The friendly village of Gulpen is considered to be the heart of the Heuvelland, the most beautiful and hilly part of the South Limburg region. Its cosy, small centre is a popular destination for Dutch tourists and is a lively place in summer, when a range of events and small festivals are organised. Administratively, a number of surrounding villages are part of Gulpen, most with some draws of themselves. The most notable ones are Wittem, Epen, Wijlre, Mechelen and Eys.
Gulpen's main asset, as for many other towns in this region, are the natural surroundings and charming hamlets around it. It's well-known and popular as a holiday destination for the Dutch, who use is as a starting point for day trips to the many sights in the region. Nevertheless, Gulpen itself is a pleasant place with some worthwhile sights and a number of nice bars and restaurants.
The town derives its name from the small river Gulp, which still runs through the heart of the village. The so-called "Gulp and Geul-valley", the Geul being the second nearby running river, are considered the most beautiful natural area in the Netherlands.
Biking and hiking routes are plentiful, and come in from all directions. The main road connection to Gulpen is however the N278, which runs right through the village halfway on its route from Maastricht to Aachen. Both are about a half hour's drive. This road is the modern day version of an important ancient Roman road, and easily connects the town not only to those two large cities but also to a number of villages in between. The N595 connects Gulpen to nearby Valkenburg aan de Geul, which is a popular tourist destination. The nearest highway is the A76, which in turn connects to the A2. The highway exit is near Simpelveld, about a 10 minute drive from Gulpen.
There's no train station in town, but the ample bus connections operated by Veolia are a good way to get in. If you're coming in from the Netherlands by public transport, head to either Maastricht or Heerlen and take a bus from there. Line 50 to Aachen will take you to Gulpen from Maastricht (30 minutes, € 3,57 single trip). Line 40 is your main connection to and from Heerlen (also 30 minutes, € 3,57 single trip). If you're coming in only for the day, or you have another destination on your list, a day ticket purchased in the bus (€5.50) is cheaper than 2 single tickets. The main busstation is easy to find as it is located along the main road (Rijksweg/N278).
Other bus lines to and from here include:
- Line 51 to Brunssum
- Line 49 to Valkenburg
The small center is best explored on food but to see the surroundings, a bike or car is handy. For car rentals you'll need to head to Maastricht or Valkenburg, but normal bicycles, mountainbikes, electrobikes and scooters are available in Gulpen itself. Bicycling is highly popular in this area and a lot of bicycle racing events pass through or near by the town. In summer, you'll find many large and small groups of cyclist exploring the surroundings and stopping for breaks in Gulpen and nearby towns. However, keep in mind that you're surrounded by small but still fairly challenging hills. If you're not particularly fit or trained, consider renting an electric bike for some support in reaching the hill tops. Alternatively, many visitors opt for a scooter. Rentals typically require a deposit of around 50 euro, and for scooters you'll need a drivers' license.
- Jo Herben, Looierstraat 48, ☎ +31 43-4501360. This place is right in the centre of town and has a good selection of models available, including racing bikes and children's models. If you're looking for something in particular, it's best to make reservations in advance. Prices include €12/60 per day/week for a basic 7 gear bicycles , €15/70 for 24 gear hybrids, €20/100 for mountainbikes, €25 per day for electric bicycles or scooters..
- Rocca Outdoor Sports, Landsraderweg 13, ☎ +31 43-4504747. .
- Sint-Petruskerk, Kapelaan Pendersplein 12. This 1924 church in Neo-Romanesque style was build to replace the older Petruskerk of which now only the tower remains.
- Old Church Tower, Kiewegracht 11. The 11th-13th century Roman style tower on the cemetery ground is the only remaining part of the medieval village church. Due to its thick walls, historians believe it also served as a fortification at the time.
- Neubourg Castle, Riehagervoetpad 1. Most visible parts of this originally 14th century castle were constructed in the 17th and 18th century. Several of the surrounding buildings as well as the castle itself are listed as national heritage monuments. The property often changed hands but has mostly been empty since the last owner died in 1992. Plans for renovations have so far not been carried out, due to the high costs. Nevertheless, the castle in its nice green surroundings is a pretty sight and photo opportunity.
- Mosaqua Tropical Pool, Landsraderweg 11, 6271 NT, ☎ +31 43-4507400. This tropical indoor and outdoor swimming pool is considered to be among the best in the country. In summers, during the holidays, it can get crowded here as locals and tourists flock to the pools and slides. Obviously, the outdoor pools are only attractive during the few warm weeks summer. There are plenty of facilities for children. From € 7.
- Rocca, Landsraderweg 13, 6271 NT, ☎ +31 43 - 450 47 47. An indoor climbing wall with some twists.
- Night of Gulpen, Center of Gulpen. A 70km hiking tour in the night, rough the characteristic Hill Country. Start and finish are in Gulpen and come with quite a bit of festivities and attention. A secondary 40km tour called the Neubourg tour is available for those who aren't up to the full tour. Along the route, volunteers offer points of rest and care. It's one of the main hiking events in the south, and perhaps the main Dutch night time hiking route. About 1000 hikers, including quite a few from across the borders, take part. Note that this distance requires some training, so don't join if you're not a regular hiker. Note that you can register well in advance, usually from the beginning of March, which will give a discount. Registering on the night itself is usually possible from 7-10pm in the Toeristenkerk,Rosstraat 5. €23. Early admissions receive a discount..
- Hubertusmarkt, Center of town. This annual village fair in November is perhaps the largest event in town, attracting up to 25000 visitors. Originally mostly a cattle market, the fair today is a lively mix of market stalls of all kinds, food stalls and artisans showing their skills. There's a carousel and a petting zoo for the kids, a great range of regional produce and often a falconer. Typically, there are a good number of demonstrations from e.g. the regional fire department, a black smith, a basket weaver, a sheep's herder, lace makers and other crafstmen. Free.
