Dating back to 47 AD, the Dutch city of Utrecht is a real gem: brimming with Roman, medieval and modernist architecture. Its rich heritage is in evidence within the annual festivals, museums and landmarks. These are our top things to do in Utrecht.
Admire the Dom Cathedral – This masterpiece took 300 years to build and was finally complete in the 14th century. Climb the bell tower, Domtoren, which lies across Dom Square. Be prepared for a slog though as the 112 meter (369 feet) bell tower contains some 465 steps – the view is well worth the exertion though!
Make your mind up about the Rietveld Schröder House – From medieval to modern; Utrecht boasts all genres of architecture, with the standout modern example being the curious Rietveld Schröder House. Built in 1924 it’s something of an icon, it’s secured a UNESCO World Heritage listing but has always divided opinion – you decide!
Wander the Botanical Gardens – There’s not much the Dutch don’t know about plants, which is amply demonstrated at the lush Fort Hoofddijk Botanical Gardens, which has an enviable collection of plants from all corner of the globe.
Walk and cycle the Oudegracht – Follow the Oudegracht (old canals) and unique wharfs, pictured above, that meander through the very heart of Utrecht. The canals date back over 1000 years and hail from the mighty Rhine. The trails make for a great stroll, with plenty of cafes along the route.
Browse the Speelklok Museum – The museum of musical clocks is where mechanical musical items of all shapes and sizes come to life each hour at this little gem of a museum. Clocks, pianos, organs, violins and musical boxes all ring out and some of the examples date back over 600 years.
Discover the Town Castle Oudaen – The monumental castle of Stadskasteel Oudaen dates back to 1296 although today it is used mainly for leisure and recreational activities. There is a very good brewery on site which offers tours and sells its own locally produced beer too!
Experience the Papal House – The impressive Paushuize, aka Papal House is the second oldest structure in central Utrecht and features an ornate interior. It was built for Pope Adrianus VI, the only every Dutch Pope. Elected in 1522 he lived in Rome during his term, which only lasted one year and thus he never got to live in this magnificent structure.
Admire the medieval history within the Fortresses – Utrecht’s rich heritage can be seen within its fortresses that guarded the city during the medieval period. Several fortresses are open to the public and many have been repurposed following decommission. Highlights include the Fortress Blaukapel which is the largest of the New Dutch Waterline; Rijnauwen Fort is mightily impressive and Fortress Hoofddijk nestles within the Botanical Gardens.
Explore magical Castle de Haar – The surrounding areas of Utrecht are brimming with fairytale castles and gorgeous country estates. The pinnacle must be the Castle de Haar which is the largest (and arguably the most beautiful) example in the Netherlands.
See the De Ster Sawmill in action – The Netherlands of course is well known for its mills and pumping stations although only one example remains in the city of Utrecht. The Star Sawmill, aka De Ster, holds guided tours and a packed annual calendar of cultural events.
Utrecht Travel Facts
By Air: Nearest airport is Schiphol Amsterdam, 40km (25 miles away)
By Train: The Utrecht Central Station is just 30 minutes away from Schiphol
By Public Transport: Buses, trains and trams serve the city and beyond or hire a bike to get around
Time difference: GMT +1 hours
Visa and travel advice: FCO
More information: via the PureTravel Netherlands Travel Guide
Image credits; 1; Diliff CC BY-SA 3.0, 2; Ischa1 at nl.wikipedia