Maastricht was not originally on our list of cities to visit during our European train tour. Our friend from Leiden recommended we head out here as it’s cute, calm and fun to discover. In the end, we’re so happy we took his advice and headed here. Although it’s a small town, and there’s not a ton to do here, it was one of our favourite places to discover.
Highly walkable, Maastricht was like Amsterdam‘s less hectic, but just as cute little sister. Even though there are still tons of people biking around, you don’t feel like you’re constantly going to be run over by someone! The streets are just as cute, lined with the old historic homes. The markets around the city do not disappoint, and the locals are some of the friendliest we’ve met.
Originally a Roman settlement, Maastricht has become famous for a few reasons. First is the world renown Maastricht University, home to over 16,000 students, almost half of which are foreign students. Next is the Maastricht Treaty, better know as the formation of the European Union in 1992 and the creation of the Euro currency.
When to go
Maastricht is slightly more humid, so temperatures vary greatly here. This reminds us greatly of our home town of Montreal, in Canada. The humidity has a way of making everything feel a lot colder (or hotter) than it actually is. The type of temperature that hits deep down inside your bones. Regardless of when you go, make sure you bring an umbrella – the rain is just as unpredictable here as it is in Amsterdam!
If you like warmer weather exploration, Maastricht is hottest during the months of June, July, and August. This also coincides with the busy tourist season. July, August, and September are when the prices are high and the crowds flock in.
What to do
As we mentioned, there’s not a ton of things to do here, which is perfectly fitting with the laid-back feel of the city. You can cram it all into one super busy day, of take two and do it at a leisurely pace. We opted for 2 full days in Maastricht, and it was just perfect for us. Another plus, the weather was highly cooperative!
Fort St. Pieter
We don’t usually do many guided tours, but when in Maastricht, we highly recommend coming to visit the Fort St. Pieter. Our guide was funny, informative and highly knowledgeable, which made for a very entertaining tour. Also, a guided tour is the only way to visit the Fort.
Maastricht has a highly strategic position in the Netherlands. It’s at the intersection of the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The location of the fort is also strategically chosen, up on the only hill in the area, it provides a great vantage point to protect (or sack) the city. Truth is, the fort was built as an answer to one of the French attacks that broke the famous line in 1673. The angular defensive fort was built a couple of hundred years later.
During the tour, you will learn a lot more about the history of the city, the fort and the “special” relationship between France and the Netherlands! You will be able to visit the inside of the fort, go down to its tunnels and climb to the top as well.
You can buy tickets for the Fort online or directly at the Fort ticket office. There is usually a daily English-speaking tour at 12:30 pm, and it lasts a little over an hour. Tickets cost 7.20 Euros for just the fort, but we highly recommend the combo ticket to explore the Underground caves as well.
The only way to visit the underground caves in Maastricht is by going in a guided tour. Heck! How else do you plan to navigate through 20,000 corridors underground with minimal lighting?
Luckily, there are daily English tours at 2 pm that leave from the same ticket area as the Fort. If you take the combo tickets for the fort and the caves, you will pay 11.50 Euros and have a perfect day (especially if it’s rainy).
Make sure you wear comfy shoes for your tours, you’ll be on your feet for a good part of 2.5 hours. The weather in the cave is at a constant 11 degrees Celsius, and can very at the fort, so dress in layers.
Again, this tour is highly informative, entertaining and so much fun. Learning the history of the caves, how people lived down here and how they are being used today was fascinating. The coolest thing was walking around with no lights. A slightly odd feeling for sure!
Basilica of Saint Servatius
It’s nearly impossible to miss the Basilica of Saint Servatius. It’s in the coolest areas of the city, backing onto the town’s main square, Vrijthof.
Although this is the fourth church that has been built on this same site, it is still the same location of the grave of an Armenian missionary, Saint Servatius. He was also bishop of Tongeren and died in Maastricht in 384.
We tried to visit the church, as it looked beautiful, but it was closed both times we went – once at night (around 7-8 pm) and again the next morning. We were told that it is possible to visit the church, as well as its crypts and treasury where they have many relics. Maybe you will have more luck than us!
Sint-Janskerk is located right next to the Basilica of Saint Servatius. It’s a Protestant church that is iconic with its red tower – impossible to miss as well!
It’s possible to visit the inside of the church from 11 am to 4 pm on most days, as well witness Sunday Mass there, at 10 am. Entrance to the church is free, but it will cost you 2.50 Euros to climb the tower.
Also known as Hell’s Gate, Helpoort is the oldest standing city gate in the Netherlands. It was built in the 13th century as part of the city fortification that protected Maastricht.
We thought it had a pretty cool name, until we found out that it was because of the fact that prisoners were kept in its tower. Luckily , those days are gone, as it later served as a residence, storage space and a workshop. Today, the gate is home to a museum about the history of Maastricht’s fortifications.
Basilica of Our Lady
The Basilica of Our Lady stands tall and proud in Maastricht. It’s dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption although it is often referred to as the Star of the Sea. This is because the church’s main devotion is Our Lady, Star of the Sea. Inside, you can even see some figurines depicting these stories.