Gulpen's compact weekly market takes place on Thursday mornings and was awarded the title "Best small market in the Netherlands". For a town of its size, Gulpen has a good collection of shops and both tourist and locals from the surrounding towns come here for daily groceries and a few speciality stores. Most of the shops are located on and around the main road (N278) and Looiersplein. In between the two is the so-called Passage, which allows covered entrance to another 3 or 4 shops.
- Meertens, Rijksweg 55. This speciality food store is the place to go for local delicacies, including meat, cheeses, fruits and vegetables but also regional wines, jams, ready-made soups and more. Also a great place for some edible gifts to take home.
In the town centre
- Gasterij De Poort, Rosstraat 23 - 25, ☎ +31 43 450 2778. closed on Wednesdays. Just a few steps around the corner from the market square, this casual restaurant in a historic farm house has a pleasant little courtyard. It makes it one of the few outdoor terraces where you're not close to the streets and the traffic. The food is simple but well prepared, with sandwiches and salads for lunch and some excellent classic meats for dinner. There are good spareribs and burgers to be found, but it's the excellent cuts of beef that come most recommended. This place also has 4 pleasant B&B rooms for rent. Mains around €18.
- De Pannekoekenmolen, Molenweg 2a, ☎ +31 43 - 450 39 63. Eat authentic pancakes at this restaurant in Gulpen, housed in a still working old water mill. The whole weat flower they use is home-milled. They also organize tours and biketours to explore the hill-country.
- Grand café Neubourgh, Marktstraat 1, ☎ +31 43 8520955. This popular place right on the market square lives up to higher standards than the average grand café, with good quality food. It has an outdoor terrace but also a nicely decorated indoor restaurant with an open kitchen. The set menu is popular with locals, but there's a good à la carte choice too. Their black garlic soup comes highly recommended. Reservations can only be made by phone or in person, not via email. 3 course menu for €25, mains from ~€17.
- 'L Atelier, Markt 9, ☎ +31 43 450 44 90. This upscale restaurant in the middle of Gulpen serves food that tastes good and is also a pleasure to see. One of the best places around, although it doesn't come cheap from €50.
- Bel Air, Prinses Ireneweg 20, ☎ +31 43 851 99 80. Friendly service and good quality food make this hotel/restaurant a popular place for dinner. €30.
In surrounding villages and hamlets
- De Boswachter, Heyenratherweg 2, 6277 NT Slenaken, ☎ +31 43 - 457 4020. Closed on Wednesday & Thursday. Main courses from € 13.50 and up.
- Du Chateau, Wittemer Allee 20, ☎ +31 43 - 450 03 63. Kitchen open from 11.00 till 20.00 closed on Thursday. Main course from € 12,75.
Most of the restaurants in the centre double as cafés at night, and stay open late, especially in summer. During the summer holidays, events are organised virtually every weekend, with outdoor terraces and tents, as well as regular live music. Beer lovers should visit during the Gulpener Bierfeesten, the local version of a German beer fest that attracts some 25000 visitors each year. Of course, Gulpener beer is the main drink for sale, including several special beers from their collection. Access to the area with music stages and long tables where people gather and drink is free.
- Gulpener, Rijksweg 16, 6271 AE, ☎ +31 43 - 450 75 75. Mon-Fri: 09.30-11.45 & 13.30-15.45 Wednesday: Only the 09.30-11.45 Tour. Beer from this local beer brewery might not be as popular as some of the world-famous Dutch beers, but it's known and sold throughout the country. The brewery tries to produce as environmentally-friendly as possible and some of their beers even hold the official "biologisch" (organic) label. Tours are only available for small groups and on reservation, so call in advance. € 14,-.
- Brasserie de Kroon, Markt 1-2. This place has one of the largest outdoor terraces and although the food gets mixed reviews, it's a popular place for an afternoon drink.
- Pension Counotte-Bendermacher, Einderstraat 10, 6286 BK Wahlwiller-wittem, ☎ +31 43 - 451 15 81. From € 24.
- In Den Rodenleeuw, Wittemer Allee 28, 6286 AB Wittem. From € 72.50.
Mobile internet coverage (3G, no 4G yet) is available for most providers. Hotels will typically offer some form of Wi-Fi, but quality varies. The public library has both free Wi-Fi and free computers with internet set up for use, and particularly welcomes visitors. The opening hours are limited, however. There's a post office with all regular services, but sets of stamps can also be bought at the supermarket. The area code for Gulpen is 043.
- Public Library, Landsraderweg 3/A. Mo-W 14.15 - 17.30h, Th 10.00-12.00 & 14.15-17.30h, F 14.15-20.00, Sa 10.00-12.00h. The public library is small and doesn't offer a lot of English language books. It is, nonetheless, possible to get a "tourist membership", which requires a deposit, of course.
- Post office, Looierstr 95 (Inside DA drug store). Open weekdays 8.30-18.00h, Sa 8.30-17.00h. The DA drugstore offers all major post office services, including packages and international mail.
Gulpen lies in the heart of the South Limburg hills area, with nice views and good destinations all around. The town is right on the ancient and still main road from Maastricht to Aachen (Germany) - both beautiful historic cities with a vibrant student life and plenty of shopping opportunities. There are several other towns and sights of interest along that very road, including Vaals, Vijlen, Wittem and the US War Cemetery of Margraten. From the top of the Gulpenerberg you can see other villages in the area, all at biking of even hiking distance, if you'd like. Head to Simpelveld to catch the heritage steam train which also stops in touristic Valkenburg aan de Geul. Other interesting daytrips in the area include the castle of Hoensbroek or the indoor ski slopes in Landgraaf.