Visit Utrecht, Holland in two days
Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, is definitely one of the most interesting and oldest cities in the country and one that is worth visiting – at least for two days! There’s a sense of quaintness and compactness about Utrecht as it maintains its small-town vibes, with a touch of medieval magic sprawled over the city. If you’re looking for another unique place to visit outside of Amsterdam , go and visit Utrecht – there’s plenty to see and do in just two days.
Here’s what to see in Utrecht
The city is often overlooked by tourists, but what awaits you is beautiful tree-lined canals snaking along the streets with cafes reflected on the water, a medieval centre with the unique canals, stunning architecture and a long, rich history There’s a sort of nostalgic aura to the city with its medieval buildings, its cathedral, world-class museums and the quintessential Dutch houses.
You can easily go sight-seeing and explore the whole city on foot or by bike (if you can brave the number of cyclists there). This charming city was voted as one of the most underrated travel cities by Lonely Planet, and it would be a shame if you did not spend at least a day or two there!
Day One – Visit Utrecht, Holland
The Dom Tower, this iconic symbol of the city of Utrecht, is a glorious architectural monument looming over the old city and is the tallest church tower in all of Netherlands. We could practically see the tower majestically standing over the city almost everywhere we went, and approaching this Gothic masterpiece certainly got us all excited. It doesn’t stop there, though; it’s not just a monument you can enjoy from the outside – even though the exterior is quite impressive, the interior is a whole other story.
To get a genuine experience of the Dom tower, and to be rewarded with a surprise up there, we had to climb 465 steps (which were definitely worth it!), and in no time we were above this 112-meter high structure. The guide took us to the top, and we had multiple stops along the way explaining the history at various levels of the tower and the galleries. Once we got up there, we were rewarded with spending panoramic vistas of the entire city. On a really clear day, you can see Amsterdam from the top of the tower.
The building also has two private chapels, 50 bells (the heaviest weighing 8200 kilos!) and an exhibition on the history of the structure and how and why it was built.
After leaving the Dom Tower, we headed to the adjacent Dom Church, which was once the Netherland’s largest church. In fact, it was connected to the Dom Tower until a storm brought unto the collapse of its nave and they got separated.
The church dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours remains one of the most important in the Netherlands. Again, the exterior was mainly Gothic and reminiscent to the cathedrals seen in France. We stood before the church for a few minutes to admire the Gothic architecture with its arches, its stained glass windows and its pointed spires. As we entered the church, we were immediately met with an impressive 32-metre high vault, and then we wandered around to explore the rest of the church.
There is nothing we needed more than an idyllic scene full of plants, herbs, a beautiful fountain and Gothic arches after climbing 465 steps in the tower and exploring the church. We were exhausted and the sense of peace we felt after entering this courtyard of the Dom Kerk, was a wonderfully relaxing feeling.
There were over 140 species of plants and herbs, all separated by low-lying hedges, a bronze fountain of the priest Hugo Wstinc and the surrounding Gothic architecture. We then went to the Cathedral’s tearoom to enjoy a quick cup of coffee before we embarked on the rest of our journey of exploring Utrecht.
We headed to another courtyard, directly beneath the Dom. Flora’s Hof is a quaint little garden that drips with history. It was built on what was once the site of the Episcopal palace, then became the location for a nursery, and now it’s a place for a quiet hangout. This 19th century inspired garden is filled with historical flower varieties, and we enjoyed the temporary relaxation in this green oasis, and we even found a photo that shows what the garden looked like back in the 20’s.
Firma Pickles Burgers & Wines
We stopped over at Firma Pickles Burgers & Wines, a popular restaurant and wine bar located in the center of the city. The restaurant has a trendy bohemian setting and mainly serves burgers. It also has a big variety of wines and many beers. I had a delicious double cheeseburger accompanied by homemade fries and pickles and a Vedett extra white Belgian beer.
Even though the Centraal Museum looked like a historical building from the outside with its architecture and its glass entrance, it turns out it’s a showcase of modern art and culture from Utrecht – all housed in this medieval monastery. We could also get in with the same ticket we bought for the Rietveld Schröder House.
Things to check out inside the museum:
Utrecht ship – considered the main attraction of the museum.
Utrecht’s Caravaggio paintings
The Tile Floor
Draw Leaf Table
The World of Utrecht Collection
Gerrit Rietveld Collection – The museum houses the largest Gerrit Rietveld Collection in the world.
