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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.