Planning a visit to Utrecht? You’ll need this Utrecht Guide! Utrecht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands with a beautiful medieval centre, split level canals, hordes of university students and historic architecture. It’s only a short train ride away from Amsterdam, should you wish to escape the crowds of the touristic Dutch capital and get some respite. As it’s quite a compact city, 3 days in Utrecht makes for an ideal city break in the Netherlands. I’ve put together a Utrecht guide so that you can make the most of your time in this hip, uni town.
One of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, Utrecht has a beautiful medieval centre, with split level canals, hordes of university students and historic architecture Click To Tweet
Day One in Utrecht
Check into a Boutique hotel In Utrecht
There is a range of hotels, guest houses and apartments in Utrecht to suit all budgets and tastes. If you are wanting a gorgeous boutique hotel stay then I would recommend Mother Goose Hotel. This unique hotel is full of character with its historic elements fused with chic design. Moody throws, sexy lighting and a rainfall shower all add to the wow factor of this distinctive hotel.
The room has all the amenities you might expect from an upscale, city centre hotel. There is a flat screen TV, free WiFi, coffee maker, toiletries and a hairdryer. A typical Dutch breakfast is included and is available across the Square at Daen’s Cafe. Choose from bread and cheese, sliced cold meat, pancakes and pastries, soft-boiled eggs, and freshly brewed coffee. Sit outside and soak up some sunshine as you watch the square come to life in the morning.
If you are looking for an out of town stay, the Carlton President offers spacious rooms and a range of facilities. Enjoy the restaurant, swimming pool, sauna, wellness facilities and the garden. Their fabulous premium rooms include amenities such as Nespresso coffee machine, bathroom with rain shower, electronic safe and minibar.
Guided tour of Utrecht
Utrecht has a varied and interesting history, including Vikings attacks, being a residency of Napoleon Bonaparte and the liberation of the city after Hitler’s death. The best way to understand the history and construction of his university town is to take a stroll with a local guide. It’s best to have a walking tour on your first day in the city to familiarise yourself with the layout and discover where all the best spots are.
Discover all the highlights of Utrecht such as the old canals, the Domtower, churches, breweries and street art. There is no better way to get to know the city than taking a walk along the 12th century Old Canal Area (Oudegracht), the only inner-canal system with wharves and wharf cellars in Europe. Ask your guide to take you along the waterside to see the cellars and learn more about the history of the canals and their historic inhabitants.
Streetfood Club Utrecht
Streetfood Club is an Instagrammer’s dream with crazy carpet prints, murals, pretty cocktails, flamingos and a decent selection of street food. Typical dishes include Bangkok style papaya salad, Fried veggie spring rolls, chicken gyoza and tacos.
The ‘made to order’ cocktails are also pretty special if you fancy a lunchtime tipple or three. Signature cocktails include ‘Bombay Basil Bomb’ with Tanqueray Gin, cucumber and basil and ‘The Silk Road’ with Vodka, kumquat and pomegranate juice.
Explore Utrecht canals on an electric boat
Explore Utrecht from the waterside and navigate the canals on an electric boat. We hired a boat from Kanoverhuur, a centrally located boat hire company in Oudegracht 4. Our bright orange vessel came complete with a map and the stern instruction of ‘make sure you take the first left’ from the staff.
Cruising along the canals gives you the opportunity to see the iconic wharf cellars and the distinctive Dutch architecture of Utrecht. Despite having a map and verbal directions, we managed to get ourselves lost and drifting ever further from the city centre. As we slowly sailed by ever more industrial looking building and larger boats, we had a hunch that we had gone ever so slightly off-grid.
Luckily, my husband Luke decided to take over captain duties and navigate us back towards the city centre using Google maps, thus avoiding having to make a humiliating call for rescue from a tourist boat that maxes out at 6mph. Despite our failure to properly navigate, the boat was easy to manoeuvre and a lot larger than we expected. You could easily fit a small group of friends aboard and bring drinks and snacks to have a sort of floating picnic. Expect to pay around €30 per hour per electric boat in Utrecht.
Utrecht Waterside Canal drinks
The canals in Utrecht are pretty unique to the Netherlands, there’s a lower level where warehouses were once located in the 13th century meaning the canals have a split level. Many of these former warehouses have been converted into bars and restaurants offering waterside dining and drinks.
Popular places along the water include La Señorita, a Tapas restaurant serving tasty tapas and sangria, Restaurant Tafel aan de Gracht serving Mediterranean food in a snug wharf cellar and Restaurant Blij, serving Dutch and European dishes.
