The mysterious marl caves of Maastricht

Maastricht is a beautiful shopping city, but has a lot more to offer than the many nice boutiques. The city of Saint Servaas also has a very rich history. In addition to the stately churches, monumental mansions and cozy squares, you can experience a fun adventure in the marlstone caves of Maastricht near the Fortress of Saint Peter.

I read a lot of nice reviews about the Sint-Pietersfort (Fortress of Saint Peter) and the Maastricht caves on Tripadvisor. To avoid queues, I bought my tickets in advance. The marl caves and the Fort have little to do with each other, but throughout history their paths crossed quite a few times.

marl caves maastricht

The landscape around the marl caves of Maastricht. Beautiful, isn’t it?

History

The caves of Maastricht aren’t actually a natural phenomenon. Some 800 years ago, Limburg started digging for marl (sandstone and limestone). This resulted in a gigantic network of about 250 underground corridors in Maastricht and Valkenburg. In total, the caves span over hundreds of miles.

Sand and limestone is very valuable and was used at the time to build houses, monasteries, castles and churches. Farmers chopped giant blocks of marl and loaded them on horse carts. Sometimes those horses didn’t see daylight for days or even weeks! So digging for marl was actually another form of mining.

In the course of history, the marl caves of Maastricht have had many different functions. In the 18th century, there were fights with the French troops that took place underground. You could even live in the caves at some point, but it was also a good shelter for criminals. During the Second World War, there were often people who wanted to stay out of the hands of the Germans who came to shelter here. Today, however, it’s only bats that hide here.

The most important and famous caves

In the past, the longest of all these corridors were located under the Sint-Pietersberg (Saint Peter’s mountain) in Maastricht. Today the largest marlstone cave is the Sibberberg in Valkenburg.

The most important and famous caves are:

  • The ones in Maastricht:
    • The Northern halls and the Zonneberg under the Sint-Pietersberg
    • The Jesuit mountain in the Cannerberg
  • The ones in Valkenburg:
    • The Municipal Caves (Gemeentegrot)
    • The Velvet Cave (Fluweelengrot)
    • The Sibbergroeve

The other parts of the limestone caves in Limburg are closed due to the risk of collapse. Only ’80 km’ (50 miles) remains of the original corridors.

caves maastricht

In almost every corridor you’ll find a beautifully painted artwork. You won’t believe your eyes!

A visit to the marl caves of Maastricht

A tour of the caves under the Sint-Pietersberg in Maastricht is fun. You smell and relive the whole history of these strange corridors. In the limestone you can still see the traces of the miners that once worked here. You’ll see cart tracks, work material that is left-behind, but also fossils and to my great surprise even works of art!

The underground workers made beautiful scenes on the sandy walls during almost two hundred years. To do this, they only used coal. The result is breathtaking and will also distract you from the cool temperatures in the caves. Winter or summer: it’s always 11 degrees celcius (51,8 fahrenheit) here! But what gave me the most goose bumps was the creepy stories about people that got lost in the caves. Due to the lack of light and heat, one couldn’t survive more than three days here.

Exaggerated, you think? Our group tried to walk only 60 meters (200 ft) in complete darkness. The first 5 seconds were fun, but once those past, it got rather creepy… The enthusiasm disappeared like snow in the sun and soon a lot of kids started whining so they could go back upstairs.

Once outside, our pupils had to adapt to the daylight once again, but the caves in Maastricht definitely left an impression on me. Definitely worth a visit!

maastricht marl caves

It’s quite exciting to walk through the marl caves of Maastricht with such a small group.

Accessibility

The caves under the St. Pietersberg in Maastricht are very easy to reach from the center. In a beautiful walk of half an hour you’ll see the entrance. The directions can be obtained from the Visitor Center in the center of Maastricht, or with a smartphone app like Google Maps.

You can also take city bus 9 (direction Sint-Pieter) to the marl caves. You have to get off at the second stop (Sint-Pietersberg) on the Mergelweg. From there you have to walk another 5 minutes to the caves.

Address: Luikerweg 71, Maastricht

Special guided tours in the caves of Maastricht

You can book different tours. There are, for example, special tours for children and disabled visitors. Some other interesting tours are:

  • A combination visit to the North Caves with a visit to the Sint-Pieter Fort.
  • In the Zonneberg caves you can also follow a guided tour on an autoped.
  • There are also canal cruise on the Maas which are combined with a visit to the caves
maastricht caves marl

At some places the marl caves of Maastricht are very high and wide.

Entrance tickets

Single tickets for Grotten Noord (Sint-Pietersberg):

  • Adults: €6.75
  • Children (4-12 years): €5.30
  • A tour lasts about an hour.

Combi tickets for the Fort of Saint Peter and the North Caves

  • Adults: €10.40
  • Children (4-12 years): €8
  • The total tour lasts about two hours.

You can purchase tickets via maastrichtunderground.nl, the Visitor Center in the center of Maastricht or on site.

For the cruise on the Maas with a visit to the caves under the Sint-Pietersberg, you pay €16.75 as an adult. Children pay €10.95. More information about departure times and booking these tickets can be found on the website of shipping company Stiphout.

Some extra tips

  • Bring a jacket or a warm sweater, because it really can get quite cold once you’re down!
  • Are you visiting with a wheelchair? Then make sure that you have a manual version. The grounds are quite irregular and make it difficult to operate electric wheelchairs.
  • Dogs are allowed.
  • Book your tickets in advance to avoid queues.
  • You can’t visit the caves without a guide.

Some extra fun facts

  • During the Second World War, the Night Watch (famous painting) of Rembrandt was hidden here.
  • In 1640, four clergymen visited the caves under St. Peter’s Mountain. They explored the caves, tied to a wire, but when it was time to go back, their safety line was broken and they could no longer find the way back out.
  • To find your way back out of the marl caves, you have to look at the digging direction. You always dig the mountain IN, never OUT!
  • The corridors are about 2 to 10 meters high and 3 to 5 meters wide / 6.5 ft to 33 ft high and 10 ft to 16.5 ft wide .
    In some caves, parties and Christmas markets are organized. Curious about these fun events? Then make sure to also read my report about the Christmas caves of Valkenburg.
marl maastricht caves valkenburg

In Valkenburg, wonderful Christmas markets are organized annually in the Municipal Caves and in the Velvet Cave.

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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.
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