Although Amsterdam is undeniably on everyone’s bucket lists, 20 minutes out of the capital of the Netherlands is the beautiful city of Utrecht. A little city with everything that Holland is known for including the canals, windmills and cheese markets but with a special dose charm.
One of the fastest growing cities in the Netherlands, with its friendly, family oriented people, active culture and rich history, Utrecht is a place that I would 100% encourage anyone to make time for on their trip to the land of the tulips.
Utrecht Travel Guide
THINGS TO DO IN UTRECHT
When to travel to Utrecht
Spring and Summer: temperatures in Utrecht can go up to the mid-twenties (Celsius) and it’s usually sunny and very pleasant. You’ll want to pack light and feel free to embrace the summer dresses and floral prints (which I certainly always do). A jacket or raincoat is also always a good idea because there could be showers every now and then.
Winter: Utrecht can get as cold as below zero degrees Celsius during the winter time, so you’ll need to be prepared to layer up. A warm waterproof winter coat with a hood is advisable as it can rain quite a bit during winter. And if it snows it can get very wet and sludgy so you’ll want a good pair of winter boots as well.
A lot of people prefer to visit the Netherlands during tulip season in mid-April but things do get very busy around this time. If you aren’t too fussed about the tulips, early autumn is also a beautiful time to visit because the crowds have died down a bit and the weather can be quite pleasant.
How to get to Utrecht
Utrecht itself does not have an airport so if you’re flying from outside the country, the nearest airport is Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, from which there are frequent direct trains into Utrecht Centraal Station. ISimply follow the signs at the airport or ask at the information desk, they’re very friendly and helpful.
The trip is around 20 minutes, trains are double deckered and there is plenty of space if you have lots of bags or luggage.
Once in Utrecht, public transport is easily available to help you make your way around the city. Trams, trains and buses run frequently and you can either buy a railcard at the station which you can top up (recommended) or you can purchase a day ticket for the destination you need to get to.
With buses specifically, you can still pay in cash with the driver when you get on.
The easiest way to get around in Utrecht, as is the culture in much of the Netherlands, is by bicycle. The country is very bike friendly, with wide bike lanes and people are very patient with you if they can see that you don’t quite know your way around. Bonus: this way you’ll get the authentic Dutch experience.
Where to stay in Utrecht – Hotels in Utrecht
There are plenty of beautiful places to stay in the ever-growing city of Utrecht. Here are some of my favourites!
Unique things to do in Utrecht
Dom Tower & St Martin’s Cathedral
The pride and joy of historical Utrecht, the Dom Tower stands proudly among the canals on the city skyline and is one of the must see things in Utrecht.
Standing at 112 meters, it remains the highest church tower in the Netherlands and has stood since 1321, never actually having been completed. A storm in 1674 destroyed the uncompleted nave, leaving the tower standing on its own and the remaining section of the Cathedral remains unconnected to it, separated by a street and Domplein square.
Visitors can usually tour the iconic structure and there are plenty of activities throughout the year around the tower, such as concerts and festivities which reflect the vibrant and colourful Dutch way of life.
However, the structure is currently under reconstruction.
Visitors and locals can also tour the beautiful Cathedral wherein people can pray, as well as view the various art exhibitions and religious celebrations that are held within.
Houg Catherijne & shopping
Boasting over 150 stores, Houg Catherijne in Utrecht has got all your shopping sorted in one of the biggest indoor shopping centres in the Netherlands. From local brands to international names, from food to designer bags you’ve got it all right there for your perusing!
Located right outside Utrecht Centraal Station, it’s right in the centre of the city and is continually being extended to cater for more stores and restaurants.
Utrecht has almost a dozen museums! They’re all very child-friendly and are all differently aimed at showcasing individual historical and cultural aspects.
The Railway Museum is the Dutch National Railway Museum, established in 1927 and is located about 15 minutes from the station by bus. So much more than a museum, it has amusements including an actual mine lift that takes you through the history of the steam engine and a rollercoaster alongside life-size trains. Fun attractions that makes history so much more interesting to learn.
Centraal Museum is a 20-minute walk from Centraal and is the hub of Utrecht’s art and culture history. It’s open every day of the week except Mondays and is worth a visit to view the largest collection of Rietveld pieces in the world. Rietveld was a famous Dutch furniture designer and architect whose most renowned piece is the Red and Blue Chair.
The Rietveld Schröder House, designed and lived in by Rietveld himself, is also a museum open to the public and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Museum Speelklok is super fun to visit as a family and with the kids because of it’s interactive design. The museum takes you through the history of self-playing musical instruments, with interactive surfaces that leave music flowing through the museum all throughout the day. Walk around and see the evolution of the instruments and at the end of the path, design your own sheet of music to be played in an old-fashioned manual music box. It’s lots of fun and education for kids and adults alike.
