Maastricht is the capital city of the Dutch province of Limburg. It’s a vibrant city located in one of the southernmost parts of the Netherlands, bordering Germany to the east and Belgium to the west. Maastricht offers a wide range of attractions, making it an excellent destination for a weekend trip.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to the best things to see and do in Maastricht, along with our travel tips.
Sightseeing in Maastricht
There are countless things to see and to do in Maastricht and the surrounding area. We recommend that you spend two full days here to make the most of your trip. Two days should be just enough to see everything from our list. Ideally, you’ll explore the attractions in the city center (1-10) on the first day and head to the fort and caves (11-12) the next.
If you don’t have two days to spare, then feel free to pick some sights from our list below.
For your convenience, we’ve included suggested time durations for some of the attractions below so you can gauge which ones you’d like to focus on during your day trip.
1. Vrijthof Square
Vrijthof is one of Maastricht’s two town squares. It’s considered to be the heart of the city and a great place to start your journey to sightseeing in Maastricht.
Vrijthof square is paved with old cobblestones that truly represent the historic feeling of Maastricht. It has no less than 38 national monuments and has not just one but two churches: Basilica of Saint Servatius and Sint-Janskerk.
The Basilica of Saint Servatius is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to Saint Servatius, the patron saint of Maastricht. It’s believed that the first structure, a large stone church, was built on-site around 570, making it the oldest surviving church in the Netherlands. Next to it is the Protestant church Sint-Janskerk, founded in the 1200s.
Vrijthof Square is a day trip in itself. To save time, you can start by simply walking its surroundings and trying to spot as many of its national monuments as you can. Next, visit both churches mentioned above. If you want to climb the steps to the towers of both churches, you’re talking anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on your fitness and level of interest in the details of the churches. After you’re done with your church visits, go back down and end your day at one of the cozy cafes and terraces surrounding the square.
If you happen to be in Maastricht in December, you’re in luck. One of the best Dutch Christmas markets is held here at Vrijthof Square, so don’t miss it!
Also, Vrijthof Square hosts various events throughout the year, such as musical concerts, food festivals and many more.
2. The Market (Het Markt)
Less than 500 meters from the Vrijthof Square is Het Markt (Market Square). Het Markt is known for being home to the town hall, an imposing building from the late 17th century. Today, its carillon with 49 bells still plays.
Wednesdays and Fridays (9 am to 3 pm) are market days on the large market square. The square is filled with countless small stands mainly selling fresh produce. You can find fresh vegetables, meat, cheese, bread, nuts and many more things here. Foodies should try fresh fish such as kibbeling or hering which are among the most popular Dutch delicacies.
Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, a stroll among the market stands is a great cultural experience.
3. Dominican Bookstore (Boekhandel Dominicanen)
Whether you’re a bookworm or not, the Dominican Bookstore (Boekhandel Dominicanen) is an attraction in Maastricht that shouldn’t be missed!
As the name suggests, the building used to be a Dominican church. However, it lost this secular function over two centuries ago. Since then, it’s been home to various businesses. Since 2006, it hosts huge bookstore with over 55,000 books on display. Book lovers will easily lose track of time here!
The bookstore is definitely worth a visit. The location inside the former church makes this place truly unique. The church’s choir space was transformed into a cafeteria where you can have a cup of coffee or a light lunch.
Plan about 30-60 minutes for the visit. Needless to say that book lovers could easily spend an entire day here…
4. Square of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouweplein)
One of the things that makes Maastricht so beautiful are the squares amid the historical buildings. And here’s another one that you should visit during your trip to Maastricht: Onze Lieve Vrouweplein (Square of Our Lady), also known as Slevrouweplein among locals.
Square of Our Lady is situated in what’s known to be the oldest part of the city. What is now a lively square was once an old churchyard. The church to which the square belonged can still be visited today. The Romanesque-style Basilica of Our Lady (Basiliek van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw or Sterre der Zee) is located adjacent to the square.
The square itself is a great place to go out. Especially during spring and summer, the it’s jam packed with people enjoying a beer or a coffee.
5. Bishop’s Mill (Bisschopsmolen)
Bishop’s mill (Bisschopsmolen) is the oldest watermill of the Netherlands that is still working today! The ancient water mill is located in the center of the old town of Maastricht.
The mill dates back to the 7th century and is said to have operated for more than a thousand years. What we love most about the Bishop’s mill is that it isn’t just another ancient sight to see. In fact, the mill is still being used today! There is a bakery on site that makes bread and cakes from the flour from the ancient mill.
Be sure to order a slice or two of the famous Limburgse vlaai. Limburgse vlaai is a local speciality from the Limburg province and for us, it’s one of the best cakes this region has to offer. It comes in different varieties, but what they all have in common is that they are flat pastry cakes filled with fruit or berries, such as apples or cherries. The variety which I love the most is rijstevlaai, a type of rice cake which contains rice pudding and chocolate chips.
