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Greentraveller's Guide to Utrecht, The Netherlands

Posted by Richard Hammond at 03:41 on Wednesday 04 May 2011

I've just spent 24 hours in Utrecht and have been mightily impressed. Home to the Netherlands' top university, Utrecht is primarily a student city, oozing with youthful energy and enthusiasm. It's the perfect destination for a city break, with some great places to eat and drink. Drift past street performers and canalside cafes by canoe, explore the city on an illuminated night walk or pedal your way to the tranquil botanical gardens... think of it like a mini Amsterdam but without the tourists.

Remind you of somewhere? Utrecht is like a mini Amsterdam but without the touristsRemind you of somewhere? Utrecht is like a mini Amsterdam but without the touristsHere are a few of things I saw on my recent trip to the city as part of our Great InterRail Adventure with Rail Europe, plus a selection of the many tips that have been sent in by readers via our twitter account: @greentraveller and via the greentraveller facebook page. Thanks to all those who sent in recommendations. Next stop is Antwerp!


The majestic Dom Tower dominates the city of Utrecht. Photo: Richard HammondThe majestic Dom Tower dominates the city of Utrecht. Photo: Richard HammondWhat to do in Utrecht

1. Climb to the highest and oldest spot in the city
The Dom Tower is the highest and oldest church tower in Holland, built between 1321 and 1382. The tower is 112 meters high and offers an excellent view of Utrecht and its surroundings, but first you have to climb 465 stairs! On a clear day you can see the church steeples of Amsterdam. If you the long climb leaves you a little tired pop into the peaceful Cloister Garden next door to the church to unwind. 
Opening times: www.domtoren.nl/default.asp?action=pagina&pagina=2540&taal=1

2. Walk between Utrecht's illuminated sights
Trajectum Lumen, 'The Utrecht Tale of Light', is a night walk taking in artistically illuminated locations in Utrecht's city centre. A trail of lights positioned on the ground leads to works of art by renowned light artists who bring the present and past of the city to life. The walk is free of charge and is shown every evening. 
For the route map and more information: www.trajectumlumen.com/?p=en#/1/

The best way to experience Utrecht's canals is by canoe. Photo: Richard HammondThe best way to experience Utrecht's canals is by canoe. Photo: Richard Hammond3. Explore the city's unique canals by boat
Utrecht’s Oudegracht is a curved canal that runs through the city. When the city's system of locks was finished in 1275 the water level was constant, enabling the creation of permanently dry cellars and new quays at water level, below street level. These wharfs have now been converted into restaurants, bars and boutiques, creating an entertainment district, steeped in the city’s history. Drifting through these famous canals by boat is by far the best way to soak up the lively culture of the city. Since Utrecht is renowned for its young and experimental attitude there are a range of boats and tours on offer from electric barges to canoes to water bikes - take your pick!

Info: 1 hour on a boat bike costs 8 Euros per person. A day ticket for the electric boat hop on hop off service costs 22 Euros. Private boats and tours are available. www.canal.nl/bike/en/utrecht  and www.holland.com/uk/cities/utrecht/attractions/canal-cruise-canoe.jsp

Also, over at the Oudegracht4, Kanoverhuur Utrecht hires out canoes and whisper boats, as well as offering a range of organised trips - from picnic packages to canoeing under the stars. Handy maps and waterproof bags are provided free of charge. www.kanoverhuurutrecht.nl

4. Soak up some railway history
Utrecht is the national headquarters of Netherlands Railways, and therefore home to the Dutch Railway Museum. The museum is housed in a former rail station, and has a collection of over 60 steam engines, carriages, and wagons, along with other exhibitions related to rail travel. The museum is hosting a new multimedia project which offers presentations on the latest developments in rail travel, including information on new trains such as the TGV.
www.holland.com/uk/discoverholland/artculture/museums/dutchrailwaymuseum.jsp

Take a cycling tour around Utrecht. Photo: Rail EuropeTake a cycling tour around Utrecht. Photo: Rail Europe5. Pedal around Utrecht's green spaces
If the sun is shining spend an afternoon taking in the sights by bicycle before relaxing in one of Utrecht's impressive parks. The Botanical Garden, home to a huge range of plants, butterflies and rock garden, is part of the University and is located on "The Uithof", on the east side of Utrecht. The Wilhelminapark, Park Lepelenburg or the Julianapark are good places to chill out in over the summer. Bike hire will cost you approximately 20 Euros for 1 day. There is a large bike hire centre next to the central station. www.rentabike.nlThe entrance fee to the Botanical Gardens is 6.50 Euros, for which you get a free map. www.botanischetuinen.uu.nl

On July 2nd this year, Utrecht will host it's first ever Open Garden Day. Visitors will have the chance to explore some 35 fascinating private and municipal gardens, all within walking or cycling distance of one another. In addition, the programme will also include churchyards, museums, ancient botanical gardens and many more locations of historic interest.

Where to eat and drink
1. The canalside cafes are the preferred place to eat and drink in the city. In the summer this district comes alive with outdoor performances and entertainment staged on the quays, alongside food and drink options to suit everyone. 

2. An excellent eco minded option is Restaurant Deeg, near the canals in the Lange Nieuwstraat district. You can choose between a fish menu, a meat menu or a vegetarian option and these semi-fixed menus change monthly depending on which produce is in season. For dessert there’s a choice between a combination of sweets or organic cheeses. A set menu at Deeg Restaurant costs approximately 25 Euros. www.restaurantdeeg.nl

Where to stay in and around Utrecht

Outdoor dining at Hotel Mitland, Utrecht. Photo: Richard HammondOutdoor dining at Hotel Mitland, Utrecht. Photo: Richard Hammond1. Hotel Mitland
A good upmarket option with very peaceful grounds, heaps of facilities and close enough to cycle into the city centre. In the spirit of relaxation and tranquility the hotel is designed around beautiful gardens and offers cycling, jogging, walking, bowling and swimming facilities for guests. Double rooms start from 80 Euros. www.mitland.nl/home_e.htm 

2. Buurboot La Luna B&B
Hidden in the peaceful waterside neighbourhood of Lombok, Buurboot is a luxurious houseboat that boasts two kingsize bedrooms, large living space and fully equipped kitchen. Take the time to paddle down the lush backwaters of the 'Old Rhine' in one of the rentable electric rowing boats, or make the short trip into the centre of Utrecht. A double room for 1 night at Buurboot B&B costs 110 Euros. www.buurboot.nl/

What the locals say
For an expat's take on living in Utrecht see the blog A Flamingo in Utrecht or for English information from a local, get in touch with Emilie at Tripbod: Tripbod's Utrecht expert

How to get to Utrecht by train
If you leave London St Pancras in the morning you can be in Utrecht by late afternoon. The most direct route is to get a train from London to Brussels (approx 2 hours) from where you catch a train to Rotterdam (approx 1 hour) and then board the 40 minute local service to Utrecht.

For more detailed information on getting to Rotterdam see our Overland Journey Planner: Train from London to Rotterdam or for more information on the journey and booking through Rail Europe see its excellent guide to InterRail. 

If you are planning on going to Utrecht then why not download this pocket guide to get the most out of your stay: Utrecht Pocket Guide. It is also worth checking out up and coming cultural events like Festival a/d Werf between the 19th and 28th of May and Cultural Sundays which takes place monthly. 

By Richard Hammond with help from Holly Tuppen.

Thanks to Holland.com for hosting greentraveller.

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