The Sonnenborgh Museum and Observatory is the perfect place to watch the universe above and learn about meteorology and astrology.
Feel like being royalty for a day? Visit the Castle de Haar situated approximately an hour (by car or train) outside of Utrecht Centraal to experience the biggest and most luxurious castle in the Netherlands. A beautiful medieval fortress with towers, moats and a drawbridge surrounded by beautiful gardens. A fun day trip for a fairy tale experience.
Tickets for all of the above are very affordable (usually less than €10) but if you get yourself a museum card, you can then enter for free into all of the museums that Utrecht has to offer.
The Tivoli Vrendenburg
Tivoli Vrendenburg is a hive for the young people, with a fun restaurant and internet cafe open during the day, and an incredible 5 music hall venue in the evening.
Each of the rooms is especially acoustically designed for a different genre of music and all the listings can be found on their website.
The Canals & Boat houses
When you think of the Netherlands your mind goes to windmills and canals that elegantly make their way between adorable multicoloured houses. And you’d be right!
Utrecht has got the perfect mix of quiet canals with the most adorable river boathouses as well as the busy city centre with canals that snake their way between the shops and restaurants.
Grab a bite to eat by the canal or take a ride on the riverboats. Hire a bike for the day or walk around with a bag of delicious Dutch potato fries. Whichever way you choose to explore the quintessential Dutch culture, you won’t be disappointed.
De Haar Castle
Located near the village of Haarzuilens, the Den Haar Castle is quite like stepping into a Dutch fairy tale. It’s the largest castle in the Netherlands and it genuinely looks like a scene out of a Disney movie, turrets and pointed rooftops and all!
It takes about 1 hour to get to the castle by train from Utrecht Centraal. The castle itself is a museum, and you do have to pay admission tickets to visit. On the grounds of the castle are beautiful gardens that you can wander around.
Dutch Street Food
I’ve already mentioned the famous Dutch potato fries. It’s impossible to not have a giant bagful as you walk around the city, with nearly every street having somewhere that sells them, with those warm smells just tempting you to indulge, with an unbelievably big selection of sauces.
In the winter, the best thing to have is the warm Kroketten which you can buy out of vending machine type things on the go; they’re basically small breadcrumbed fried food rolls containing, usually as main ingredients, mashed potatoes or ground meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, vegetables, and mixed with béchamel or brown sauce.
They’ve also got the Stroopwafel which is a waffle made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel syrup filling in the middle. It’s very sweet but lovely with a cup of tea!
Fish and Cheese Markets
The fish and cheese markets are everywhere in the squares and parks on selected days of the week. You can sample them as you walk by the stalls before deciding which of the dozens of flavours to take home.
You’ve got to try the Kibbeling which are battered chunks of fish served fresh out of the frier with a little sprinkle of a special spice. And then, of course, you’ve got the salmon which, if you love salmon, you won’t get enough of.
Walking Group Tour of Utrecht
If you want to do a walking tour of the city but think you’ll probably get lost (although you can downlod a city map), or if you don’t have that much time and want to make the most of the city, you can book a guided tour of Utrecht.
The Tourist Information Office found under the Dometoren is open every day of the week and you can pop in and book a tour of the city. They’ve even got an office at the Centraal Station if you’ve just arrived and needed their assistance. You can also book your tickets online on the Tourism Information website.
Koningsdag (King’s Day)
If you’re in the Netherlands in the month of April, the Dutch have Koningsdag (King’s Day), a celebration of the much loved Dutch royal family.
The entire country is painted orange, the festivities last the whole weekend and it’s basically one big open-air party with merriment and music flowing non stop down every one of the country’s winding streets.
Tulip season! If you’re an avid Instagram user you’d have seen your feeds filled with the endless tulip fields this year. The tulip is the national flower of the Netherlands and is such a part of the Dutch culture that they have festivals and parades dedicated to the multicoloured beauties.
The festivities usually ran from the mid-March to mid-May since that is the time of year when the flowers are in full bloom. The Utrecht University Botanic Gardens is a beautiful place to visit at this time of year as they have some beautiful displays during the blooming seasons and visitors can visit the various sections of the garden and marvel at the flora.
Utrecht has all the charm and character of a beautiful Dutch city like Amsterdam, but without the hustle and bustle and the rush of people that tends to come from capital cities. It’s fun and youthful but it’s rich in history and culture, you cannot come to the Netherlands and not visit the beautiful city of Utrecht.
Sit back, grab some Oreos, and I can’t wait to see what life has to offer us next.