We love The Netherlands and try to visit at least once a year. Having visited Amsterdam and Rotterdam numerous times, we decided to try somewhere different. So we looked for another city that we could explore. Utrecht instantly jumped out at us because of its compact medieval centre, which is the perfect size to wander around on foot. We jumped on the overnight P&O ferry from Hull in England, crossed the North Sea and docked at Europoort in The Netherlands, jumped on the bus from Europoort to Rotterdam (included in the price of the ferry ticket, £60 per person) before finally jumping on the train from Rotterdam Central Station to Utrecht Central Station which was only 3 stops, it took around 40 minutes and cost around €12* per person.
We had been told on more than one occasion that Utrecht is a beautiful city so we were eager to see its beauty for ourselves and we were keeping our fingers crossed for nice weather. With annual leave being limited (when isn’t it?) we could only spare 2 and a half(ish) days, which meant after travelling 15 hours there and back, it only left us with 28 hours in Utrecht itself. I’m sure you’ll agree, 28 hours is not enough time to see and do everything in any city. However, Utrecht is so compact, we did get to see and do a lot in such a short space of time.
Where we stayed
The size of Utrecht is reflected in the number of hotels in the city. With only 21 hotels listed, we knew when booking that it was going to be an extremely walkable city. We decided to stay as centrally as possible as we were only there for one night and didn’t want to spend time travelling to get to places. We therefore, chose to stay right next to the Dom Tower, the highest point in Utrecht, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands and one of the cities most famous attractions.
What we did
As we only had a short amount of time, we hit the ground running, after dropping our bags off and eating lunch of course.
Free walking Tour
At 12pm and 2pm every Saturday and Sunday you can take a free (yes FREE!) walking tour of Utrecht with one of the local guides. There is no need to register or prebook, simply meet outside the Dom located in the pedestrianised Dom Square. Just keep your eyes peeled for the guy or gal wearing a red Free Tours shirt or sweatshirt. The tour takes 3 hours, which you may think is a long time when time is so precious. However, it is a great way to get to know more about the city and its rich history. Oh but watch out for the million and one people on bikes whizzing around, they take no prisoners!
St Martin’s Cathedral (Dom Church)
As our hotel was right next to the church, it was difficult for us to miss. The history of the church dates back to 630AD and over the years it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, with only the choir, the transept and the Dom Tower left from the original design. After walking around the church and admiring its architecture we were eager to see inside. So we paid the suggested €2.50* donation each, headed inside and marvelled at the interior. We love churches, well all religious buildings really, and even though this wasn’t the biggest or most intricate that we have visited over the years, it was still nice to see and I, of course, lit a candle for my mum, something I have done at every church I have visited over the last ten years.
Obviously, keeping our fingers crossed had worked, as there were blue skies and the sun shone the whole time we were in Utrecht. Spring had well and truly sprung. As there are canals running through and around Utrecht it seemed sensible to take a canal cruise in the late morning sunshine. We headed to Oudegracht 85 a mere 5 minutes from Dom Square, where we found a small hut where we could buy our tickets from which were priced at €11.30* each for an hours trip. The lady pointed out the way (across the road and down some steps) to the boat. The journey was very relaxing, yet informative and the guide gave his information in both Dutch and English. It was a lovely way to spend an hour, especially passing a number of canal side bars and restaurants and a row of houses which cost over a million Euro each.
What we saw
As I mentioned before, the Dom Tower is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands and can be seen from far and wide. It stands at 112.5 metres (368 feet) high. It is a Gothic style tower and is the symbol of the city. The Dom Tower has fourteen ringing bells, weighing 32,000 kg which rang, I assume every hour, although it did seem more frequent, especially when trying to have a sleep in(!) We didn’t take a guided tour of the tower as Mr ESLT’s not great with heights and I’m not great with confined spaces (what a pair!). However, we did spend a lot of time looking at it and photographing it. If you wanted to take a tour, it is open daily all year round and tickets can be booked in advance on-line or at the Tourist Information Centre in the city.
Bloemenmarkt (flower markets)
Saturdays smell sweet in Utrecht especially between 8.00am and 5.00pm. This is because market traders set up their stalls full of beautiful blooms including, of course, the most famous flower from The Netherlands – tulips! The flowers are so beautiful and so cheap compared to the UK, I really wish I had been able to take a bouquet or two home with me as so many Dutch people were doing that day. The main flower market is held on Janskerkhof which is a cute square surrounded by old beautiful buildings. You can also find stalls along Oudegracht (between the Zakkendragerssteeg and the Bakkerstraat) along the side of the canal.
Central train station and shopping centre
As we arrived by train we walked right through the train station, which is the largest and busiest railway station in the Netherlands and has recently been renovated, along with a number of other train stations in the country. It is clean and spacious with lots of little cafes, coffee shops and sandwich shops, if you want to grab something for your journey. We missed the exit and headed through a walkway and into the Hoog Catharijne Shopping Centre. As we had such little time, shopping was not on our agenda so we simply walked through and walked out but if you are looking to splash some cash the centre could be for you.
What we ate
With so much yummy food and delightful restaurants on offer we eventually decided to dine at Graaf Floris located on Vismarkt 13. It struck us an intimate Dutch restaurant, which had a limited yet tasty looking menu. We arrived and grabbed a table and were greeted with menus. I went full on veggie (even though I’m not a vegetarian) and opted for a hot starter of mushrooms, spinach and feta cheese, whilst Mr ESLT went for onion soup and we shared a bread basket with herb butter. My main course was a mushroom (couldn’t get enough) tagliatelle with gorgonzola and mascapone and Mr ESLT chose the ‘Dutch beef’, vegetables and potato trimmings. Both courses were delicious and we left empty plates. Even though we were both fit to burst we did order a Dame Blanche (vanilla ice cream, cream and hot chocolate sauce) to share, unfortunately I dug in straight away and forgot to take a photo (bad blogger – tut tut!).
Apart from the one main meal we grabbed snacks on the go the rest of the time including ice cream, which on a bright and warm summers day is too hard to resist regardless of where you are in the world.
What we drank
When in Rome, well, Utrecht obviously…….
Have you ever bed to Utrecht? Did you enjoy this beautiful little city?
* prices correct as at March 2017