Natasha Blair is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and where possible travels with her passport carrying dog, Trixie. Not a beach worshippper, she is always on the lookout for new and interesting places to visit, preferably in comfort.
Unknown by many tourist outside of the Netherlands, the ancient city of Utrecht (about 45 minutes south of Amsterdam) is a treasure trove of UNESCO-protected medieval architecture, beautiful canals lined by terrace cafes and ecclesiastical buildings now converted into museums. Its rich history and a young, vibrant culture create a unique European destination.
Drinking and Dining in Ancient Wharf Cellars
The town is compact, with cobbled streets, and a canal winding its way through it. Buildings border its banks, all with cellars which, in the center, have been turned into restaurants or cafes. When the weather is warm, tables spill out onto the terraces bordering the water. Some are quirky. Winkel van Sinkel was the first department store to open in the Netherlands and has now been transformed into a grand cafe, restaurant and nightclub. The pillars of its façade have been painted a luminous green featuring Greek goddesses. The Stadskasteel Oudaen, on the opposite side of the canal, was originally a castle and is now a restaurant. Its cellar houses a steam brewery where traditional beers are still brewed using medieval recipes.
Noteworthy Utrecht Landmarks and Museums
Utrecht was built around the 369-feet high Dom Tower, which can be seen from any point in the city (pictured above). Climb the 465 steps to the top to enjoy breathtaking views as far away as Amsterdam. The Carillon, which has 50 bells, plays a tune every fifteen minutes. Dating back to the fourteenth century, the tower was originally joined to the adjacent Gothic Domkerk Cathedral until a hurricane destroyed the nave in 1674.
Not to be missed is the National Museum of Musical Clock to Street Organ. More fun than it sounds, the building houses the largest collection of automatic musical instruments in the world, all in working order. During the guided tour you can hear them playing. The guide even joins in with a song. Music varies from Viennese waltzes to Michael Jackson hits.
Utrecht is home to architect and designer Gerrit Rietveld, designer of the Red Blue chair and the Rietveld Schroder House. The house, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in 1924 and is the only building constructed according to the architectural principles of De Stijl.
The house is slightly out of the town center, a fifteen-minute ride from the Centraal Museum, which has the world’s largest collection of his designs. The museum comprises paintings, fashion, interior art, design and civic history, possessing the largest collection of paintings by Jan van Scorel.
It’s worth noting that many of the museums are closed on Monday. Some open at 10 a.m. while others don’t open until 11 a.m. An excellent way of exploring the city is by taking the hour-long canal boat ride. A bonus is that the glass-covered boats are heated. The boat has museum stops where you can hop on and off.
Where to Stay
Utrecht offers a good mix of grand hotels, charming pensions or budget bed and breakfasts.
Here are a few options:
- Grand Hotel Karel V Utrecht — a luxury hotel set on the grounds of a former monastary
- B&B Gregorius — a stylish B&B located close to the Dom Tower next to a peaceful canal
- Ibis Utrecht — a good budget option just outside of the historic town center
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Featured Image: Dom Tower with Laser Beams (Shutterstock.com)