The Netherlands: Local city guide Utrecht

Local city guide Utrecht canal

The local city guide Utrecht is for those who want to explore more of the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. Utrecht is only 30 minutes away and it a bustling city where you can easily spend a weekend. Some call this city mini-Amsterdam, but I don’t think it gives Utrecht the credits it deserves. Why don’t you check it out for yourself?

Local city guide Utrecht

My family and I actually come from this city, my Dutch family was born and raised here and my Indonesian family moved here from Java. Utrecht is still one of my favourite cities in the Netherlands. If you go beyond the cold shopping passage (the only thing I don’t like) in Central Station, you enter the friendly and welcoming city centre.

Local city guide Utrecht canals

In this local city guide Utrecht you can find:

  • Famous activities in Utrecht
  • Hidden gems
  • Favourite local hotspots
  • Best hotels to stay in Utrecht
  • Surrounding Utrecht
  • How to get there
  • See more of the Netherlands

Famous activities in Utrecht

Check out these unique things to do in Utrecht:

Climb the Domtoren (Dom Tower)

Local city guide Utrecht Domtoren

The Domtoren is the iconic eyecatcher in the middle of the city centre. With over 112 meters, it’s the tallest church tower in the Netherlands and locals are super proud of it. Do a guided tour and visit the chapels. You can even climb up 465 steps to visit the tower. On a clear day, you can see Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Visit the famous Rietveld Schröder House

Rietveld Schröder House is a UNESCO World Heritage site built-in 1924. This visionary and eccentric house is designed by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld for Mrs Truus Schröder-Schräder. They worked together designing the house since Mrs Schröder-Schräder had a very clear vision of what she wanted. The house is iconic for the Modern Movement in architecture.

See the art collection in Centraal Museum

Skip the line tickets Centraal Museum

In Centraal Museum you can find the largest Rietveld collection in the world. Permanent exhibits are the collections of Rietveld, Dick Bruna (creator of Miffy) and ‘The oldest city collection of the Netherlands’. Temporary exhibits range from fashion to contemporary art to early surrealism.

Wander around the Botanical Gardens

Local city guide Utrecht gardens

The Botanical Gardens are part of the Utrecht University and covers about 9 hectares of ground. From March to November you can visit these beautiful gardens. The best times to visit are in Spring when everything blossoms. Or in September/October to see the romantic Autumn colours. Get tickets for the Botanical Gardens here!

Other popular museums are the Railway Museum, National Military Museum and Museum Speelklok (music).

Hidden city gems

Besides the usual tourist attractions in Utrecht, the city has a lot more to offer. Find the hidden gems of Utrecht, some familiar, others a complete surprise:

Buy food at Vredenburg Market

Every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday you can enjoy the Vredenburg Market. Wander around the stalls filled with fresh fruit, veggies, bread, fish, meat and nuts. Often there are samples available, so you can taste the Dutch food culture. Try some of our favourites like kibbeling (battered fish) or raw herring at the fish stall. Or the typical Dutch cheese or waffles.

7x weird Dutch food I love

Follow the light art trail: Trajectum Lumen

Local city guide Utrecht Trajectum Lumen

Join a local tour guide and follow the artistically exposed locations at night. Every Saturday evening from September to April you can join the Trajectum Lumen tour through the historic city centre. Learn about the gorgeous light art and the mysterious story of Luman.

Join a free guided tour

Utrecht Free Tours hosts tours every Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at noon. Saturdays at 10:00 and Sundays at 14:00 they offer themed tours, like a Medival tour or a WWII tour. No registration needed, just show up at the square right next to the Dom Tower.

Go underground with DOMunder

With DOMunder you go underground and discover the history of Utrecht underneath the Dom square. Grab a flashlight and find over 2000 years of history, including the foundations of the Dom Tower and Roman archaeological finds.

Dance at a Tivoli concert

Tivoli Vredenburg is a music complex with 5 halls and hosts several musicians every week. Soul, rock, classical, you name it. There’s something for everyone. Keep an eye on their calendar for more information.

Check out the old fortress: Fort aan de Klop

Local city guide Utrecht Fort aan de Klop

Photo credits: De Utrechtse Internet Courant

About 15 minutes cycling from the Dom Tower, you’ll find Fort aan de Klop, a fortress built-in 1819. On the small island in the middle of nature, you can relax away from the city centre, have a drink or even camp out next to the fortress.

Hire a canoe

Speaking of relaxing. Hire a canoe from De Rijnstroom and follow the canals. You can have a picnic alongside the water or order traditional Dutch pancakes at the Rhijnauwen tea house.

Other cool options are canoeing by night when it’s a full moon! Or do a multiple days tour in the rural area around Utrecht. I’ve never done this last one, but it’s on my list now!

Favourite local hotspots

Check out my favourite hotspots in this local city guide Utrecht. Find restaurants with great food, nice bars and trendy shops.

Local city guide Utrecht Tiger Mama

Photo credits: Tiger Mama

Voorstraat hotspots

The Voorstraat is very well known amongst locals. This popular street is bursting of cool shops and cosy cafes. My personal favourite hotspots are:

  • Café Voortuin for drinks, after works sessions or Saturday evenings.
  • Dogma Hotdogs makes hotdogs special again! This hotdog bar serves sausages of different meats and adds gorgeous toppings.
  • Go for your coffee shot to The Village Coffee. If you’re lucky, you can drink your coffee while listening to live music.
  • If you love Asian food as I do, go to Tiger Mama! Sushi and Dim Sum are their specialities. And the interior is gorgeous!
  • Vietnamese food is also one of my weaknesses. Restaurant Saigon and baby sister AnAn are my go-to’s.

