The Dom, the yards along the Oude Gracht, the Hoog Catharijne shopping centre and the Neude are just a few famous places in Utrecht. Utrecht is a large city and municipality in the Netherlands and is also the capital of the province of Utrecht with the same name. The city is often seen as the centre of the Netherlands (which is not really the case). Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands. The city is located in the Randstad and is an important location for railways and motorways.
Thanks to the many (international) students in the city, Utrecht is lively and there is always something fun to do or discover! In addition to these well-known places, Utrecht is also not very far from Amsterdam. The city is just 20 minutes away by train and the trains depart quite frequently.
The area around the Dom is the oldest part of Utrecht. The DOMunder is where you go on an underground journey through Roman times and see the Roman ruins still there today. If you prefer higher ground, make sure you climb the 465 steps of the Dom Tower! The Oude Gracht has been the lifeblood of Utrecht for centuries and although not well-known, it is still beautiful. Nieuwe Gracht is just a bit further away and is always worth a visit.
Utrecht University Museum is located in the southern half of the city centre, where surprising exhibitions can often be seen. De Oude Hortus is also worth the effort, and a great place to rest and have something to eat.
What to see in Utrecht
Utrecht is a beautiful city. It is a student city and as a result, has a lot to offer in terms of sights. Utrecht hosts many surprising treasuries, museums and galleries. And Utrecht is the perfect location for international exhibitions. Are you an afternoon looking for Christian art, crazy about Miffy or are you interested in a special exhibition? In Utrecht – the Dom City, you will find it all. Most museums are easily accessible on foot, bicycle or bus line 2, also known as the Museum bus because it brings you to most Utrecht museums!
Botanical Gardens University of Utrecht
The lush Botanical Gardens can be found very close to the Utrecht Science Park. The garden is home to lots of buzzing insects and hundreds of flowers and plants. The gardens are among the oldest university gardens in the Netherlands and are located around the 19th century Fort Hoofddijk. Throughout the year they form a dreamy festival location, for the music festival deBeschaving and the China Light Festival.
In the botanical gardens, you will find an extensive collection of plants from all over the world. The “System Garden”, where plants are arranged by families, is also a striking element that in summer months, is a beautiful sea of flowers. A sight to behold!
The Central Museum Utrecht
The Central Museum is home to an excellent collection of art and culture from different parts of the world. From Rietveld to the Utrecht Caravaggists, from Dick Bruna to Moesman and from Viktor & Rolf to the centuries-old Utrecht ship, the Central Museum is a place where you can always expect to be inspired.
The museum is located in a former medieval monastery and consists of a collection of old buildings and a beautiful large courtyard. It is a wonderful place to wander through the many corridors and stairwells and be wowed by the various exhibitions.
Utrecht University Museum
Put on your curious hat and discover the scientist in yourself at the Utrecht University Museum. Learn about scientists from the past and present and see what their life’s work was about.
The University Museum has a number of interesting exhibitions for young and old. Stuffed animals and skeletons among others. Visit ‘Tot op het Bot’ and be amazed by the nine-meter high skeleton tower, feel an elephant skin and discover the many similarities between humans and animals. Put on a lab coat and do experiments yourself in the Youth Lab.
Do you like strange objects? Do not forget to enter the Curiosity Cabinet. This is where you find all kinds of objects, such as a dragon, pufferfish and the skeleton of a hippopotamus. The showcases are decorated with exotic birds. Together, all these stuffed animals, skeletons, fish, molluscs, rocks, minerals and fossils form a fine example of an old collection of ‘rarities’.
The Railway Museum
The Railway Museum is an experience for young and old. This playful museum is located in the former Maliebaanstation and is within walking distance of the city centre. The museum has a large collection of historic trains and you learn everything about the 175-year-old train history. The Railway Museum was founded in 1927, at a time when the city realized that the preservation of old railway materials was of great historical importance. The museum is located in the old Maliebaanstation, a beautiful building that has been completely refurbished in an old Dutch architectural style. When you enter the building, you will also see old-fashioned chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, the waiting rooms for the 1st and 2nd class and the old counters where you can buy your ticket for the museum.
A number of different exhibitions can be found in the museum. For example, the ‘Great Discovery’ or “Grote Ontdekking” in Dutch. A mine lift takes you back in time when the steam engine still had to be invented. Stop for a while and admire the first Dutch steam locomotive, De Arend.
Step into the wonderful world of self-playing musical instruments and be surprised by the cheerful music that emanates from them! As you listen and listen, you learn more about the stories behind all those instruments: from the smallest music box to the biggest organs. Listen to the instruments live during the Musical Tour which takes place once every hour, or explore the Museum Expedition yourself. The Monkey organist, Toon takes the kids on a quest through the museum and lets them compose, program and play music. In addition to the permanent set-up, the museum also offers visitors varied exhibitions that make it interesting to visit again in the future.
