Utrecht is a city about 40 minutes south of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. A fairly large city (population 250,000) with a university whose proximity to Amsterdam makes it a big residential and commercial area, Utrecht was where a friend of mine lived.
Having never seen it (and despite his protests that there wasn’t anything to see), I was determined to see Utrecht. My last stay in Holland was in 2006 and, in 7 weeks, I never seemed to make it out of Amsterdam. I was overdue and Utrecht was a great place to go.
Utrecht is like a mini-Amsterdam. It’s similar in design but lacks the crowds of Amsterdam. The old city is centered around an old church, the Dom. It’s an old Gothic church and is beautiful outside but pretty bland inside. Though it has some of the hallmarks of the Gothic style, there is only 1 stained glass window, and most of the space is empty. Personally, the church in Amsterdam is my favorite.
Across the plaza is the Domtoren. In the 1600s, the church and tower were part of the same building, but a flood knocked out the area between them, creating the modern day plaza. You can climb the tower to get a good view of Utrecht, but we couldn’t find the entrance and subsequently skipped it.
The main area of town is centered near the Oudegracht, or “old canal.” It’s the main canal in town and along it are all the shops and a plethora of restaurants. The restaurants are located on a level below the street alongside the canals.
On the day we went, the weather was nice, and, for the first time all week, the sun was out. The Dutch don’t see a lot of sun, so they like to scramble out whenever it is around. The city was packed and all the tables along the canal were taken. After some walking, we found an empty table and enjoyed some outdoor drinking by the canal, soaking up the sun with all the Dutch, who apparently don’t need to work on a Friday.
Outside the center, Utrecht is very residential and my friend drove us around through a few different neighborhoods. We even got lost and ended up in the industrial center. Now that’s something you won’t find in any guidebook.
Overall, Utrecht is a nice city and a good, relaxing alternative to Amsterdam. If you have an extra day or two, come visit this city.