Utrecht is a charming city in the center of the Netherlands. Visitors to the country sometimes overlook the town in favor of larger cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam – which are awesome too but why not check out Utrecht as well?
One thing that makes Utrecht unique is the design of its canals. Unlike other Dutch cities, the canals of Utrecht have broad walkways (called werven or wharves) almost level with the water as well as spaces for cafes and warehouses carved into the canal sides. The lovely trees growing from these banks also make Utrecht a beautiful place for a walk.
Utrecht is home to many students due to the university there and thus has a lively atmosphere.
Here are some of our favorite sights to see and things to do in this lovely city.
Utrecht is full of museums, big and small. Here are a few of our faves.
Spoorweg or Railway Museum
This fascinating museum is dedicated to trains and is located in a lovely former train station at Maliebaan. The museum is definitely oriented to children but adults who enjoy history, engineering and transportation memorabilia will also enjoy it. In fact, it is one of my favorite museums in the Netherlands! Many old train engines and cars are housed here including the compartments for the King and Queen. There is even a fun ride and interactive exhibits. Definitely worth a visit!
Another Utrecht museum that is great for kids is the Speelklok Museum.But you know what? This museum is also stellar for adults interested in history and music. Don’t speak Dutch and wondering what a “speelklok” is? Basically this refers to a clock that plays music, like a grandfather clock. This museum has some amazing examples of clocks but the most fascinating items are probably the collection of street organs and dance organs. The museum staff leads regular tours through the exhibits and plays these antique machines. You can imagine the dancers twirling to the tunes. You’ll also find music boxes and many other fascinating items. The museum is housed in a gorgeous old church which is also a sight to see. Highly recommended!
Also don’t miss:
- Museum Catharijneconvent – a large collection of medieval religious art housed in a Gothic convent
- Nijntje Museum – a museum dedicated to the children’s character also known as Miffy
- Centraal Museum – arts museum with a range of pieces including paintings and artifacts
- Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art– gallery of contemporary Australian Aboriginal art
- Museum voor het Kruideniersbedrijf – charming replica of a traditional grocers
UTRECHT SHOPPING & ACTIVITIES
The city center of Utrecht is filled with amazing vintage, antique and junk shops. Looking for a unique item to take home? Hit up some of the small shops and pick up an old trinket, much better than some mass produced tourist crap made in Asia and shipped overseas. There are tons of these shops along the Oudegracht, just go for a stroll and pop into any that strike your fancy.
In Utrecht on a nice day? Rent a kayak or canoe and go for a paddle along the canals. The Oudegracht curves around the old city center, partly following the ancient main branch of the Rhine river. You can rent these boats along the Oudegracht from Kanoverhuurutrecht. This is much more fun than doing so in Amsterdam as there is a lot less traffic on the canals.
One of Utrecht’s most iconic monuments is the Domtoren. You can’t miss it! The highest church tower in the Netherlands can be seen in the distance from everywhere in the center. Climb the 465 steps of the tower with a guided tour for amazing views over the city. You can also visit the Domkerk, which are the remains of the cathedral. Did you know a Roman fortress used to stand in the same spot? You can see metal plates in the street marking its walls.
A hidden jewel of Utrecht is the adjacent Pandhof or Kloosterhof gardens. These gardens originate in the 14th century, and are now a beautiful place to sit and relax.
UTRECHT EATS & DRINKS
Utrecht has many great cafes, restaurants and bars. Here are just a few ideas for places to whet your whistle.
- Start your day off right with a coffee from Village Coffee & Music or 30ml.
- Pop into Stach for a tasty sandwich to eat canalside or at the park.
- Craving something fresh and healthy? Hop into SLA for a big salad.
- Get some tasty Thai street style food at Yum Saap. So good! And the decor is great!
- Try Syrian food with a European twist at Syr, an innovative restaurant that also has a cool cultural program.
- Go for some craft beers and food at the new Oproer Brouwerij. Tasty local beer and good food!
- Have a Belgian brew in a beautiful old church at Olivier Cafe.
Did you take a day trip to Utrecht or will you spend a night or two? There are often less expensive deals to be had in the smaller cities, and there might be vacancies here when Amsterdam is full! Check out today’s best lodging deals.