Domtoren (Dom Tower)
The monumental Gothic Dom Tower is the icon of Utrecht. This beautiful church tower from the year 1382 can be seen from all over the city and has determined and beautified the skyline of the city for hundreds of years.
The Dom Tower has a height of 112 meters and is the tallest building in Utrecht and the highest church tower in the Netherlands. The tower was once attached to the Dom Church, but after a violent summer storm in 1674 in which the church nave collapsed, the tower had to be separated from the church. There are plans to restore the nave, but for the time bein,g church and tower remain separated for a while.
The DOMunder is the new historic attraction in Utrecht for both young and old. Immerse yourself in the 2000-year history of Domplein, Utrecht and the Netherlands. Turn on your smart flashlight and go on an underground discovery full of exciting stories and archaeological treasures. Discover the Roman past of Utrecht, as well as the glorious Middle Ages. Experience the devastating storm of 1674 when the ship of the Dom Church collapsed and the Dom Square was created.
Are you crazy about astronomy? In the Sonnenborgh Museum and the observatory, which is built on a 16th-century bastion, three telescopes face the sky. With this, you can view the moon, planets, stars and the sun.
The Sonnenborgh bastion was built in the 16th century by Emperor Charles V because he wanted to defend the city of Utrecht against a new weapon: the movable cannon. The city walls were therefore reinforced with four bastions, of which Sonnenborgh is the only one that has remained almost completely intact.
In 1851 the well-known physicist Buys Ballot came up with the idea to build an observatory and a meteorological institute on top of Sonnenborgh. The university agreed and Sonnenborgh became an observatory and in 1854 the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI) was founded.
Today, Sonnenborgh is a public observatory and a museum for meteorology, astronomy and bastion history. Look for cannon holes behind the meter-thick walls of the 16th-century defences, climb the stairs to the 19th-century-star domes and watch stars and planets on a dark night. Predict the weather as a real weatherman or watch the sun up close with a special solar telescope. Sonnenborgh is so exciting you’d want to come back every time!
What to do in Utrecht
There is definitely a lot to do in Utrecht. There are wonderful restaurants where you can sample different types of dishes from all over the globe, diverse shops for shopaholics and souvenir shops to make sure you take a piece of the city home with you. Utrecht is a nice shopping city and the shops are easily accessible. Hoog Catharijne is a large indoor shopping area that is close to the station. You can also eat and drink in the city during or after shopping.
1. Go for a canal cruise with Rederij Schuttevaer
Utrecht has a rich history that has been well preserved. Go on a canal cruise and discover the beautiful canals of the city of Utrecht. During the canal cruise, you see and enjoy a wonderful view of the old wharf cellars, bridges and beautiful statues under the Pyke Koch lampposts. Along the Oudegracht, you also find the beautiful canal houses and of course, take a quick look at the Dom Tower. A visit to Utrecht is not complete without a cruise. The canal cruise is covered in several languages and takes 1 hour.
2. Rent a bike and discover Utrecht by bike
There is nothing better than discovering Utrecht by bike: from the historic city centre, with the Dom Tower as a navigation point, and the green surroundings you can see a lot in a short time. Discover the city in a whole new way and feel like a real Dutchie while cycling past a number of must-see attractions in the city.
3. Go for a walk in the serene Fort Vreeswijk
Fort Vreeswijk was built around 1853 and is part of the Hollandse Waterline. The fort has a rich history and is hidden in the built-up area of Nieuwegein. Initially, the fort was built by the French in 1672 as a ramp, made up of low ground walls. Around 1853 the fort was reinforced with warehouses and group quarters where the ground walls were also raised and the fort moat was later added. Fort Vreeswijk is a national monument and can be the ideal place for a long afternoon walk.
4. Take a tour of the Interactive National Military Museum
The National Military Museum, the NMM, displays the history of the Netherlands and her armed forces in an impressive way for all to see. In this interactive museum the past, present and future come to life. The museum is on the same spot where the Air Force Department of the Royal Netherlands Army was founded in 1913.
In the large hall, which is the Arsenal, all the interesting masterpieces from Dutch military aviation history have been carefully gathered and exhibited for visitors. Discover at your own pace the different types of (historic) guns, tanks, planes and much more fighting equipments that have been used by the Dutch army. The most interesting part of the tours is that you can also listen to the personal story of a soldier every Saturday at 13.00 and 15.00.
5. Go get a drink
Do you want to have a bite or eat in a restaurant or just chill in a cosy café? Do what the residents do and start with a snack and a locally brewed beer. Settle down in a cosy Utrecht pub, and then continue the enjoying your evening in one of more than 200 restaurants. Utrecht is home to a large variety of restaurants, eateries, lunchrooms, coffee shops and chocolate shops. Dive into the atmospheric alleys or find your way to a restaurant on the cosy squares. For a culinary snack you can choose from many burger bars and trendy pizzerias, but you can also go for a proper wining and dining in one of the city’s Michelin Star restaurants.
