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Two-tiered medieval streets, boat trips along the canals, a 19th-century observatory and the tallest church tower in the Netherlands, all in Utrecht

Once the religious and commercial hub of the Netherlands, today Utrecht blends the youthful energy of its university culture with the centuries-old pride of its medieval heart. The most important city in the country until Amsterdam took over in the Dutch Golden Age, Utrecht’s canals, canal houses and cathedral tower are well preserved and integrated into everyday life. The city’s many museums, restaurants, bars and shops built into its antique canal houses reveal a lively modern city ripe for exploration.

Rows of houses along the Utrecht canal, NetherlandsUtrecht feels something like a quieter and smaller Amsterdam that’s older and less of an international hub. Its canal system is unique among the canal cities of Europe: the gabled canal houses here have lower floors that open at the water level, and wharves that shipping boats would use to dock and unload their cargo. The effect in today’s city is a two-layered street level, adding a vertical dimension to pedestrian city life.

Things to see and do in Utrecht

The old town

We can arrange a private walking tour of Utrecht’s old town, a pedestrian-only area with many buildings dating to the High Middle Ages, prior to 1300. You’ll get a chance to explore the canal house cellars, wide doors directly on the water that form a second street level, lined with restaurants, cafés, bars and hotels.

The old town is focused around the immense Domtoren, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. While the natural stone exterior is often being restored, the interior, with its 465 steps to the top, remains open. From here you can see all the way to Amsterdam on a clear day.

On the waterfront

Take a glass-topped canal boat through the main canal at the city’s heart, and out to the surrounding canals that once formed the city limits. You’ll pass the water-level canal houses and terraces, the Domtoren and the town hall, the Sonnenborgh Observatory with its 16th-century fortifications and modern domes, the stately white Villa Lepelenburg national monument and the old city wall, circa 1122. An audio guide, played through a speaker in a variety of languages, will explain what you’re seeing — with occasional quips from the boat’s driver.

Culture from the medieval age to the space age

Utrecht has plenty of museums and exploratory attractions, including the playful Miffy Museum for young children, the Museum Speelklok with its array of self-playing instruments, and the Centraal Museum, whose wide-ranging art collection is arranged not by chronology, but by theme.

Dom Church, UtrechtYou can also visit the Sonnenborgh Museum and Observatory, which combines 16th-century military history with 19th-century astronomical pluck. Built on the walls of Utrecht’s strongest bastion, the original observatory let scientists chart the movements of the stars and make weather predictions. Now, the Sonnenborgh allows visitors to access its state-of-the-art telescopes to conduct their own research.

Visit smaller places

From Utrecht, we can arrange day trips to Amersfoort and Kröller-Müller, two lesser-known but worthwhile destinations. Amersfoort is a cobblestoned city with an intact brick city gate that spans both the water route and the land route into the town’s medieval streets. Kröller-Müller is a modern art museum and sculpture park set in the sand dunes of Hoge Veluwe National Park.

Best time to visit Utrecht

Travel from late March through late October to avoid most of the rain and snow in the winter months. In spite of the region’s variable weather, the warmer months are best for enjoying the medieval old town and the water-level terraces along the canals. Weekends bring market stalls, which make the town busier. Many museums are closed on Mondays, along with many restaurants and cafés, so be sure to check hours before you visit.

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Suggested itinerary featuring Utrecht

This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in Utrecht, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Utrecht

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    Places near Utrecht

    Accommodation choices for Utrecht

    We've selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Utrecht. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    Ideas for experiencing Utrecht

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Utrecht, and which use the best local guides.

    • Amersfoort Kröller-Müller Museum
      The grounds of the Kröller-Müller Museum

      Amersfoort Kröller-Müller Museum

      Amersfoort Kröller-Müller Museum

      You’ll spend the day wandering the cobblestone streets of Amersfoort, then visit the museum containing the world’s second-largest Van Gogh collection on this day trip. See the Netherlands’ tallest church tower, visit a 17th-century pub and walk in a sculpture garden within a diverse national parkland.

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    • City walking tour & canal cruise
      Oudegracht canal, Utrecht

      City walking tour & canal cruise

      City walking tour & canal cruise

      Explore the cobblestone streets of Utrecht’s old town as you get to know the city with a local guide. You’ll then get to cruise the city’s postcard-worthy canals on a glass boat for a different perspective.

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