Located in the very centre of the Netherlands, Utrecht is home to iconic landmarks— such as the Dom Tower, and the inner city’s sunken canals. The city is dynamic, full of life, and if you haven’t visited before should definitely be at the top of your to-do list.
Once the religious capital of the Netherlands, this quaint, medieval city radiates around the Dom Tower — the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. With beautiful old houses, bridges, and canals that ring the city, Utrecht is often regarded as a little Amsterdam — just without as many tourists. There’s no shortage of interesting things to do and see in this historic city.
18. Dom Tower
The Eiffel Tower of Utrecht, so to speak — the Dom Tower looms over the city. At 112 meters, the Dom is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. On a clear day, you might be able to sneak a glance of Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and The Hague from the observation platform.
Construction of the tower began in 1321, stopped for a period in between and was completed by 1382. Although tweaks and adjustments were continually made. In 1674, a tornado permanently separated the tower from the church of St. Martin, and only in 1836 did the restoration begin.
By 1930, the tower had been restored and today is a popular tourist attraction in Utrecht. You can also grab a bite to eat at some of the bars on the Dom Square, which is home to the tower and cathedral.
17. St. Martin’s Cathedral
Once upon a time, St. Martins Cathedral was the largest church in the Netherlands and was linked to the Dom Tower (until the tornado in 1674, that is) but today it is separate and is also a popular tourist attraction. In the courtyard of the gothic cathedral, you’ll find the stunning Pandhof garden — a perfect spot for a cup of coffee or a moment of quiet time.
The Domkerk is literally a stone’s throw from the Dom, so if you pay a visit to the area, be sure to take a peek at both.
While you’re on Dom Square, you might as well take a trip DOMunder (ha!), right in the centre of the area. Yes, if you hadn’t noticed yet, a lot of Utrecht’s history revolves around the Dom.
Here, you can explore some of the Netherland’s archaeological treasures, with multimedia. You’ll get a torch and scanner that you can use to bring sound messages to life. A perfect activity if you’re interested in Roman and medieval history.
15. Museum Speelklok
Here’s one for the music enthusiasts. The Speelklok Museum is located in an old church, the Buurkerk.
On display, you’ll see an assortment of self-playing musical instruments, music boxes, pianolas, organs, and musical clocks. The latter is key since the museum’s name means “musical clock.”
Apart from just being a museum, restoration workshops are offered — which are highly regarded worldwide.
14. Oudegracht Canal
Utrecht is known for its two-level canal system. The canals on the Oudegracht street are a highlight of the city and shouldn’t be missed.
Utrecht was an important city for trade, and merchants historically used the lower level (below street level) of the canal to unload goods from barges. The goods would be stored in cellars along the canal.
As the commercial aspect of the city faded, the cellars and warehouses were left empty. In the last hundred years or so, these cellars have been up-cycled and converted into cafés, restaurants, and shops galore. During the summertime, it’s super gezellig (cosy) to sit by the canal and sip a cold beer.
13. The Oudegracht
The Oudegracht is more than just the canal — not only does it connect to Domplein (the square upon which the Dom and the St. Martin’s Cathedral sit) but it houses Utrecht’s main shopping area, which is far more charming than any shopping mall. If the mall is your cup of tea walk though, walk a little further off the Oudegracht and towards the train station where you will find Hoog Catherijne, Utrecht’s glossy shopping mall.
If all that retail therapy’s made you hungry, you can also grab a cup of coffee or a drink — and maybe take your pick of deep-fried snacks at the food trucks that stand beside the canal.
12. Vredenburg Market
While you’re in the area of the Oudegracht, you may as well check out Vredenburg Market, which takes place on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. If you’re into food, this is THE place to be.
You can find an array of farm-fresh eggs, produce, and fish, as well as freshly baked treats. If you want to cook something a little out of the ordinary, you can find just about anything here. And if you’re looking for Dutch classics (think hella good cheese and gooey warm stroopwafels that drip caramel), this is where it’s at.
11. Bloemenmarkt (flower market) at Janskerkhof
Right outside the beautiful Janskerk (St. John’s Church) you’ll find Utrecht’s bustling flower market, which is only open on Saturday’s from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM.
Here, you can find flowers, flower pots, and bulbs galore (basically all things plants and flowers.) Even if you’re not looking to buy any potted gems, the flower market is not to be missed — the colours and flowers on display are beautiful, and the vibe is great!
And while we’re talking about cool markets, the fabric market (Lapjesmarkt) — the largest and oldest fabric market in the Netherlands — is also open on Saturdays from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Breedstraat, a stone’s throw from Janskerkhof. So if you’re looking to buy some cool textiles, this is the place to go.
10. Railway Museum (Spoorweg Museum)
As much as we complain about the NS, the Dutch railway system is actually pretty darn good. If you want to learn a little more about the history and background of trains in the Netherlands, this is the place to go.
Located at the Utrecht Maliebaan station, you can take a train to this stop from the Utrecht Centraal station (but the museum is also easily accessible by bus).
The main hall of the station is adorned in 19th-century style, and the museum itself is divided into several sections, where you can find old posters, leaflets, carriages, and locomotives as well as a mechanical ride. If you’re looking for things to do with children in Utrecht, this is one for the books.
At the Spoorweg Museum, you’ll also find a very moving memorial to all the Jews of Utrecht who were murdered during the Second World War.