6. Hell’s Gate (Helpoort)
Don’t be alarmed; it’s not the portal to another world. Hell’s Gate (Helpoort) is the only remaining city gate in Maastricht and the oldest city gate still in existence in the Netherlands! It was constructed in the early 13th century (probably in 1229), when the duke granted permission for Maastricht to construct a city wall.
What was built as a city gate was repurposed over time. Only one century later (in the 14th century), the place served as a prison. For this reason, the gate has been dubbed Helpoort (Hell’s Gate) or Leugenpoort (Liar’s Gate).
While the city gate is very photogenic from the outside, it also has something to offer on the inside. There is a small museum showcasing the history of the city’s fortifications. What we love about this gate is that it has retained its original shape over the centuries. Ancient paintings dating back to the 17th century show the twin towers that can still be seen today.
7. Bonnefanten Museum
Bonnefanten museum is a popular art museum in Maastricht, known to be the best art museum in the province. The name bonnefanten derives from the French “bons enfants” (good children) which was the name of a former convent that housed the museum for about two decades.
Originally, the museum was an historical, archaeological and art museum. After the museum moved to its present location in the late 90’s, it has become exclusively an art museum. What’s interesting about this museum is that it displays a combination of old art and contemporary art ranging from Dutch, Flemish to Italian artists. In addition to paintings, there are several interesting exhibitions on display.
8. Meuse River (Maas)
Have you ever wondered why Maastricht is called Maastricht? The name Maastricht derives from the Latin Mosa Trajectum which means “crossing of the Maas river”. The Meuse (Maas in Dutch) is an important landmark of Maastricht, today as in the past.
Sightseeing in Maastricht isn’t complete without a visit to the Meuse. If you visit during spring, summer or autumn, be sure to take a stroll along the river. Depending on the season (and the weather), locals will enjoy the riverbeds of the Meuse to go for a walk, running or picnicking.
By the way, the Meuse river isn’t just important for Maastricht. The river is 950 kilometers (590 miles) long and flows from France, through Belgium, until the Dutch North Sea. Maastricht, Roermond, Venlo, Den Bosch and Rotterdam are among the most popular Dutch cities at the Meuse.
9. St. Servatius Bridge (Sint Servaasbrug)
With a major river crossing the city center, come great bridges. And Maastricht is no exception to that. The most iconic bridge in Maastricht is St. Servatius Bridge (Sint Servaasbrug). This bridge is considered one of the top sights in Maastricht and an important landmark of the city.
Built in the late 13th century, this stone footbridge is considered the oldest bridge of the Netherlands. What’s interesting is that the original St. Servatius Bridge was made of wood. Floods and conflicts damaged the bridge which was then renovated and restored multiple times.
The bridge in its current state was built in the early 20th century (early 1900’s). It’s made of stone with some impressive stone arches spreading over 160 meters (525 feet). While the bridge itself is very picturesque, you can admire Maastricht skyline as you walk this bridge.
Maastricht is a popular shopping destination. Thanks to its proximity to the borders with Germany and Belgium, the city is particularly popular with tourists from the bordering regions.
The main retail thoroughfare is the Grote Straat, right in the center of Maastricht. That’s where you’ll find all major fashion chains that Maastricht has to offer. The largest shopping centers are the Mosae Forum and Entre Deux (located between the market square and the Vrijthof). High-end brands can be found in the Stokstraat district (Stokstraatkwartier).
The charming streets aren’t just filled with shops, there are also some cozy cafés and eateries to enjoy. Mosae Forum also has a food court.
11. North Caves Maastricht Underground
When visiting a place, who says that your only focus should be aboveground attractions? You can do something different in Maastricht by exploring what lies beneath this historical city by visiting the North Caves Maastricht Underground (also known as St. Peter’s Caves).
Maastricht Underground is an attraction that comes with a guide. During the 1-hour excursion, they will tell you about this city’s historical underground architecture. It’s definitely worthwhile!
Even if you visit during summer, be sure to bring a jacket or sweater. You’ll be surprised how cold it is underground!
Besides the guided tour in the caves, you should definitely explore the aboveground area too. The area is wonderful for a long walk, especially during summertime. Our recommendation is to plan another 2-3 hours for a walk on the vast hilltop.
12. Fort Saint Peter (Fort Sint Pieter)
A stone’s throw away from the caves (Maastricht Underground) is Fort Saint Pieter (Fort Sint Pieter). St. Peter is a historic fortress built to defend Maastricht from invasions in the 18th century. The fort was designed as a large bastioned fortification. The complex construction features earthworks, ramparts and underground tunnels.
The strategically located fort paid off shortly after it was built. It’s said to have played a significant role in the defense of Maastricht, most notably during the Battle of Maastricht (1794) and the Belgian Revolution (1830).
Same as for the caves, only guided tours are allowed, for which you need to reserve a slot. The cannons, secret water well, underground passages, and the stunning view from the top will then be shown to you by your guide. The tour takes about 1.5 hours to complete.
The historic fortress is located on the hill Mount Saint Peter (Sint Pietersberg) from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city and its surroundings. Once up here, you’ll understand why the Dutch have chosen this particular hill for the construction of the fort.
