Lying just a short train journey to the southeast of Amsterdam, Utrecht is undoubtedly one of the prettiest cities to visit in the Netherlands. Boasting a beautiful medieval center that is cut through by the picturesque Oudegracht canal, it was once the religious and cultural heart of the country, so it has lots of interesting historical and cultural sights for you to check out.
Now a lively university town, Utrecht’s charming cobbled streets are strewn with cafes, restaurants, and bars. Its sizeable student population means there is a very youthful feel about the place. Scattered about here and there are lots of fantastic museums and art galleries, and its multitude of live music venues have a packed schedule of visiting bands, DJs, and artists.
With so much going on, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands will certainly keep you entertained.
11. Botanic Gardens
Although it lies on the outskirts of the city, these wonderful Botanic Gardens are certainly worth visiting if you want to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy some splendid scenery. Part of Utrecht University, the peaceful gardens were founded all the way back in 1639 and have been open for the public to enjoy ever since.
As it has numerous different parts to it, you can be strolling through a delightful rock garden one minute, spotting birds in the woods the next, and later on be marveling at all the brightly colored butterflies in its tropical greenhouse. With twinkling waterways coursing their way through the park, alongside wildflower-filled meadows and untouched wild areas, the Botanic Gardens are a lovely place to spend some time.
10. Hoog Catharijne
One of the largest indoor shopping malls in the whole of the country, the cavernous Hoog Catharijne lies right next to Utrecht Central Station, just a stone’s throw away from the city center. Inside, you can find almost 100 different shops, with a number of cafes, restaurants, and fast food outlets interspersed among them. Set in a distinctive-looking modern building, Hoog Catharijne is the best place to head in Utrecht if you want to do a spot of shopping.
9. Centraal Museum
The oldest municipal museum in the nation, the Centraal Museum was opened in 1838 and has offered visitors a captivating look at Utrecht’s history ever since. Through the medium of art and design, you discover a range of different artists who have impacted the city over the years with their breathtaking artworks.
Besides marvelous paintings by Joachim Wtewael and Johannes Moesman – the ‘Dutch Dali’ – there is also fabulous furniture designed by Gerrit Rietveld on show, as well as an impressive thousand-year-old ship and amazing medieval sculptures. Each of the objects and artworks, both old and new, tells its own story. Pieced together, they give you an interesting insight into the city of Utrecht.
Located in the MuseumQuarter, the Centraal Museum also regularly hosts temporary exhibitions, so it is popular among locals and tourists alike.
8. Huis Doorn
Located just outside of the city in the small town of Doorn, the manor house of the same name was once the home of Wilhem II – the last German Emperor. Following Imperial Germany’s defeat in WWI, he abdicated and was exiled to Doorn, where he lived the rest of his life in the comfy country house before dying in 1941.
Now a national museum, Huis Doorn’s lavish and beautifully decorated interior has been left just how the former emperor used to have it, with fine sculptures, paintings, and tapestries on show alongside porcelains and ornately carved furniture. Set in a lovely landscaped garden with a moat surrounding it, Huis Doorn makes for an interesting afternoon out, and Wilhem II’s small mausoleum lies in a peaceful spot on the grounds for you to visit.
7. Spoorweg Museum
Due to its proximity to Amsterdam and its central position in the Netherlands, Utrecht has long been an important transport hub; to this day, trains snake their way all over the country from its central station. As such, it is only fitting that the Spoorweg Museum – the nation’s national railway museum – is located in town.
Opened in 1927, the extensive collection of artifacts, models, locomotives, and steam trains is great to peruse, with lots of informative displays and interactive exhibitions for you to check out. Set in a beautiful old railway station that features some wonderful antique fittings and furniture, the museum also has a fun and exhilarating simulator named De Vuurproef for you to have a go on.
Designed and built by the famous Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld, this unique house is one of the best examples of ‘De Stijl’ architecture around, and can now be visited as part of a tour. Named partially after Truus Schroder-Schrader, who commissioned and lived in it, its exterior features some intriguing designs, with panels, poles, and lines of different colors set in various directions lying before you.
The interior is no less special to visit. There are no rooms per se, just an open and changeable area that can be reconstructed and redesigned depending on the occasion. Built in 1924, the Rietveld-Schröderhuis is sure to be unlike any home you’ve seen before.
5. De Haar Castle
Appearing very much as if out of a fairytale, De Haar Castle truly is a magical place to visit. Majestic turrets and towers lie above beautiful tangled rose gardens. Set in some gorgeous gardens with moats, lakes, and ponds around them, the Neo-Gothic castle is a photographer’s dream, with lots of romantic scenes on show.
Restored and rebuilt in 1892 by the Rothschild family, the current castle has over 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms, all of which are sumptuously decorated with sculptures, paintings, and artworks. Located to the east of Utrecht right next to the village of Huurzuilens, De Haar Castle makes for a very popular day trip with its elegant rooms and landscaped gardens fabulous to explore.
4. Museum Speelklok
Lying in the center of town, the Museum Speelklok is a surprisingly fun and playful place to visit, full of amazing old mechanical organs, wind-up clocks, and self-playing musical instruments. Awash with music, parts whir into life as you pass.
The museum exhibits some astounding craftsmanship, with lots of delicately crafted models on show. In addition to its many clockwork treasures, an informative tour tells you all about how the instruments and clocks were made and how they are protected and kept working.
A great way to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for Utrecht’s long and illustrious history is to head beneath Domplein – the main square in town – and, torch in hand, shine a light on the city’s past.
Part museum, archaeological site, and interactive tour, DOMunder sees you explore dimly lit rooms full of ruins, relics, and historical artifacts. Taking you back over two thousand years, it is an educational and entertaining place to visit that is perfect for all of the family to enjoy.
2. Dom Tower
Towering to an impressive 112 meters, Dom Tower is the tallest church tower in the whole of the Netherlands, and has been Utrecht’s most recognizable landmark for some 600 years. Built between 1321 and 1382, the enormous tower symbolized the power and prestige of the church in the 14th century and was once part of a larger cathedral.
Most of this collapsed, however, in 1674, after a tornado ravaged the city. Now, Dom Tower stands alone in the center of Domplein. Exhibiting some fantastic Gothic architecture, the tower makes for a spectacular sight. From its top, you can enjoy stupendous views of Utrecht and its surroundings, with Amsterdam spotted far off in the distance.
Meandering its way through the center of town, the delightful Oudegracht canal is, in large part, what makes Utrecht such a pleasant place to spend some time. Once wharves, cellars, and warehouses, many of the beautiful brickwork buildings lining the canal at water level have since been turned into lively cafes, bars, and restaurants.
Above these are lovely cobbled streets that are also home to lots of different establishments. Charming townhouses with centuries-old bridges cross the canal here and there. Meaning ‘old canal’ in Dutch, work on the scenic waterway was begun all the way back in 1122. Ever since then, it has been a central part of life in the city.
All in all, the Oudegracht canal makes for a very idyllic scene. The packed bars and cafes make it a fun and vibrant part of town to head to at any time of day.