Food & drinks hotspots

Local city guide Utrecht Lucy Lou

Photo credits: Lucy Lou

Breakfast and lunch:

  • KEEK is a lunchroom and bakery who uses bio ingredients to make delicious goodies.
  • Loua is a healthy juice bar in Utrecht. Get your freshly pressed juices and smoothies here. Or order a smoothie bowl for breakfast or lunch.
  • Late breakfast or early lunch? At Rabarber petit café you can have it all. Even a piece of the freshly baked pie for your sweet cravings.

Dinner and drinks:

  • Café Olivier is a Belgium beer cafe in an old church. They even kept the organ and altar. Olivier is open for lunch, dinner and drinks.
  • JEU de boules bar is a great place for an evening out. They serve lunch and dinner too, but whatever you do, combine it with a game of jeu de boules/petanque.
  • Lucy Lou at Vredenburg is the place to get tacos & tequila! Or go for one of their special cocktails if you’re not into tequila (I am).
  • Café Flater is a classic spot in Utrecht. This small no-nonsense cafe has a cosy atmosphere. Flater serves craft beers and a toastie. If the toastie doesn’t do it for you, just bring your own food here. No problem!

Shopping hotspots

  • At the Pindakaaswinkel (peanut butter shop) you can get a million different peanut butters. Okay, a million is a bit much, but they have a lot! Try the chilli-lemongrass, caramel-sea salt or the coffee version.
  • If you haven’t seen them on Vredenburg Market yet, get your ass to Waffel asap. I’m talking about the typical Dutch stroopwafels, the thin waffles with melted caramel in between. Waffle is a stroopwafel store that takes the Dutch goodie up a notch. Check out the ones with peanut butter & jelly, with rose petals or the savoury waffles.

Photo credits: Waffle

  • Keck & Lisa is a concept store which I love and always get my presents. From books to interior items to games, you can find everything here. I like that some items are related to the city Utrecht. And you can find things here, you’ll not find anywhere else.
  • Daen’s is a concept store with fashion, a deli, coffee bar, hotel (Daen’s Room One) and lunchroom. I love to make a stop here for lunch and have a look at their greenhouse.

Best hotels to stay in Utrecht

Utrecht Mother Goose Hotel

Mother Goose Hotel in Utrecht
Photo credits:

  • Mary K Hotel is a luxurious art hotel located alongside the canal, only a 10-minute walk from the Dom Tower. All rooms are spacious and beautiful decorated. Optional are different packages like a romantic, wedding or relax bathing package.
  • The Eye Hotel is a comfortable hotel in the city centre. I love the little details in the rooms which refer to the name. Think of beautiful eye photos, glasses and optician items.
  • Mother Goose is by far my favourite hotel in Utrecht. It probably has something to do with the nice staff and the interior. They brought back elements of Utrecht into the rooms and I just like the overall design.
  • Cozy Pillow offers light and modern rooms with a view of the city. One of the rooms is on the same level as the canal in a vaulted room. You’ll have your own terrace alongside the water. The other rooms have more natural light.
  • Bunk Hotel Utrecht makes the crossover from hostel to hotel. They offer beautiful boutique-style private rooms with ensuite bathrooms, but also shared rooms with individual pods. Say hello to my cousin who works in the kitchen here!

Surrounding Utrecht

The surrounding area of Utrecht is beautiful. Whenever I stayed with my grandparents (they also lived in Utrecht), they’d take me everywhere. Smaller cities like Amersfoort are worth a visit, but also the rural area around Utrecht.

  • Castellum Hoge Woerd is a modern interpretation of a fortress. The location is where the Romans once protected the borders. Discover archaeological finds here, see the city farm or wander around in nature. 15 minutes from Utrecht
  • The most beautiful and impressive castle in the area is Castle De Haar. This medieval castle is the largest and most luxurious one in the Netherlands. Not only the castle is impressive, but also the 55 hectares of land is worth a visit. And don’t forget the maze! 25 minutes from Utrecht
  • Another beautiful sight is the Castle Kerckebosch. A smaller 120-year-old castle and the park. The castle is now a hotel, restaurant and wedding venue. 20 minutes from Utrecht
  • Castle Amerongen is a 17th-century castle with a rich family history. Join in on one of the guided tours or keep an eye on their agenda for festivals and activities. 30 minutes from Utrecht
Castle De Haar Utrecht

How to get there

There are two main airports in the Netherlands, Eindhoven Airport and Amsterdam Schiphol. Utrecht is only 30 minutes away by train from Amsterdam Schiphol. From Eindhoven Airport it’s less convenient with a public transport trip of 1,5 hour.

Rent a bike if you want to explore more in Utrecht than just the city centre. Otherwise, the bus is also an option. Bus tickets are available on the bus or get an ov-chipcard for all public transport. It works the same as the Oyster card in London or the Opal card in Sydney.

See more of the Netherlands

Utrecht is right in the middle of the Netherlands and is easily accessible by public transport. It’s perfect to do a day trip from here to other Dutch cities:

  • Rotterdam – 40 minutes by train
  • ‘s-Hertogenbosch30 minutes by train
  • Breda – 40 minutes by train
  • Amsterdam – 30 minutes by train

This local city guide Utrecht gives just a glimpse of what there is to do in Utrecht. Especially in Summer, there’s something to do every week. In case you want to explore more Dutch cities, read my post on small cities in the Netherlands. Or check out my local city guide ‘s-Hertogenbosch!

♥ – Dani

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