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.
What a great post Maartje! I need to go back to Maastricht to try some of your recommendations!
Thanks Karen! Curious to hear what you think of my recommendations 🙂
Such a great guide! I actually just returned from Aachen. Hope to visit Maastricht next time I’m in europe — my bff just moved to the Hague.
Thank you Solmaz! Aachen is really close to Maastricht, from Den Haag I think it about a 2,5 train ride to Maastricht. It’s worth it 🙂
I have never been to Holland or heard of Maastricht until reading your post. I will be adding this to my list of destinations. There is so much history there it looks great.
Glad you like my article Alice! I hope you can visit Holland and Maastricht one day, you will love it!
The fort reminds me of Intramuros, the walled city in my home country that was built during the Spanish colonization. Interesting how history, even dark, leaves traces through these grand infrastructure. Imagining the gates of hell back in the days makes me fearful and sad..
Me too Iva, it must have been a difficult period in history. What I do like though is that many cities nowadays do a great job incorporating historical monuments in a modern city. It means even dark history is still visible in today’s streetscape, but with a different purpose.
This is fantastic and another place I’ve not heard of before. We’re actually off to Amsterdam later this year so may investigate train rides here as it looks like a really cute place! I love the term ‘gourmandism’ by the way – what a great word to sum up foodie travel! 🙂
That’s exciting! Do you have a lot of time to discover Amsterdam/the Netherlands? I live there, so let me know if I can help you with anything 🙂 Haha, glad you like ‘gourmandism’, I was looking for something different when writing the post.
I loved my time in The Netherlands, but never made it here. The photos are gorgeous, and this guide is filled with helpful information. WOW!
Thank you Jamie, glad you like the guide!
“Food, beer, history and castles” you got my attention right from the beginning! Great blog, honestly I’ve never thought about visiting Maastricht, but your blog has changed my mind. I am heading to Europe in the summer, and I think I’m going to add Maastricht to my trip.
Thanks Cassandra! Where are you heading to? You will love Maastricht 🙂
I’m heading to Amsterdam in June and had been looking for a trip to another location within the country and now thinking that Maastricht might be it. You kind of sold me with the food-centric atmosphere. Plus, the photos are gorgeous!
That’s great to read 🙂 Let me know what you think if you end up going to Maastricht!
I haven’t been to the Netherlands yet, and hadn’t heard of Maastricht yet either. But your blog puts it right up there on my must see list. Especially the castles and the 16th century digging of the 14-kilometre Kazematten. I can’t wait to go!
Glad that my post inspired you to add Maastricht to your must see list Abby!
I love to be reminded that sometimes the most interesting places are very close. I never thought that Maastricht was such a diverse city. You have definitely put it on my Netherlands travel list.
Thank you & happy travels!
We tend to forget sometimes that the most beautiful spots can be just around the corner. Happy travels Carola!
Such a gorgeously detailed post – I love your writing style. Also your photographs make it look so idyllic, what a fairytale it must have been. The horse meat stew had me weirded out, but was so happy to hear you’re a vego!
Yeah no (horse) meat on my plate! Thanks for the sweet words Serena!
It’s such a detailed post! Thank you for investing time into sharing all your knowledge about this historic treasure! I love small old towns and their collaboration with modern time! I’ve never been there but you convinced me to visit it 🙂
Thanks Kate! Since I know the city well, I like that others can benefit from my stories and experiences. Happy that this post convinced you!
I love how give so much details on Maastricht. I haven’t heard about it before, but after reading this, I know that it’ll be a great place to visit. Thank you for sharing. 🙂
Thank you Marvi!
Wow this is so detailed, it must have taken so long to write.
Thank you for all of the info!
Yes it did take quite a while 🙂 Had lots of content in my head already, still transforming my thoughts into a written story was a challenge!
Is there anywhere in the Netherlands that’s not cool and super quirky? I went to Amsterdam for the first time a few months ago and loved it! I would love to see more!
There are some places you don’t need to add to your NL list 🙂 Though Maastricht isn’t one of them.
A great read ! I really need to get to The Netherlands one of these days and now I have even more incentive .
I’m pleased to see my post persuaded you, the Netherlands won’t disappoint you Sandra!
This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I live in the Netherlands, my parents are coming for a visit later this month, and we have a weekend in Maastricht planned. I can’t wait to try out some of your recommendations!
That’s great, I hope you like Maastricht too 🙂 If you parents like art museums, you may want to consider the Bonnefantenmuseum. I haven’t been yet, but I heard it’s an interesting museum for art lovers. Feel free to reach out if you have questions. Enjoy!
my god this is a comprehensive post, and about somewhere that I’d never even heard of as well. Thank you for sharing all this information. I also LOVE the way your photos are laid out, it looks so classy.
Thanks so much Lauren, much appreciated! I tried to make it a detailed and comprehensive city guide with all you need to know 🙂
A great read! You should also visit Café Nouveau (Koestraat 14-16) if you’re in to cheeses and wine.
Glad you like our article Richard and thanks for your recommendation! I will make sure to visit Café Nouveau next time I’m in Maastricht.
Have you ever done or considered a running tour in Maastricht. You see more and groups are small. This makes it more personal, active and fun than a regular tour. You don’t have to be an athlete do book a tour.
Hi Raoul, although I like sports I can claim I am not a runner. Nevertheless, I think the city and region of Maastricht are beautiful for those who love running and I really like the active and personal approach of your tour!
What a wonderful blog about my home town! I’m happy you liked it and have inspired so many people to come and visit Maastricht. Btw you say you’re note a cave person, do you know ours are not real (i.e. natural) caves? They are really corridors, dug out by people to get to the marl long before Enci started, and inside are wonderful paintings and low relief sculptures. People hid in them during the war. The mosasaurus was found there. And somewhere inside they grow champignons (although I’m not sure if that part can be visited. 🙂 Furthermore I have another tip for a trip in the neighborhood: going by boat to the famous “La Batte” Sunday market in Liege. The boat may take slighly longer than the train (which needs only half an hour). 🙂
Thanks so much Catharina, so happy that you like my blog post! It’s a shame international visitors seem to skip Maastricht often, such a missed opportunity to see more of the Netherlands and discover Limburg! You made me reconsider the cave visit, so I may go for it next time 🙂 I also love the idea of taking the boat to Liege, I did know about the Sunday Market but wasn’t aware of a boat from Maastricht. Thanks again for your suggestions, much appreciated!
A great detailed article! However my favourite place of all in Maastricht is missing..
Tapasbar La Bodega (platielstraat 9) , you’ll feel like your in Spain when entering. The food and wines are great, and the atmosphere is really cosy! You should keep in mind that it is very crowded everyday of the week!
You should really try this:)
Thanks James for taking the time to read my article. Great to see you like the post 🙂 Next time I will definitely visit Tapasbar La Bodega in the Platielstraat, I am a huge fan of tapas and wines. Thanks for your tip!