Maastricht is a beautiful, historic city
in the Netherlands. I went there in search of medieval churches, charming
plazas, and – best of all – a delicious local delicacy called vlaai.
I had arrived in Maastricht just before noon, on a train from Eindhoven. As I left the station and began my exploration of the city center, I quickly noticed how different Maastricht felt from other destinations in the Netherlands. Honestly, if I hadn’t known better, I could’ve sworn I’d crossed the border into a different country altogether!
The most important reason is the
city’s location. Maastricht is located in the southern tip of the Netherlands,
right next to the Belgian border, and very close to Germany. This close
proximity to both Belgium and Germany has influenced the city’s architecture,
culture and cuisine – and even its language. Most of the locals here speak
Limburgish, a blend of Dutch and German that’s very different from the national
language spoken up north.
And Limburgish isn’t the only language
you’ll hear in Maastricht. As I wandered through the city’s narrow, cobblestone
streets, I also picked up traces of Dutch, Flemish, German and French, not to
mention English – the main language spoken by the city’s large population of
international students. It seems that, despite it being a lesser-known city, Maastricht
still attracts a fair amount of tourists and day-trippers from neighboring
countries, as well as the Netherlands itself.
It’s hardly a surprise, though. It’s a
stunning and incredibly charming place, and definitely worth a visit, whether
you live nearby or not!
* * *
One of the city’s charms is its gorgeous
historic center, located on the banks of the river Meuse (or Maas in Dutch). Maastricht is one of the
oldest cities in the Netherlands, originally established by the Romans, and its
historic center is full of impressive architectural landmarks, centuries-old
churches, and large squares surrounded by stately houses.
Not surprisingly, the city is home to
over 1600 national heritage sites, more than any other place in the Netherlands
except for Amsterdam.
But this isn’t just a city for history
geeks. Maastricht is also known for its good food and lively bar scene. Many
people come here to enjoy a delicious candle-lit dinner, or to try some local craft
beers at one of the many bars you’ll find dotted across the city. All in all,
it sounded like the perfect place to
spend an afternoon.
As I always do before a trip, I had
researched Maastricht the day before, compiling a list of every historic
location I wanted to visit. To be honest, I was a little worried I wouldn’t be
able to cram it all in one day – there was so much to see here! – but I was
determined to cross as many places off my list as possible, without rushing
things too much.
Lucky for me, the city center is
relatively small, and many of its highlights are located within walking
distance of each other. In fact, it took me less than fifteen minutes to reach
the first item on my list: the Saint Servatius Bridge (or Sint Servaasbrug in Dutch), an arched stone footbridge dating from
the 13th century, one of several bridges crossing the river Meuse.
The bridge was named after Saint
Servatius, patron saint and first bishop of Maastricht, and it’s known as the
oldest surviving bridge in the Netherlands – even though it was largely rebuilt
after World War II. Beyond it lies the city’s historic center, and as I walked
across the narrow stone bridge, I caught glimpses of impressive churches in the
distance, their towers rising high above rows of picturesque houses.
I couldn’t wait to see it all up
* * *
Stepping off the bridge on the western
side of the river, I immediately plunged into the maze of winding streets
beyond, following my pre-planned route. I was heading straight for the Markt, the city’s market square and the
location of one of its most iconic buildings: the City Hall (Stadhuis).
I’d chosen a sunny afternoon in
October for my visit, and the atmosphere in the city was laidback and cheerful.
The streets were filled with people out shopping or on a walk during their
lunchbreak, talking animatedly with each other, their laughing voices echoing across
the cobblestones. I felt myself relax a little as I walked, my worries about
whether or not I would be able to visit every single item on my list slowly ebbing
Looking back now, I guess that’s what
Maastricht does to you – it makes you feel happy and relaxed, as if life is
exactly the way it should be.
I reached the market square after a
couple of minutes, passing through Maastricht’s busy shopping streets. The
squareturned out to be a large, traffic-free
plaza surrounded by stores and restaurants. It was empty that day save for a
handful of stalls selling local delicacies – oliebollen, hot waffles, grilled chicken and fresh herring.
