Utrecht is a city often overshadowed by Amsterdam and most of the time we identify it thanks to the famous treaty signed by Spain and the Netherlands to end the war between the two countries. I was greeted by a charming city with bucolic canals, a beautiful old town, a university atmosphere, and historic buildings. It is also a much less touristy and more relaxed city than Amsterdam.
The city’s history dates back to 47 AD, when the Roman Emperor Claudius ordered the construction of a defensive line along the Rhine River, which was the northernmost border of the Empire. One of the strongholds along the river was built on a branch of the river, which was called Traiectum, a Latin word meaning ‘crossroads’. In the local language the name was translated as Trecht and later Utrecht.
HOW TO GET THERE
The most efficient way to get to Utrecht is by train, as the city’s station is the hub of the Dutch rail network. In addition to direct connections to Amsterdam and Schiphol Airport, high-speed trains connect Utrecht with Frankfurt, Berlin, Copenhagen, Prague and many other European capitals.
From Amsterdam 10€ a/r ticket, check all about transport information here.
If you decide to travel to Utrecht with a rented car, it’s best to park it in one of the car parks around the historic city centre, remembering to pay the ticket, as fines are high and traffic wardens are intransigent. Getting to Utrecht from Amsterdam is quick and easy: just take the A2 motorway south and you’ll be there in less than 45 minutes.
WHAT TO DO
- Utrecht Cathedral is the city’s main religious building. When a hurricane hit in 1674, the poorly constructed nave collapsed, which explains why today the Domtoren (bell tower) and the church itself are separated from the Domplein, the Cathedral Square. Can be visited every day, but to climb to the top of the bell tower you must book in advance and be accompanied by a guide. In 2017 the new bell tower restoration begins and there is no deadline. 🙁
- The Oudegracht is a series of canals that run through the heart of the city. Shops and restaurants on both sides, and are unique for the many picturesque cellars located at water level. Centuries ago, they were used for storing goods and trading, while nowadays they are home to restaurants and pubs; it is in these establishments that the city’s nightlife is concentrated.
- A visit to the campus of Utrecht University is definitely not to be missed. It is called De Uithof and is a strange mix of grey concrete buildings and structures designed by famous modern architects, such as the Educatorium. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the University Library and the Minnaert building.
Colorful wooden houses are just 10min by train from Utrecht and they deserve to be visited.
If you are in Houten, take the time to have lunch or dinner at the Eetatelier in the middle of the center, at Rond 86. Not only is the menu spectacular, but the dishes are also very creative prepared and with enormous pride, a big smile and lots of heart served. And yes, everything I had ordered was super yummy and reasonably priced!