There is only one city in Europe I visit every year: Maastricht. The Limburg province capital has all you need for a romantic weekend. Some seriously good restaurants, a compact city centre and awesome highlights in and outside the city. It’s the city where I met my boyfriend 15 years ago and we return often for a weekend Maastricht quality time. It’s our favourite Dutch city trip destination to escape bustling Amsterdam and it’s about time that I share why!
Why visit Maastricht?
Food, beer, history and castles!
Not convinced yet? Let me explain why weekend in Maastricht is great for a short city break. First of all: gourmandism. In the Southern part of the Netherlands, especially in Limburg, food is more important in people lives than in other parts of The Netherlands. The Michelin star restaurant density is high, as is the quality of food, wine and beer. It’s the main reason we return to Maastricht every year.
Maastricht claims to be the oldest city in the Netherlands. I can’t say if it’s true since Nijmegen – close to my hometown – claims the same. One thing is for sure: Maastricht has a rich history and it shows in the city. The history goes back to the Celtic era, before our current era. The city is home to many characteristic Roman buildings, beautiful architecture and lovely alleys.
Last but not least: Did you know it’s a city with 5 castles at 15 minutes driving distance? Maastricht has great things to do just outside the city. You can even hike up to a viewpoint and spot the largest owls in the world.
Still here? Awesome, I guess I convinced you! And the good news is: Maastricht is just a train ride away from Amsterdam, close to Belgium and Germany and often overlooked by international travellers as a weekend trip destination. As the girlfriend of a local, I share all you need to know for the perfect weekend in Maastricht.
The compact city centre allows you to discover all main highlights of Maastricht in a weekend. The river Maas divides the city into two parts: East and West. The Eastern part of Maastricht counts two neighbourhoods: Wyck and Ceramique. The West has City Centre, Stokstraat Quarter, Jeker Quarter, Vrijthof Quarter, Sphinx Quarter in the North and St. Pieter in the South.
- Wyck: When I first visited Maastricht 15 years ago, Wyck was not the neighbourhood where I felt comfortable. Wyck has changed throughout the years though and is becoming hip and happening.
- Céramique: In Maastricht neighbourhood Céramique industrial history and modernism melt perfectly together.
- City Centre: One of the oldest neighbourhoods of Maastricht.
- Stokstraat Quarter: This part Maastricht houses one of the most famous churches of the city: the Onze Lieve Vrouwen Basiliek. Also great for Shopping!
- Jeker Quarter: Known for the city wall and the Gate to Hell.
- Vrijthof Quarter: Maastricht is known for the Vrijthof, a large square in central Maastricht.
- Sphinx Quarter: The area that transformed from industrial to a cultural masterpiece, with Basin: a charming small harbour with characteristic wharfs.
- St. Pieter: Home to the Sint-Pietersberg, known for the ancient underground extraction of chalk. If I would translate this literally “berg”, it would become “mountain”. I consider this an insult towards all real mountains in the world. So let’s name Sint-Pietersberg what it is, a hill.
Things to do in the city
Embrace gourmandism: release your inner Frenchman, spoil yourself with the best food and wine in town.
The restaurants and cafes are one of the main reasons that we keep going back to Maastricht. Keep on reading, I share all my favourite places for food and drinks later on in this post. Don’t go to just one place. Seriously don’t. Take it easy and discover the most beautiful cafes in the Netherlands. You can not leave Maastricht without drinking Brand beer in Café De Bobbel.
Explore the defences: go back in history and immerse yourself in the history of The Netherlands oldest city.
Ancient history determines what Maastricht looks like nowadays. Important historical highlights are the defences that were built in the Middle Ages to protect the city from invaders. These places are all at walking distance from Maastricht centre and great for a nice weekend walk. If you are interested in the history of Maastricht, we recommend joining a guided tour. Which historic defences are worth a visit in Maastricht?
- The famous Helpoort (Gate to Hell) was built in 1229 and is the oldest city gate of the Netherlands. The Helpoort is close to the former Pesthuys, which was a place where the nuns looked after those who suffered from the black plague in the 14th to 19th century. To dispel the stench of the sick, sulphur fires were created. You can probably imagine that the combination of fires, nuns, sick and dead people determined the name of the gate.
