Guests visiting Maastricht, Holland, can expect to see great art, a bustling city with significant history and culture, and enjoy fine dining and shopping often unparalleled anywhere else in the country. Take a guided tour of the city before seeing the many different attractions and museum within walking distance of the famed Vrijthof Square.

More ideas: Best Weekend Getaways, Best Day Trips

History

Maastricht is both the capital as well as the largest city in the province of Limburg in Holland. The city sprung from a previous Roman settlement, ultimately turning into a religious center in medieval times. In the 16th Century, the city was used as a garrison and, in the 19th Century, it progressed into a leader of the industrial revolution. Maastricht was the birthplace of the euro and is now home to over 1600 different national heritage sites (the second most in the Netherlands - behind just Amsterdam). The town boasts a population of over three million people, not including the thousands of visitors who come to the city on an annual basis. The city borders Belgium.

Permanent Attractions

Some of the most popular attractions in Maastricht revolve around sightseeing of the various interesting and often historical landmarks in the area. Below are a few of the many highlights in the city.

- Het Vrijthof - If there is one place in the city that guests should make sure not to miss when visiting Maastricht, it is Het Vrijthof. The square, located in the heart of the city, has been attracting visitors since the medieval ages (when pilgrims would come visit the grave of Saint Servatius). It is now the home of many different outdoor events and cafes.

- Basilica (St. Servatius) - This historic church (in honor of Saint Servatius - an Armenian missionary that died and was buried in town in 384) offers visitors a chance to see the many church relics as well as the gravesite. It has become a pilgrimage area for religious visitors once every seven years (starting back in the 14th Century). Even for non-religious visitors, the architecture is worth seeing (a mixture of Gothic, Baroque, and Romanesque styles).

- Basilica (Our Lady) - Also known as Onze-Lieve-Vrouwebasiliek (in the native tongue), this Roman Catholic church can be traced back to 11th Century. The most popular area to visit at this Basilica is the statue of Our Lady (Star of the Sea) due to claims that healing miracles have occurred at her feet. The basilica is also part of the biggest museum in Holland, and the square it is located on (Our Dear Lady Square) has previously been voted the most beautiful in Holland.

- Sint-Servaasbrug - Also known as the Saint Servatius Bridge, this attraction was created in the 13th Century out of stone (developed to connect both banks of the Meuse) and is one of the most recognizable structures in town. It is located walking distance from the train station and is the oldest known bridge in Holland.

There are also numerous, interesting and unique museums for guests to visit during a trip to Maastricht. Below is just a sampling.

- Bonnefantenmuseum - This fine arts museum is located in the heart of Maastricht and houses a unique combo of both contemporary and old artwork. The first floor of the museum focuses on Dutch, Flemish, and Italian paintings as well as a huge collection of medieval sculpture. The second-floor highlights contemporary artwork, focusing on Italian Arte Povera, Concept Art, and American Minimalism. Most of the art at the museum is dated between 1200 and 1600.

- Museum aan het Vrijhthof - With a focus on the history of Maastricht, this museum uses art and historical artifacts to tell the story and is housed in a building affectionately called the “Spanish Government.” There are various 17th Century Flemish and Dutch paintings that came from the school in The Hague. They also have sculptures from the Renaissance period and Middle Ages. It showcases a variety of temporary and rotating exhibits, but it also features a permanent collection “500 Years (Made in Maastricht)” that takes visitors through 500 years of the city’s history.

- Centre Ceramique - Showcasing archaeological finds like glasswork, pottery, instruments, Japanese prints, and school posters, the Centre Ceramique features products that were important to residents during the Industrial Revolution. There are also other interesting artifacts like a horse skeleton (from the 18th Century), a 1st Century (BC) coin collection, and a pair of shoes dating back to the 12th Century.

- NAiM - Previously just a satellite museum for the larger Nai museum located in Rotterdam, the museum has now become an individual institution with its own collection of temporary exhibits and lectures focusing on architecture. The staff there also does research on social developments and demographics, including how they affect Europe as a country.

- Gouvernement Building - Located on a small island in the Meuse, this building is more than just the center of Maastricht’s government. The building itself is a work of art and the interior features over a thousand works of art.

Below are a few other attractions to see and do during a visit to Maastricht. Make sure to allow time to do them all.

- Saint Peter’s Caves - Guests can tour the caves under Maastricht, which have been excavated for over a thousand years. Lead by a tour guide who will educate visitors on the history of the caves (including how they were previously used as refuge during the war), tours take about an hour and can be catered for individual interests.

- Walking Tours - Walking tours of Maastricht last about two hours total and can be taken either through the city or the fortification areas. Stop by the tourist office for additional information.

- Saint Peter’s Fortress - Built on Saint Peter’s Mount in the beginning of the 18th Century, the fortress is only accessible by taking a guided tour. Guests will be shown the secret water well, the cannon gallery, underground tunnels, and embrasures and last just over an hour.

Special Events

Special events in Maastricht are offered on a fairly frequent basis. The website provides a full and comprehensive calendar with additional information. Below are a few local highlights.

Held in April, Maastricht is home to King’s Day. King’s Day is a national holiday that combines the best of old and new traditions, designed to honor the birth of a new king. The festival is held in the open air, and guests often bring picnic blankets and vendors selling their goods. Music, fresh food, and festivities welcome guests from all across the country and the world.

In August, the city hosts a four-day long party in the famed Vrijthof Square that focuses on the best that the restaurants in the city have to offer. Guests can wander along the square, enjoy a glass of wine, and dine on small plates that are offered by some of the top restaurants in Maastricht. More than thirty stands are usually present, and admission is offered free of charge, although each restaurant will charge for its own dishes. Live music is also common, and this is one of the most popular events in the city.

In November, guests can enjoy the Jumping Indoor event at the convention center. The event culminates with the Grand Prix, but the event is more than just equestrian based. There are vendors selling jewelry, art, fashion, and antiques, a children’s show, and top-rated horseback riders showcasing the very best that dressage has to offer in a family friendly environment.

Finally, during the holiday season, guests can enjoy the magic that is Maastricht during Christmas. There is a Christmas Market, an outdoor ice rink, and a sea of Christmas lights and decorated Christmas trees. Follow the pre-planned “light route” to see the best the city has to offer. There is also a Ferris wheel, from which guests can see the whole city from the air.

Dining and Shopping

There are many options in Maastricht for hungry guests. Visitors stopping by the Centre Ceramique can choose one of the two restaurants there (both offering pastries, sandwiches, and coffee). Stop by The Bosch Brewery, see the oldest windmill in the world (still in operation and used to create fresh, local bread), or check out the local vineyards. In addition, Maastricht offers a huge variety of shopping options for both designer as well as local handcrafted merchandise. There are outdoor markets, indoor mall shopping, and shops located all along the square for visitors to peruse and take home a small piece of Maastricht before leaving. The area is also home to the world’s largest art fair, TEFAF.