When you travel to the Netherlands, Utrecht is a city that you should definitely visit. It is a pleasant university city with an interesting historic city centre and there are far fewer tourists than in Amsterdam or Rotterdam. In this article I give you information about visiting Utrecht and I give suggestions about fun and interesting activities and attractions. With my list you can compile your own itinerary!
How to get to Utrecht
Utrecht is geographically the center of the Netherlands and is located in the province that has also the name Utrecht. Wherever you travel from, Utrecht is always relatively easy and quickly accessible. By far the best way to travel is by train. From Amsterdam Central Station it is only 25 minutes to travel to the city centre of Utrecht.
Another way to travel to Utrecht is by car and use the shuttle service. Outside the city there are several parking facilities named ‘P+R Transferium’. For only 5 euros you can park here and travel with 5 people by bus to the city centre. I strongly advise not to travel to the centre by car. Utrecht has a strict environmental policy and tries to keep cars outside the center as much as possible. This resulted in a ban on polluting or old cars and high parking costs.
How to travel within the city
For traveling within the city, I recommend traveling by bus or renting a bicycle. And if you like a good walk, most of the time can also be done on foot. The center of Utrecht is forbidden for polluting cars and that also largely applies to buses. There are hardly any buses in the historic center of the city. However, that does not apply to the rest of Utrecht. Utrecht has a good and extensive network of buses. The bus company is called U-Ov and a map of the bus connections can be found here (applies for 2020). Just as in the rest of the Netherlands, traveling by bus in Utrecht is possible with the OV chip card.
A visit to Utrecht is not complete without strolling through the beautiful historic streets and canals of the center. You can of course follow a route like this yourself, but if you want to learn more you can do a tour with a guide. There are several tour companies that offer tours in Utrecht.
Canoe on the city canals
The canals of Utrecht are the most beautiful in the Netherlands. From the water is the ideal place to enjoy the city; the historic wharf cellars, the facades and beautiful parks. You can rent a canoe from 6 euros per hour at the rental company at Oudegracht 275 aan de werf. If you prefer to explore the canals in an electric boat, you can also rent it there. Do you prefer to stay on the land? Then you can enjoy a nice terrace at the yard.
There is also a beautiful canoe route just outside of Utrecht in the . You can read more about this in this article.
Visit the Dom tower
The Dom tower is the icon of Utrecht, and definitely worth a visit. This 112 meter high tower from the 15th century was formerly part of the cathedral, but in 1674 a tornado went right through the structure, and this ensured that the tower was separated from the central nave.
The tower is in scaffolding due to renovations until 2024, but it is still possible to climb it. Several tours are offered daily to climb the 465 steps of the tower. If the weather is nice you have a kilometer-long view of the surrounding area. Tickets can be purchased on this website or at the square by the tower.
If you want to know more about the history of the Dom Tower, visit DOMunder, a historical and underground attraction in which you learn about the history of this location: from the Romans to the Middle Ages and the great storm of 1674.
The adjacent Dom church can also be visited daily for free. Then don’t forget to take a look at the Pandhof garden, a hidden gem and an oasis of peace in the middle of the city.
It might not be obvious to visit this museum, but it is highly recommended and unique. Museum Speelklok is about automatic music instruments and has a large collection of special and surprising instruments. Both for adults and children it is fun,especially the free tours that are given several times a day. The museum is open every day.
If you are interested in art, I recommend you visit Museum Centraal. They have a varied collection of art, history, fashion and design, in both permanent and changing exhibitions. The museum is unique because of the large Gerrit Rietveld collection and the remake of the studio of Dick Bruna, the artist of Miffy.
In the Railway Museum you learn everything about 175 years of Railways in the Netherlands. There are unique historic trains to see and there are also many interactive activities, such as a roller coaster and a 4D simulator. Fun for the whole family! And of course you travel to this museum by train, from Utrecht Central there is a special museum train. The regular opening days are Tuesday to Sunday, but I recommend that you check the website for more information.
If you would like to escape the bustle of the city, I recommend a visit to the botanical gardens. The botanical gardens of Utrecht are definitely worth it, because the highlight is a rock garden is located on an old fort. The gardens are nine hectares in size and open from March to November. You will find various themed gardens, subtropical greenhouses, a bee hotel and much more.
The gardens are located in the Science Park, and can be reached in 20 minutes from Utrecht Central Station by tram 22 from Monday to Friday. You can take bus 28 on Saturdays and Sundays. More visitor information can be found on this website.
Parks in Utrecht
In contrast to the botanical gardens, Utrecht also has many beautiful parks for which you do not have to pay an admission fee. Wilhelminapark is the place where many people from Utrecht go to relax in nice weather. In the northwest of the city you will find the Julianapark, a beautiful forest-like park with an animal farm. The Griftpark is a modern park where many events take place. But the most beautiful park in Utrecht is probably the Zocherpark: an elongated park along the canals of the city center.
Castellum Hoge Woerd is rebuilding a Roman fort and is a free museum. There are many finds from Roman times on display. The jewel of the Hoge Woerd Museum is the ship “De Meern 1” that was recently excavated. It is the most completely preserved Roman river ship found in northwestern Europe. Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday between 10 AM and 5 PM. The castellum can be reached with multiple bus lines.
You can combine your visit to Utrecht with a hiking or cycling a part of the Roman Limes route. Read my article about the Roman Limes Route for more information.
De Haar Castle
If you imagine a castle from a fairy tale, chances are that it looks something like De Haar Castle. You can choose to only visit the castle park with a romantic rose garden and deer park, but you can also combine it with an entrance ticket to the castle and guided tour. This is de English website of the castle.
This beautiful castle is located just outside Utrecht, to be precise in the village of Haarzuilens. compared to the other attractions, the castle is slightly harder to reach. If you do not have a car you can go there in 40 minutes by bike from Utrecht Central station, or by train to Vleuten station and then with bus 111.
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