- In the 16th century digging of Kazematten: a 14-kilometre underground defence system west end of Maastricht. At the time soldiers ‘listened’ if the enemy was approaching and then went underground into a counterattack. During World War II the local population was hiding at Fonten. Kazematten is the local name and part of the Frontenpark. Part of Frontenpark is a national monument, it’s protected and a unique area to visit. Interesting fact: it is the northernmost place in Europe where the tiny wall lizard lives.
- City wall, especially Lang Grachtje and Klein Grachtje: two authentic streets and city walls from the 13th century.
- Fort St Pieter south of Maastricht. The pentagonal fort was built in the 18th century to protect the southern ramparts. For St. Pieter is another national monument in Maastricht and definitely worth a visit!
We all know Carnaval and each country has its own way of celebrating. In the Netherlands, Carnaval is celebrated mostly in the provinces of Brabant and Limburg. Maastricht turns into a colourful circus with people wearing stunning outfits. If you into drinking beer and getting dressed up, this is your thing! Go on Sunday, it’s the best day for Maastricht Carnaval. Not sure how to dress? Check out Google images for some inspiration 🙂
Although I am an avid online shopper and don’t like spending time in overcrowded shopping streets, Maastricht is great for shopping! One of my favourite Dutch brand shops is Scotch and Soda.
Read a book at Boekhandel Dominicanen
Listed on CNN’s list of World’s Coolest Bookstores, Boekhandel Dominicanen is a 1.100 m2 former Dominican church that was turned into a bookstore in 2006. The bookstore is home to over 40.000 books. This architectural jewel has a “book flat” with two floors consisting of 7,5-meter high steel bookcases. Impressive right? I can spend hours in Boekhandel Dominicanen, it’s one of my favourite places in the city!
Light a candle
Maastricht has three main churches, all are worth a visit! Sint-Janskerk, Basiliek van Onze Lieve Vrouwe and Basiliek van Sint Servaas. Although I am not religious, during our weekends in Maastricht we always visit one of these churches. We light a candle and take a moment to think of friends and family that we love but are no longer with us.
Things to do just outside Maastricht
Visit a castle
All these castles are worth a visit! I will work on a more detailed “castles in Maastricht guide” soon, but I love all of these places for a nice Sunday lunch or romantic dinner: Kasteel de Hoogenweerth, Chateau Neercanne, Buitenplaats Vaeshartelt, Kasteel Gronsveld and Chateau St. Gerlach.
ENCI – a unique nature reserve
Since 1926 a company called ENCI mines marl in the impressive limestone quarry south of Maastricht. The marl is used for the preparation of different cement types. The limestone quarry has recently turned into a nature reserve. There is a great 7-kilometre hike we did, starting and ending Chalet d’un Observant. The Chalet has a small cafe where you can get a printed map. Otherwise, download the Dutch app route.nl and search for ‘In de buurt’ which means the app will search for routes nearby. The ENCI nature preserve is home to the largest owls in the world, the eagle-owl. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot these huge birds yet!
Where to eat and drink in Maastricht
Ok guys, take your notebook. I share our favourite cafes and restaurants for lunch and dinner. There are many! These are genuinely the places where we have been at least more than once during all the weekend we spend in Maastricht. The city has many restaurants and we have tried a lot. These are the places we love!
Best restaurants in Maastricht for a fine dining experience
I am a lucky girl who has had the chance to dine in some of the best restaurants in the Netherlands. All these restaurants require a reservation, especially during the weekend.
- Beluga – 1 Michelin star
- Toine Hermsen – 1 Michelin star. Very authentic and well-known restaurant.
- Tout a Fait – 1 Michelin star
- Au Coin des Bons Enfants – located in a former orphanage. The restaurant lost its Michelin star but still… the food is delicious!
Where do the locals go for dinner?
- Café Sjiek. You can’t leave Maastricht without having dinner at Café Sjiek. Try zoerfleish if you would like to try a local dish. It’s a horse meat stew and apparently delicious – Cafe Sjiek is known for this dish! For non-meat eaters like myself: no worries, there are enough options to choose from! This is one of the favourite restaurants of locals. This means it’s packed during the weekend, take a 45-minute waiting into account.