6. Relax in one of Utrecht’s beautiful parks
In Utrecht, you can find many gardens, courtyards and parks where you can relax. From the hidden courtyards and the romantic Oude Hortus to the cozy parks such as Wilhelminapark and Park Lepelenburg, where activities are organized throughout the year. In the green and leafy vegetation, visitors can enjoy hiking, sports and picnics. Some parks also provide space for playgrounds, circus performances and festivals with a cultural or culinary program. Chill with friends if you’re visiting during the summer days and enjoy the sun on your skin as you lay on the green grass!
The present city of Utrecht originated just around the current Domplein. Around 50 AD, the Romans founded the city which was initially a fortress for the Roman Empire. Back then, Utrecht was part of the northern border of the Roman Empire. Utrecht has been rebuilt four times between 50 and 270 AD and after the Romans left, the Franks and the Frisians fought over control of the city. Years after the battle, Utrecht continued being an important village with a fortified castle in the middle.
On 2 June 1122, Utrecht, received her city rights. That same year the city started building a wall. In 1196 Utrecht got its own Mayor and would later become an important city for painting in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The seventeenth century also saw the opening of the city’s first university.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Netherlands became a Kingdom and Utrecht was the capital of the young kingdom for a short time. Even Louis Napoleon Bonaparte lived in Utrecht. After the bombing of Rotterdam by the Nazis, they also wanted to bomb Utrecht but it never happened because the Netherlands surrendered after the bombing of Rotterdam. After the surrender of the Netherlands to the Germans, WWII officially started in Utrecht. A total of 1200 Jews from Utrecht were deported to concentration camps and only 300 came back. On 5 May 1945, the Netherlands, and therefore also Utrecht, was liberated. Utrecht was expanded on a large scale after the war and this is one of the reasons why Utrecht is the 4th largest city in the Netherlands.
How to get to there
Thanks to its compact location, affordable accommodations and good connection to the public transport network, Utrecht is also the ideal location for exploring the Netherlands. The city is just 20 minutes away from Amsterdam by train and public transportation remains the best way to visit Utrecht.
Trains to Utrecht
All trains stop at the city centre in Utrecht. Amsterdam and Schiphol Airport are 30 minutes away by train; Rotterdam and The Hague at only 45 minutes. International trains run daily to and from Brussels (2 hours), Cologne (2.5 hours) and Paris (3.5 hours).
From Amsterdam to Utrecht by Car
Take the A2 towards Utrecht. Then take the exit 6 at Utrecht to the Ring Utrecht (Noord). Follow the Ring Utrecht in the direction of Hilversum, you are now on the N230. At the roundabout (Robert Kochplein) take the exit towards Breda via the A27, the 3rd exit on the roundabout to the right.
Immediately afterwards take the first exit on the A27, exit 30 Veemarkt/De Bilt. Then turn left, direction De Bilt and Bilthoven.
For real-time travel information from wherever you are to Utrecht, please check out this link;
Parking in Utrecht
There are areas in Utrecht where free parking is available. These parking spaces are open to cars and coaches. Utrecht doesn’t have a lot of space for parking cars and this is why parking isn’t very cheap in the city.
Some of the easily accessible parking lots are;
Parkeergarage P6 Rijnkade
3511 LC Utrecht
First 10 minutes € 1.00
Then € 0.60 per 10 minutes
24 hours € 36.00
Lost card € 36.00
This parking garage is open 24/7.
3150 VK Utrecht
First 10 minutes: € 1.00
Then every 10 minutes: € 0.60
24 hours: € 36.00
Lost card: € 36.00
Parkeergarage La Vie
3511 BR Utrecht
First 56 minutes or a portion of this 4 euros
€ 2.00 per 28 minutes (€ 4.28 per hour)
maximum daily rate € 30.00
This parking garage is open 24/7.
Parkeergarage P2 Godebald
3511 EN Utrecht
First 10 minutes: € 1.00
Then every 10 minutes: € 0.60
24 hours: € 30.00
Lost card: € 30.00
Parkeergarage P3 Radboud
3511 EK Utrecht
First 10 minutes € 1.00
Then € 0.50 per 10 minutes
24 hours € 30.00
Lost card € 30.00
This parking garage is open 24/7.
If you’re coming to Utrecht by car, make sure you park cheaply at one of the designated P&R locations, such as P+R Transferium Westraven directly at the Jaarbeurs exit next to A12. Here you can easily change to the tram that takes you to the city centre in just 10 minutes. Of course, you can also choose to take the bus. With a combination ticket for one of the Utrecht P&R locations, you can park for a full day for € 5.00 and get on the tram or bus for free with up to 5 people.
Do you prefer to park in the city? Then follow the signs to the city centre. You will automatically arrive on the roads that lead to the parking garages. The garages are indicated on the street boards around the city centre.