Why Utrecht is a must-see in Western Europe
It’s the fourth biggest and fastest growing city in the heart of the Netherlands. With over 70,000 students and 168 different nationalities, Utrecht is young, international and becoming a vibrant, modern city. The ‘Dom city’s’ tourism is growing rapidly and more tourists are discovering this gem that hid in the shadow of Amsterdam for too long.
Utrecht is special and you will feel this when you walk through the city centre and ask the people what they think about their city or when you see the first person looking at the magnificent Dom Tower with sparkles in their eyes. The people from Utrecht and the people who moved there are passionate about their city and you will see why.
Utrecht is host to many surprises which you can find on every street and corner. There are hidden castles in the centre of the city, huge parks and the occasional people dressed up in animal costumes jumping into the canal. Take your time in this city, because there is lots to explore and to do.
Famous for its beautiful historic centre, the iconic 112m tall Dom Tower and idyllic canals, Utrecht is amazing to look at. This city is featured in Lonely Planet’s ‘10 Most Unsung Places’ calling Utrecht “bizarrely under-visited”. The charm and coziness of a village and a city centre that’s small enough to explore on foot, but combined with all the assets and conveniences of a capital which makes the city a delight to visit.
Utrecht is one of the oldest cities in the country with a history dating back more than 2,000 years, which you can still see all around you. The historic city centre and its canals are mostly preserved and parts of the old city wall are currently being restored to its old state. Walking through Utrecht can take you back to past centuries. Its museums have the evidence to prove that.
In fact, the Netherlands have the most museums per square meter in the world and Utrecht contributes to this with a wide variety of museums such as the Centraal museum, the Railway museum and the Dick Bruna House about Miffy.
While walking around in Utrecht you’ll have a constant view of the impressive Dom tower of Utrecht built between 1321 and 1382. I’d highly encourage you to climb the 465 steps of this 112m high tower because you’ll have an amazing view over the whole city center and it’s awesome canals and parks. There are guides available who will tell you everything about the history, the huge bells of the tower which have played a huge variety of songs from Mattheus Passion to Queen, Pink Floyd, the Star Wars theme song and Abba. If you are lucky to climb up on a clear day, you’ll be able to see Rotterdam, Amsterdam and even the busy airport far up north from atop of this majestic tower.
Utrecht was home of the first bicycle path in the country, which was the start of the Netherlands’ transformation into one of the most bike-friendly countries in the world. With Utrecht as an important city being home to the biggest bike parking garage worldwide with space for over 12,400(!) bikes underneath the country’s busiest train station. Therefore it’s not strange that this city hosted the 2015 ‘Grand Depart’ of the Tour de France putting the ‘heart of the Netherlands’ on the map for bike enthusiasts and tourists all over the world. Making Utrecht bike friendly was not an easy task, the city was witness of the first ever car traffic jam in the world and a new phenomenon started since a few years: bicycle traffic jams.
As soon as you enter from the brand new train station, you’ll see the development and construction sites all around you as the city is trying to keep up with its huge expansion. The brand new ultra-modern city hall, the state of the art train station and music center create a contrast with the medieval buildings that you’ll find a short walk further.
If you arrive from the train station, walk through Hoog Catharijne which was once the biggest covered mall in Europe or walk outside. You’ll find the modern music centre and right after the marketplace for local foods such as stroopwafels and the famous Dutch cheese, but also clothing and practical stuff. If you entered the marketplace, check out the little alleys such as the Zakkendragerssteeg, Drieharingstraat or the Hamsteeg.
One of the best ways to explore the city is by boat through the unique canals. If you hop on a boat, there are many options such as exploring the city centre or taking it easy outside of the city while passing by many old villages and some typical Dutch landscapes. Rent your own boat, paddle boat or canoe. If you rather let someone else be the captain, then hop on a guided canal boat trip with guide to listen to the amazing stories of the canals and the wharfs in and around the city. Take your time to see the many faces of the city pass by.
And if you’re done with being on the water, hop on one of the many idyllic terraces beside the water and watch other boats while you are sipping on your Heineken. There are many (boat) festivals on the water so be sure to check out the calendar if you want to go.
Too add to that, Utrecht also holds many world class festivals, events and recently opened a brand new music center, Tivoli which is designed for everything from concerts to symphonies to its function as a nightclub.
The city combines the rich history which you can see all around you with a vibrant modern culture. Students from around the world flock to Utrecht for its universities and schools, which results in the city’s own international student nights on Tuesday and parties every single night. The many bars and cozy clubs in the city make it attractive for bachelor parties and sorority events to be hosted in the centre which gives some amazing sights and always something to look at.
The city’s growing tourism makes it easier to explore the city on your own pace and make your own planning without missing out on a single trip. Utrecht is a city everyone can love whether you are young or old, whether you just go to party or to explore the rich museums or parks in and around the city. Tourism will grow a lot over the next couple of years with many festivities and events and a growing number of articles from people who visited and fell in love with the beating heart of the Netherlands, will you fall in love with Utrecht?