things to see in utrecht

It’s curious how we sometimes look farther afield when we think of travelling to beautiful places, while overlooking the gems in our very own backyard. I’ve lived in Amsterdam for thirty-odd years and I’ve been to Utrecht many times before, usually for a meal or a concert, and didn’t think much about the city. That changed when two expats I chatted with, on separate occasions, gushed about how much they love Utrecht. This prompted me to plan a day trip to Utrecht, this time to just wander around the city and check out its attractions at my own pace. I discovered many things to see and do in Utrecht and at the end of the day, I found myself in love with this gorgeous city as well! Without doubt, Utrecht is one of the most beautiful cities in the Netherlands.

Beautiful houses at the Oudegracht.

Things to see and do in Utrecht

Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands and also one of the oldest. The city’s history goes back to the 1st century AD when a Roman fort was built on the shores of the Rhine River (at the time, the Rhine River followed a more northerly course in the Netherlands than it does today), marking the northwestern border of the Roman Empire. Through the centuries, Utrecht played a significant role in the Netherlands’ history as a religious and cultural centre. These days, the city is home to the country’s largest university, whilst its location in the geographic centre of the Netherlands makes it a vital road and rail hub.

The map below shows the main attractions in Utrecht as well as my walking route around the historic city centre.

Vredenburg to Oudegracht

I started my walk at the Utrecht Central Station which opens out into the Hoog Catharijne shopping mall. From here, I made my way to Vredenburgplein (Vredenburg square) and continued along the Lange Elizabethstraat and Steenweg (two shopping streets), the Mariastraat (with its many restaurants) and the Speelklok Museum (an interesting museum dedicated to mechanical music instruments) to the Oudegracht (Old Canal). Along the way, I stopped for brunch at the beautiful Olivier Belgian beer café, which is located in a ‘secret’ church. On the outside, it looks like a house but walk in and you’ll find a church which existed until 1972.

The Hoog Catharijne Mall is located across from the Utrecht Central Station.
The Hoog Catharijne shopping mall.
The Tivoli Vredenburg concert hall next to the Hoog Catharijne mall.
At the Vredenburg square, I spotted this gorgeous Art Nouveau building with Moorish influences.
The Huis Zoudenbalch is a 15th century house in the Donkerstraat, just off the Steenweg.
The Olivier Belgian beer café is located in a ‘secret’ church.


At the Oudegracht (Old Canal), I crossed the Maartensbrug (bridge) and continued my walk along the eastern bank of the canal. The Oudegracht largely follows the ancient path of the Rhine River. One of the things that makes Utrecht so unique is the structure of its canals, which have the street on the upper level and warehouses and wharfs at the water or canal level.

I loved this little square adjacent to the Maartensbrug.
The Oudegracht seen from the Maartensbrug.

Many of these warehouses have been converted into restaurants, art galleries, cafés and homes. One of the best things to do in Utrecht is definitely a stroll along the Oudegracht, one of the most beautiful canals in the Netherlands!

Quaint houses along the Oudegracht.
The canals in Utrecht with their two-levels: upper street and lower canal-side.
Staircases connect both levels
Visitors can also kayak along the canals in Utrecht.

Utrecht Pride canal parade

Every year in June, the Oudegracht forms the decor of the Utrecht Pride canal parade. It’s a great alternative to the world-famous Amsterdam Pride Canal Parade (first weekend of August) as it’s smaller, less crowded, more approachable and, dare I say, more fun.

utrecht things to do
Utrecht Pride canal parade

 The UFO!

At the Haverstraat, take a moment to look into the street. At the far end, you’ll spot something quite extraordinary: a UFO perched atop De Inktpot building!

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Spot the UFO!

Zeven Steegjes (Seven Lanes)

Near the end of the canal, I turned right towards the Zeven Steegjes (Seven Lanes) neighbourhood and continued past the Geertekerk (church) to the Pelmolenweg. This neighbourhood, commissioned by the Church, was built in the mid-19th century for labourers with families. Due to the prevalence of diseases at the time (such as cholera), the houses and lanes were designed with a focus on hygiene and ventilation. For instance, the straight lanes in an east-west axis were designed to channel wind through the neighbourhood.