Restaurant Blauw Utrecht
Why not splash out on a fancy dinner at Restaurant Blauw when in Utrecht? Enjoy Indonesian cuisine in a contemporary and welcoming restaurant. Restaurant Blauw is located in the quiet Springweg, off the much more busy Mariaplaats. This is a fantastic place to experience a traditional Indonesian ‘rice table’, a dining concept created by Dutch colonists as a way of sampling the many different Indonesian dishes. Order a ‘meat rice table’ for €33.30 per person and feast upon a huge selection of dishes including spicy beef, sweet soy pork, lamb curry, spicy chicken goat satay, beans with tofu, rice and vegetables in coconut milk. Blauw really delivers on authentic Indonesian cuisine with bold flavours, gorgeous colours and stylish presentation, it’s well worth a visit.
Day 2 in Utrecht
Climb the Dom Tower
The Dom Tower [or Domtoren to use its Dutch name] is one of the most iconic sights in Utrecht. At 112 metres, the 14th-century tower is the highest church tower in the Netherlands. The tower is currently undergoing vital maintenance and restoration work and is currently covered in scaffolding on the top half of its exterior. Thankfully the tower is still open for tours and the incredible view from the top of the tower remains unchanged.
Book a tour of the tower and learn about how the tower has survived fires, occupations, storms and political change on its historic timeline. Be aware that there are many, many steps to get to the top, though your journey is broken up by stopping at various levels to learn more about the tower.
As we were inside the tower, a tremendous storm broke out over Utrecht. It really was a spine-tingling experience to be inside a historic tower as the winds whipped around and the rain lashed down, it was like a scene from ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ movie. We had to wait for the storm to break before we could climb to the viewing gallery at 95 meters for safety reasons. After all, this is a tower that was previously partly destroyed by a storm in the 16th century.
The storm subsided and we raced up to get those all-important #skyview shots, Instagrams or it didn’t happen right? The view from the top of the tower is a remarkably impressive aerial view of the city, looking out over the pretty architecture and green spaces. Tours of the tower are in Dutch and English and admission is €9 for adults and €5 for kids aged 4-12.
Visit Dom Under
History fans should head to the ‘Dom Under‘ experience. An underground space where you can learn about 2,000 years of Dutch history below Dom Square. Book a tour to be guided underground to look at historic artefacts with an interactive flashlight that activates stories and animated films.
The tour begins with an overview of Utrecht history and information on Dom Square delivered by a knowledgeable tour guide. You are then handed a flashlight and invited to explore a darkened underground section and hunt for history! The tour and audio information are available in English and tickets cost € 11 for adult and € 8,50 for students and children.
PK bar & kitchen Utrecht
Have lunch overlooking the water at PK bar & kitchen, an upmarket bar with great food and tasty dishes. The lunch menu consists of several reasonably priced dishes including Vegetarian quiche, Smoked salmon prawns, grilled cheese sandwich and burgers. There’s a really relaxed vibe here at this centrally located venue, making it the ideal place for a lazy lunch in the city.
Cycle around Utrecht
Getting around Utrecht by bike is a fabulous way to live like a local. Bike Rental is easy and relatively inexpensive in this bike-friendly city. Choose from traditional road bikes to mountain bikes and explore the city or surrounding countryside on two wheels. Unlike the UK, bike lanes are plentiful in the Netherlands and it is really easy and convenient to cycle around the main roads. You don’t have to be a serious biker to enjoy the flat terrain and easy to navigate streets of Utrecht.
The Tourist Information Centre has got bicycles for hire for only €10 a day per bike, you will need to show some I.D and pay a deposit of €100 though. They also have lots of information on scenic cycle routes and points of interest across the city. Be sure to check out cycle routes around the botanical gardens, Máximapark, a large urban park, Amelisweerd, a picturesque country estate and De Haar Castle, an estate with landscaped gardens.
Stan & Co Utrecht
Enjoy meaty dishes cooked on the charcoal-fired Josper grill at the swish dining venue. The steaks at Stan & Co have a wonderful smoky flavour thanks to the searing charcoal temperatures in the closed Josper oven. Definitely kick things off with a tasty and beautifully presented starter platter as well.
For mains, choose from steaks, burgers, salads, fish and grill dishes and make sure you bring your appetite with you, their portions are generous. We appeared to have ‘double potatoes’ with our steak dish, which is never a bad shout. The vibe and deco here really make it a relaxing a fun place to dine, especially as the staff are friendly and attentive. Expect to pay approximately €18 to €30 for a main dish.
