Utrecht: What to do and why should we visit it
Once again, as we did with our article A 1-day Amsterdam City Break by bike, we want you to leave the typical tourist roads and try on the traveler costume. The city of Amsterdam is undoubtedly a must-see during a tour of the Netherlands, but there is life beyond the capital, and one of the best options, and even one of the closest ones, is the wonderful university city of Utrecht. We could easily consider it as a small Amsterdam, with a very similar architecture, with the canals running through its historic center, but with a much more relaxed air. Utrecht is Amsterdam in slow motion. Shall we?
It is 8 o’clock in the morning and the University of Utrecht awakens after a night of heavy rain, something rather normal for the more than 30,000 students who walk its corridors every day. The University was founded in 1636 and it is the largest in the Netherlands and one of the most prestigious in Europe.
One by one they arrive, walking or cycling, crossing the morning mist that characterizes the place. We are in the headquarters of the University (it has two more on the outskirts) and surrounding it we find one of the most beautiful cities in Holland.
Just behind it, the tallest church tower in the country rises: the Dom Tower and its 112 meters high. This tower belonged to the Cathedral of Saint Martin, also known as Dom Church.
But a tornado in 1674 destroyed the main nave, which had never been completed due to lack of money, and since then the tower remained alone, standing, like an imposing Gothic building that dominates the city, with its 14 bells that add up to a total weight of … 32,000 kilos!
On Fridays from April to November they give their concert from 11 to 12, and in the summer they also dazzle on Monday nights. From the top, through guided tours, and after climbing its 465 steps, and on a clear day, you can see the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. And of course, the beautiful city of Utrecht …
… with its men in suits and their pants tucked inside the stockings so as not to hook them with the bicycles. They park their two wheels on the bridges, take one last look at the Oudegracht canal, that beautiful canal almost 2 kilometers long that meanders through the old town, and enter their offices.
We, who are lucky enough to be visiting the place, carry on with our days and enjoy the trip. We move then by bicycle with complete peace of mind because vehicles are not allowed in the center, unlike Amsterdam where you have to have a professional coordination to ride on two wheels.
We move in small boats to enjoy, from the canal, the beautiful architecture of Utrecht, typical of the Netherlands, with its houses of brown, orange, and white colors, and its triangular roofs. Its mansions and old markets.
We see the infinity of restaurants and bars that line up along the water. We walk through one of its picturesque streets where there is one terrace after another where you can enjoy a nice gastronomy day.
We are in a lively city, young, happy, and yet calm, opposite to Amsterdam in terms of its pace. Amsterdam is charming but frantic. Utrecht is Amsterdam in slow motion.
At night the most beautiful spectacle of the city happens: The Trajectum Lumen, a route along the waterways, between tunnels and illuminated bridges. To follow the tour of approximately one hour, you can download a free map, choose one from the tourist information office, or simply follow the orange lights on the ground.
Either way, it is a great way to end the day in this beautiful Dutch city.
WHAT TO DO IN UTRECHT WITH KIDS: THE NIJNTJE MUSEUM
We always say that traveling with children does not imply modifying your itinerary completely, but adapting, finding a balance for the whole family to enjoy. That’s why there are no places you can not go with children. There are always things to do and enjoy as a family.
Having a child does not mean that from that moment on your trips are going to revolve around Disney or the beach. It implies being intelligent and being able to adapt.
So after touring the beautiful city of Utrecht, taking the time to walk without hurry, we decided to take a small detour to one of the most interesting museums in the city (for children): the Nijntje Museum, also known as Miffy Museum.
This museum works as part of the Centraal Museum of Utrecht and is dedicated to the work of cartoonist Dick Bruna, creator of the character Miffy, a friendly rabbit that invites the little ones to explore his world through different interactive rooms where children have only one rule: to play as much as they want.
Everything is allowed in the museum for the little ones. There are no posters that forbid to touch like in art museums.
The idea is to discover a fantasy world and do as they prefer.
Tickets are sold online from the museum’s website and by timetables. In this way, you can make sure that your kids are in smaller groups and can enjoy the place in a better way. It is free for children under 2 years old, and prices vary from 5 euros for kids over 13 (adults included), 9 for children from 2 to 12, and there are prices for families of 4.
It is a beautiful place to give your child the opportunity to have fun for a while and feel in a fantasy world, something that as an adult can be felt outside, walking those medieval streets that seem to be stopped in time, but maybe a child needs to find that elsewhere.
Again, in balance and adaptation, you will find the great enjoyment of traveling as a family.
3 CURIOUS FACTS ABOUT UTRECHT
- The Treaty of Utrecht: It was in this Dutch city where the agreements to end the War of Spanish Succession were signed, an international conflict that lasted for 12 years which had as its origin in the death of Charles II of Spain without having left offspring. It was here where territories were distributed like cards from a deck, and where they decided the ends of monarchical families such as the one from the Kingdom of Aragon.
- The largest bicycle parking lot in the world: with a human population of 17 million and a bicycle population of 22 million, it is clear who is in charge in the Netherlands. Utrecht will have within a few years the largest bicycle parking in the world, surpassing the until then largest parking lot in Tokyo. This parking lot, which will be at the Utrecht train station where 40% of the people arrive on two wheels, will have room for nothing more and no less than 12,500 bicycles! To that, we must add the 11,000 spaces they intend to do in the vicinity of the parking for private companies. Driving in Holland? What is that?
- The character: The only Dutch Pope in history was born in Utrecht: Adrian VI. Although his papacy lasted just over a year due to his early death.
HOW TO GET TO UTRECHT
If you arrive in the Netherlands by plane, at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, it is not even necessary to go to Amsterdam to get to Utrecht. From there you can take a train that leaves you in 35 minutes in the heart of the city.
By train, you can get from any of the big Dutch cities: Amsterdam in 30 minutes, Rotterdam in 40, The Hague in 50 …
So if you are in Holland there is no valid excuse for not visiting this beautiful city.
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