Rietveld Schröder House
When I heard the house was a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I did not expect it to be this small. An extremely impressive expression of the De Stijl movement, radical architectural designs, peculiar shapes and quirky walls are what made this house so mind-blowing to me. Everything in the house could be transformed into something else, everything was compact, and everything had a dual function. The transition from the exterior to the interior was seamless, and the colours that are essential to the De Stijl architectural style were everywhere – red, yellow, white, grey, black and blue. To me, the most interesting part was the upper level – there were no internal walls; however, you could slide and revolve panels to create three bedrooms, a bathroom and a living room!
Usually, when the sun sets, that is an indicator that the sight-seeing should be coming to an end – but not in Utrecht. An experience unlike no other was awaiting us, one that we honestly never had in any country before. The Trajectum Lumen is a light-art walk that took us on a historical journey around Utrecht for about 2 hours. We started our journey at the Apollo Hotel at Vredenburg and then we made our way through the city, passing over bridges, under tunnels, and by the most historical sites in Utrecht, all illuminated by artistic centrepieces created by national and international artists. It was the most fun we had without paying anything, we just headed off with our up and followed the orange lights embedded in the road. The most impressive of them all, was, of course, the Dom Tower. It was the centrepiece of the project with its lantern illuminated beautifully – reflecting how the Dom Tower is the pulsing heart of the city.
Day Two – Visit Utrecht, Holland
De Haar Castle
Just 16 kilometres outside of Utrecht, we were not mentally prepared for the grandeur and majesty of this fairy-tale like the castle rising proudly in the midst of trees, old gardens and ponds. It’s a historical monument dating back to the 19th century but designed to look exactly like the medieval ruins it was built upon. Everything was handmade in a way that reflected the medieval times accurately – so not only the architecture was glorious, but even the little details like silverware were hand-made to look like they were made in the medieval times. The castle boasted towers, ramparts, moats, gates and drawbridges and it was without a doubt my favourite out of everything I’ve seen in Utrecht. Inside, the lavish decors, the paintings, furniture, antiques, wood carvings an the architecture all were overwhelmingly beautiful.
The cherry on top was the area outside of the castle, however. The park is enough of an attraction on its own with a beautiful courtyard, 250 treed-acres and fountains.
Canal Boat Cruise
What is the Netherlands without its famous canals? Even though Utrecht is not the only city in Europe with canals, it certainly has a unique one. They were constructed a few hundred years ago, and the wharves were used for boats to drop off goods and then warehouses were used to store the merchandise.
Today, those wharves and cellars are used as restaurants, stores, cafes, and shops, and it is now a large part of the tourist economy in the city.
It’s one thing to explore a city on foot, but it’s a whole other magical experience to explore it while floating effortlessly into its medieval canals. We took a round-trip canal boat cruise that made us feel like we were directly parts of the city like we were intertwined with its architecture and its history. We sailed through Utrecht, watching the most famous monuments while a guide explained the most important historical parts, we saw hidden beauties, we watched historical tableaux, the beautiful facades reflected unto the water and the trees lining the canal.
Formerly a medieval defensive tower house, this castle is now one of the most well-known restaurants in Utrecht. We enjoyed a quick beer and a delicious lunch in the middle of this beautiful medieval setting.
Shopping in Utrecht
After coming back from the castle and finishing the boat cruise, we wanted a bit of a change from the historical attractions, so we decided to do some shopping. We went to Hoog Catharijne – the most visited mall in all the Netherlands which hosts over 160 shops. It was a real shopper’s paradise with all types of shops from clothing to food to shoe shops to jewellers!
Where we stayed in Utrecht – Park Plaza Utrecht
The Park Plaza Utrecht hotel we stayed at was walking distance from the historical city centre and the central station making our trip much more convenient than anticipated. The rooms were very clean and comfortable and nicely decorated, with air conditioning, coffee and a private bathroom with a bath and a shower.
The breakfast buffet could not be beaten with a huge variety of food, and the staff were very helpful. The hotel was also a 10-minute walk from the canals, and the airport was about 30 minutes away. Check out the reviews and latest prices for this hotel here for more updates.
Other hotel options in Utrecht
If you’re looking for other hotel options, check out these Trip Advisor deals and reviews here for more updated information and prices.
I think Utrecht is worth visiting for at least two days so you can get a full grasp on the city. It’s the only place you’ll see canals with wharfs, it’s a city that is so quintessentially Dutch and relishes in a magical medieval vibe, it’s easily navigable and can be explored in a day, and the whole city is a showcase of art, culture and history – an overall unmissable experience!
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Guest blogger bio
Chrisoula Manika is a travel blogger and tourism professional based in Athens, Greece. She writes in both English and French for Travel Passionate, her blog focusing on luxury travel around Europe.
She’s traveled extensively throughout Europe for the past 25 years and has no intention of slowing down. She loves to explore the local culture and gastronomy of the places she visits.
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