Today we’re headed to Utrecht, a quintessentially Dutch city with medieval roots. If you were looking for a city trip from Amsterdam, you will be pleasantly surprised. There’s quite a lot of things to do in Utrecht.
Psst…. If you’re looking for Amsterdam content as well, I’ve got you covered: check out my unusual things to do!
Walk along Utrecht’s signature canal network, enjoy a drink by the water or dine in a cellar restaurant, discover quirky one-of-a-kind shops. Settle in and enjoy the history and fantastic atmosphere that comes with the city that started out as a Roman settlement in 50 CE.
To give you the most insight, I had finally embraced the role of the tourist in order to get a well-rounded impression of the city. I visited the city many times on occasion, but this was my first time staying the night.
I am here to report on the best things to do in Utrecht, and I hope you love them as much as I did. This guide combines must-do activities with lots of great cafes and local spots! So, let’s dive in.
Disclaimer: This article was created in collaboration with Utrecht Marketing who suggested some local activities that were up to my approval, as well as chose a fantastic hotel for my overnight stay.
All of my opinions are sincere and genuine. I visited Utrecht many times before and will come again.
Best Things to Do in Utrecht
Go on an Underground Discovery Tour
Utrecht’s Dom Tower dates back to the 14th-century, but how did it all start? The DomUnder tour takes you back to the city’s roots, where the entire city’s existence is plainly visible through the layers of the earth. The area was once a Roman castellum, used as a border base. Since then, the inhabitants just kept building layer upon layer upon layer, transforming the city into the seat of the archbishop.
Even now, archaeologists are super excited about digging in the area because all that history really shows. If you are into history, fossils, or just want to learn more about the city, the DomUnder experience will satisfy your curiosity. After an introduction tour that walks you through the history of the region, you receive your very own flashlight and get to pretend you’re an archaeologist as you descend into the dig right beneath the Dom Square.
It’s an interactive experience: as the explorer, you wander around, shining a light on every corner to get glimpses of curiosities in the damp darkness. There is an audio tour too, which is activated by pointing the flashlight at various objects. The area is quite small but fun for both kids and adults. You can really feel the temperature drop though, so keep a cardigan handy.
Website: https://www.domunder.nl/en/dom-under | Price: 12,50 EUR | Address: Domplein 4
Enjoy the views from the Dom Tower
The perfect follow-up to the DomUnder is, quite obviously, climbing to the top of the Dom Tower in search of amazing views. You can only do that as a part of a guided group tour organized by DomToren.
I was very impressed with the tour. The guide told us about the history of each level as we climbed. I loved how easygoing it was. Some of the things he told us overlapped quite well with the DomUnder, which made me feel very pleased with myself, as I recognized things I heard before.
The climb is a long one but the stops in between make it manageable, also giving you a glimpse into the life of the archbishop, passing the 14 bells of the Dom and learning all the inner workings of the building.
Once you get to 70 meters high, you finally get your first views on the gallery. The city-wide views are absolutely great, and if you love the bird’s eye perspective, you will definitely feel rewarded.
I am hella scared of heights, though, so I felt very vulnerable. In the end, I decided to go down instead of going to the final gallery, which was totally fine with the guide. I was the only one in the group with a fear of heights, and since I was visiting with a press pass and a giant camera hanging from my neck, I felt especially stupid.
As I was halfway down, the bells started ringing, with the sound reverberating through the walls and floors. It was a really powerful moment, and considering I was surrounded by stones that stood firm since the 17th-century, I couldn’t have felt safer. If I were still on top, however, I would have probably collapsed under the weight of my irrational fears. If you’ve climbed churches before, you will be totally fine. The views are definitely worth the journey.
Website: https://www.domtoren.nl | Price: 10 EUR | Address: Domplein 21
Relax in the most Hogwarts-eque garden ever
My favorite spot in Utrecht is literally two steps away from Dom Square. This beautiful courtyard with an arch-filled walkway is something straight out of Harry Potter. The Gothic lattice, the seats, the fountain, it’s absolutely perfect.
The Pandhof Garden is part of the Dom Church, originally built in the 14th-century as a monastery garden. Whatever you’re planning, this is the perfect place for a short break with a spot of sunshine.
Go kayaking on the Utrecht canals
When I was planning my visit to Utrecht, Utrecht Marketing recommended kayaking on the canals as a fun way to explore the city. I have to say the recommendation was spot on! It’s a completely different experience from, say, walking by the canals or taking a boat tour. With a kayak you’re as close to the water as can be and are free to explore the network of canals at your leisure, changing your perspective on the city completely.
This is the perfect opportunity to take stunning pictures and explore the city. The shortest route takes two hours but you don’t have to complete all of it, you can always turn around and head back. The kayaks are equipped with a map so you won’t get lost and by taking your time you get the feel for Utrecht much better. As I was kayaking, I got to see the locals hanging out, enjoyed sailing past the arched bridges and felt really cool despite the summer heat.
There can be a lot of boat traffic so make sure you’re comfortable and don’t stress about it. It’s the perfect experience to do with two people. I did it on my own and had gained a lot of trust in my own skills. I lasted 45 minutes but I’d do it again in the right company.
