. It also has six theaters and the largest venue in the Netherlands: the Gelredome, which hosts large-scale events as well as concerts by singers and groups such as Rihanna, Deep Purple, Justin Bieber, Prince, Simply Red and more. Visit for an overview of what’s showing.


Don’t disturb the wildlife. Photo

If Arnhem isn’t green enough for you, you can visit Veluwe National Park, at 5400 hectares the largest park of its type in Northern Europe. The park is home to wild boars, deer, foxes, badgers, pine martens, Reeves’s muntjac and mouflon, and, of course a huge variety of birds.

Wildlife corridors are being created to connect the park to the Oostvaardersplassen in the province of Flevoland, and the Klever Reichswald in Germany in order to stimulate the genetic diversity of the park’s wildlife. The park organizes so-called Early Bird Concerts, as well as nature photography courses, deer safaris and, of course, this being the Netherlands, bicycle excursions.

In fact, when you park your car outside the park, you can pick up a bicycle, free of charge, to roam the park as long as you like. It is also home to the Kröller-Müller Museum, which has the second-largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world (after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam) and a sculpture park.

Arnhem has several museums, including The War Museum  also well worth a visit is the Airborne Museum Hartenstein, in Oosterbeek, west of Arnhem,, the almost 100-year-old Museum of Modern Art Arnhem and its sculpture park, and the Dutch Water Museum at the edge of in Sonsbeek Park.

This article was first published in The XPat Journal Summer 2013 Issue

Thank you for donating to

We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.

Make a donation