Maastricht is one of most charming cities in the Netherlands and it can be easily explored in a weekend. The city is perfect for a slow, romantic weekend away from Amsterdam spent exploring a beautiful cathedral bookstore, strolling the tangled streets, touring historic caves, and eating/drinking delicious regional cuisine at affordable prices. For architecture and food lovers, Maastricht is a city that you will not want to leave off any trip to the Netherlands.
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How to get to Maastricht
It’s a scenic 2.5 hour train ride each way south to Maastricht from Amsterdam and it costs about 25 euros per way. Its proximity makes it easy to hop over to Aachen, Germany for only 5 euros. Anyone interested in Rhine Valley, southern Belgium, or backpacking through Europe will find that Maastricht is right on the way!
You'll need about 1-2 days to explore Maastricht, which makes it a great weekend trip from Amsterdam, where I live, or any other city in the Netherlands. (For more information about Amsterdam, click here for mytourist tips, info about my favorite neighborhoods, and budget eats guide!)
Below you'll find a map that you can download for off-line exploration and a guide to a perfect weekend in Maastricht!
Maastricht Train Station
It’s only 20 minutes on foot from the train station to the Centre with clear signage. Immediately, you will notice the elaborate and unique architecture that is a blend of different styles. Sadly, the historic bridge crossing the Maas River was destroyed in WWII.
Do not miss this bookstore! In 1580s, Catholicism was outlawed in the Netherlands. Following this period, many former-Catholic churches became abandoned. However, anyone who is a literature lover who enters the Dominicanenkerk will wonder if they’ve entered the Vatican of books. The church itself dates back to 1294 and it has elaborate frescos on the ceiling that are being restored. It's had many lives as a military building, a warehouse, a school, an orchestra hall, party hall, and even bike storage.
After excavating medieval tombs while determining if it could be renovated, Selexyz hired an architecture firm to help modernize and preserve this beautiful church in 2005. Instead of praying at the altar, you can drink coffee and read books. (How holy!) The selection is more limited for English books, but fantastic for Dutch books.
After working up a literary appetite, you can walk to the Lunch N Zo, which has a reasonable and beautifully prepared lunch that comes with a surprise. The bread itself is locally sourced and they strive to keep things as fresh as possible. At the end of the meal, they give you a shot of advocaat, which is a traditionally Dutch alcoholic drink that reminds me of the filling from a Cadbury egg and burns on the way down.
The city still has the original walls, which is integrated into some newer buildings. One of the magical parts about Maastricht is wandering the tangled historic streets and finding beautiful architecture along the way. People are very friendly and will greet/smile at you no matter where you are. The wall below is close to Lang Grachtje.
Regional Food Specials
For dinner, make a reservation at Limburg Kookt! Limburg cuisine is quite different than other food in the Netherlands due to the unique landscape (forests and hills) and the influence of German/Belgian/French cooking. The most famous dishes from Maastricht are zuurvlees, which is horsemeat, and rabbit Limburgse, which is cooked in a sour/sweet sauce (typically for holidays). I did not have the horsemeat, but the rabbit was one of my favorite meals in the Netherlands to date. The sauce is tangy rather than sour, but the rabbit is quite tender.
Compared to many other cities, this meal stood out for its deliciousness, unique/rich flavor combinations, and affordability given the quality. It was about 50 euros for us to have a starter, two glasses of wine, a main course, and home-made chocolate for dessert. Just be sure to make a reservation ahead of time, especially for weekends. The menu rotates.
If you’re into beer, visit Take One! for a local beer selection that cannot be found elsewhere. For those looking for a party afterwards, Alla is the most infamous student bar/dance club for the afterparty.
The next day, be sure to visit the Zonneberg caves to get a fascinating history lesson in a unique location. The walk from Centre is about one hour to the caves. You will need to make a reservation in advance for a tour in English (or Dutch), but you’ll learn about how the caves were carved for their valuable building materials and aren’t caves at all. Since Roman times, people have been carving stone from the mines and as a result, the tunnels go for miles to the extent that people who have broken in the caves have died trying to find exits. During World War II, famous works of art (including the Nightswatch) were hidden from the Nazis in the labyrinthine network. Similarly, Dutch Resistance smuggled Jews from the Netherlands to Belgium using the same caves. Towards the end of the war, the entire city of Maastricht, which was the first city to be taken by the Germans and the first to be freed, lived in the caves. You can even see the giant bread oven used to sustain the city as well as graffiti with signatures and advertisements.
Regional Food: Vlaai and a beer.
Following a visit to the caves, there’s a lovely café (Buitengoed Slavante) by the entrance that serves beer and fresh vlaai, which is the word for cake. Limburg is well-known for having great pastries, so definitely take advantage of the tasty pies/cakes/chocolates. I recommend the cake and bread!
The best cake in Maastricht is quite a contentious battle although I was recommended both Bakkerij Mathieu Hermans and Bisschopsmolen, however you'll often see cafes offering "Koffie & Vlaai" (Coffee and Cake) deals.
From the Caves to the City
On the way back, you will pass through some lovely countryside as well as a strange little chapel with strange rocks sprouting out the top. It's definitely worth a peek inside. It's close to Ursulinenweg 3.
On foot, you'll also pass the University of Maastricht. You can get a great view of the park/river by climbing to the viewpoint on top of the old walls.
In December, it’s worth visiting the nearby Aachen Christmas market, which is considered to be one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Similarly, in February, you should be in the South of the Netherlands for Carnaval. The entirety of the south has retained the Catholic tradition of Carnaval although the traditions have evolved. For 3 days, Maastricht, Tilburg, Den Bosch, and Breda are filled with people in costume singing Dutch songs that are made up each year. Similarly, there’s lots of interesting traditions where women can kiss anyone they want—and the cities even change names for the period. (The date changes yearly and be sure to buy a costume!)
For more tips about Maastricht, read this insider's guide to Maastricht written by a Dutchie!
Wondering where to stay in Maastricht?
(Thank you to my kind colleagues who put up with my many questions about Maastricht and for the record, nothing in this post was sponsored. I just really enjoyed where I ate/visited!)
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Have you been to Maastricht? If so, what was your favorite part? If not, what interests you the most.
Karen & Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Then, Paris. (Confusing, we know!) Now, we're living in The Hague, the Netherlands.
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