"As It Turned Out - Well Worth A Visit AND Now Two!" Top 5 Page for this destination Utrecht by johngayton

Utrecht Travel Guide: 668 reviews and 1,612 photos

Don't Be Fooled By 1st Impressions!!

I had to change trains in Utrecht, on my journey between Hoek Van Holland and Nijmegen and even though I still had an hour or so's journey and could have caught a connection almost immediately, I would still have been far too early for my hotel check-in. My train ticket, from Stena Line's RailSail deal, was valid all day for any Dutch station and so I decided on the spur-of-the-moment to check out the city.

Leaving the train and following the signs for the station concourse I was immediately engulfed by a seemingly interminable shopping mall (The Hoog Catharijne), the exits from which seem artfully hidden in order to prevent the unspent shopper's escape. As shopping malls go this is actually quite a good one, well-known throughout The Netherlands for its variety of shops, large and small, chain and individual, as well as various restaurants - it even has quite an attractive-looking bar.

I wasn't here for shopping though and, it being 10 in the morning, was still too early for a beer (even for me!) and so wandered around searching for an exit. Having backtracked several times to and from the stationhal I eventually found a flight of stairs leading to the outside.

However, despite being relieved to have escaped the mall's clutches, my first sight of Utrech proper almost made me turn on my heels and surrender myself to that attractive-looking bar that I had passed on my rambling escape route.

Internally the mall is quite appealing, but externally it is a brutally modern towering behemoth, abutting the busy main road into the city. Along the road, on both sides, are further examples of concrete and glass ugliness and the road itself is flanked on both sides by concrete crash barriers protecting the cycle paths from the twin lanes of the pelting city traffic.

This certainly wasn't what I'd been expecting for my introduction to what I had gathered is one of The Netherlands' most historical cities.

Impressions of the Old Town

Fortunately the railway station is relatively close to the city centre and so I took a walk towards it anyway, with that little bar in the mall as my plan B should I be disappointed with what I'd find.

After about 5 minutes walk through the concrete and glass jungle I was heartened to glimpse, a couple of hundred metres on my right, a proper bit of Dutch brickwork shyly peeping out from behind the garishly signposted corner of a glaringly-glassy 3-storey shop facade.

On arrival and rounding the corner I was greeted by the most perfect example of the archetypal Old Dutch city centre - a brick-built canal avenued by stunningly beautiful autumn-foliaged trees and lined both sides by the ornate gable-fronted buildings I had come to expect from my visits elsewhere in the country.

The Old Town of Utrecht really is a pleasant place to wander with its varying architecture, its uniquely-structured canals. As to be expected there are some magnificent churches, the most interesting being the Dom Tower and the remains of its church - by all accounts when this was built in the 1300's there wasn't enough money to buttress the walls and the nave collapsed during a storm in 1674 and was never rebuilt. The Dom Tower is the tallest in The Netherlands at 112 metres and there is a local law prohibiting any taller buildings from being constructed in the city.

Lasting Impressions

I only had a couple of hours here which I spent variously wandering, with a coffee break and a light lunch but was very impressed with this little "city-within-a-city".

This really is a pleasant, laid-back place with plenty of temptations for a return visit.

UPDATE Now revisited for the inaugural VT Sinterklaas meet in December 2012 - see Travelogue #2 below:

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Exquisitely-preserved Old Town
  • Cons:Some ugly modernity surrounding it.
  • In a nutshell:Very Dutch, Very Laid-back and Very Much Worth A Revisit!
  • Last visit to Utrecht: Dec 2012
  • Intro Updated Dec 28, 2012
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Reviews (20)

Comments (7)

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Oct 2, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    My one proper visit to Utrecht (apart from just changing trains) was nearly forty years ago and was memorable because this is where I had my first Coupe Advocaat, which is vanilla ice cream topped with egg liqueur.

    • johngayton's Profile Photo
      Oct 2, 2013 at 1:12 PM

      HeHe! Don that must have been the height of sophistication in those days. I try to make of dropping into the old city whenever I'm changing trains, even if just for a beer.

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Jan 3, 2013 at 4:09 AM

    John, happy new year 2013. Fantastic updates about your recent visit of Utrecht here. I really like the "Voorzichtig!" sign. Also I love your detailed travelogue about the Sinterklass VT meeting. Well done. *winkygrin*

    • johngayton's Profile Photo
      Jan 3, 2013 at 4:36 AM

      Hi Holger and Happy New Year to you too. Yes that was a fun little meet - a bit of culture, a bit of history, a bit of local tradition and of course a few beers ;-)

  • pieter_jan_v's Profile Photo
    Dec 28, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    John, I take it, more is coming? Great pictures. PJ

  • zadunajska8's Profile Photo
    Apr 3, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    I love the idea of a bar inside an old church! When I lived in the London Docklands in my University days we had a pub in an old church at the end of the street and it was always a favourite. There's something about a church that makes drinking a few beers seem just that bit better. If I ever get to go to Utrecht I'll have to track down the place you found.

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Nov 15, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    Thanks for your story about this splendid place.....

  • mvtouring's Profile Photo
    May 11, 2009 at 3:35 AM

    Very nice tips & photos, cannot wait for when I visit next month ;-)

  • cachaseiro's Profile Photo
    Oct 22, 2008 at 11:11 AM

    now that is what i call a beautiful boat :O)


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