To make the most of your visit to Fort Saint Peter (and the neighboring caves), we recommend that you plan at least half a day (better a full day) to explore the sights and its surroundings. There are signposted hiking trails (2 to 10 km in length) which lead through the most beautiful parts of the hilltop!
How to Get to Maastricht
By Public Transport
Like any major city in the Netherlands, Maastricht has excellent railway connections. Major railway carriers such as NS and Arriva can bring you there from almost any city in the Netherlands. Within the city, Arriva provides public bus transport. To plan your train journey, use the 9292 website.
Germany is just 40 km away from Maastricht. The closest city is Aachen which is about a 40 minute drive from Maastricht. Belgium is literally just a stone’s throw away. Maastricht and the Belgium village Lanaken are just a few kilometers apart.
Maastricht city center: Parking is a headache in most big cities, and Maastricht is no exception to that. The easiest and most convenient way is to park your car in one of the city’s parking garages. For sightseeing in Maastricht, you could park your car on either side of the river and start your journey from there. During one of our recent visits, we parked our car at Q-Park Stadspark which we found cheaper than most parking lots in the city center. It’s about 5-10 minutes from the main attractions (you’ll cross an urban park, so the walk is really beautiful!). The closest option to the city center is Q-Park Vrijthof, right at the city’s main square.
Our tip: if you book your parking spot in advance, you’ll often get a cheaper rate compared to what you have to pay on site.
Maastricht Underground / Caves: There are several parking lots near the sights. Note that both sites are situated on a hilltop. Therefore, parking your car as closely as possible is recommended. You can then visit the sights (fort and caves) and go for a walk on the beautiful hill. The best parking lot is Fort Sint Pieter Parking, which is right in front of the castle and a few minutes away from the entrance to the caves.
How to Get Around Maastricht
Maastricht is a historic city full of national monuments and sights. The best way to get around Maastricht is by foot. That’s especially true when exploring the heart of the city, as the squares and bridges can get crowded with pedestrians. We strongly believe that you’ll enjoy the historic vibe of Maastricht the most when exploring the city by foot.
If you’re into cycling, you can embark on a scenic bike tour along the Maas river or bike to the “three country point” (Drielandenpunt) where the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium meet.
Accommodations in Maastricht
A wide variety of accommodations are available here to suit every type and budget. You can rent a budget or fancy room or apartment, book a room at a trendy boutique hotel, stay at a farmhouse loft, or even lodge at a 15th century monastery. There are also many bed & breakfast options available.
Below are some of the hotels in Maastricht we visited and recommend:
- Mabi City Center Hotel: An artistically decorated hotel in the heart of Maastricht, at walking distance to all major attractions.
- Zenden Hotel: A 5-minute walk from the Vrijthof Square, one of the best locations of Maastricht. We loved the interior of the hotel, as well as the large indoor pool situated in an old cellar. At the time of our visit, WiFi wasn’t available in all rooms (this might have changed!).
- Stayokay Hostel Maastricht: A popular hostel chain in the Netherlands. The hostel is located near the urban park (near the Meuse river), a 10 to 15-minute walk from all major attractions.
- Botel Maastricht: We already knew this concept from Amsterdam, and were surprised to see it in Maastricht too! Botel is a large boat on the bank of Meuse (river) where guests sleep in cabins, similar to what you’d get in a cruise. The cabins are functional – people come here for the special experience of sleeping on a boat on the water.
Here’s an overview of all available hotels in Maastricht and surroundings.
In the Area
Maastricht is located in the province of Limburg, the southern part of the Netherlands. It’s a few kilometers away from the Belgium border (near Lanaken) and about 40 kilometers from the German border (near Aachen). Here are some ideas of places in the area to extend your trip:
- Valkenburg: Located to the east of Maastricht, this small Dutch town offers a beautiful historic town center. There are plenty of attractions in Valkenburg, especially when traveling with children.
- Hoensbroek Castle: One of the largest and best-preserved medieval castles in the Netherlands. It’s an eyecatcher on the outside and on the inside and definitely worth a visit.
- Drielandenpunt: “Three country point” is where the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet. It’s a symbolic place to visit. Moreover, the area consists of beautiful luch green landscapes. We went for a bike trip from Maastricht to Drielandenpunt and loved it!
- Hoge Kempen National Park: Located just across the Belgian border, the vast nature is a great place for walking and cycling. The vast area consists of heather-meadows (Mechelse Heide), dunes and pine forests. It’s the first national park of Belgium. Depending on which part of the park you’d like to visit, you can bike here from Maastricht. Alternatively, go by car.
- Roermond: Another city in Limburg, around 30-minutes drive from Maastricht. Roermond is popular for shopping (mostly clothes shopping, as Roermond is home to the Designer Outlet).
- Venlo: An hour from Maastricht is Venlo, the second most popular city in the Limburg province. Venlo is much smaller than Maastricht. It’s also home to the Maas, as a small historic city center and is popular for shopping (food and clothes).
Share Your Thoughts and Questions!
Have you ever been to Maastricht or are you planning to visit soon? Share your experience and questions in the comments section down the page. We’d love to hear from you!