Ever been to a place where you didn´t want to leave? Ever had the feeling of being somewhere before? Well that´s how we felt in Utrecht (for originality add the Dutch pronunciation Hhhhh – Utrechhht sound 🙂 )
What do you know about Utrecht? Probably as much as we did before we went there. I knew they have a football team and two guys we met in Vietnam live there, so we said we will visit them and check out a new part of Holland. For those of you who don´t know where Utrecht is: it is exactly a 27 minute train ride southeast of Central Station Amsterdam and there is even a direct train from Schiphool International Airport.
The population of Utrecht is around 300.000 which makes it very easy to navigate, even by foot and is not too crowded. Just watch out for the crazy Dutch people on their bikes.
The next question was where to stay. We choose the newly opened Stayokay Utrecht-Centrum and won the jackpot. It offers great value accommodation with amazing breakfast (it´s better than in some hotels!), a funky restaurant, is centrally located so you can see the main sights on foot or you can rent a bike at the hostel.
Utrecht was the most important city until it was surpassed by Amsterdam in the 17th century and it has been overshadowed by its big brother in the northwest ever since. What an injustice.
We spent 2 nights there, but you could easily stay a night or two more.
Things to see and do in Utrecht:
Visit the Tourist office
You didn´t expect to read this first, did you? Well, let me tell you that the people working there are super kind and are willing to help you plan your visit. Of course free maps are another plus and in here you can purchase tickets for the Dome Tower, Dom Under, Trajectum Lumen etc.
Dome Tower & Dome Church
Dominating the “skyline” of Utrecht is the Dome Tower. Once a part of Saint Martin Cathedral is now standing independently as the tallest church tower in the Netherlands at 112 meters. Guided tours will take you on a 465 steps journey through Utrecht´s history all the way to the top. But don’t worry, you don’t have to climb all steps at once – the guide will stop 3 times and explain different parts of the tower, you´ll see the impressive bells, 14 in total, which are all harmonious and they form the biggest medieval group of harmonious bells. Just one floor higher you can hear the wonderful harmony carillon playing every 15 minutes (also at night), which in my opinion gives Utrecht an extremely romantic vibe (how romantic is this for the people living near the church … I don´t know). Once at the top you can see the whole city under your feet and even Amsterdam and Rotterdam if it´s clear.
Cycling tour of Utrecht
Seeing the city as most of the locals do; by bike was pretty fun. Other guests of Stayokay Utrecht also participated in the tour and guess what – we were divided by nationality: the Dutch formed one group and all the others another – like we “the others” can´t ride bikes. J Our guide took us through the city centre to the outskirts of the city, where we had several stops: a beer stop (Dutch really know their beer), a wine stop and an energy stop. I liked the tour a lot, just a few more photo stops would be great.
The canal tour
The canal tours are a great alternative to cycling tours. You get to see Utrecht how it once functioned. The whole time a guide is explaining Utrecht’s history relevant for the canals and pointing out different sites along the way. We enjoyed it, although the glass windows weren´t really helpful when taking pictures.
Trajectum Lumen Tour – our favourite
This is a guided night walk through the streets of Utrecht. Many buildings are taking part in this project and they are illuminated with different light effects. The Dome Tower and Church are again the centre point of everything – every 15 minutes lights start do dance around in the inside giving the huge church and tower windows a breath of life. Responsible for this magnificent work of art are two British illumination architects Major and Bradshaw. From here you can walk through the city and admire 20 more illumination designs. The best part of the tour is that there aren´t so many people on the streets anymore and the excellently trained guides will unveil the last things you didn´t find out about the city on other tours. It is also a chance to take loads of pictures undisturbed and with a special lighting.
Grocer museum Betje Boerhave
This is a tiny museum in only 2 rooms, one room upstairs and one downstairs, in an even tinier street. BUT it has a heart and soul and I could stay at least an hour there, spend a fortune on candy and at the end take Betje with me home. Upstairs she collected really cool “grocery stuff” from the past, downstairs she has a lovely candy shop with all kinds and colors of different sweets. 100g of lakritze, 100g of peppermint, 100g of … I walked out with a bright smile and a purse full of candy. Can anything make a day better?
You´re in The Netherlands and that´s why every town has its own flower market. In Utrecht the right day is Sunday and although we were there in autumn, we still saw beautiful colorful bouquets, plants and we bought flower seeds to take a part of the Netherlands back home.
Simply walking around the Old town along the canals
The town is sooooo romantic, I could move there. 🙂 Like in Amsterdam the canals are winding through the streets, boats are passing by and unique cafes are inviting you to relax. Utrecht has a great café scene with an excellent offer for beer lovers. So make sure you visit some of them. One, we can truly say is one of the best is The Fifth on the first floor of Stayokay Utrecht Centrum. It doesn´t matter if you´re looking for a quick bite, a proper lunch or dinner or you just want to hang out with friends; The Fifth has a yummy menu with everything from sandwiches, hamburgers, salads, fish to deserts. All the ingredients are locally grown and they really prepare everything fresh – you can see a big bush of fresh mint growing in the bar – this is what I mean by fresh. 🙂
Attractions we missed, but are on the list for next time
– Miffi museum – if you don´t know, who´s Miffi (we also didn´t), just google it 😉
– Dom Under – an underground tour of the church
– Museum Speelklok – everything about self-playing musical instruments and very Dutch
– Castle De Haar – the biggest castle in The Netherlands
Utrecht is an excellent alternative to busy Amsterdam and you should seriously consider adding it to you bucket list – you can thank us later. 😉 It wouldn´t be an exaggeration to say that Utrecht is one of the cutest, most photogenic cities we have ever been to. Add excellent beer, and we have a winner. 😉