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Boekhandel Dominicanen is a unique and beautiful bookstore located in Maastricht -- a city in the southern Netherlands. Originally consecrated in 1294, this church served as a Roman Catholic place of worship until it was shut down in the late 1700s. Between then and the bookstore’s 2006 debut, this grand old building in the city center served as a number of curious operations.

It was formerly a bike storage facility, a printing house, a warehouse, a stable, a party venue, and a record-keeping archive. Here’s why Boekhandel Dominicanen -- or Bookstore Dominican in English -- is worth a visit.

Inside Boekhandel Dominicanen.

Sacral Structures Meet Modern Media

Rather than demolishing the once-neglected structure, a team of architects and designers worked together in the early 2000s to repurpose the Gothic church. Some key team members were Rob Brouwers from SATINJNplus Architects and interior design firm Merkx+Girod. They transformed a place of worship into a usable contemporary bookshop.

But the structure’s beautiful sacral elements weren’t sacrificed for functionality. Instead, features like stained glass windows and intricate stonework were preserved. Frescoes from the 16th century were restored to their former glory and now provide a scenic backdrop for over 50,000 books. The choir loft was even converted into a nook for a coffee shop. Additionally, since the church had so much vertical real estate, the designers built up, adding a book tower to maximize retail space.

Clearly, this unique concept is working, as over 700,000 visitors trek to Boekhandel Dominicanen annually. Shoppers can find books in English, Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, and German as well as a music department with both vinyl albums and CDs. Visitors should be on the lookout for the dreamy and famous 14th-century painting of the life of Thomas Aquinas, believed to be the oldest of the subject in the world. This independent bookshop is widely considered one of the finest and most beautiful in all the world. It’s even won architecture awards since its reincarnation.

Inside Boekhandel Dominicanen.

Other Reasons To Visit Maastricht

The university town of Maastricht is the perfect backdrop for this historic shop as it has over 1,600 sites on the Dutch national historic register -- more than any other Dutch city, save for Amsterdam. Book lovers and other tourists will all delight in the splendor of this site. It’s a must-see when visiting the Netherlands! And with its central location, Boekhandel Dominicanen is easy to find, not out of the way. In fact, the church-turned-bookshop is close to the red tower of Sint-Janskerk, which provides a great birds-eye view of the city.

Inside Boekhandel Dominicanen.

Tips For Bookworms

For the best experience, travelers should try to visit Boekhandel Dominicanen early in the morning during the week to avoid the crowds. Be sure to check the events schedule for the bookshop, too, as it hosts over 150 events a year.

To more fully embrace the converted church theme, travelers can stay at Maastricht’s lovely five-star property: Kruisherenhotel Maastricht. This beauty of a hotel is situated within a repurposed 15th-century Dominican church and monastery. It was once a house of Roman Catholic worship just like the Boekhandel Dominicanen but now offers upscale accommodations.

Want to see more show-stopping bookstores? Journey south and west to Porto, where you can meet Livraria Lello: Portugal’s stunning bookshop. Also check out these six unique, must-see bookstores around the globe.

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