This post is by Spencer Hart.
Stately canals. Centuries-old architecture. And a vibrant cultural scene that instantly seduces you – welcome to Utrecht. Nestled in the centre of the Netherlands, Utrecht captures the essence of the country’s past, present and future, making it an ideal destination for a day trip from Amsterdam, The Hague or Rotterdam. Here are some suggestions for what to see and do during a day in Utrecht.
Why Visit Utrecht
While Utrecht is less widely known than other cities in The Netherlands, there are several reasons to visit it. Firstly, it has a long history dating back to Roman times, with its past reflected in well-preserved buildings, ancient churches, and cobblestone streets.
Utrecht is also home to one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands, with a student population of 40,000. This creates a vibrant and youthful atmosphere, best experienced in the city’s buzzing cafe scene and local markets. Like much of the Netherlands, Utrecht boasts an extensive canal network that links its suburbs. This makes it easy to explore on foot or by boat, enabling you to cover plenty of ground during your day in Utrecht.
What To See In Utrecht
There is plenty for the visitor to see and do in Utrecht. Here are a few must-see places to add to your itinerary.
The Dom Tower is Utrecht’s most prominent landmark. It soars to a height of 112.5 metres and is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. The tower was completed in the 14th century and its design is predominantly Gothic. Once joined to the adjacent Dom Church, a devastating storm separated the two in 1674, making the tower an enduring symbol of the city’s historical resilience.
Dom Tower is notable for a 50-bell carillon that plays beautiful melodies. It also offers panoramic vistas from a viewpoint accessed by 465 steps.
Utrecht’s canal cruises offer a terrific way to explore the city’s waterways. From Oudegracht, a historic canal lined with funky cafés, these tours take you beneath low bridges and past notable sites, including the Dom Tower, the unique wharf cellars that line the canals, and Nieuwegracht. You’ll also enjoy the views of Maliebaan and the lush greenery of the Griftpark as you glide past.
Founded in 1838, the Centraal Museum is the main museum in Utrecht. It houses a collection spanning centuries of Dutch art and culture, featuring Renaissance masterpieces, modern artworks and locally crafted pieces. Highlights include works by renowned Dutch artists like Dick Bruna and Rietveld. The museum also has an extensive collection of paintings by Joachim Wtewael, a celebrated Northern Mannerist artist.
If you’re travelling with young children, the Miffy Museum is worth a visit. Inspired by Dick Bruna’s famous rabbit character, it offers several interactive exhibits and playful spaces that encourage imaginative learning through storytelling, art and role-playing. Whilst there, children can explore Miffy’s house, a zoo and an art studio.
Utrecht Botanic Gardens
Founded in 1639, the Utrecht Botanic Gardens have a wide range of plant species, including historic varieties. This is a perfect spot for a stroll, a quiet moment of reflection or simply just to take a break from sightseeing. Visitors can explore themed gardens, formal pathways, a rock garden and greenhouses with exotic plants.
Housed in a former station, The Railway Museum has several exhibits related to Dutch rail history. Its collection includes well-preserved locomotives, carriages, and other railway memorabilia. Interactive exhibits show the evolution of trains, and visitors can go inside old trains with historic interiors. A miniature railway, workshops, and themed play areas round off the family-friendly experience.
Plan Your Day In Utrecht
- Getting to Utrecht is easy due to its central location in the Netherlands. The city is well-connected by train, and Utrecht Central Station is a national and international travel hub.
- The city’s compact size allows for easy exploration by foot or bicycle, and you can rent bikes once you arrive. Efficient public transport, including buses and trams, make it easy to explore beyond the city centre.
- If you want to stay longer in Utrecht there are accommodation options for different budgets. Choices range from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels. Staying near the historic centre provides easy access to major attractions.
- At the same time, the city’s culinary scene offers a mix of traditional Dutch eateries and international restaurants – don’t forget to explore the side streets where there are many hidden gems to be discovered.
Spencer is a freelance travel writer with over 20 years experience producing written content for tourism-related businesses. An ex-pat Brit who now lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, he has visited over 40 countries in the world, but cites Miami Beach in the USA and Palm Cove in Australia as his favourite travel destinations.