- Le Bon Vivant
Best restaurants for lunch or brunch
- Le Marais Deux
- Piece of Cake for high tea and lunch. Known for their pretty cupcakes!
- Bischopsmolen: Limburg is famous for vlaai and this is one of the best places in Maastricht to try. Vlaai is a sweet pie, often filled with fruit. My favourite is pudding crumb pie – puddingkruimelvlaai, go for it!
Best cafes in Maastricht
Cafes in Maastricht are unique. The staff is incredibly attentive and the beer is drafted perfectly. Not at all cafes of course, but for sure in these authentic places:
- Café de Bobbel
- In den Oude Vogelstruys – go here the week before or during Carnaval and admire the hand painted wall decorations.
- Au Mouton Blanc
- De Tribunal
- Cafe De Karkol
- De Wolwaag
- Petit Cafe In de Moriaan – tiniest café in the Netherlands
Where to stay in Maastricht
In the past years of visiting the city, we have stayed in many different hotels. There are our three favourites for a weekend in Maastricht:
- The Dutch – a modern, awesome designed hotel. And my personal favourite! The reservation process on their website made me laugh so much! The Dutch Hotel lets you orders extras like chocolates, macarons and (this is the best thing ever) a framed picture of David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff. What else do you need? Yes, breakfast! Do you know that feeling of not wanting to go out of bed? But then you have to because of breakfast times in the hotel restaurant. At The Dutch you order your brekkie the day before and the staff brings it to your room. No, they don’t wake you up! Your hotel room door has a special breakfast bag hook. I wish all hotels would offer this service!
- Hotel Les Charmes – A very cosy hotel in Jeker Quarter. A 15-room boutique hotel in a historical 17th-century building. We stayed in the room with the old fashioned bath tub, very relaxing!
- Zenden Design Hotel – Owned by a former Dutch football player and his family, this design hotel offers large and comfortable rooms. If you don’t like white, don’t go here: it’s all about clean and white design 🙂
How to get to Maastricht
Dutchies would claim that Maastricht is ‘so far away’. For most international visitors that is nonsense. Maastricht is easy to get to by car, public transport or even by plane:
- Maastricht is a two-hour drive from Amsterdam. If you leave the city via A2 southwards, there is a gas station just outside of the city. Their rates are cheaper than gas stations in Amsterdam. Type in Esso, Nieuwe Utrechtseweg 10, Amsterdam in Google Maps.
- If you travel by train, use the website of NS for a journey planning and accurate time schedules. Amsterdam – Maastricht takes 2,5 hours and will cost you € 25,50 for a 2nd class single ticket.
- Maastricht City Centre is just a 15-minute drive from Maastricht Aachen Airport. Don’t expect much, it’s a small airport with just a few flights per day. It’s mainly low-cost carriers transporting locals from the Limburg region to their holiday destination. But hey, maybe you are the lucky one with an airport connection to Maastricht.
How to get around during your weekend
Walk! It’s as easy as it gets. The city is small and all highlights, restaurants and cafes are in walking distance. St. Pieter is a little outside of the city but it’s a really nice walk to do. For the castles and ENCI is better to cycle, take a bus or car.
Our next weekend in Maastricht
Just like every other city trip or weekend getaway, there are things to do and restaurants to visit for next time. Is there anything you think we should add to the list? Let us know!
- Restaurant Harry’s – we heard Restaurant Harry’s has great steaks PLUS many vegetarian options. That’s the perfect combination for us. We walked by the restaurant and the open kitchen convinced me to go there next time!
- Café Zondag
- ‘t Wycker Cabinet -Classic bistro for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Hoppy Brothers – Beer store with a large selection of beers from all over the world.
- The Salad Bar – but only if I am in a healthy mood, which is probably not the case when I visit Maastricht.
- Marres, house of contemporary culture
- Caves – I am probably the only person who has been to Maastricht over 20 times without visiting the famous caves. I’m just not really a cave person.
- Winetasting at Apostelhoeve – for obvious reasons this wines from the caves.
- A guided historical city tour
- American Cemetery Margraten
- Attending the Vrijthof concert of Andre Rieu, a world famous violinist from Maastricht.
- Friday Fish market
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This article includes some links that help me pay the bills. This is not a sponsored post, I genuinely loved these accommodations and paid for my stays with my very own credit card.