The church is beautiful inside and out. Inside, you can find a treasury that holds some beautiful artifacts. There is even a little chapel on the side that seems to be independent from the main church.
Maastricht’s city park is the best place to take a stroll. Just outside the old city walls, you can walk around and see a variety of sights that were actually quite unexpected!
These wooden sculptures that can be found all around the river that cuts through the park. There was even an art installation that talks about various animals that have gone extinct or that were mistreated in a local zoo. Well, actually, this is what we gathered by using Google Translate on the signs that were posted!
The Waldeckpark is a beautiful place to walk around, take in the calm and beauty of nature, and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city (although it’s not very hectic). Luckily, we had a somewhat sunny day and got to hang out here.
City Hall and Market Square
Situated in Markt Square, and right across from our hotel, the City hall was impossible to miss for us. Although you can walk inside, there isn’t much to say about the City Hall, other than how beautiful it looks, both during the day, and all lit up at night.
The market sets up every Wednesday and Friday, right in front of the City Hall. Here, you will find pretty much anything and everything you could possibly need.
There are between 200 and 300 stalls that pop up from 9 am to 4 pm, selling everything from clothes, fabric, flowers, fresh produce, fish (only on Fridays) and so much more. Just note that the Friday market is larger than the Wednesday counterpart.
Check out a Christmas market in Vrijthof
We got quite lucky with this one! We went to Maastricht at the perfect time to check out a Christmas market. In case you didn’t know, we love Christmas markets. They are the perfect place to pig out and try all sorts of delicious local treats and meals. Obviously, we wash it all down with mulled wine!
The Maastricht Christmas market did not disappoint! It runs from December 1st to January 1st, every day of the week. There is a skating rink, a huge ferris wheel and tons of stalls that sell souvenirs, food and pretty much anything you would want!
The Market is set up in Vrijthof Square, right by Sint-Janskerk and the Basilica of Saint Servatius.
From the outside, Boekhandel Dominicanen looks like a church. But when you head inside, you will find the coolest bookstore in the world! It’s probably the most beautiful bookstore we have ever stepped foot in!
From the second we walked in, we were in love. The vibe here is so cool, and so impressive. To browse through books in this majestic and regal setting is an unreal feeling!
Initially, this was a 13th century Dominican church. Five centuries later, the church’s ecclesiastical function ended, and it began being used as stables, a bike shed, exhibition space and a party hall. It was only in 2006 that it became a bookstore.
Today, it is an independent bookshop (it used to be owned by a chain), and there are more than 700,000 visitors that come to see this beauty each year. Inside, you can find new and used books, in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian. There is also a music department, a café, and it’s even used as an event/exhibition hall from time to time.
Walk around the old City Walls
Maastricht has always been an important historical location, strategically. It has been attacked by would be conquerors more times than it cares to remember. For this reason, it should be no surprise that, centuries ago, the city was fortified and enveloped by a large and sturdy city wall.
Today there are only remnants of this once great fortification, but what is still standing is still beautiful to lay your eyes on. For those of you like Derek, who is a geek and loves old time castles and fortifications, walking around the old city wall is a must!
It is one of those activities that can surprise you, like when we stumbled onto the serene scene above. This is only one of many sights the wall has to offer, all of which emit a historical aura not to be missed.
Where to stay
We loved our stay at the Hotel de la Bourse. It was in the perfect spot, right where the market takes place and within walking distance of all the sites, restaurants and just above an amazing cafe, what more can we ask for!
It was also super easy to get to from the train station. We walked there with no problem in maybe 15 – 20 minutes. No need to grab a bus or taxi, which is always great.
They provide breakfast which had everything we wanted, a great way to start the day. The room was large, with a desk where we could work from, which is oh-so important for us!
It also checked off our most important box, a big comfy bed!
The staff were very friendly, providing great recommendations and keeping our bags while we visited the city after we checked out. Sometimes, the little things make a huge difference!
Where to eat
La Bodega: Who travels to the Netherlands and doesn’t want to eat Spanish food? Ok maybe not everyone, but if you are in the mood for something light, or some alcoholic beverages, you should stop by this delicious Spanish Tapas restaurant. Whether you are into meat, or a vegetarian, they will have something yummy for you! We tried some jamón ibérico croquettes, along with some mushroom croquettes, patatas bravas and pan con tomate. It really was like being back in Barcelona.
Patty ‘n bun: In the mood for a burger and some fries? Patty ‘n bun has burgers that leave you wishing your pants stretched a bit more than they do! We tried the pulled pork burger (you will need multiple napkins, be warned!) and the veggie burger made of beetroot and of course a side of french fries. The space is also really cool, especially this super retro 90’s mural they have. Be sure to bring cash though, because they do not accept credit cards like Visa or Mastercard. They accepted another European one, we clearly didn’t have!
Maastricht definitely has that quaint, small town vibe that we love. Being here just before Christmas added a little something to our experience too. Highlights? Visiting the caves and Fort St. Pieter gave us insight into the city’s history we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.
If you ever are in the Netherlands, you just have to take a day or two, and come visit this University city that is teaming with energy.
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