Utrecht has many beautiful green spaces, one of which is the Wilhelminapark. The park was officially opened in 1898 and named after Queen Wilhelmina, who became queen that year.
During the week, you’ll find students biking through, as the park connects the city centre and De Uithof — home to the university’s science campus. On the weekends the park turns into something a bit more low key and family-focused.
At the centre of the park is a large pond (or little lake), and when the weather is good, people flock to the lakeside for a picnic or a cheeky drink. There’s also a few cafes, bars, and ice cream shops close by (for when the weather is nice), making this a very pleasant outing.
The park is so nice that the surrounding area is sort of considered the bougie district of the city, where houses sell for millions of euros a piece.
And from the Wilhelminapark, if you keep walking straight ahead you’ll come across this UNESCO World Heritage Site, also known as…
8. Rietveld Schröderhuis
The Rietveld Schröderhuis was built in 1924 when Truus Schröder asked Gerrit Rietveld, a renowned furniture designer from Utrecht to design a house for her and her three children. The house was designed using the concepts of De Stijl, an artistic movement that began in 1917. The movement is characterised by the use of bold primary colours, as well as greys, blacks, and whites and the use of horizontal and vertical lines.
The house continued to be a private living space until 1985, and today functions as a museum. Originally the house was situated on the outskirts of Utrecht — one of the main selling points. But today (unfortunately) a four-lane motorway and viaduct now make up the view from the house.
Nevertheless, you can always see tourists flock to the museum, which is an architectural gem.
7. De Veldkeuken
There’s a lot to do in the city of Utrecht, but the province also has some treasures hidden within.
When you think Utrecht, you might think of urban-city people as bike crazy. But if you cycle a little further away from the city and deeper into the province (towards the Uithof, where the university’s science campus is located) you’ll come across a beautiful forest. And if you keep biking, you can find de Veldkeuken.
This restaurant is the perfect spot to bike to during the summer. Here you can enjoy a pleasant drink or meal, made with ingredients grown in the surrounding area. The bread and cakes are to die for.
6. Miffy Museum
Here’s another one to do with kids in Utrecht. Any Dutch person would likely have heard of Nijntje, or Miffy — a quirky cartoon bunny created by graphic designer, Dick Bruna.
The Miffy Museum is a touch-everything experience that appeals to young children, who can crawl, climb, and play around the grounds — providing for a fun and interactive outing. But of course, you can still enjoy it as an adult.
Make sure to pre-book, as the museum can be particularly busy during weekends and holidays.
5. Kasteel de Haar (the Haar Castle)
Kasteel de Haar is one of the grandest and the largest castle in the Netherlands.
Once the holiday home of the Van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar family (Utrecht’s nobility), the family continues to visit each September for a month. During this period, elaborate parties are thrown by the baron and baroness, attracting famous guests such as Coco Chanel, Maria Callas, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, Yves Saint Laurent, Joan Collins, and Brigitte Bardot.
Today the castle serves as a museum, ranking among the top 20 most visited museums in the Netherlands. You can arrange for a guided tour of the castle, or drop by for exhibitions, theatre performances and other events.
4. SOIA — Strand Oog In Al
Alright, so SOIA isn’t quite Scheveningen — but it’s a perfect place to go in Utrecht during the summer and a pretty decent beach for a city.
Open from April, SOIA is perfect for grabbing a cold beer, soaking up the sun once the weather is a little warmer (and storm-free), and enjoying grilling season.
SOIA is also kid-friendly, offering a bouncy castle and face-painting — so it’s a fun thing to do with children in Utrecht. From yoga sessions to afro-beats, you can enjoy more than just a beverage at this city beach.
TivoliVrendeburg is a contemporary music venue in the centre of Utrecht. The venue has five halls which are each designed acoustically for specific music genres. So whether you’re in the mood for something more orchestral or perhaps a place to go at night to dance, Tivoli has you covered.
The venue frequently welcomes international performers, and stages a variety of concerts, performances, festivals — you name it. There’s also a restaurant/bar located on the ground for if you want to grab a quick bite before you hit the dance floor.
What’s more, Tivoli is conveniently located right by the train station so you can easily hop on a train and move on to your next destination.
2. Sonnenborgh observatory
In the 19th century, the observatory in Utrecht was used to gain a better understanding of the composition of the sun, and predict the weather. Today, however, the building has been transformed for you to enjoy.
Climb the stairs to the star cupolas and use the telescopes to explore the starry skies up close. Or go into the domes and observe the planets. You can also see where cannons were fixed in the 400-year old walls that the observatory is built on.
You can even make your own weather forecast at the Sonnenborgh, and have your own starry night.
1. Botanical Gardens
From March 1 to December 1, Utrecht University’s botanical gardens are open to the public every day.
Dating back to 1639, the gardens were established for medical students, only three years after the university was founded. Today, they have been relocated to the Utrecht Science Park.
Whether it’s a rock garden, a bird den, or tropical greenhouses that you want to visit, you can find it all at the botanical gardens.
And in case you still can’t decide whether to visit Utrecht or not, maybe this video will help:
What’s your favourite thing to do in Utrecht? Tell us in the comments below!
Feature Image: Mlehmann/Depositphotos
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2020, and was fully updated in October 2021 for your reading pleasure.