Amsterdam is a city I’ve visited many times, because it’s a fantastic place but also because my girlfriend is from there. I hadn’t explored anywhere else in The Netherlands though, so on our last visit there, we decided to see some more of the country and explore Utrecht which is a short 30-minute, €6 train ride away from the capital.
Utrecht is a medieval university city that had its golden age before Amsterdam was even conceived. A quaint place that feels cosmopolitan despite its small size, the focal point is the 14th-century Dom (Church) on Domplein, which took 300 years to build. A ring of tree and warehouse lined canals encircle the centre.
Visitors will likely compare it to Amsterdam due to the amount of canals in the city but where Utrecht differs is that life is lived on the canals with restaurants, cafés & bars lining the canalside, particularly on the Oudegracht (Old canal) up until the Stadhuis (Town hall). Some excellent home furniture shops and a street-market also line the canal.
We only had an afternoon here so we made a beeline for the Dom. Domplein is a lovely shaded space in the heart of the city and is fringed with restaurants and cafés. The tower and the church are separated due to a severe storm several centuries ago which was never repaired.
The Domtoren itself is a challenging 112 metre climb but there a frequent stops led by energetic and knowledgeable tour guides. It’s worth the effort though, feeling the cool breeze as you step out on to the platform and see the city laid out before you is a just reward for your hard work.
Afterwards, we made our way through the compact and eminently strollable centre past the Romanesque Pieterskerk, the oldest church in Utrecht and along the canals to Luciano ijssalon for some of the best gelato I’ve had outside of Italy.
It’s not often I visit somewhere and think “I could live here” but that’s exactly the feeling I had. Tranquil courtyards and pretty streets abound and the locals, on their ubiquitous bicycles, appear to enjoy an enviable quality of life.
It’s busy but not hectic, laid back but edgy, historic yet modern. Immediately upon leaving Utrecht Centraal Station you’re greeted by the modernist TivoliVredenburg music-hall and an interesting whale sculpture made from plastic, highlighting our impact on the environment.
We grabbed a couple of beers at Rabarber on the shop-lined Zadelstraat and it was filled with families enjoying an early evening glass of wine. It feels like a city for the locals and there’s room to breathe, unlike the centre of Amsterdam which is regrettably over-run with tourism.
We passed a wonderful day in Utrecht. It’s not an Amsterdam beater, that isn’t possible with only the very best of world cities able to compete with the Dutch capital but it’s a fantastic place to visit. It’s worthy of a couple of days at least with many museums and the UNESCO listed Rietveld Schröder House to discover. At only 30 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal station, what are you waiting for?
Thanks for reading,