Utrecht: my favourite Dutch city

A swift 30min train ride south of Amsterdam will take you to one of my favourite places in the Netherlands- the city of Utrecht.

A swift 30min train ride south of Amsterdam will take you to one of my favourite places in the Netherlands- the city of Utrecht. Once the capital of the country, Utrecht has remained a religious center with a regal feel and boasts pretty canal lined streets and grand architecture. The streets of the old town are far less crowded than the capital and often car free, providing a welcome escape from the hectic, touristy centre of Amsterdam.

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Arriving at the central train station I wandered straight into the attached shopping centre- Hoog Catharijne, which then took me close to 15 minutes to find my way out of. But once out, the heart of the medieval old town is only a few minutes walk away, centered around one main curving canal, Oudegracht old canal.

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The many cafes and shops that line Oudegracht not only reside on ground level but also below street level, beside the canal itself. These can be reached by stairs down the brick canal walls or under the road through shops that begin at street level and continue under ground to emerge in al fresco dining alongside the canal.

 

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Aside from wandering the picturesque streets and exploring the intriguing little shops, one of the unmissable things to do is climb Dom Tower, Domtoren in Dutch. The 14th century bell tower is the tallest church in the Netherlands at 112.5 m and stands where the city was founded nearly 2,000 years ago. The view from above is spectacular and on a clear day you can see Amsterdam.

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The bell tower also provides unique concerts of pop culture classics played through the bell system. While we were there the city was mesmerised as Radiohead’s songs chimed through the streets.

 

There’s no shortage of hidden little garden nooks and quite courtyards for a picnic lunch or quiet place to read.

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And of course, plenty of perfectly quintessential Dutch streets to wander through.

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And if you want to venture a little further afield, De Haar Castle is less than 45 minutes away by train and well worth the trip. For more info on the castle see this post.

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De Haar Castle: the perfect day trip from Amsterdam

My fascination with castles is so borderline obsessive that when I was visiting relatives in Italy, eager for all opportunities to explore anything remotely resembling a castle, they nicknamed me Dracula.

In the following decade my love of all things castle related hasn’t waned in the slightest, so when I was studying in Amsterdam last year and heard that De Haar Castle was a mere 1.5hrs away, I couldn’t wait to jump on the next train. Here’s some photos from the afternoon adventure.

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The castle is open from 11am-5pm daily, but be sure to arrive before 4pm if you want to look inside the castle. Entry is a little steep at 17€ to go inside, or much more reasonable at 5€ just for the grounds. I think it was worth the fee to go inside because of my aforementioned obsession with all things castle, but the grounds are definitely worth a visit on their own. You can find more info about visiting the castle here.

An icecream in the castle grounds is the perfect way to finish the day!

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