The geekier and less crowded version of bustling Amsterdam, Utrecht is just a 30-minute train ride from the Netherland’s capital. Adorned with lovely canals and medieval buildings and rich in bookstores and cozy street cafes, Utrecht is a scenic city with a young spirit and hundreds-of-years-old sights. From the ancient moat that still frames the old town to the medieval buildings that adorn the city center and the majestic Dom Tower that dominates the skyline, this destination promises intriguing tales of the past and fantastic photogenic spots.

The Oude Gracht (Old Canal) in Utrecht, Netherlands
The Oude Gracht (Old Canal) in Utrecht, Netherlands

Utrecht’ romantic canals – an idyllic setting for long strolls and dinner cruises

Utrecht’s canals are more dramatic than Amsterdam’s canals and this only adds to their appeal. Beautiful and labyrinthine, peaceful and nostalgic, the canals in Utrecht are among the most beautiful in the world. You’ll find the “Oudergracht” (old canals) and “Nieuwegracht” (new canals), both splendid and lined with a plethora of boutiques, restaurants, bars, and cafes housed inside what were once wharves and cellars at water-level. A great setting for drinking and eating by the canals in Utrecht is Oudaen, a castle dating back to the 1200s that is now a restaurant and brewery. Relaxed and less crowded, the canals in Utrecht are a romantic setting for a boat tour or canoeing.

St Martins Cathedral and Dom tower in the centre of Utrecht, The Netherlands
St Martins Cathedral and Dom tower in the centre of Utrecht, The Netherlands

The Dom universe – medieval charm in the historical area of Utrecht

Dom Square tells stories dating back to 2000 years ago when the city was a Roman settlement. The Dom Tower reigns supreme over the square, a magnificent structure that invites you to climb 465 steps up to the top to capture superb views of the city and the canals. St. Martin’s Cathedral known also as Dom Church was built in the 15th century and has been a worship place for Dutch protestants ever since. The area also houses the Dom Under, a fascinating underground attraction, as well as many houses that boast traditional Dutch architectural style. From here you’ll easily get to the Museumkwariter (museum quarter), an enclave of historical buildings that have passed the test of time. Museum aficionados should add visits to the Centraal Museum, the oldest art museum in the country, the Museum of Coins, as well as the Railway Museum.

People enjoying food and drink at a restraunt on the wharf along the canal Oudegracht, Utrecht.
People enjoying food and drink at a restaurant on the wharf along the canal Oudegracht, Utrecht.

Street cafes and restaurants – they’re everywhere and always on point

The sidewalks cafes are everywhere in Utrecht, the perfect excuse to stop for a café in the summer or a warm tea in the winter. From the bohemian teahouses situated on the winding cobblestone streets of the old town offering lovely canal views to the hip cafes situated in Janskerkhof, the city’s university district, where you’ll also discover the beautiful old church Janskerk, dating back to 1040, Anne Frank’s statue, and the quirky Betje Boerhaave Museum, you can be sure you’ll always find the right place to enjoy a cup of coffee in Utrecht. If it’s food you’re after, start with the extraordinary Belgian fries from Frietwinkle, near Oudegracht, and continue with a hearty burger at Meneer Smakers. Despite being simple and traditional, Dutch cuisine has delicious surprises for visitors, and some of them await at the gorgeous Café Olivier restaurant, where mussels and Belgian beer are among the two most popular specialties on the menu.

Audiences at a music events on the water named Grachtenparade (Canal parade), Utrecht.
Audiences at a music event on the water named Grachtenparade (Canal parade), Utrecht.

Contemporary Utrecht – keep up with its lively pace  

Utrecht is a youthful city, housing one of the largest student populations in the country. As expected, the cultural scene and nightlife are designed to satisfy the impressive number of students always in search of the next best hip thing to do. The city is invaded by an abundance of nightclubs and bars, many of them praising EDM music, a genre the country is known for. Moreover, the city is famous for its impressive number of festivals that gravitate around music, like the Ultrasonic Festival, the Festival Strand, and the Festival Oude Muziek. The Bockbierfestival focuses as much on music as it does on beer, while Fonteyn Festival is the answer to the prayers of many wine-lovers. Trek festival brings tons of food into town served from food trucks in a vibrant ambiance. Beer plays an important role in the daily lives of Utrecht’s residents, the city being a true mecca for beer lovers from all around the country. You’ll find an endless variety of beers at most pubs, restaurants, and cafes in Utrecht, like pilsener and Belgian beers, often served with complimentary snacks.