Maastricht is the most southern city in the Netherlands. So southern that it actually takes me longer to get here than Antwerp or Brussels in Belgium. But I love visiting Maastricht. It’s a beautiful, historic city and so different from other Dutch cities that it feels like I’m in another country.
I’m spending three days here, Thursday to Saturday. It’s surprising how different the city is on a weekday compared to the weekend. Until now I’ve only visited Maastricht on a weekend, when it can get quite busy. I love how calm the city is on Thursday and Friday (without it being too quiet). If you’re able to visit during the week I would highly recommend it. Plus the city has some interesting offers if you’re staying between Sunday and Thursday.
I have so many tips to share that instead of doing one city guide post, I’ll do two. This one is all about things to do in Maastricht, my favorite hotels and how to get to Maastricht. I will post the next one soon with food and shopping tips.
Things to Do in Maastricht
So you’re planning a visit, the next question is of course: what to do in Maastricht? There are two things you should know. One is that the city has some very distinct neighborhoods with their own unique character. And two is that they’re all close to one another and easy to explore on foot. So get a city map and take your time to walk around and explore each neighborhood. If you speak Dutch, I love the Time to Momo Maastricht city guide with fun walking routes.
The Vrijthof is the main square in Maastricht and impossible to miss. If there are important events taking place, they usually happen here. Such as the annual Christmas market in December and – in case there are any fans reading this – the summer concert of André Rieu (he was born in Maastricht) and his Johann Strauss Orchestra.
There are also many cafés surrounding the square, including the oldest one of Maastricht ‘In den ouden Vogelstruys’.
My favorite part of Maastricht is the Jekerkwartier. This is the most historic area of the city, also known as the ‘Quartier Latin’ of Maastricht. Don’t miss the Faliezustersklooster (a former 15th century convent) and the 13th century Helpoort (Hell’s Gate), the oldest still existing city gate in the Netherlands.
Basilica of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwebasiliek)
The Vrijthof may be the main square, but I prefer going to the Onze Lieve Vrouweplein (square). It always looks super cosy with the many cafés and their outdoor terraces in the center of the square.
But the main reason I go here is to visit the Basilica of Our Lady. And then especially the Gothic chapel with the statue of Our Lady, Star of the Sea (Sterre der Zee) near the entrance. The many burning candles in the chapel make it look magical.
Saint Servatius Bridge (Sint Servaasbrug)
The Meuse (Maas) river flows through the city of Maastricht with interesting places to visit on both sides. So during your stay you’ll be crossing the river several times. Actually, the name Maastricht is derived from the Latin phrase for ‘crossing at the Meuse’.
The main bridge is the impressive Saint Servatius Bridge (Sint Servaasbrug). This 13th century bridge is the oldest bridge in the Netherlands and named after Saint Servatius, the first (4th century) bishop of Maastricht.
The Sphinx passage is a bit of hidden gem and one you’ll easily miss if you don’t know where to look for it.
The Sphinx factories play an import role in the history of Maastricht, and the industrial revolution in the Netherlands. In this 120 meters long covered passage way, 30.000 tiles (plus several showcases of ceramic products) tell and show you the history of the ceramics industry in the city. You can find it in the middle of the old Sphinx factories on the Boschstraat (behind the Pathé cinema).
City Park (Stadspark)
I love the City Park (Stadspark). It’s actually a park consisting of several separated (and very different) parks with lots to see. When you’re at the Jekerkwartier to visit the Hell’s Gate, climb the old city walls. And don’t miss the statue of the musketeer d’Artagnan, who was killed here in 1673.
So when is the best time to visit Maastricht? It doesn’t really matter, but I always visit Maastricht in December. This month the city transforms into ‘Magical Maastricht’ (Magisch Maastricht) with twinkling lights in the trees, lots of activities and the best Christmas market in the Netherlands.
You’ll find the Christmas market and ice skating rink on the Vrijthof, with the surrounding cafés on the square looking even more festive and inviting. But the entire city is looking magical, so don’t only focus on the Vrijthof. You can find all the highlights – including a one hour ‘Magical Lights Route’ on the website of Visit Maastricht.
Hotels in Maastricht
Maastricht has a lot of great hotels to choose from. And the best part, they’re not as expensive as hotels in Amsterdam. I’m staying at two hotels this time, from the same owner, but very different.
If you’re looking for a hotel that feels like a true home away from home, then you will love the Townhouse Hotel, located in the trendy Wyck district, just around the corner from the train station. As soon as you arrive you’re basically stepping into the living room, where the staff behind the reception is welcoming you with a warm bowl of soup.
You can tell how much thought went into the design. An old black and white tv playing in a cosy corner. Bookcases inviting you to grab a book and make yourself comfortable in front of the fireplace. Fresh ‘vlaai’ (the traditional pie from this part of the country) always on display. And if you’re feeling lonely, you can get a gold fish for your room.
My room is just like the rest of the hotel. Even though it has some design touches, it looks like you’re a guest in someone’s home. Very personal and welcoming. Second-hand books on the night stand, unique decorations (different in every room) and of course I’m loving the company of my gold fish. Plus you know you’ll be sleeping well when you lie down on that luxury Hästens boxspring bed.
Website: Townhouse Design Hotel
Mabi City Centre Hotel
Hotel Mabi City Centre is a completely different experience. This is a luxurious (but affordable) boutique hotel in a former cinema.
Where the Townhouse Hotel has a bit of a vintage vibe, Mabi is super modern. What’s the same is that again, a lot of thought went into the interior design. Rooms are either all black or all white and the hotel bar and restaurant look stunning.
Staying here is really a unique experience. If you want to watch a movie, you can ask to use the hotel’s (small) cinema. Get some popcorn from the popcorn machine and make yourself comfortable. How cool would it be to do this with a group of friends?!
Showing that they like to do things differently here, every afternoon all guests are invited to ‘cava + cheese o’clock’ at the beautiful hotel bar between 4.11pm and 5.24pm. You get a free glass of cava and as much goat cheese as you want (just remember you’re having dinner later).
Website: Hotel Mabi City Centre
How to get to Maastricht
Even though Maastricht has its own airport, you’re probably going to arrive by train at Maastricht Central Station. The direct Amsterdam – Maastricht train (2 hours 25 minutes) leaves every 30 minutes. If you’re not in Amsterdam, you will probably need to change at Utrecht or Eindhoven station.
But since Maastricht is located in the most southern part of the Netherlands, another option is to take the train from Belgium. For example, if you’re looking how to get to Maastricht from the UK, the best option may be to take the Eurostar to Brussels and then take the train to Maastricht (1 hour 45 minutes).
Looking for other interesting places to visit and things to see in the Netherlands? Or ideas for daytrips from Amsterdam? Check out my The Netherlands guide.