Utrecht Uncut – Part 2 – Exploring the City!

October 24, 2015

Following on from my previous post all about how we got to the Dutch city of Utrecht, I am going to tell you all about the city itself today. It really is a hidden gem.

A mere 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam, Utrecht is home to the largest university in the country yet still maintains a quaint and quiet feeling, with a population of less than 400,000.

If you have ever wanted to experience Holland and even Amsterdam yourself but you want a slower pace, Utrecht is the place for you.

With the public transport running with excellent efficiency, the train station lies in the heart of the city and adjoined to the large modern shopping centre, Hoog Catharijne. You have to cut through the shops to get to the main outdoor space within the city centre – what a shame eh! The Hoog Catharijne has a huge ceramic tea pot proudly sitting on top too, see if you can spot it!

The centre of Utrecht is very compact and based around the canal, with most of the shops and bars on the Oudegracht which means old canal. The canal side is lined with bars and restaurants built in to the cellars of the buildings above, known as Wharf Cellars. The one thing you will notice in Utrecht is that everywhere is geared up for outdoor sitting and dining which was even pleasant in October. The tables and seats line the canal, a beautiful way to spend a few hours over lunch or a coffee.

If you want to stray away from the Oudegracht, head to Neude, the new square of Utrecht. Make your way through the swathes of bikes across the square, and you will find a bar or eatery to suit your budget or taste. From basic beers to wine bars and nibbles, indoors or out, you can find it at Neude.

Tourist attractions aren’t that abundant in Utrecht, especially as the Miffy museum is currently closed and undergoing work, but what you do get from Utrecht is a real sense of the city. Just walking round and soaking up the atmosphere is more than enough. The buildings are cute every where you look and the walk around the canal route is so pretty. Once you have walked the route, we recommend taking the canal boat tour for another sense of perspective. Picking up the boat at the Oudegracht, you spend an hour with a guide sailing the waterways learning more about the city, its history and the culture.

The Dom Tower can be seen from almost every where in the city centre and dominates the skyline. You can climb to the top of the tower for the breathtaking view of the city, as well as visiting the Dom itself. Although now the Dom and it’s tower are 2 separate buildings with a square in between, they were once joined up but after a storm damaged the building, it was never reconnected. Not only is the Dom Tower the tallest church in the Netherlands, it also marks the point at which Utrecht first began 2,000 years ago. You can take a guided tour under the Dom and Dom Tower for those of you who love history.

One of the main places we wanted to visit was Stadkasteel Oudaen. The former castle of Utrecht now serves as a microbrewery, bar and very tasty restaurant. With seating on the terrace, the Wharf and of course inside, this building is so steeped with the history of Utrecht it is a must-visit stop off in the city. After taking the brewery tour, with 5 beers brewed on the premises on tap and an expert coffee barista busy brewing away at the bar, there is something for everyone at Oudaen. The food is pretty tasty too.

We visited several great cafes and bars while we were in Utrecht and had a delicious meal at Quignon, on the Oudegracht, sampling some traditional Dutch food like Bitterballen which can only be described as a whipped meaty mousse in breadcrumbs!  As our main goal for this trip was to explore and relax, we headed for where the locals went.

We stayed at the Apollo Hotel during our stay which is a cute boutique hotel in the heart of the city and backs conveniently on to the Oudegracht. Some people say the view from the 4th floor café in the V+D department store offers the best view of the Dom and the city but I have to argue that the Apollo does a pretty good job of beating that view!

The Apollo couldn’t be in a better location as the Trajectum Lumen starts right outside the hotel. A mostly self guided tour around Utrecht, this year round light installation is something fun and interesting to do on a night time if the bar scene isn’t for you or if you have children with you. Each view point and art piece is marked on the accompanying App and you can find them by following the illuminated arrows and blue eyes in the ground throughout the city. On Saturdays you can however take a guided tour.

In the open space opposite the Hotel, there was a large market which was chock full of traditional food stalls, fashion and hardware. It was nice to see the market thriving with people buying things for every day life, much unlike our markets here that just seem to be full of the same old thing or food. We spent ages watching an 80yr old woman try to load her bicycle up with her shopping but she’d bought far too much. After about 15 minutes she managed to pack up and wobble off on her way!

After a very relaxed and interesting time in Utrecht it was sadly time to pack our bags and head back for the ferry. Our time in the city really gave us a taste of the Dutch culture and history and was a great alternative to Amsterdam.

Would we return to Utrecht? Without shadow of a doubt. Would we recommend it? YES!

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