Grand Depart Utrecht: Tour de France kicks off

The Tour de France kicks off this weekend right here in the Netherlands with the Grand Depart Utrecht. If you’ve been following the news, you’ve likely heard the predictions about the city’s population doubling – if not tripling – to accommodate all of the tourists and cycling enthusiasts. You may also have heard that we’re expecting a heat wave.

All of those bodies squished into the teeny confines of the city centre, and in 30+ degree heat? You may very well be planning to avoid the city altogether. But if you’re up for a fun-filled and potentially sticky weekend in beautiful Utrecht, here are a few suggestions to make your stay as delightful and heat stroke-free as possible.

(These tips are obviously aimed at visitors to the city rather than to those of you living in Utrecht, but you’re welcome to keep reading nonetheless, or share your own tips in the comments!)

tour de france, utrecht
Photo credit: Flickr user Angelbattle Bros.

1. Stalk the cyclists

First things first: I’m assuming that if you’ve decided to brave the crowds and the heat this weekend, you likely have some sort of interest in the actual Tour. You can find out where the cyclists will be at different times throughout the weekend by checking out the different Étape trajectories here. For those in Utrecht on Thursday, the participating teams will be presented to the public at the Historie Park Lepelenburg, where a DJ will also be playing into the night.

2. Picnic in the park

The city centre of Utrecht has its fair share of great, Instagram-able lunch eateries: look no further than Twijnstraat, Zadelstraat, Biltstraat, or Oosterkade (to name only a few) for hip cafés, salad bars, and sweet treats that go beyond more traditional Dutch lunch fare.

But if you want to avoid potentially long queues and the hanger that comes from walking hopelessly from full house to full house, or if you simply want to take full advantage of the summery weather, Utrecht also has some really beautiful green spaces spread out across the city.

tour de france, utrecht
The ring canal that circles the city.

Make a pit stop at the grocery store and stock up on cheese, bread, stroopwafels, beer, whatever you need! Then take a walk along the ring canal that circles the city, and set up camp wherever you can fit. If the spaces there are all packed, worry not – you can also head to Griftpark, a short walk out of the city centre, for vaster space and even a petting zoo for the little ones.

3. Tour the city

On Saturday, rendez-vous by the Dom cathedral at noon for a free, three-hour guided tour of the city (find more information on Facebook). Should you miss the starting time, or if you simply prefer to intersperse your ‘touring’ with rather a lot of sitting down/dawdling, don’t fret! While you should definitely do some more in-depth research before you set off, here are a few good starting points to consider:

tour de france, utrecht
The Oudegracht, Utrecht

Take a walk along the famous wharfs of the Oudegracht and peek into the various studios, galleries, and restaurants in the cellars. For a unique Utrecht experience, grab a drink on one of the terraces there.
(Basically just grab a drink anywhere because you are going to be parched and Utrecht has a lot of excellent terraces!)

Go bask in the cool shade of the Dom tower (the tallest tower in the Netherlands) and the adjacent garden. For the truly adventurous and heat-resistant, guided climbs of the tower are available throughout the day. (What guide to Utrecht is complete without mention of the Dom?)

tour de france, utrecht
The view from the garden beside Dom tower.

Do some window shopping and grab some goodies on the charming Twijnstraat, the oldest shopping street in the city. Here you’ll find lots of little boutiques, a kazerij, a specialty beer store, several bakeries, and an ice cream shop – everything your heart could possibly desire.

Walk down the shaded, tree-lined Maliebaan and admire the stately homes and offices that frame the street. The Maliebaan is also the home of the first-ever bicycle path in the Netherlands, making it a truly fitting place to frolic this weekend.

4. Exploit air conditioning

And by that I mean: cultural institutions! Utrecht houses plenty of interesting museums, several of which are currently showing cycling-related exhibitions. Find a complete list of exhibitions here. For the musically inclined, the Dom choir performs free acapella concerts in the Dom cathedral every Saturday at 15.30.*

*This is the clearest ‘agenda’ I can find online, so if you’re interested I’d suggest getting there early and making sure that the concert is in fact on this weekend!

5. Get nautical

Utrecht is full of companies eager to rent you a boat on the canals. From kayaks and canoes to proper tour boats offering snacks and drinks, your options are plentiful – check out the city’s round-up of rental companies (regrettably only available in Dutch), or simply wander on down to the Oudegracht and take your pick. Added bonus: if at this point in the day you’ve sweat through your clothes (we’ve all been there), you can always pretend you fell into the water.

6. Dance

The city is putting on a music festival this weekend to celebrate the Tour. Stages will be set up on the Neude, Janskerkhof, and Domplein – all beautiful and prime locations right in the heart of the city centre. You can find information on times and band line-ups here. If you’re going to attend, you might as well embrace the heat and bust out your most excellent dance moves. After all, who knows when we’ll see this sort of weather again?

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