Mention Maastricht and people will immediately think ‘treaty’. And while this quaint Dutch city will go down in history as the birthplace of the European Union, there’s much more to it than that Maastricht is influenced almost as much by the countries it’s close to (Germany and Belgium) as the Netherlands itself so, like Brussels, it’s multicultural and multilingual. And for non-linguists it’s ideal as almost everyone speaks English. Shopping aside, Maastricht is also great for good food and you’ll notice the cuisine has a certain Gallic flair.
The city’s divided in two by the River Maas. A cheaper alternative is to stay in Wyck, sometimes seen as the poor relation to the city centre but still home to great shops, bars and restaurants. Most of the other attractions are a short stroll across the Maas. If you’re planning a weekend break, be warned the shops close most Sundays and Monday mornings, so be sure to plan ahead.
Where to shop in Maastricht
In fact, Sundays and Monday mornings are the ideal time to go to neighbouring Roermond (about a 30-minute train ride from Maastricht). The McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Roermond opens at 1am and is 15-20 minutes on foot or a short bus ride away from the station through the pretty town. After we visited, a second phase of shops opened, doubling the number to 80.
As well as fashion luminaries like Levi’s and Dolce & Gabbana,the oudet centre has homes stores aplenty, including the only Alessi discount shop in the world and a Bodum store with bargains for the discerning tea and coffee drinker. Alessi fans will be in heaven browsing among design classics like the boat butter dish (a third less than it costs in Britain) and the curvy toothbrush (two thirds less), as well as more unusual finds.
Stokstraat is home to Maastricht’s exclusive jewellers, clothes and homes stores, and is close to a pretty square that offers eating and drinking opportunities for the weary shopper. Also up-market (it’s said to be the Harrods of Maastricht), but much more affordable, is the Vroom & Dreesmann department store (Grote Staat).
If you crave edible souvenirs, try the vinegar and oil shop in Spilstraat. There’s plenty of free samples and a wide range of bottles, stoppers, and draught oils and vinegars to choose from for a bespoke gift. Almost opposite is a tempting deli with cheeses you won’t be able to resist.
Sights worth seeing
The striking Bonnefanten Museum (250 Avenue Ceramique) houses a large collection of art, both modern and pre-19th century, and the building is a work of art in itself. For religious treasures, head for Vrijthof Square, which has two splendid churches, one Catholic and one Protestant The square is also home to the Preuvenemint (22-25 August), a gastronomic festival in which the city’s restaurants tempt the public with their food samples. Another peak period when accommodation may be scarce is in March, as the city plays host to a Europe-wide art and antiques fair.
Where to eat
Le Paradis/La Bonbonniere (I Achter de Comedie) is one of Maastricht’s top eateries, the soups are meals in themselves and the main courses are a visual and taste treat
How to move around
The city’s small enough to walk around easily and, being the oldest in the Netherlands, has picturesque buildings aplenty. You can join one of the Tourist Board’s guided walks to appreciate them fully. In true Dutch style, bikes rule the road, so be careful not to get mown down. You might even decide that if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them!