It is easy to visit Maastricht: if you take the train from Amsterdam Central Station, you will be in Limburg’s capital within 2,5 hours. If you are coming from Belgium, it will take you about two hours from Brussels, and three hours by train from Antwerp.
You will notice how different it is compared to the Randstad (literally: edge city, a term that is used to define the bigger cities in the west of the country). Where Amsterdam has a lot of tourists, Maastricht is full of locals and where Amsterdam and Utrecht have their canals, Maastricht has the river Meuse that flows through.
The medieval-era architecture, its Burgundian lifestyle, 1677 national heritage buildings, the Limburgish tart and dialect… Maastricht is just something else, and the only way to understand this is to come and see it for yourself!
But before you go, here's top picks in Maastricht:
Check in at your accommodation and head to the City Hall (or in Dutch: Stadshuis). Starting off here will introduce you to the charming centre that Maastricht has. The cobblestone streets, the different historical buildings and the warm atmosphere will make you realise that you are still in the Netherlands, but at the same time close to the border with Belgium.
The City Hall was designed by Pieter Post, the same architect who designed the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. Walking by this imposant building that is located on a square with bars and cafes is already impressive, but if you want to see it from the inside, it is possible, however only with a tour.
From the City Hall, take a three minute walk to the Dinghuis (Dutch for ‘thing house’). This house was constructed at the end of the 15th century, in gothic style. With its grand clock and a tower that was once used as a lookout, the Dinghuis served administrative and judicial functions with cellars that served as cells for prisoners. From 1713 the Dinghuis served as a theatre, and today it is where the visitors centre of the city is located.
After viewing this fairytale-like building, make your way to the Sint Servaasbrug (Saint Servatius Bridge), that goes over the Meuse. From this bridge you have a lovely view of the picturesque quay of the city. If you walk seven minutes, you will end up at Brouwerij Bosch, an old beer brewery that dates back to 1758. Here you can do a tour through the monumental building where the guide will teach you about the process of brewing, and of course you will be able to do a little beer tasting at the end. The tour takes about two hours, and reservations need to be made beforehand, which you can do on their website.
Back in the centre, an eight minute walk from the brewery, there is a paradise for coffee-lovers. Once you enter the Wolfstraat, you will smell the scent of coffee beans, and if you follow this, you will end up at Blanche Dael. Personally I love coffee and I think that in the Netherlands it is hard to find bad coffee, so a place like this is even better! Blanche Dael is a specialised coffee roaster and tea shop that has been selling delicious specialties since 1878. Here you can get some authentic roasted coffee beans as a souvenir, or try the shelled peanuts (that are roasted freshly everyday): a very loved specialty in the region.
One minute away from Blanche Dael, you will find the Basilica of Our Lady, an impressive Roman Catholic basilica that dates back to the 11th century, also called ‘Star of the Sea’. When you enter the church, you will find some extraordinary art, including a treasure room that has a large amount of religious objects, statues and more. Whether you are religious or not, you can always light a candle at the breathtaking statue of Mary in front of the stained glass.
After walking around and smelling coffee beans, you might feel a bit peckish and crave some coffee yourself. Luckily, a one minute walk from the Basilica, there is something where you can order something in a very interesting setting: an old water mill! I say old because it has been around since the 11th century, but in fact the water mill is still in use, to make traditional bread. Once you are here, at the Bisschopsmolen (Bishop’s Mill), make sure to try the most famous specialty from the province of Limburg: Limburgse vlaai, a tart with a crunchy top and a sweet pudding on the inside. This is a delicacy, with many different flavours such as apple, cherry, pudding and more, that you can’t miss when you are in Limburg. You can get it anywhere in the Netherlands, but nothing compares to the authentic one that is made in the southern province itself.
If you are visiting Maastricht on the weekend, take a 13 minute walk to the Bochstraat, where there is a vintage market from 10:00-17:00 on Saturdays and Sundays. Here you can find anything: from vintage clothing to books and house items. There is a lot of stuff, but if you’re good at treasure hunting, you might find interesting souvenirs here.
By the time you have scoured the market, it might be time for dinner. If you want to go for a traditional dinner, go to Café Sjiek, a 15 minute walk from the market. With the interior of a typical old Dutch café, they serve traditional dishes from the region, such as zuurkool (sauerkraut), bloedworst (black pudding) and zuurvlees (sour meat stew). Especially sour meat is a specialty from the Limburg Region, and it is similar to the German dish sauerbraten. The meat goes through a process of marinating in vinegar. Even though the name implies that it would be sour, the taste of the meat is more sweet because of the apple butter and ginger bread that is used.
If you’re feeling more like having something from a different kind of cuisine, try Basilica, a charming restaurant where they serve dishes like Greek souvlaki and vegetarian lasagna. This is a 10 minute walk from the market. If you are in the mood for a party, you can stay here as the restaurant turns into a club at night on weekends.
Start off your day with a breakfast in the cutest café, called the Livin Room (great for vegetarians!). When you enter this place it feels as if you enter a very cosy living room, and if the Dutch weather allows it, you can even sit in the beautiful garden that is attached to it. Order one of their bowls, a halloumi sandwich or a classic avo and egg toast, to get ready for your second day in Maastricht.
