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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s no shortage of hidden little garden nooks and quite courtyards for a picnic lunch or quiet place to read.
And of course, plenty of perfectly quintessential Dutch streets to wander through.
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.