Since I hadn’t had lunch yet, I was
tempted to buy a snack, but I managed to stop myself. After all, I was saving my
appetite for something better!
Dominating the square was the City
Hall. This impressive, stately building was constructed in the 17th
century, during the country’s famous Golden Age, and is a stunning example of
Dutch classicism. Gazing up at its tall windows, I was glad I’d included it in
my tour of the city.
From the Markt, it was a short walk to the Vrijthof, the largest and best-known square in Maastricht. If
you’re strapped for time, you have to
at least come here – it’s such a beautiful, atmospheric place!
The Vrijthof is a romantic, tree-lined plaza paved with cobblestones. Bordering
the plaza are several historic landmarks, such as the 16th-century
Spanish Government Building (Spaans
Gouvernement) and the Basilica of Saint Servatius, a Romanesque church
dedicated to the city’s patron saint.
Directly adjacent to the Basilica lies
another church: the Sint-Janskerk, a
Gothic church with a single deep red tower. It was originally painted with
coats of ox blood – these days, they just use red paint.
Opposite the Basilica, on the other
side of the square, stands a row of restaurants with lively, open-air terraces.
It’s a great place to have lunch or dinner – or, if you’re not hungry, to sit
down with a cold beer and just enjoy the view. This is also where you’ll find In Den Ouden Vogelstruys, the oldest
café in the city dating from the year 1730.
* * *
I had been wandering around the city
for nearly two hours when my stomach began to rumble. Thankfully, I came across
a cozy little café called Lunch En Zo,
where I managed to snag the last table available and ordered bagel with salmon.
By that time, I’d visited several more
historic sites in Maastricht, including the Basilica of Our Lady, a medieval church
located on the edge of a small, leafy square. It’s one of the strangest
churches I’ve ever seen – with its
massive westwork and lack of windows, it looked more like a fortress than a
place of worship.
I also visited the Dominicanen
Bookstore, a unique store located inside a former 13th-century
Dominican church. In 2008, the Guardian named it one of the world’s most
beautiful bookshops, and I can only agree. Its gorgeous interior has been kept
mostly intact, and you can still see the stained-glass windows and high-painted
ceilings of the old church.
I actually returned later that day –
on my way back to the station – to wander around a little bit more before
catching a train back to Eindhoven. That’s how much I loved that place!
After lunch, I had about two hours of
daylight left, so I slung my camera around my neck and continued my walk
through the city. This time, I headed south towards the Jekerkwartier, a neighborhood
named after the river Jeker, a small tributary of the Meuse.
The Jekerkwartier is a dream for
history lovers. The neighborhood is full of beautiful historic houses, old
churches, and towering medieval city walls. I wandered around the area for a
long time, following the river Jeker where it ran beneath the walls, and then crossing
through a small gate in the wall to visit the neighborhood itself.
On my way, I also passed through
Hell’s Gate (Helpoort), an imposing
gate with two tall towers. It’s known as the oldest gate in the Netherlands,
dating back over 700 years, and was built into the city wall. It’s an
impressive structure, and as I passed underneath it, I almost felt like I’d
gone back in time to the middle ages.
* * *
When the sun began to set, casting
long shadows across the narrow, winding streets, I went in search of my final
destination: the Bishop’s Mill (Bisschopsmolen).
You can’t visit Maastricht without having a piece of vlaai – a sort of pie that’s famous throughout the country – and
I’d heard the Bishop’s Mill had the best vlaai
in the city.
The Bishop’s Mill is the oldest watermill
in the Netherlands still used today. Adjacent to the mill is an artisanal
bakery, where I sat down at a small wooden table and enjoyed a delicious cherry
vlaai and a hot cup of coffee. It was
the perfect way to end my afternoon in this stunning historic city!
Hi! I'm Marieke, a freelance writer and content creator from the Netherlands with a passion for travel and photography. On my travel blog called Echoes from Elsewhere, I share stories from my adventures around the world.