Weekend in Maastricht with Kids
The kids and I ended up in Maastricht after traveling with Jeff for work, but now we are looking forward to his next trip. We have a laundry list of things we cannot wait to try. Our Maastricht trip was an easy one-night, two-day trip. Turns out Maastricht with kids is a great time!
We stayed at the Townhouse Hotel in Maastricht and it turned out to be the perfect place to stay. They were amazing with the kids, our room was big enough for all four of us and the price was right. Oh! And they have soup when you check in – it was delicious. Who doesn’t want a snack upon hotel check-in? You can find my full review here.
There is a lot to see just by walking around in Maastricht. The Townhouse Hotel is just across the river Maas from most of Maastricht’s attractions. We chose to walk over the Sint Servaasbrug, an arched stone footbridge over the Maas River (also: Meuse). We were taken off guard by this bridge as the bike portion is unusable when the bridge is up, but the pedestrian portion moves with the bridge. This allows pedestrians to use the bridge even while it is moving up and down to allow ships to pass underneath. Our first crossing included this transition to accommodate a container ship. In case this is not clear – the bridge was moving up and down while we were crossing it and I barely noticed! I’m amazed by Dutch ingenuity. This is a good spot to spend a few minutes with your kids because it’s really neat for the kids to be able to look down on a passing ship.
Once across the bridge to your right are the boat docks. On this trip we did not take any of the boat tours, but it is on our short list for next time. (There are several offerings including a city tour, a pancake boat, a trip to the caves, or even a trip to Liege, Belgium. You can see all your options here.) Make sure you check with the boat operators as the tides can cause problems with these tours. A bad tide situation may lengthen your trip.
There are several churches worth seeing in Maastricht. I know some people with kids avoid going into old churches, but we usually pop in for a short visit. There is usually plenty to see to keep the kids busy. The Basilica of Our Lady sits near the water and is on the South side of the City. The Basilica of Sint Servaas is the church with two towers in the center of town. Sint Servaas shares one of the city’s two squares with the Protestant Church of Sint Janskerk.
The other square sits outside of town hall. When we visited it was hosting a large fabric market. I thoroughly enjoyed walking among all the fabric and shoppers.
The Dutch love to peer into windows and we are slowly embracing the habit. We randomly found a swimming pool built below the building and the kids (and Jeff) loved peeking in on the swimming lessons.
Worth checking out is the Dominican Church that has been turned into a bookstore. Seeing the modern bookstore design with the old church is quiet beautiful. There is a cafe inside and a decent sized children’s section (all the way in the back on the right, adjacent to the cafe). We shopped around for a bit enjoying both the books and the architecture. We found a lovely Dutch visual dictionary for the kids as well.
Maastricht is also home to the Kruisherenhotel, a hotel built into an old church. We did not make it to that part of town to investigate. The online photos look lovely and it is on my list for our next visit.
The kids’ favorite part of the city walk was Hell’s Gate (also: Helpoort). Here, there are remnants of the old city wall, cannons and the old entrance into the city. It is the oldest remaining city gate in the Netherlands. H is very into castles, so this was basically a castle playground for him. The rain had just started to fall, and honestly we are getting used to it, so we popped out the umbrellas and continued exploring.
There are plenty of places to eat as you wander the city. The staff at the Townhouse Hotel, after asking us if we needed a steakhouse (Get it? We’re Americans.), told us we would be happy with any place on the squares. Check out the menus and find one that works for you. We chose Cafe de Belsj, mostly because it looked good and it had started to rain. The food was good and they were happy to have us, even with the kids. H chose a table that was on an elevated platform in the corner – so we could see the entire restaurant.
The next morning we walked just a few blocks from the Townhouse Hotel to pick up sandwiches from Bread and Delicious for a picnic later in the day. This shop serves tea and coffee, but also had a wide variety of breads, sandwiches and pastry treats (oh, and macaroons). The gentleman helping us was happy to make a cheese sandwich for H, an item that wasn’t on the menu. We retrieved our car from Townhouse Hotel parking and were on our way for a day on, in and near the caves of St. Peter.
The caves in Maastrict are actually a large quarry running underneath the plateau. So, it’s not a cave nor on a mountain. The name Caves of Mount St. Peter has stuck and that is what everyone refers to them as, so I will as well.
Stop one was the Natuurspeeltuin De Merregelhoof playground built near the old entrance to the caves. You can actually see where the cave is boarded up. This playground will cost you 1.50 Euro each (even adults pay) but it is full of fun adventure activities. (Click here for a video of the kids enjoying a few of the new-to-this-American playground activities.) There is even a pool here, although it was too cold to swim when we visited. We had our picnic at one of the tables on the playground.
We then drove 5 min to the cave and fort tour place. Both tours (as well as the other cave tour which is only done in Dutch) are run by Maastricht Underground. The combo ticket was only 10 Euro per person (kids 4 and under free) and worked out great for us. The tours we were on were done in English. (The tour guide asks all the Dutch folks if they can do the tour in English instead of doing a dual-language tour.)
The Fort St. Peter tour was first. Our tour guide, Paul, was amazing. He engaged H the entire time. You venture inside the fort where you need lanterns to see where you are going. It is a great way to really understand why the cities were fortified and how those fortifications changed as weaponry changed. H got to drop a stone down a well, pretend to fire a cannon, walk through a secret door and other amusing things. Paul really integrated him into the tour so H had a great time. Little O slept through the whole thing in the carrier. The top of the fort houses a World War II bunker, used for spotting planes, and now has outstanding views all the way to Belgium.
We had a 30 min break between tours so we grabbed some cake and coffee at the on-site cafe. (See how we are acclimating to Dutch life!)
The cave tour was a bit more crowded and a mix-up with spacing of the lanterns during the first part of the tour led to some head bumps on our way into the cave. Once lighting and spacing was figured out we spent over an hour wandering these old marlstone (like chalk) mining tunnels. H soon fell asleep and poor Jeff had to carry him for most of the tour including a part where we were asked to “find our way” down a corridor in the dark. Yikes.
The highlight of the cave tour was our visit into the vault that the Germans used in WWII to store the most iconic Dutch paintings so they weren’t destroyed in the war. 700 paintings, including Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” were stored here. It appears that the vault is not typically on the tour, but we were able to go inside where the wire racks remain and the dehumidifier system is still working.
The cave tour was amazing, although it raised more questions than it answered. A mushroom grower who uses the caves came up a few times but we were not able to get answers on where he works or what he actually grows (we assume mushrooms). Many Jews used the caves to escape to Belgium during WWII but that was never expanded upon either. I’ve added the caves to my “need to read about” list and hopefully I will be able to learn a bit more to share. To be clear, this was an amazing tour. But sadly, we just wanted more!
When the cave tour was over we had a long drive back to Delft, so we piled in the car and headed home. Traffic can get heavy on the weekends. We spent most of our drive home discussing all the things we want to do next time Jeff’s work pulls us to Maastricht. The Fort Willem adventure playground, the Hoensbroek Castle, a playground in an old church and a boat tour down the River Maas all await!