Day 3 in Utrecht
Centraal Museum Utrecht
Classic meets modern at Centraal Museum with collections of design, modern art and works from the art masters. The Centraal Museum is the main museum in Utrecht, Netherlands and was founded in 1838. The museum houses a wide-ranging art collection, including the largest collection of Rietveld pieces in the world and has many special exhibits.
We visited the Jan Taminiau: Reflections Exhibition during our visit. Jan Taminiau is a well known, award winning Dutch designer with his own fashion label. This brilliant exhibition is a collection of new works and loan pieces from private collections
The exhibition is spread out across several spaces and is incredibly well designed and innovative. Not only are several of his creations on display but you are also led on a journey to discover how he creates his designs and the creative process involved. You don’t have to be a fashionista to enjoy this remarkable exhibition and appreciate this level of extraordinary talent. Tickets to Centraal Museum cost € 13.50 per adult.
Audio tour Rietveld Schröder House
The Rietveld Schröder House is the architectural highlight of the art movement De
Stijl. The iconic house was designed and decorated in 1924 by Utrecht architect Gerrit Rietveld, for Mrs Truus Schröder and her children. The UNESCO World Heritage Listed house was a private residence until 1985 but is now open to the public for guided and audio tours. If you happen to be a fan of quirky houses, then this is definitely the tour for you.
Be warned, the tours of the house are timed, so make sure you arrive a few minutes before your timed slot, the staff here adopt a rather stern tone if you are late! Our guide demonstrated the transitions between interior and exterior and the clever use of space and light in the house by sliding various walls and pointing out cleverly designed furniture. It’s certainly an impressive house but unless you are an architecture enthusiast, the novelty may wear off fairly quickly, despite the guide’s excitement over the speaking tube. Tickets for the Rietveld Schröder House cost €16,50 per adult.
Restaurant Vroeg Utrecht
Have lunch in a tranquil and relaxing setting at Restaurant Vroeg. This is the perfect place for dining with pretty, countryside views. This dining establishment contains a restaurant, bakery and a shop all in one location. You can watch delicious, homemade dishes being crafted in the central open kitchen or sip a glass of wine in their outdoor seating area.
Typical tempting lunchtime dishes include Charcoal grilled hamburger with mozzarella and tomato chutney, butter fried sole fish with salad and fries and club sandwiches. The menu here is seasonal and features high-quality produce that is sure to satisfy even the fussiest of foodies. Expect to pay €10-€15 for a main.
Canoe through De Rijnstroom Utrecht
Connect with nature and hire a Canoe from De Rijnstroom and paddle through the stunning Amelisweerd nature reserve. Glide through peaceful waters and appreciate the wildlife and swimming Dutch people, who wave languidly from the water. Paddle through fields, forests and bridges on this gentle expedition and soak up some rays whilst you’re at it.
Along the way, you can stop and have a picnic at one of the picnic fields you will pass, or you can have a bite at the Veldkeuken, or feast upon pancakes at the Rhijnauwen tea house. It’s a very gentle paddle, so you don’t need to have a lot of experience to have a go. Hiring a 2 person canoe costs, € 7.00 for 1 hour, € 14.00 for 2 hours and € 21.00 for 3 hours.
Dutch Pancakes Rhijnauwen tea house
What is a more Dutch thing to do than eat a pancake for dinner? Stop off at the Rhijnauwen tea house to have a Dutch pancake [a sort of cross between a French crepe and an American pancake]. Sit on their large terrace overlooking the water for coffee and delicious pancakes. Choose from a huge selection of savoury and sweet pancakes that are made in front of you in the open plan kitchen.
Go on a bar crawl in Utrecht
Utrecht is beautifully lit at night with the canals and buildings bathed in soft light. Wander around the centre admiring the views and stop off for a few tipples along the way! Be sure to call into the Grand Cafe Lebowski, it is kitted out in all manner of weird decor and has a geat selection of drinks and chilli dogs.
Other venues that are worth a visit include, Kafé België, a beer lovers paradise with a large selection of brewed and bottled beers to choose from. Winkel van Sinkel has a great outside seating area and is also housed in a beautiful building. Service can be a little slow, so make sure you aren’t in a rush to head elsewhere.
Cafe Orloff has a vibrant atmosphere, funky decor, music and delicious bar snacks including the Dutch classic, bitterballen. Kick back in their outside seating and soak up the vibes.
What do you think of my Utrecht Guide? Do you think 3 days in Utrecht is enough time to explore a city? Let me know in the comments below!