It goes without saying that Amsterdam is a great place to visit, but if you want to visit the true "heart of the Netherlands" then Utrecht is waiting for you to discover its secrets. An enchanting location, the upbeat and modernising charm of the inhabitants, mixed with the old buildings and medieval canal, unite to make Utrecht an exciting city to add to your travel plans.
Described by locals as a place "made for the ones who are looking to discover. My city, our village", Utrecht is full of places oozing with a bohemian and curious vibe, one that attracts many art students and young professionals.
What to See and Do
Utrecht has the unique sight of wharfs, which are riverside banks below street level and by the canals. Here there are lots of restaurants, cafes, and boutique businesses creating an intriguing buzz along the wharf and in the wharf cellars. Effectively creating a two-tier street system, you'd be foolish not to want to walk along the wharfs or catch a boat and watch the activity surround you as you drift by.
Once you have explore the two levels below, why not climb to the top of the Dom Tower where if you are a sucker for beautiful whole city views, the 465 step climb to the top will defiantly be rewarding.
Back on ground level there are many lively squares bursting with terrace and city life such as Ledig Erf, Neude and Domplein, which are especially great places to visit in the summer. In the city centre it is also highly recommend you visit Wilhelmina park, a beautiful and romantic location that also offers night tours.
If you're in the mood for a shopping adventure of all sorts, start at the Commercial Shopping Centre at Utrecht Station, then work your way out to the smaller shops where vintage treats await you. Record shops, art galleries, fashion secrets and unique markets will keep revealing themselves, making you literally want to shop till you drop!
Many find by foot is the best way to explore Utrecht, not because it is not well connected (which it is as Utrecht Central Station forms the main hub of the Dutch rail network) but with so much to explore in many compact areas, many surprises hide behind innocent looking doors or within peculiar buildings tucked away from the main street. Lombok is the place to go to experience an area both culturally influential and intriguing where hidden cafes and restaurants are waiting for you to find them.
What to Eat and Drink
We couldn't possibly begin to cover all the culinary and alcohol delights Utrecht has to offer, but here are few good ones to start:
- Grab amazing sandwiches from Bigolo
- For wine and delicious finger-foods visit Lefebvre
- If you're yearning for unique beer in an old church accessible by an inconspicuous street door then head to Olivier
- Amazing quality Spanish food can be found at Boulevard
- Cheap in price but delicious and high quality burgers are to be discovered at Meneer Smakers
- If it's decadent cocktails you want then head to Apritivo or Zussen
Where to Party
In comparison to other cities Utrecht doesn't have as many nightclubs, as plenty of cafes take on a jubilant persona at night, moving tables and creating spaces for parties that develop and mould throughout the night. That said here are some great nightclubs to check out:
- Havana: fiery latin pop (make sure you there before 1 to beat the queues)
- Poema: The destination for underground and rising techno, techhouse and deephouse
- Filemon: Open everyday delivering you the best in house
- Klein Berlin: The one for creative music fans where live music at the weekend is located right next to the water
As many people go on summer vacation and often leave the city, this paves the way for tons of amazing intimate mini-parties taking place in the countless cafes around the city, where visiting DJs to come and take the night. Here are the smaller unique places to visit
The Festival Scene
With festivals taking place all year round, Utrecht knows how to compliment the sun and inject colour into the grey cold winter through the joy of music festivals! Here are our top 5:
(1) Lief Festival / 5 Sept 2015 / 2015 Acts TBA - a colourful adults playground, filling the lake and surrounding green of the park with techno, deep-house and tech-house.
(2) World Of Pleasure / 6 June / 2015 Acts TBA - the pop-up wonderland featuring house, hardstyle and EDM amongst a magical boutique location.
(3) Brothers Open Air / 22 August / 2015 Acts TBA - Just on the outskirts of Utrecht, this is the ultimate all day party for eclectic music fans eager for non-stop pulsating beats.
(4) Sneeuwbal Winter Festival / 31 January / Speedy J, De Sluwe Vos, Jay Hardway - a winter wonderland escape right in the middle of the city.
(5) Time Warp Netherlands / 6 December / Sven Väth, Ricardo Villalobos, Chris Liebing - the essential indoor electronic gathering full of room filling visuals and captivating sound.
Other Utrecht festivals that we highly recommend checking out later this year or next are:
- Dancefair Utrecht: The ultimate music business meetup for personalities in the world of electronic music
- Mumbai Color Festival: Colours of India meet the sounds of Holland in this captivating cultural explosion
- Le Guess Who: A bold multi-genre journey featuring "one-of-a-kind" acts amongst various venues in Utrecht
So there you have it, with a vibe that distances itself from other surrounding cities, whilst staying true to the free-spirited nature of the Netherlands, Utrecht should be next on your list of European cities to explore! From the festivals for all seasons to the amount of secret shops or wharf cafes to enjoy, make fellow travel-enthusiasts and festival junkies jealous with a photo album and mind full of Utrecht gifted memories!
*special thanks to Mylene Philippo at X-Sense events for providing photos and recommendations on her city used in this piece*