Website: http://kanoverhuurutrecht.nl/ | Address: Oudegracht 275
Price per person: 6 EUR for 1 hour, 9 EUR for 1.5 hours, 12 EUR for 2 hours
See the mindblowing architecture of Rietveld Schröder house
The Rietveld Schröder House is a must-visit for all lovers of architecture, minimalism and multi-purpose living spaces. From my visit I learned that it’s not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also an example of outstanding architectural design that is being taught to students to this day.
This quirky house was built in 1924 and while many of the ideas of how to use space might look familiar to us now, at the time the house was absolutely crazy for the ordinary person. The kids in the family didn’t even want to admit they lived there! That’s not that surprising though–can you find any teenagers that haven’t been embarrassed by their parent’s eccentricities?
When you book your ticket, you also get an audio tour to which you listen, section by section, as you walk through the rooms. There is also a movie section before the visit which gives you the backstory of the architect and the house, with lots of biographical elements. A guide will accompany you on the venture into the house.
The house was built almost a century ago and wasn’t meant for so many years of use. Everything about the interior makes it a unique experience. It was especially impressive to me as I couldn’t be further from the austere lifestyle embraced by Mrs. Schrodinger who commissioned the house.
I would probably go crazy living in such a house but oh boy, does it make for a fascinating visit. The highlight of the tour was the demonstration by our guide how space was transformed by moving walls on railings, how the family had to assemble a staircase leading to the roof, and more.
The painstaking details put in by the architect are stunning in their scope: Rietveld even color-coded the spaces to signify different living areas. If you have the time, I would recommend checking this place out and try and imagine how odd all this seemed back in 1924, considering it still seems odd today.
A visit to the Rietveld Schröder House is undoubtedly one of the most unusual things to do in Utrecht. It’s a bit out of the way but very easy to get to by using public transport, with clear signage guiding you all the way to the door. Keep in mind that the tours run on a schedule every hour, except for Monday when the house is closed. You can book your tickets in advance through the website.
Website: https://www.rietveldschroderhuis.nl/| Price: 17 EUR | Address: Prins Hendriklaan 50
Discover Utrecht’s shopping scene
The local shopping scene in Utrecht is flourishing. From design shops to clothing boutiques you won’t find anywhere else, there’s lots to find on the canal belt. As usual, my favorite has to include at least one bookstore. This time, I recommend Boekhandel Aleph.
This antiquarian bookshop is perfect for collectors and casual browsers. From history and philosophy to the classics, there are lots of beautiful editions waiting for you. My other favorite is Utrecht’s board games shop the Lab.
Once you’re done browsing, check out the Puha Shop Route created to guide you through Utrecht’s independent shop scene. It’s strongest when it comes to interior, fashion, and design.
If you’re after a more mainstream shopping experience, the huge shopping mall Hoge Catharijne has all the main brands. There are also many cozy shops along the Lijnmarkt including my favorite Oil & Vinegar which is filled with the best products.
Visit the Flower and Fabric markets
If you’re in the city on Saturday, take advantage of the two markets happening just a short walk from the city center. There’s the flower market and the fabric market.
The Janskerkhof flower market is lovely to walk through, with the majority of the traders offering a wide variety of plants rather than selling bouquets. You will find it at the Neude Janskerkhof en Domplein. Another flower market you’re likely to encounter is right next to the entrance to the Hoge Catharijne mall, and it’s called Bloemenmarkt Oudegracht. Both flower markets run every Saturday from 8 AM to 5 PM.
The fabric market called Breedstraat Lapjesmarkt is lots of fun if you’re into sewing. You can find bargains here if you hunt around, but either way, it makes for a very colorful visit. The market runs from 8 AM to 1 PM on Saturdays, continuing a tradition that started over 400 years ago.
Listen to wind-up music in the Museum Speelklok
Whether you’re in it for the music or desperately need to entertain your kids, this museum is so much fun for all! Speelklok literally means ‘playing clock’ but actually the museum has a whole collection of self-playing musical instruments. From ones that are concealed in furniture to huge organs that can play a stunning number of tunes.
The museum vibe plunged me straight into the atmosphere of old fairytales. This museum is partly about a now lost profession of the traveling organ-grinder, but it also offers a unique perspective on entertainment throughout the ages. It was so much fun to discover that some of the songs played by the instruments had provocative and daring lyrics.
Those instruments were purchased for stunningly high prices to languish in luxurious sitting rooms, waiting to be played for the amusement of the upper classes. Others were played in the streets, free for all.
My advice: take the time to visit the museum with the free tours that run every hour, at half-past. The guide will play some of the biggest exhibits for you, which is something you can’t do on your own. You’ll also learn a ton and have a blast.