The Zeven Steegjes (Seven Lanes) neighbourhood.

Museum Quarter

I made my way back to the Oudegracht and on to the Tolsteeg. This little corner, at the end of the Oudegracht, is packed with bustling cafés, including the Louis Hartlooper movie theater, a beautiful building in the style of the Amsterdam School of Architecture.

Louis Hartlooper complex utrecht-photo
The Louis Hartlooper complex.

I continued my walk towards the Nicolaaskerkhof in the heart of the Museum Quarter, where the Nicolaïkerk (church), Utrecht Centraal Museum (municipal museum with art, design and historical artifacts) and Nijntje or Miffy Museum (a museum dedicated to the popular Miffy cartoon character whose creator, Dick Bruna, was born in Utrecht).

Centraal Museum
utrecht museum
An ancient (11th century) wooden boat in the Centraal Museum.
The Miffy Museum across the road from the Centraal Museum.

The Nicolaïkerk (Nicolai Church) has an interesting attraction: a 16th century clock, one of the oldest church (tower) clocks in the Netherlands. The clock still works and the warden was happy to demonstrate its workings.

The historic clock in the Nicolaï church.

I continued my stroll down the Lange Nieuwstraat (Long New Street) and passed the Beyerskameren, a complex of charming 16th century houses.



From here, I made my way past the Utrecht University Museum and Oude Hortus (old botanical gardens) to the Nieuwegracht (New Canal). Narrower than the Oudegracht, the Nieuwegracht is lined by beautiful houses and shady trees, making it delightfully picturesque.

The picturesque Nieuwegracht.
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Canal houses along the Nieuwegracht


I followed the canal up to the Pausdam. In one corner of this gorgeous square is the Paushuize (Pope’s House), the official residence of the Commissioner of the King for the province of Utrecht. This stately house can trace its history back to the 14th century and owes its name to Adriaen Florisz, who was born in Utrecht and became Pope Adrianus VI in the 16th century (the only Dutchman to become Pope).

The Paushuize (right) and the statue of Pope Adrianus VI.

Dom Church and Tower

Just up the road from the Paushuize is the Pieterskerk, an 11th century church. From here, it’s a short stroll to Utrecht’s most iconic building: the Dom Church and adjacent Dom Tower.

The Dom Church.

Construction of the current Gothic-style Dom Church or St. Martin’s Cathedral began in 1254 and continued till the 16th century. Work on the Dom Tower started in 1321 and ended in 1382. The Dom Tower, at 112.5m (368ft), remains the tallest church tower in the Netherlands.

The stunning interior of the Dom Church.
Beautiful stained glass window in the church.

A violent storm destroyed the nave in 1674, effectively separating the church from the church tower. It was never rebuilt but visitors can see the outline of the structure in the pavement of the square between the church and the tower. Visitors can also walk around the impressive cloister next to the church.

The cloister next to the Dom Church, with the Dom Tower on the left (in scaffolding).
A painting of Utrecht, with the Dom Church and Dom Tower, as it was in 1829.

Oudegracht cafés

From the Dom, I made my way back to the Oudegracht and continued to the Stadhuis (City Hall). Just around the corner, I spotted the entrance to a tunnel and decided to check it out. The tunnel featured cool lighting effects and led me to the wharf level of the Oudegracht. I stopped here, at the Humphrey’s café, for a drink and to watch the boats pass by.

Stadhuisbrug (City Hall bridge) is a large square atop the Oudegracht.
The view towards the Oudegracht and Bezembrug (Broom bridge) from Stadhuisbrug.
The colourful tunnel down to the canal level. The colours changed gradually as I walked through the tunnel.
A great thing to do in Utrecht is sit at one of the canal-side cafés for a drink or meal.
View towards the Stadhuis (City Hall) from the Bezembrug. I sat at the Humphrey’s café below on the left.

Following the meandering Oudegracht, I passed countless cafés and restaurants, such as the Winkel van Sinkel café/restaurant. I stopped for a beer and a meal at the Oudaen Brewery, which is housed in an imposing castle-like building.

