Before I start my travel series I just want to do a post on our hometown, Maastricht, first. It is an amazing town, very popular among tourists and you will soon see why. If you are ever exploring the Netherlands I really think it is worth it to visit Maastricht. I find it strange to think I would probably never have considered traveling to Maastricht, to be honest, I didn’t even know the town existed before we moved here! But now that I do know I would highly recommend it. The post will be very photo-rich since a picture speaks more than a thousand words, so this post might be quite long.
Maastricht is the capital of the province Limburg and lies in the south-east of the Netherlands. It is an affluent cultural center and a very popular tourist attraction. The town is ancient and has a whopping 1677 heritage sites. Maastricht has a large student and expat community with over 40 neighborhoods and a university that was found in 1976. It has lively squares, narrow typical European streets and historical buildings around every corner.
The Maas river divides the town into an east and west bank. The iconic Sint Servaas bridge is rumored to be the oldest bridge in the Netherlands and was built around the 13th century. It is a beautiful stone bridge and probably the most iconic landmark of Maastricht. There are several river cruises available to explore the town and surroundings from a different angle. The Maasboulevard Promenade is great for taking a stroll, run or bike ride along the river.
Where do I start? Maastricht has three famous squares that are absolutely gorgeous. The largest and best known square is Vrijthof right in the heart of Maastricht. This is where Andre Rieu performs his concerts every year (ask your parents, they will know who Andre Rieu is…haha). Vrijthof also houses many restaurants where you can enjoy coffee or a pilsje (beer) and watch the world go by. A must-see on Vrijthof is the twin churches: Sint Servatius and Sint Jan. St Servatius is an ancient Roman church and houses a spectacular treasury of medieval gold artworks. The church was named after the first Bishop and patron saint of the city.
Next up is Jean’s favorite square which is Onze Lieve Vrouweplein. Onze Lieve Vrouweplein is a small,cosy square with a magnificent tree canopy and quaint restaurants. The impressive Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek (Basilica of Our Lady) is a romanesque church that is also referred to as “Star of the Sea”. The church is only lit by candles so can be quite dark at times.
My favorite is Markt Plein (Market Square) which is in the commercial heart of the town. It houses the 17th century Town Hall and let’s not forget about Reitz – famous for their Belgium frites (potato fries) drenched in mayonnaise. Reitz has been serving their famous fries since 1909! There are numerous restaurants around the squares’ border. My favorite part of Markt Plein is the Friday market. The market has a massive selection of fresh produce, meats, fish, bread, coffee, flowers, fabrics, clothing and so much more. An absolute must-do if you ever visit Maastricht.
The town has many parks but my favorite is definitely Stadspark in the center of the town, close to the river. It is absolutely gorgeous, especially now in Autumn. Stadspark is an awesome place if you just want to park yourself on a bench and have a quiet moment in nature.
Right on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium lies Chateau Neerkanne. This gorgeous castle was rebuilt in 1698 but houses the Marl caves dating back to ancient roman times. These caves were turned into a wedding/event venue and wine cellars. Chateau Neerkanne also has a Michelin-star restaurant and the most magnificent views of the country side and adjacent forest. This was also the very place where the treaty of the European union (and birth of the Euro as the currency) was signed in 1992.
Maastricht has many remnants of medieval walls and towers. The most famous of these towers are probably Helpoort (Hell’s Gate) which is a rather impressive gate with two towers dating back to 1229. It is the oldest city gate in the Netherlands.
The Caves and Underground Tunnels
Fort Sint Pieter and the Sint Pietersberg caves were used as refuge during wars. This is also the site where Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch painting was kept safe during World War II. The caves and casemates are cleverly designed underground passages that can house up to 5000 men.It also has a huge dome and Gothic hallway deep in the labyrinth of these ancient limestone channels. There are guided tours to view these caves and it takes about an hour.
I think if I have to choose an all-time Maastricht favorite, the Boekhandel Dominicanen is probably it. This 700-year old Gothic church was turned into the most amazing bookstore that you will ever see. It has won international awards for the most incredible bookstore in the world and it is very obvious why. If you are a book-lover like me I can guarantee that you will be completely blown away. I really sometimes just go there to smell the coffee and books if I feel lonely or down. It instantly cheers me up. My sister-in-law described it quite accurately: she said it almost feels too holy and magnificent to take pictures inside. And she is so right. If books are your thing then I will definitely make the Boekhandel Dominicanen your first stop.
Maastricht is a shopping mecca with the most beautiful clothing and home decor stores. The 5th avenue/via Condotti of Maastricht is the beautiful cobblestone street called Stokstraat. This is where you will find all the high-end designer stores and make your bank manager very sad. Maastricht also has koopavond every Thursday evening – the shops are open until late and you can go back for those boots that you regret not buying earlier in the day
Maastricht really has a lot to offer and I am pretty sure I haven’t even discovered half of it. Please leave a comment below if you would like to travel to Maastricht or have some gems to tell me about