12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Maastricht
Capital of the province of Limburg, Maastricht has a beautiful setting along both banks of the River Maas. One of the country's busiest commercial and tourist centers, Maastricht was founded by the Romans in 50 BC on an important crossing-point on the Maas where two military roads met. Fortified in the 3rd century and again in the 14th century, the town changed hands many times through the years and suffered numerous sieges. The signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 saw the city become the symbol of the European Union, with the first meeting of the original 12 member states being held here. Attractions for tourists in Maastricht range from well-preserved medieval churches to museums filled with art treasures. But with all its historic and artistic treasures, one of the best things to do in Maastricht is to just enjoy strolling its atmospheric streets and riversides.
See also: Where to Stay in Maastricht
1 The Treasures of Saint Servatius
Built in the 6th century atop the grave of St. Servatius, the first Bishop of Maastricht, Roman Catholic St. Servaaskerk is the oldest church in the Netherlands. Highlights include the Imperial Hall and the Imperial Gallery, built between 1165 and 1677, and the fine south doorway known as the Bergportaal, with its Biblical statuary from the 13th century. Other notable features include the cloister and the splendid vaulting of the nave and transepts added in the 14th and 15th centuries. The most important part of the old church, however, is its rich Treasury, now a museum called The Treasures of St. Servaaskerk. Prime exhibits include a variety of sacred objects, pictures, and statues, as well as the Late Romanesque chest reliquary housing the remains of St. Servatius, who died in 384 AD, a masterpiece of metalwork known as the Noodkist (Distress Chest) that's carried around the town whenever calamity threatens. Also of interest is the crypt, home to the tomb of Charles of Lorraine, a statue of Charlemagne, and the remains of a 12th-century altar.
Address: Keizer Karelplein 3, Maastricht
2 Fort Sint Pieter and the St. Pietersberg Caves
Mount Saint Peter (Caestert Plateau), the northernmost section of a large plateau stretching between Maastricht and the city of Liège in Belgium, is well-known as a nature reserve and recreational area, as well as for the 18th-century Fort Sint Pieter. The fort was built to defend the city from the French. Underneath the fortress and the mountain are the famous St. Pietersberg Caves, a large system of tunnels and passages formed over many centuries by the quarrying of local marlstone. Some 20,000 passages with a total length of 200 kilometers once existed here, some of them enlarged with storerooms, a bakery, and even a chapel during World War II. The caves were also used to protect art treasures, including Rembrandt's Night Watch during the war. The caves are open by guided tour, and along with their historic interest, they also offer the chance to see evidence of ancient fossils.
Address: Luikerweg 71, Maastricht
3 The Basilica of Our Lady
The impressive Basilica of Our Lady (Basiliek van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw) was built around AD 1000, although only a portion of the original survives. In about 1150, the crypts and the transepts were added, while the east choir was built in the early 1200s, followed by the gallery over the ambulatory. The fortress-like character of the Romanesque west front, with its two stair turrets, recalls the church's former function as part of the town's fortifications. The Late Gothic choir with its large crypt is particularly pleasing, as is the side chapel containing the image of Our Lady Star of the Sea dating from the 15th century. Other features of interest are the west crypt, which belonged to the earlier church, the church treasury, the beautiful 16th-century cloister, and the west tower.
Address: Onze Lieve Vrouweplein 9, Maastricht
4 Bonnefanten Museum
On the banks of the River Maas, in an ultra-modern building that resembles a 1950s version of a rocket ship, the superb Bonnefanten Museum displays Maastricht's most important art collections. Named after the museum's former convent home - it was known as the Bonnefanten for its well-behaved children, the "bons enfants" - this palatial edifice with its massive conical tower (the aforementioned rocket ship) houses numerous paintings from the Dutch Masters, as well as many Italian and modern works. Also in the museum are rich collections of medieval art, including wooden sculptures from the 13th to 16th centuries. (English language guided tours are available with advance notice.)
Address: Avenue Ceramique 250, Maastricht
5 Museum aan het Vrijthof
In the picturesque Vrijthof, one of Maastricht's most attractive squares, surrounded by characteristic Dutch architecture, Museum aan het Vrijthof is one of the city's most important museums. Housed in a 16th-century former home of the Dukes of Brabant, its collections include paintings, sculptures, furniture, silver, porcelain, and glass work from Maastricht. Particular highlights are the Wagner-De Wit collection of works by 17th-century Dutch and Flemish artists, as well as paintings from members of the Hague School, plus sculptures from the Middle Ages. A permanent exhibit, 500 Years Made in Maastricht, spotlights art and industries that have flourished throughout the city's history.
Address: Vrijthof 18, Maastricht
6 The Old Town Walls and Hell Gate
Maastricht's Old Town preserves entire segments of the first circuit of town walls, built around 1229. The wall's most impressive sections are Hell Gate (Helpoort) on St. Bernardusstraat, the oldest town gate in the Netherlands, and the Jeker Tower. Also of note is Onze-Lieve-Vrouwewal, a stretch of old wall offering fine views over the municipal park with its old cannons, as well as over the Maas. The remnants of the town's second circuit of walls date from around 1350.
