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Day Trip to Utrecht, A Vibrant Student City

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Day Trip to Utrecht, A Vibrant Student City © Dierk Schaefer/Flickr

Utrecht is a popular day trip for tourists, and justly so; as the Netherlands' fourth most populous city and the seat of a major Dutch university, it feels like a mini metropolis with all the creativity and cafes that student cities have to offer. Utrecht's lovely historic center has a most unique feature in that its canals have a lower level on the water, whose former cellars have been converted into cafes and restaurants.

How to Get There:

  • By train - Up to four trains per hour connect Amsterdam Central Station to Utrecht Central Station, a 27-minute journey. See the Dutch Railways (NS) web site for timetable and fares.

What to See and Do in Utrecht:

  1. Dom Church and Dom Tower.
    It's hard to miss the Dom Tower (Domtoren), which at 369 ft. is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands; nor should visitors miss the splendid Gothic church, the Dom Church (Domkerk), that it was once attached to. The two were once linked by a central nave, which collapsed in an 1674 tornado and was never restored; instead, the Dom Square (Domplein) took its place, and the tower was severed from its church. Intrepid climbers can scale the tower's 465 steep stairs for a lovely panorama of the city.

  2. Utrecht's Canals
    There are several ways to explore Utrecht's canals, whose unique quaysides double as pedestrian streets full of cafes, restaurants, retailers and more. Visitors can stroll the canal-side lanes where local businesses have popped up, from pancake restaurant De Oude Muntkelder to the Werftheater, a popular theater housed in a former quayside cellar. Another way is by boat: paddleboats can be rented from Canal Bike, while more leisurely canal cruises are on offer from Rederij Shuttervaer.

  3. Centraal Museum
    The oldest municipal museum in the Netherlands has a clear predilection for modernity: besides its marvelous Old Masters, it also exhibits a wide variety of 20th-century Dutch visual and applied arts. The museum also administers two other major attractions: opposite its front entrance, the Dick Bruna House features the art of the world-renowned childen's author who created the lovable rabbit Miffy (Nijntje in Dutch); and the Rietveld Schröder House, the product of star architect, Red Blue Chair inventor and and Utrecht native Gerrit Rietveld.

  4. AAMU Museum for Contemporary Aboriginal Art
    The only museum of its kind in Europe, AAMU is dedicated solely to the art of Australia's native inhabitants. Visitors are offered a rare window into these elusive arts, and the peculiar themes and motifs of each school, via an introductory video, the permanent collection and temporary exhibits.

Where to Eat in Utrecht:

  • Winkel van Sinkel - By day, the first floor of this "cultural culinary warehouse" is a popular cafe and lunchroom; after hours, the downstairs cellar morphs into a tapas restaurant and cultural venue.

  • Stadskasteel Oudaen - This 13th-century "urban castle" (stadskasteel) is part cafe (Het Proeflokaal), part classic French restaurant (Restaurant Ouddaen), and part microbrewery, popular for its unfiltered Ouwe Daen wheat beer and other brews.

  • Blauw - For a lavish Indonesian rijsttafel, look no further than Blauw, whose locations in Utrecht and Amsterdam have been applauded by the New York Times and top Dutch restaurant critic Johannes van Dam.
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