Once you’re ready to explore the rest of the city, walk to Vrijthof, a square that has had many visitors since the Middle Ages, when pilgrims would visit Saint Servatius’ grave. Nowadays this square is used for events, but there are also many terraces where you can sit down to enjoy this historial area.
Around the square are some important and interesting buildings. Among them is the Basilica of Saint Servatius, a big Roman Catholic church that is built on the grave of Saint Servatius, the first bishop of Maastricht. For €4,50 you can enter the church and admire the impressive interior. There is also a museum, where you can see the treasury of the Saint.
Next to the Basilica of Saint Servatius, there is the Saint Jan’s Church, a gothic-style church that stands out because of its red tower. The reason that the tower is red is because the material is made of marl (a stone that you will find a lot in this region), which is very fragile. In the Middle Ages, they decided to paint the tower to protect the marl bricks, and they chose the colour red because this was the colour of the management of the church. Obviously the paint hasn’t stuck to the tower ever since, so the tower has been repainted many times. It has had different colours, such as yellow and white, but in the eighties, they decided to give the tower back its original colour.
A five minute walk from the square, you will find Bookstore Dominicanen, which is situated in an old church, and is considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Two hundred years ago, the church lost its function. Since then, the building has had different functions: it has served as a reptile house, a bicycle shed, a carnival temple… and now, since 2006, as a bookstore. The special thing about this bookstore is that it still has the interior of a church: high ceilings and impressive arches. Find a new book to read, have a coffee or a piece of cake at the coffee bar (which is provided by Blanche Dael!) or just walk around to admire the interior.
Nine minutes away from the bookstore, the Helpoort is located, which is the oldest city gate in the Netherlands. After getting town privileges, the city of Maastricht felt that they had to be able to protect themselves, hence this gate was built. You can see that the Helpoort was built in the 13th century: the old bricks and the two towers make you feel as if you timetraveld to the middle ages. Walk through the gates and on the right you will find a little doorway that will take you up into the tower, with a museum.
After viewing the Helpoort, walk through the stunning Stadspark (citypark) that is located alongside the river the Meuse. Cross the river over the Hoge Brug (high bridge) and walk to the Bonnefantenmuseum, which is a 13 minute walk. This metal, bullet-shaped building is hard to miss. Bonnefantenmuseum is a fine art museum, displaying very diverse old and contemporary art: from American Minimalism to Mediaeval sculpture, and from Concept Art to Dutch, Flemish and Italian paintings. A great place to walk around and view the different types of art.
When you are done with the museum and feel like you’re ready for dinner, head to NOON, a 15 minute walk from the museum. Here they have an international menu, with dishes such as truffle pasta and shakshuka. And the best thing is: it has a view over the river the Meuse!
The river is where Maastricht has got its name from: Maas is the Dutch word for Meuse. It starts in the Netherlands, and makes its way through Belgium and France. The Meuse has had some strong floods in the past, with the most recent one in 2021, which caused a lot of damage. Luckily the Meuse has found its peace again, and is a lovely sight to enjoy from the quay as well as from the water: for €11 you can even take a tour and explore the city from the Rederij Stiphout boat.
At the end of today, the two days in Maastricht are over. But you can’t leave without having enjoyed a cocktail at Mr. Smith, which is 5 minutes away from NOON. This bar is a speakeasy: from the outside you won’t notice it is a bar. If you see the sign on the door that says ‘55, press for drinks’, you know you’re at the right address. Once you enter the place, you will be welcomed into a cosy, underground bar, with a classic interior. Ask the bartender for a recommendation based on your preferences, and they will provide you with a delicious drink. Make sure to make a reservation in advance, just in case!
If you have more time in Maastricht…
In case you’re a fast adventurer or perhaps have more than 48 hours in Maastricht, these spots are also worth a visit!
Caves Zonneberg Sint Pietersberg
This place is outside of the centre, so perfect if you have a little more time to spend. These caves are from marl (the same material the Saint Jan’s Church is made of), and have over 20.000 passageways! The labourers who carved out these passageways as well as artists, have left some interesting marks on the wall such as old writings and art. The most special thing about the caves is that it was used to hide people, as well as valuable paintings during times of World War II, among which the famous Night Watch that is now visible in Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Book a tour here to experience and learn about the caves yourself.
Saint Peter’s Fortress
Another sight that is located out of the centre is Saint Peter’s Fortress. This fort is connected to St. Pieterbergs Hill with a system of underground tunnels, and was built in the early 18th century, to defend the city from the French. From this fort you have a beautiful view of the city and the countryside. Book a tour, learn about the history and enjoy the view!
Some other caves in Maastricht that are worth visiting are the North Caves, that have passageways of 80 kilometres in total. Another place with a lot of history: it was a hiding place for the citizens of Maastricht to protect themselves from the French and there were even mushroom plantations.
Arteaux Art Gallery
Located in the centre, Arteaux Art Gallery is a gallery that creates modern arts and design objects and works mainly with young artists. They have sculptures made of different materials such as copper, glass and wood, as well as jewellery and paintings of Maastricht and its famous places.