The beautiful Winkel van Sinkel café.
I passed this cute little house on the way back to the station.
things to do in utrecht
One of the great things to do in Utrecht is to join a canal cruise.
Cafés along the Oudegracht. The Oudaen brewery is housed in the big brown castle-like building.
Oudaen brewery

A wonderful whiskey-tasting experience

After dinner, there was one more place I had to check out: The Malt Vault, a whiskey bar located in a vault under the street with an incredible collection of whiskies. This Utrecht whiskey-tasting experience is something I definitely recommend.

utrecht whisky tasting
Whiskey tasting at The Malt Vault

From here, I made my way back to the station, passing the cute Miffy pedestrian crossing along the way.

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An evening view of the Oudegracht
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The Miffy pedestrian crossing
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The Utrecht Central Station square at night

Other Utrecht attractions

Other Utrecht attractions that I can absolutely recommend to architecture buffs is the Neude Library, Rietveld Schröder House (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the Railway Museum.

The Neude Library (Bibliotheek Neude), in the heart of the city centre, used to be the main post office. Designed in the Amsterdam School architectural style, the building was completed in 1924.

things to do in utrecht netherlands
Neude Library (image by M.Telussa/Unsplash)

Built in 1924, the Rietveld Schröder House is a prime example of ‘De Stijl’ architecture, a design that was way ahead of its time.

Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht (image by Hay Kranen/Wikimedia Commons).

The Railway Museum is housed in the 19th century Maliebaan railway station and features, amongst others, a collection of steam locomotives.

Utrecht Railway Museum (image by Zairon/Wikimedia Commons).

Walking tour and more info

You’re welcome to follow my walking route through Utrecht’s historic centre or you can book a walking tour of Utrecht. I can also recommend a scenic canal cruise around Utrecht. Visit the city tourist board for more info about events, other attractions and tours.

Where to stay in Utrecht

Utrecht can easily be visited as a day trip. However, I strongly recommend staying for a few days to explore the city and soak up the vibes. There’s a large variety of accommodations, from luxurious five-star hotels such as the Grand Hotel Karel V to small boutique hotels and B&Bs. I can recommend Hotel Beijers (housed in a beautifully-restored 17th century city palace) or Logement Petit Beijers. I can also recommend the Hampton by Hilton Hotel or Crowne Plaza Utrecht which are situated adjacent to the Central Station.

Hotel Beijers
where to stay in utrecht
Hampton by Hilton and Crown Plaza Utrecht are located atop the Hoog Catharijne Mall adjacent to the Central Station.

How to get to Utrecht

Utrecht is the most well-connected city in the Netherlands by road and rail. The easiest way to get to Utrecht is by train. Amsterdam is just 30 minutes away (by train or car), making Utrecht a perfect day trip from Amsterdam, or an alternative base from which to visit Amsterdam. Check for train schedules. Search for flights to Amsterdam with KLM.

Discover other beautiful places in the province of Utrecht

Utrecht (city) is the capital and largest city in the province of the same name. If you have time to spare, I highly recommend exploring other parts of the province of Utrecht. Here are some ideas:


If you’re staying longer in Utrecht, I recommend a visit to the nearby De Haar Castle in the village of Haarzuilens, one of the most beautiful castles in The Netherlands. Read more about De Haar Castle. Purchase entrance tickets for De Haar Castle.

De Haar castle


Amersfoort is a charming medieval city with picturesque canals, old city walls and quaint houses. Read more about things to see in Amersfoort.

The Koppelpoort is a unique medieval gate in Amersfoort.

Utrechtse Heuvelrug

The Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park (map) is a stunning area of low hills, thick pine forests, heather fields (which are in full bloom in late-August), small lakes and sandy dunes. Read about things to see in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug, including Europe’s largest pyramid!

nature park near amsterdam
Sand dunes and forests in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug
pyramide van austerlitz
The Pyramid of Austerlitz is the largest pyramid in Europe!

The Great Rivers delta

In the southern parts of the province of Utrecht lies the delta of the Great Rivers (Rhine and Maas). This region of beautiful riverine landscapes, historic castles and fortresses, and picturesque medieval towns makes for a fascinating road trip. Read more about this Central Netherlands road trip, including places to visit and a suggested route.

dutch medieval castles
Duurstede Castle

Read more about the Netherlands on Velvet Escape

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