I can’t tell you how much it has made my heart jump with joy that I’ve been hearing more and more foreign languages in Utrecht, especially on weekends and school holidays. It seems that visitors to The Netherlands are discovering Utrecht more and more. They wander along the canals, enjoy relaxing in the parks, climb the Dom Tower and feast in one of the many restaurants. How wonderful. If you’re curious too, I will explain how to discover Utrecht by foot, bike and boat.
A network of canals, pretty old gabled houses around the city’s cathedral Domkerk, some excellent museums and cutting-edge architecture. Utrecht, my hometown and love of my life, seems to have it all. When I moved here, over 12 years ago, there were hardly any hotels in town, only some big chains near the train station. But over the last 3 years I’ve been hearing Americans, Australians, Canadians, Spanish, Koreans and Japanese on weekends, enjoying a day (or maybe even more) in Utrecht. The city has been getting some very nice press attention over the last few years. Some splendid (boutique) hotels have been popping up lately, the central station is more accessible now and things are generally getting a lot more comfortable for foreign visitors.
If you feel like visiting, you can of course (like most visitors) discover Utrecht by foot. But if you feel like exploring like a proper local, you can decide to hop on a bike or in a boat or kayak even. Here’s how you handle things.
Discover Utrecht by foot
Utrecht is so (so!) accessible by foot and for many visitors the preferred way to discover Utrecht. I totally understand. I mean, it’s simply great to wander the compact city centre, stroll along the canals and pop into one of the sights, like the Dom church, Centraal Museum or Nijntje Museum, and some of the nicest cafés along the way. If you have no clue where to go (and that’s okay, you can’t get lost), simple stroll along the central canal ‘Oudegracht’ and take in the atmosphere.
However, if you’d like to know a little more about the city (and there’s lots to know, Utrecht is over 2000 years old after all!) I recommend joining one of the Utrecht Free Tours, which are held Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays and take you along some famous sights and will enlighten you on all things Utrecht. If you only have a couple of hours to spend in Utrecht (boo!) I recommend taking this self-guided tour along the highlights of medieval Utrecht.
Discover Utrecht by bike
However, the Utrecht city centre is quite compact and there’s simply so much more to explore. And it would be fun to be ‘like the Dutch’ and discover by bike. You basically have a lot more options when you’re on a bike. If you’d like to see the highlights of the city and explore a little outside the city centre too, I highly recommend joining this bike tour.
But you might as well rent a bike in Utrecht and explore by yourself. A lot of hotels and hostels around town rent bikes for the day or you can pick up an ‘OV fiets‘ for the day. If you feel like seeing some interesting sights outside the city centre or even outside the city, I can highly recommend cycling to:
- Enjoy the groundbreaking architecture of De Stijl at Rietveld-Schröder huis
- Have a drink underneath a windmill at Molen De Ster
- Some of the nice craft beer breweries that have popped up over the last few years
- See one of the prettiest castles in The Netherlands, just outside of Utrecht: Kasteel De Haar
- Enjoy drinks in the sunshine at an old fortress: Fort aan de Klop
- Go for a swim at Maarsseveenseplassen.
Discover Utrecht by boat
Confession of the day: I really suck at kayaking. I seem to miss the coordination to go in the right direction when you put me into something that floats. Isn’t that silly? Too bad really, as I really love boat trips and kayaking on the Utrecht canals is very popular. If you’re into kayaking and would love to see Utrecht from a duck’s perspective (and you should, you won’t get this chance in Amsterdam!) rent a kayak to discover the Utrecht canals or kayak all the way to the Rhijnauwen estate, which is a popular spot for locals to spend a Sunday afternoon.
If you’re not too comfy in a kayak (how I can relate) it’s also possible to rent a small motorised boat, which we Dutch call a ‘sloepje’. A couple of people fit into one and you can decide to either explore the Utrecht canals or sail along the Vecht to Maarsseveen or Tienhoven to catch some pretty Dutch landscapes.
Plan your trip to Utrecht, The Netherland
- From Amsterdam simply hop on a direct train to Utrecht. Direct trains run every 15 minutes and it will take you about 25 minutes to get to Utrecht.
- Please do stay a day or two in the city to explore the best Utrecht has to offer. You can stay at the inexpensive and brand new Stayokay Utrecht at the central square of the city, or at (also brand new) and pretty Mother Goose boutique hotel.
- Plan your trip to Utrecht using my complete city guide Utrecht.
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