Tickets are 13 EUR for adults and 7 EUR for kids. If you order your ticket online, you also get a free glass of lemonade. You can also buy a combo ticket to the Dom Tower and the museum on the spot for 18 EUR. |
Website: https://www.museumspeelklok.nl | Price: 13 EUR for adults, 7 for kids
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 AM – 5 PM | Address: Steenweg 6, Utrecht
Where to eat in Utrecht: Options for every mood & budget
Devour all the pancakes at Anna’s Pancakes
My love for pancakes cannot be reduced to mere words. If you are after a pancake place that has a great variety of both savory and sweet options, Anna’s Pancakes is the place to go. Keep in mind that this spot is intended for breakfast and brunch and closes at 5 PM. Last I was there, I had the Morning Shizzle for 14.5 EUR which was super yummy. I will never not pick an option that has feta cheese in it.
Website: https://www.annapancakes.nl/ | Price: 10-13 EUR | Address: Voor Clarenburg 10-12
Drink beer in an old church at Cafe Olivier
Don’t miss the chance to drink beer in an old church turned cafe. This spot is perfect for lunch, drinks and socializing and the decor plays a major part in that. Many of its elements were preserved from 1860, including the beautiful organ and the enormously high vaulted ceilings. The cafe specializes on Belgian beers and has a large variety of Belgian dishes as well. Mussels, anyone?
Website: https://www.cafe-olivier.be/ | Price: 6-20 EUR per dish | Address: Achter Clarenburg 6A
Go big or go home at The Streetfood Club
This might be the signature hipster spot in Utrecht, and I absolutely love the fresh interiors with popping colors. This spot is perfect for lunch or dinner, with a large variety of cocktails to make it posher. I’ve been here twice and would return again.
On my last visit, I tried the Silence of the Lamb Pita which was a great mix of braised lamb with feta and pomegranate for 7.5 EUR. This spot also offers an Asian-inspired high tea that I can’t wait to try.
Website: https://thestreetfoodclub.nl/ | Price: 6-10 EUR per dish | Address: Janskerkhof 9
Enjoy the perfect pokebowl at Poke Perfect
Whenever I get the craving, I head to Poke Perfect, a chain of Hawaiian inspired cafes, to order the Witzel: a classic bowl complete with salmon, avocado, cucumber, topped orange masago with extra mango on the side. It’s a constant on my list of recommendations. The ingredients are fresh, it’s made right in front of you and it’s a guilty pleasure that I just can’t give up.
Website: https://pokeperfect.nl/ | Price: 10-15 EUR | Address: Korte Jansstraat 17-19
Dine inside a cellar or by the canals at Humphrey’s
Looking for a unique dinner experience? Head to a cellar restaurant by the side of the Utrecht canals. One such a restaurant I’ve been to myself is Humphrey’s. The atmosphere of the restaurant is very decadent and romantic, with red lighting, swinging chandeliers, low arched ceilings, and caverns after caverns filled with couples.
Website: https://www.humphreys.nl | Price: 3-course menu for 29.50 EUR| Address: Stadhuisbrug 3
Enjoy Italian with a twist in the gorgeous Piatto
Piatto offers an unusual way of experiencing Italian cuisine. The concept is “little dishes” which promotes trying different dishes on the menu, each priced at around 10 EUR per dish. This enables you to try unique flavor combinations and not feel like you’re missing out.
If you’re like me and you also have a tough time narrowing it down to just one option on the menu, Piatto’s concept will fit perfectly. Each position has a recommended wine and the restaurant offers classic cocktail options as well.
I was very impressed by the attentive service there, and I do not say this lightly. Portobello mushrooms with cheese and pomegranate were the highlight of my meal. The couple next to me also decided to get them and was super pleased.
If you’re tight on time, this might be the right option. Piattois located just 3 minutes away from Central Station which makes it a great stop on your way to or from the city.
Website: http://restaurantpiatto.nl/utrecht/| Price: 30-40 EUR for dinner| Address: Vredenburg 34
Where to stay in Utrecht: Accommodation Guide
Looking for tips on where to stay in Utrecht? The good news is that the Utrecht city center is very compact, so chances to pick a hotel with a fantastic location are higher than ever.
Mother Goose Hotel
During my trip, I was hosted in the fantastic Mother Goose Hotel, which was kindly compensated by Utrecht Marketing. Mother Goose is the ideal boutique hotel with the perfect location. Even the room windows open up to the Dom Tower, the most important landmark in Utrecht.
The hotel is situated on a lively square two steps away from the canals. I loved that the property felt both historical and very modern and updated when it came to decor. You can choose a loft with beams for a stronger history feel. Breakfast was served in a cafe on the same square which was a great start to the day.
I was staying on a Friday night so I could hear the people in the bar below talking. This didn’t interrupt my sleep in any way as all outside noise faded away as the night went on. The hotel also considered this and offered earplugs just in case. If you’re staying during the week, you probably will hear nothing at all.
I would totally stay in this hotel myself. The staff was super friendly and helpful, and the location unparalleled. This is the quintessential Utrecht experience for sure.
An overnight stay starts from 178 EUR. Guests on Booking.com rated it as a Superb stay with a score of 9.1. See for yourself!
Looking for a more budget-friendly hotel? Utrecht is not very large so your choice of hostels is pretty narrow, however, I’m sure this stylish BUNK Hotel Utrecht will convince you with their options. They’ve got bunk pods, rooms and epic rooms too. The prices start from 63 EUR per night. The location is really close to the train station as well. Click here to view the rooms!