Utrecht: The Most Interesting Dutch City You’ve Never Heard Of
Updated: Mar 20
If, like me, you crave the discovery of under-the-radar destinations and experiences when you travel, Utrecht is for you. This university city, one of the Netherlands’ oldest urban centers, is friendly and welcoming. Tree-lined canals loop around the medieval core and the 15th-century Domtoren, and along those waterways you’ll find former ancient warehouses that have been restored into fun eateries, cozy cafes, live music venues, hotels and more.
You’ll notice a difference in Utrecht’s canals - they’re split-level. The Rhine River flowed through the town back in the Middle Ages, but during the 12th century, the residents changed the course of the river by creating the Oudegracht, or Old Canal.
The canal area was home to warehouses, shipyards and storage cellars, right at the water level. Over the ensuing centuries, these shipyards became today’s shops, restaurants and residents, creating a split-level canal. What that means for today’s travelers is the unique opportunity to sit for a spell at a waterside cafe, then explore the shops and colorful residences one level up.
Don’t Miss Dom Tower
The tallest church tower in the Netherlands - at 369 feet high - sits in the 14th-century Domplein Square (also known as Dom Square). Rev your heart rate by climbing the 465 steps to the top for a beautiful panoramic view of the city.
Then, descend to the DOMUncer, where you’ll discover 2,000 years of Dutch history amidst the pillar foundations of the Gothic Dom Cathedral underground. Feel like a real archaeologist as you explore by torchlight, which, as if by magic, these special lights activate stories and films that reveal the past.
A Melodic Museum
Put away your phones and instead spend a couple of hours at the Museum Speelklock. Musicians love the impressive instrument collection, which can be viewed on a guided tour or on one’s own. Music surrounds you as you wander throughout the museum, from musical clocks, orchestrions (self-playing orchestras) and traditional Dutch street organs.
A Storybook Castle
Another suggestion for Utrecht sightseeing - other than simply losing yourself along the canals and cafes and soaking up the vibrant culture of the city - is the Castle de Haar. Postcard-perfect with its turrets, moats and drawbridges, this is the Netherlands’ largest castle - and fanciest. Built in 1882, its constructions required the moving of an entire village - Haarzuilens - to make space for its walls!
Spend an afternoon strolling through the expansive park and gardens, including the Rose Garden with more than 1,200 roses in 79 different varieties, and the Roman Garden, with its ponds, canals and bridges. Your travel provider may even include a tour of the luxurious interior.
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