7 Walking in Maastricht: Wilhelminabrug and St. Servaasbrug
The Wilhelminabrug, a bridge built over the River Maas in the early 1930s, is a good place from which to begin a walking tour of Maastricht's picturesque riverside districts. From here, head to St. Servaasbrug, a splendid seven-arched bridge built in the 13th century and notable for its statue of St. Servatius. Be sure to visit the historic Wyck District on the right bank of the Maas with its remnants of the old town wall.
8 Romantic Valkenburg
Home to the only hilltop castle in the Netherlands, Valkenburg - just 13 kilometers east of Maastricht - has long been a popular holiday resort thanks to its splendid spas. By far the most popular is Thermae 2000, one of the country's largest spa establishments and famous for its warm spring-fed baths and pools, healing mineral waters, and botanical garden. The old town itself is fun to explore. Be sure to see St. Nicolaaskerk, a Late Gothic church dating from the 14th century with a splendid triptych depicting scenes from the life of St. Remigius. Other attractions in the old town are its numerous handsome old houses, such as 17th-century Huis Den Halder, and the even older 15th-century Huis Ost. Along the way, you'll also come to the old town walls, remnants of the 14th-century fortifications, along with the two town gates, the Grendelpoort and the Berkelpoort.
9 De Bisschopsmolen (Bishop's Mill)
One of the surprises you'll find in wandering through Maastricht's back streets is a working water mill that dates from the 14th century. Not only is the mill working, but the flours and grains it grinds are made into breads and pastries at the adjoining bakery. Take a break in the bakery's café and sample the local specialty, Limburgse vlaai, a lattice-topped pie filled with cherries, plums, or apricots.
Address: Stenenbrug 3, Maastricht
10 Natural History Museum
Although small, Maastricht's Natural History Museum (Natuurhistorisch Museum Maastricht) is worth a visit. In a former monastery in the historic Jekerkwartier district, it's notable for its displays illustrating the geological development of the region through exhibits of fossils and local rock types. Highlights include a fascinating cabinet of curiosities where you'll find a rare example of a "rat king," a group of rats joined together by their tails. A biological section with collections of regional flora and a botanical garden on the banks of the River Jeker are also of interest.
Address: De Bosquetplein 7, Maastricht
11 Museumkelder Derlon
Another of Maastricht's smaller museums worth seeing is Museum Derlon. In the basement of the Derlon Hotel, the museum focuses on Roman ruins and artifacts dating from the 2nd to 4th centuries that were discovered during renovations in the early 1980s. A visit reveals sections of the old Roman fort, as well as a sanctuary that includes parts of a temple. Other highlights include a section of cobblestone road, believed to be of Celtic origin; the façade of a sanctuary entrance from around AD 150; the base of a statue of Jupiter; remnants of the old Roman walls and gateway; and numerous items of pottery, glass, and metal.
Address: Kleine Staat 7, Maastricht
12 City Hall and Market Square
The focal point of the lively Market Square is the Dutch Baroque Stadhuis, Maastricht's city hall. Built in the 1650s as a Cloth Hall, it's notable for its fine Neoclassical façade with a handsome doorway approached by an imposing double staircase. The matching stairs were designed to enable the two rulers of Maastricht, the Duke of Brabant and the Prince-Bishop of Liège, to enter simultaneously. Notable features of the interior are its tapestries, stucco ornamentation, ceiling paintings, and fine chimneypieces. Cafes line the edges of the Market Square, which on Wednesday or Friday is the scene of a food market, and on Saturdays is filled with a flea market.
Where to Stay in Maastricht for Sightseeing
Most of the top tourist attractions in Maastricht lie in the compact city center along both sides of the Maas river, and this is the best place to stay if you're visiting for the first time. On the west bank, you'll find the Basilica of St. Servatius; Museum aan het Vrijthof; the old town; and the two main squares, Vrijthof and the Markt. On the other side of the Maas river, the hip Wyck district is also a popular place to stay and is still within walking distance of the old town. Below are some highly-rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: A four-minute stroll to the Basilica of St. Servatius, the evocative Kruisherenhotel Maastricht occupies a light-filled, renovated 15th-century monastery and its Gothic church. In the heart of the old town near posh shops and restaurants, the boutique Derlon Hotel Maastricht has an on-site restaurant and an intimate ambience, while the pet-friendly Crowne Plaza Hotel Maastricht overlooks the river on the east bank, a short stroll to the old town on the other side.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Opposite the central train station in Wyck, the quirky, boutique Kaboom Hotel is about a 12-minute walk from the Bonnefanten Museum and offers excellent value. Right nearby, the aptly-named Hampshire Designhotel is decorated in high style, with bold modern art and a trendy feel. Pets are welcome. Also nearby, Townhouse Hotel Maastricht has a homey feel with a bright book-filled living room and free soup on arrival.
- Budget Hotels: Right on the Markt, Hotel De la Bourse offers compact, cozy rooms above a busy restaurant, while the nearby Hotel La Colombe is cheap and convenient. In a great location between the Maas river and the Markt, Hotel d'Orangerie has quaint rooms in a building dating from 1752.