Utrecht is a popular student city in the centre of the country. Before the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century Utrecht was The Netherlands’ most important city. From the 8th century onwards it became the religious centre of the region. And in 1522 the elected pope was Adriaan Florenszoon Boeyens from Utrecht. The traces of history are very present. All around the centre of the city you will find medieval canals, castles and churches. Along the canals there are low quays with entrances to what used to be cellars. Most of these cellars have now been turned into bars and restaurants, and some found other destinations like yoga studios. The city and its city life are charming and appealing.
Being a vibrant and flourishing student city in Utrecht there is always something going on. Throughout the year there is a festival taking place called Cultural Sundays. These are weekly cultural festivals of theatre, dance, music, films, workshops, and more. There are events taking place on squares and in parks, and most of them are for free. Or simply stroll through this beautiful city and enjoy its vibrant daily life. Around the city there are many nice squares surrounded by little cafes, bars and restaurants. It is an ideal city to stroll around and enjoy its nightlife in your own pace. Especially the bars and restaurants on the lower quays are unique. In 2011 one of Utrecht’s cafes was elected the best café in The Netherlands. This is the ‘De Rechtbank’ café.
Things to do and see in Utrecht
Explore Town Castles
Highlight of the Utrecht are the town castles. The most famous town castle is the castle Oudaen, this castle was built in 1296. The castle is situated in the centre of the city on the Oudegracht. It is now home to a grand café, a restaurant, a theatre, and a brewery. Another town castle is Achter de Dom 7. There are also many castles in the villages around Utrecht. On the edge of the city in the village of Oud Zuilen is the castle Slot Zuylen, you can visit this castle inside and outside. There is also a museum. Another castle nearby in the village of Haarzuilens, just outside Utrecht, is Castle de Haar. This is the largest castle in The Netherlands. This fairy-tale-like castle looks like a castle from a Disney animation with canals, gates and draw bridges.
Other historical buildings in Utrecht that are worth-while visiting are: the Paushuize (the pope’s house); the neo gothic St. Willibrord Church; the University’s Academiegebouw built in neo-renaissance style; and the German House (Duitse Huis), built in 1349. If you would like to visit a real Dutch mill you can visit the De Ster sawmill. This mill is located in the Lombok neighbourhood of the city.
Visit the Winkel van Sinkel café
While you’re in Utrecht make sure you go to the Winkel van Sinkel café. The Winkel van Sinkel has become a Dutch institution. It was the first warehouse to be opened in The Netherlands in 1839, and famous all around the country. Nowadays history and hip Utrecht nightlife have come together as this historical building has been turned into one of Utrecht’s best known grand cafes. Another famous place is Tivoli; this is a hip discotheque for young people. Tivoli is especially famous for its concerts of upcoming popular and alternative bands. For larger dance parties and other festivals you can go to the Jaarbeurs Hallen
Explore local markets
In Utrecht you can visit several markets. The flower market on the Oudegracht is open on Saturdays. There is another flower market at Janskerkhof. The Streekmarkt (local market) is where you can find typical products from the local area and organic products. Local food and organic food is rapidly increasing its popularity in Holland
Visit local breweries
The Netherlands is also famous for its beers and breweries. Some of these breweries are located in and around Utrecht. While you’re staying in Utrecht you can visit the brewery ‘De Leckere’, and learn everything about how it’s made, and of course taste the local beer. You can also go on a romantic tour around the canals, or rent a paddle boat and explore the canals by yourself.
Climb the tower of the Dom church
Because of its long and tumultuous history, having been at the centre of the 80 year Spanish War which divided the country between a protestant north and a catholic south, Utrecht has many interesting sights to visit. Utrecht’s most important landmark is the Dom Tower. You can climb the tower of the Dom church all the way to the top, from where you have a great view over the city.
Visit the New Dutch Water Defence Line fortresses
Utrecht is located at the heart of the country. It is an excellent location from where you can get to know the rest of the country. If you like to explore Utrecht’s surroundings you can visit the New Dutch Water Defence Line fortresses. These fortresses were built as a part of the water defence line created in the seventeenth century to protect the country against the continuous threat of the water. By activating this defence system the country could be turned into an island. One recommended fort to visit is the Rijnauwen Fort; here you can go on guided tours, which are also offered in English. In Utrecht itself you can also find fortresses. Fortress Hoofddijk is now part of the botanical gardens of the Utrecht University. A unique trip is the village of Oudewater. In this village you can visit the old ‘heksenwaag’, this weighing house was used to determine if a woman was a witch.
Getting There and Around
Utrecht’s train station is the centre point of the Dutch public transport; from here you can easily travel in all directions, also internationally. To get to Utrecht you can go by train, bus or car. If you plan to fly in by plane, the best option is to take a flight to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and take a direct train from there. Or, you can fly to Eindhoven. Only smaller companies like Ryan Air fly to Eindhoven. To get to Utrecht from Eindhoven you have to change trains in Den Bosch.