Ah, Maastricht. The metropolitan of Limburg. You’ll find plenty there! This beautiful city is the ultimate marriage of classic Dutchness and that southern European vibe. Sprinkles of French and even Spanish influence make this a fascinating destination for a relaxing day out.
I first moved to Maastricht to study for my bachelor’s degree, and after some years, I’ve become quite attached to all the little nooks and crannies of this charming city.
Cute cobbled streets, pretty parks, and medieval monuments — Maastricht has a little bit of something for everyone. Having been ruled by French, Spanish, Prussian, and Austrian powers at various points in history, the province of Limburg has a distinct character compared to its northern Dutch counterparts. This mixed background makes for a truly unique experience when visiting Maastricht.
Whether you’re looking for a fun day out on the Maas river, exploring the mysterious Fort Sint Pieter caves, or just want somewhere pretty to walk around and get a coffee, Maastricht is the perfect destination for a casual day trip.
Main spots to see in Maastricht
There are many hidden gems in Mastricht, including stunning architecture, comfy cafes, and pretty plazas. But if you’re only here for a day, be sure to check out some of these main attractions.
Vrijthof: delicious food, lively atmosphere, and events galore
This square has some of the best bars and restaurants in Maastricht, not to mention the irresistible Pinky’s waffles and ice cream! Many annual events take place in this square that people from all over the country come to see. From André Rieu concerts to Carnival to Christmas — if it’s happening in Maastricht it’s happening at the Vrijthof.
There’s also an art museum and two churches: Saint Jan’s and Basilica of St. Servatius, which we’ll talk more about later.
Markt: the heart of Maastricht
The Markt’s central feature is the town hall, and major events in Maastricht tend to spill over onto this square from the nearby Vrijthof. This is another hot spot for bars and restaurants in Maastricht, and it’s where you can find a local farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Wyck: the place to shop, eat and be seen
The Wyck is a trendy area in Maastricht with stylish art galleries, vintage boutiques, and upmarket restaurants. It’s one of the first areas you hit when walking towards the centre of the station, and it’s a rather stunning first impression. I personally love a cute little store called Villa Trépetie, which sells hand-made decorations and furniture for what would be my dream home.
Sint Servaasbridge: an ancient beauty
This is quite possibly the oldest bridge in the Netherlands, dating back to the 13th century. Spanning over the Maas river, this old beauty connects the two halves of Maastricht, whereby you can walk straight from Wyck into the old town. When the weather is good, this spot is perfect for taking pictures with the Maastricht skyline behind you, as it offers a great view of both sides of the city.
Boekhandel Dominicanen: a bookstore build into a church
This 700-year-old Gothic church was converted into a bookstore in 2006 — and what a bookstore it is! Over 50,000 books are packed in the stone walls and shelves. The nave is dominated by what is essentially a two-story bookcase that you can climb and walk around. Here, timeless literature blends perfectly into the living history of the church. Books in English and other languages are also available, and a cafe sits snugly at the back — gezellig!
AlleyCat: bikes and coffee in one
If you find yourself in need of a coffee break AND a bike part, look no further than the Alley Cat Bikes & Coffee. They pride themselves in serving ethical, specialty coffee, as well as anything to do with bikes really. Homely wooden tables, fresh cakes, and the cutest dogs are always there to welcome you when you enter the Alley Cat. If you’re not in the mood for a coffee, they also have a delectable dirty chai latte which I would highly recommend. Of course, there are many cozy cafes in Maastricht to choose from, but the Alley Cat is my personal favourite.
Helpoort: the old city gate
Helpoort was the city gate of Maastricht during medieval times, and it still stands remarkably well-preserved today. Dating back to the 13th century, as many things in Maastricht do, this is the oldest surviving city gate in the Netherlands. Take a stroll through the gate and along the old wall for a scenic walk and a taste of Limburg history.
