Just 45 kilometres away from the canals, coffee shops and the Red Light District of Amsterdam is a city of Utrecht, the largest in the province of the same name. Despite being so close, it isn’t on many tourists’ itineraries who prefer to indulge in the capital’s pleasures. Those that do take the short train ride south, will find a hip, modern city embracing its medieval roots, cool restaurants and bars, contemporary museums and some of the best coffee in The Netherlands. I explored the city earlier this year and here is my guide to a perfect Utrecht day trip.
8:30 – If you are coming from the capital, take the train from Amsterdam Centraal station. There are trains every 15-30 minutes throughout the week. Utrecht is a great day trip destination and is only 27 minutes away from Amsterdam (tickets from €7).
09:00 – Utrecht has loads of great cafes and restaurants so start your day by grabbing breakfast and coffee at one of Utrecht’s hippest joints, The Village (Voorstraat 46, http://thevillagecoffee.nl/). The funky cafe has a great selection of bites and great coffee and has been voted one of the best in The Netherlands. They also serve beers on tap and have live music performances. Two other locations, at Wolvenplein and Utrecht Science Park, have opened recently.
Or try: Keek on Twijnstraat uses fresh, organic ingredients for its delicious pies, cakes and scones. The café has now been joined by a bakery a couple of minutes away, where you can grab freshly baked goodies for a picnic. (Twijnstraat 23, http://www.kunsteneerlijkekoffie.nl/)
10:30 – Walk along the Oudegracht, the “old canal” which runs through the heart of the city for awesome views of the Dom tower. Look up for the impressive architecture of the buildings lining the canal and look down to the water level for the old wharf cellars, many of which have been transformed into cool bars and restaurants.
12:00 – The Domtoren (Dom Tower) is Utrecht’s main attraction. Join an hourly guided tour and climb the 465 steps to the top of the highest church tower in The Netherlands. There are great panoramic views of the city and you can also catch a glimpse of the huge bells that are still used on a regular basis.
13:30 – You will have worked up an appetite going up and down all those stairs, and this would be a great time to treat yourself to some lunch. Luckily, Stan and Co. (Ganzenmarkt 16A, http://utrecht.stan-co.nl/) is just around the corner. This place is super popular with the locals and has a really cool interior as well as a great range of nibbles and mains. There are daily specials as well as a fully stocked bar in the middle. The coffee is also very good!
Or try: Just across the canal and opposite the Domtoren is a small branch of STACH food (Choorstraat 42, http://www.stach-food.nl/index.php?page=Choorstraat), with loads of delicious meals, freshly baked items, chocolate and plenty of healthy options too! I loved the freshly made sandwiches with a range of toppings. This is probably my favourite food retail chain in the country! They even have a loft where you can relax with a coffee.
14:30 – Now that you’ve recharged your batteries, it’s time to burn off some of those calories. You are in The Netherlands, so grab a bike from Co Van Beek (from €7.50 per day, Springweg 14-16, http://www.covanbeek.nl/wp/?page_id=287) and set off on a mini-tour of the city centre. Head back towards the Dom Tower and check out the impressive façade of Domkerk (St. Martin’s Cathedral or Dom Church) and the grand Utrecht University building.
15:30 – Time for some culture! Continue along Lange Nieuwstraat before turning right on Agnietenstraat and checking out the Centraal Museum (Agnietenstraat 1, http://centraalmuseum.nl/en/). Learn about the history of the city and visit the contemporary art and fashion exhibitions.
Or try: University Museum Utrecht (Lange Nieuwstraat 106, http://www.universiteitsmuseum.nl/english) and its collections of stuffed animals and scientific objects are great for families. Miffy Museum (Agnietenstraat 2), right opposite the Centraal Museum, celebrates artist Dick Bruna’s most famous creation and is ideal for young kids.
17:00 – Turn left onto Twijnstraat and cross the canal before bearing right on Catharijnesingel and riding along the water among locals. It’s a nice, leisurely ride all the way towards the train station. Turn back towards the city past TivoliVredenburg (https://www.tivolivredenburg.nl/nl/), Utrecht’s premier music venue and De Planeet shopping mall.
18:00 – Park your bike by the canal (you’ve come full circle since this morning!) and head down the steps to one of the former wharf cellars. Beers and Barrels (Oudegracht aan de Werf 125, http://beersbarrels.nl/utrecht-oudegracht/) is popular with the after-work crowds and has over 70 beers on its menu as well as a mouth-watering food menu. The place is famous for its burgers and lobster combos! Tap tables can be booked in advance for special occasions – these are seriously cool!
19:30 – If you are still hungry or have been saving yourself for dinner, it’s worth checking out Badhu (Willem van Noortplein 19, http://www.badhu.nl/index.php), a popular restaurant in the Tuinwijk area of the city. The meze-style menu, with Mediterranean, North African and Eastern influences, is great for sharing and they have a well-stocked bar. The industrial setting has cool lighting in the evenings and on warm summer nights you can relax on the terrace that overlooks a park.
There are a couple of options for getting to the restaurant. Cycling over from the city centre takes about 7-8 minutes. Bus number 1 from Central Station stops near the restaurant entrance. Alternatively, take a train to Utrecht Overvecht and walk around 12 minutes to Badhu.
21:00 – If you are heading back to Amsterdam, it’s time to say goodbye to Utrecht and head for the Utrecht Centraal train station. Alternatively, stay and enjoy this charming city a while longer!
Have you been to Utrecht? What were your favourite sights, cafes and restaurants?