Baarle is a town in the south part of the Netherlands that has Belgian territories inside it. The town is divided by multiple Belgium–Netherlands borders that cross the streets and sometimes even buildings. It’s a truly unique place and we would like to share our experience of visiting Baarle – a town split by Belgium-Netherlands borders.
The Dutch parts of the town are called Baarle-Nassau. The Belgian parts of the town are called Baarle-Hertog. There are 22 Belgian enclaves surrounded by Dutch Baarle-Nassau territory. There are also 7 Dutch enclaves located inside the two Belgian enclaves. (Enclave is a piece of territory that is completely surrounded by the territory of another country)
How to get there
I remember planning a move to the Netherlands and “exploring” the country on Google Maps zooming into different cities and parts of the country. Looking at the south part of the Netherlands close to the Belgian border an anomaly caught my eye. I zoomed in and saw two towns – Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog practically on top of each other with lots of borders crossing them. ‘That’s not something you see often!’ – I thought.
Looking at the pictures of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog on the Internet we decided that we just have to visit this place. And we did. Few years later, during our road trip to Lille, France we made a stop at Baarle to spend few hours in the city.
The history of the town goes back to feudal times and land owners. In the 12th century a number of local and regional lords owned parts of the land there. Lands historically owned by the Duke of Brabant are now Belgian territory – Baarle-Hertog. Lands historically owned by the Lord of Breda are now Dutch territories – Baarle-Nassau.
Interestingly enough the state of the enclaves did not change much since the 12th century. Over the hundreds of years there were few attempts made to merge, exchange or unify the territories. But none of them were successful.
In 1843 the Treaty of Maastricht has established the borderline between the Netherlands and Belgium. But it was hard to define some of the boundaries of Baarle enclaves and so it was decided to mark these territories either Dutch or Belgian one by one. In 1995 the borders were finally finalized and the enclaves were numbered. The state of the borders remain mostly the same to this day. There are 22 enclaves of Baarle-Hertog (numbered from H1 to H22) and 8 enclaves of Baarle-Nassau (numbered from N1 to N8).
Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau each has their own town council, mayor and police. In some areas the two town councils can cooperate to look after things like road maintenance, electricity or water supplies.
Visiting Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog
Having some streets and houses divided by an international border creates a lot of odd situations. Locals have to follow Dutch law when on Dutch territory and Belgian law when on Belgian territory. Even if it only meters away.
I remember reading about times when restaurants had to close earlier according to Dutch laws. For some restaurants on the border it just meant moving a table to the Belgian side to continue dining.
Another example was about fireworks. Dutch laws about selling fireworks are more strict than Belgian ones. So, Dutch people simply used to buy fireworks in Baarle-Hertog to avoid Dutch restrictions.
There were also some interesting situations during Covid related restrictions. Belgium and Netherlands had different lockdown rules at different moments of time. There are several shops in Baarle that are split by BE-NL border. The owners had to decide which regulations to follow. One store decided to close only shelves located on the Belgium territory (to follow Belgium laws on COVID-related lockdown). At the same time the store kept operational shelves located in the Dutch territory (and follow more liberal Dutch rules).
Luckily for us, we visited before the lockdowns. We had a nice time walking in the town center and eating in a restaurant (and I now don’t remember which country it belonged to). Boys were enjoying looking for the border markers on the roads and taking pictures standing in two countries at the same time.
How long to spend in Baarle?
If you are not going to check all 22 enclaves of Baarle-Hertog and 8 enclaves of Baarle-Nassau then few hours is enough time to spend in Baarle. Walk around, cross the borders, relax in a café in the town center and don’t forget to take some pictures!
Is Baarle worth visiting?
Visiting Baarle – a town split by Belgium–Netherlands borders – is a very unique experience and we absolutely recommend doing it!
I think we all can learn from Dutch and Belgians living and working next to each other in Baarle. It’s a great example of how two nations can live side by side in piece and harmony.