Stokstraat: fancy stores and eats
Known for its historic appearance, Stokstraat is one of the oldest streets in Maastricht which now hosts luxurious fashion and interior design stores. Traditional Burgundian restaurants with the finest wines and quality food can also be found along this street. Burgundian food is typical in Limburg and is where the French influence comes through. This cuisine is from the region of Burgundy and tends to be meaty and full of rich flavours. In Maastricht, you’re never far from a cafe, so of course, Stokstraat is a treasure-trove of delicious cakes, teas, and coffees. It’s within the pedestrian zone, so wandering along this street is a relaxing feast for both the eyes and stomach.
Bonnefanten Museum: the place for art
If you’re craving some visual art but want something different from the museums in the north, Maastricht’s Bonnefanten Museum is ideal for you. Their collection spans from medieval right through to modern, contemporary, and conceptual art — and there’s always an interesting new exhibition taking place! The museum sometimes hosts international events and travelling art worth checking out.
Onze Lieve Vrouw Sterre de Basiliek: iconic Catholic church
In English, this means “Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea”. This Roman Catholic church is still active today, which is impressive considering it dates back to the fourth century. Its beautiful Romanesque architecture is definitely worth seeing and is another reason why the culture and aesthetics in Maastricht are visually unique to the rest of the Netherlands. Outside the church, you can find charming restaurants and a wonderful ice cream shop.
Basilica of St. Servatius: the church Maastricht is known for
The broad chest of this magnificent church stands tall along the edge of the Vrijtof and is a recognisable feature of Maastricht. It’s one of our top 15 churches to visit in the Netherlands and draws visitors from far and wide. The mostly Romanesque style of this Catholic church contrasts the red Gothic structure of Saint Jan’s to its right. For a few euros, you can enter St. Servatius and climb the tower of Saint Jan’s for a great view of Maastricht.
Lichtenberg ruins: the castle on the hill
The “mountain of the Netherlands” as locals call it (a hill really), known as St. Pietersberg is home to the Lichtenberg Castle ruins. Just outside Maastricht, the ruins overlook the Maas river and the walk up there is a scenic trail frequented by picnickers, dog walkers, and runners. As the oldest castle ruins in the Netherlands, this is not one to miss for the history buffs. Entrance is free with a voluntary donation, and the ruins are usually open from the end of April to the start of November each year. In the summer, a restaurant opens up amidst the ruins and it’s quite the lovely spot to sit and eat.
Picnic in the Hoge Fronten: food for fort!
Maastricht has many wonderful picnic spots, including the Stadspark, Céramique, and Griendpark. But if you’re looking for something a little unusual, try laying your blankets on the grass of an abandoned fort! The varying levels and heights of the fort sections make for an interesting maze to wander through — and also provide more privacy than the usual picnic spots. Very popular with the kids, this one.
Food and drink to try in Maastricht
The Dutch aren’t exactly famous for their food, but in Maastricht, the interesting mix of European influences has created some delectable delicacies you don’t want to miss. There are many scrumptious eats in Maastricht, but the following dishes are traditional to the Limburg region. Hearty stews, local brews, and oh-so-sweet desserts are all on the menu here.
Zoervleesj is Limburgian for “sour meat” or zuurvlees in Dutch. It’s a sweet and sour kind of flavour in, what is essentially, a beef stew. The unique taste results from marinating the meat in vinegar, and adding apple sauce and gingerbread. Sounds weird I know! But trust me, it’s great. Locals eat it with fries and I have to say, if you enjoy hearty meals with rich flavours, you will absolutely love it. I certainly do!
Any good meal needs a tasty beer beside it, and for that, Maastricht has a special treat. The historic Maltese beer is a full malt Dortmunder style beer and was one of the first specialty beverages in the Netherlands. It has a dark colour with a rather strong taste and is very popular amongst tourists. I also heard through the grapevine that it gives you the power of the gods, the wisdom of Aristotle, and oh yeah — a throbbing hangover in the morning. But don’t take our word, give it a try yourself!
The local brewery, called the Maltezer, has been crafting the beer at its current location since 1954. You can find it on the Maas in the Wyck district, not far from the Sint Servaasbridge. It offers guided tours of the brewery, tastings, lunch, and dinners. You can also just stop by the shop and bar for a quick bottle.
