Travel: Utrecht

When people think of visiting Holland so often their minds go straight to Amsterdam, but there’s far more of the country to discover than their famous capital. We visited them to discover what the hidden gem of a city, Utrecht, had to offer for couples looking for a mini break.

There are regular flights from East Midlands airport and Birmingham airport everyday, which will get you into Amsterdam in just an hour. From there a short 30 minute train journey (the train station is right in the airport so no getting lost) will take you to the beautiful city of Utrecht.

Restaurants alongside the canals.
Restaurants alongside the canals.

On arriving in Utrecht we were blown away by how calm yet vibrant a city it is, in my opinion making it my ideal kind of place for a couples’ break away. Canals sweep through the centre of the town with countless restaurants situated on the waterfront. Unlike in Amsterdam, in Utrecht many of the cafes and restaurants are right out with terraces on the water as opposed to on street level above. If you’re just going for a weekend you’ll certainly be spoilt for choice of where to eat out but don’t worry, we have some recommendations for you!

We stayed at the Mother Goose Hotel which is located right in the centre of the town, just a few steps from the nearest cafes. The hotel only opened a few months ago and is the epitome of modern design. Beautifully designed rooms blend rustic and contemporary and looking out of the window we had a stunning view of the city’s famous Dom Tower.

The fabulous Mother Goose Hotel.
The fabulous Mother Goose Hotel.

Of course cycling is hugely popular in Utrecht, with even having underground “car parks” built for bikes in student areas. Having not ridden a bike in around 10 years I was a little wary but we couldn’t come to a city like this and not give it a go. It turns out it’s true… You never forget how to ride a bike! Of course having special bike roads with their own set of traffic lights certainly helps.

A short break in the park during the bike ride.
A short break in the park during the bike ride.

Utrecht has so much to offer as a mini break destination for couples from fabulous shopping (yes, girls, I assure you you don’t be disappointed), to fascinating history, and beautiful scenery to endless lovely cafes, bars and restaurants. Plus it’s all in a very easy to navigate area, so you men can always stay sitting with a beer whilst the lady goes shopping.

We were lucky enough to have 2 wonderful guides with us; Atwin and Susannah, who passed on so much of their knowledge and enthusiasm to us.

The Dom Tower in the morning mist.
The Dom Tower in the morning mist.

One must visit place on a trip to Utrecht is the city’s famous Dom Tower. You won’t miss it, it’s the tallest church tower in Holland! The tower stands at the spot where the city originated 2000 years ago. Now, it is possible to climb the 465 steps to the top of the tower, where on a clear day you can see both Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but we saved ourselves and instead visited the brand new DOMunder museum. This fantastic, modern museum tells the story of the Dom Tower, going back all those years, of the cathedral and how it collapsed during a storm in 1674 and now just the tower remains. The museum is very interactive with each person given their own flashlight to discover the hidden stories. They’ve certainly managed to succeed in making the experience fun and engaging. Be sure to book your tickets early though as it has been sold out nearly every day since opening.

The beautiful, historical centre of the city is in stark contract to the modern and vibrant university area and Science Park. Spending a day over by the science park was fascinating, with the quirky building designs, student run ecological rooftop bar, beautifully stunning botanical gardens and student culture. Businesses based at the science park specialize in life sciences and sustainability, and their research nature is evident throughout the area. It is based a little out of the centre of Utrecht, but very easy to reach and certainly worth a visit if you have some spare time. Especially for a romantic walk through the botanical gardens, which dates back to the 17th century.

The eco bar built and run by students on the top of a university car park.
The eco bar built and run by students on the top of a university car park.

With new and old areas of the city, there’s no excuse to get bored. Utrecht is the perfect place to escape for a weekend away, away from the hustle and bustle, but still being within the beating heart of the Netherlands. If you’re a fan of good food, good drink, shopping and culture, but away from the hustle and bustle, it really is the perfect place.

The canals.
The canals.

 

Utrecht Top Tips

Food & drinks

  • Café Olivier
    This bar near to the train station is a hidden gem. Prepare to be surprised when you open the door and you realize you are in a hidden church! Sample the vast range of beers on offer and enjoy along with some Bitteballen, a must have Dutch snack.
  • Bakkerswinkel
    This lunchtime spot in the centre of the city transports you back in time with their traditional feel and vibe. Here, they used to bake bread and cakes in brick ovens and the history is evident through the building and menu. Look out for the great pastel de nata (egg custard pastry)!
  • Stadkasteel
    Situated down by the bank of the canal, this restaurant is in fact a city castle. The building dates back to 1296 and houses its very own brewery inside, as well as a theatre, grand café and a la carte restaurant. Highly recommended for dinner.
  • Basket
    If you head over to the Utrecht Science Park then stop off at Basket for some lunch. Excellent choice of meals and drinks and the best bitteballen we had during the stay!

 

Must see

  • DOMunder
    As described above, this museum is a fantastic way to learn about Utrecht’s history and has pulled it together in an interactive and fun way for people to enjoy.
  • The Rietveld Schröder House
    The house built be Dutch architecht Gerrit Rietveld has a fascinating story which unfolds as you make your way round it. Such a forward thinking and contemporary design, it’s hard to believe that this dates back to 1924. Prepare to be amazed by the hidden walls and quirky design secrets to this one off property. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Tickets and tours must be booked in advance.

 

With many thanks to Visit Holland and Visit Utrecht for organising and welcoming us on this trip.