Vlaai: the Limburg pie
If you enjoy apple crumble or cherry pie, this is kind of similar — but also definitely not the same. Vlaai is a traditional pie or tart-like dessert from the province of Limburg, where Maastricht is situated, with a yeast-dough crust and usually a fruity filling. Variations of it exist, including in the surrounding Belgian and German regions, but typical flavours include cherry, apricot, strawberry, and plum. Eating a warm slice of vlaai with ice cream or vla (custard) is truly heaven.
The best vlaai bakery in Maastricht is the Bisschopsmolen, where you can also take part in workshops and learn how to make your own. Using local wheat, they grind their own flour with the watermill which is in itself a tourist attraction. Walking past their bakery window is enough to make your mouth drool, trust us. You won’t regret stopping by.
Fun tours and activities in Maastricht
If you’ve done all the tourist attractions, or want to see a different side of Maastricht, there are many fun tours and activities for you to do.
Coronavirus warning: Be aware that some of these may be limited or cancelled due to coronavirus. Make sure to check if events are taking place and whether you need to make reservations.
Boat tour on the Maas river
There are all kinds of sailing options for the Maas river depending on the company you go with. There are basic river boat tours, but also breakfast, pancake, and Saturday night dinner cruises. You can even sail into Belgium and back if you want to! Tours are in Dutch, English, and German, and can be combined with other tours in Maastricht.
Cave tour at Fort Sint Pieter
The underground caves beneath Fort Sint Pieter have a fascinating history. The 60 kilometres long tunnel system was originally a mine, but was later used for shelter by locals during WWI and WWII. Since then, artists of all kinds have left their marks on the stone, and remnants of life underground can still be seen.
The experience is thoroughly enjoyable. As I walked down the enormous tunnels, a lantern swinging in hand as the guide told stories of centuries ago, I felt like Indiana Jones. I’m someone who gets claustrophobic easily and I don’t enjoy being underground. But the caves are cool and refreshing, and extremely tall, so it was a comfortable experience (even for me). The guides are very knowledgeable and I felt quite safe. It’s definitely an adventure you wouldn’t want to miss!
Soak up the Dialect
As you may have noticed, Limburg has its own dialect that differs a little from typical Dutch. It’s considered a mixture of German and Dutch and is referred to by locals as plat. For example, they would say boeten instead of buiten (outside), and sjoon rather than schoenen (shoes). The Maastricht catch-phrase is haw pin! Which means houd moed or “stay strong”. Of course, different towns and cities have different variations of this dialect.
About 750,000 people speak plat, although in Limburg they also speak general Dutch (ABN) and many people speak English well. Locals in Maastricht are known for being friendly, so don’t be shy to say hello and have a go at plat!
Kringloops: second-hand steals
If you’re a shopaholic and love a good bargain, or maybe you’ve started a more sustainable fashion lifestyle, Maastricht has many good quality second-hand stores for you to browse through. You can find anything from classic radios, record players, and type-writers, to timeless fashion pieces, and vintage furniture. Take some time to wander through these shops and you might be surprised by the gems you’ll find.
How to get to Maastricht
You can get to Maastricht fairly easily by train, bus, or car. From Amsterdam, the train trip is about three hours and by car, it’s two hours. The NS Dutch railway often has travel offers to Maastricht. For example, the return day ticket to Maastricht for €25.
Other day-trip-worthy destinations in the Netherlands
Of course, there are many more places in the Netherlands to explore, and each one has its own unique character. If you’ve already seen the major Dutch cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, why not try one of the many day trips to the cute towns close to Amsterdam, or visit some breathtaking castles in the Netherlands. You’ll find each corner of the Netherlands different and there are endless things to discover!
Do you have more hot tips for Maastricht? Let us know in the comments below.
Feature Image: Melvin Bertelkamp/Unsplash
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2020, and was fully updated in July 2021 for your reading pleasure.