How to Spend 1 Day in Utrecht, Netherlands
Utrecht, Netherlands is one of the Netherlands’ oldest urban centres. Today it’s still known for its medieval centre with the tree-lined canals, Christian monuments, and an iconic university. Here you can see beautiful views from the top of the Domtoren or visit the Museum Catharijneconvent, which displays religious art and artifacts in a former monastery. It’s hard not to fall for the vibrant culture in Utrecht.
Now a university city, the beautiful streets that run along the canals give you the feeling of Amsterdam, but still maintains its own identity. What were once medieval warehouses along the canals now form cafes, restaurants, clubs and more, with patios and walkways that extend right to the water.
Utrecht has a fascinating history. Around 2000 years ago, the city started life as the Roman castrum of Trajectum. The Roman site was eventually reclaimed by St. Willibrord for his cathedral around 700 AD. Utrecht grew into a spiritual centre until the 16th-century politico-religious turmoil where the bishops lost their secular powers.
It was here that the Protestant states leading the Dutch Revolt formed a core alliance, the Union of Utrecht, that would eventually lead to today’s Netherlands. A set of ruins lay in the city centre for years to come, until Utrecht’s university was founded in 1636.
With so much history, it’s easy to spend a day exploring what Utrecht has to offer. While it may not be the most popular city in the Netherlands, it makes for an easy day trip from Amsterdam. Keep reading below to find out the top 8 things to see while spending a day in Utrecht!
Getting to Utrecht, Netherlands from Amsterdam
Following the Dutch policy of either having trains or buses, but not both operating on main routes, it’s only possible to travel from Amsterdam to Utrecht by train. This offers a fast and convenient option for making the journey, as the two cities are only around 45 km apart.
The historic city of Utrecht lies in the centre of the Netherlands and Utrecht Central Station is the main domestic railway hub of the country with direct rail services to most of the major Dutch cities. There are also some international trains serving Utrecht. It takes an average of 26 minutes to travel from Amsterdam-Centraal to Utrecht Centraal by train. There are normally 113 trains per day travelling this route and tickets start from €9.20 when you book in advance.
Things to do in Utrecht, Netherlands
Utrecht’s most striking medieval landmark, the 112m-tall Domtoren is worth the 465-step climb for unbeatable city views—on a clear day, you can even see Amsterdam. Visits are by guided tour only. The tower was originally part of a 14th-century cathedral complex, whose nave was blown down by a freak hurricane in 1674.
The nave was never rebuilt, which has left the tower disconnected from the rest of the Domkerk (St. Martin’s Cathedral). Where the nave should be is now the open square of Domplein. Domkerk is a Gothic church, which is dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. It’s the country’s only pre-Reformation cathedral but has been a Protestant church since 1580.
2. Pandhof Garden
Between the Domkerk and Utrecht University Hall, a gateway leads through to this charming little formal garden ringed by 15th-century Gothic cloisters. The Pandhof is the Domkerk’s monastery garden. It’s one of the most beautiful courtyards in the Netherlands and offers stunning views of the Dom Tower and church.
The Pandhof garden dates back to the 1400s. Pandhof is maintained solely by volunteers. It’s a great place to sit and enjoy a quiet corner of Utrecht free of charge. It’s accessible through the gate on Domplein.
3. Centraal Museum
The Centraal Museum takes you through Utrecht’s 2000-year history using the lens of design and art. More than half the museum’s gallery-rooms feature temporary exhibitions so make sure to check the schedule of what’s currently on display. Highlights include surrealist pieces plus the conceptual play-off between the city’s contrasting architectural heritages. The garden cafe is accessible without a ticket.
4. Museum Catharijneconvent
Museum Catharijneconvent has the finest collection of medieval religious art in the Netherlands. The museum is housed in a former convent and an 18th-century canal-side house. Here you can admire many beautiful manuscripts, enjoy some Rembrandt, and explore the wide range of special exhibitions.
DOMunder is an underground attraction below Domplein where you can discover 2000 years of Utrecht history. Explore the archaeological findings, that date back up to the Roman Castellum Trajectum, with an interactive flashlight. Walking through the huge pillar foundations of the medieval Gothic Dom Cathedral, history literally springs to life.
Volunteer guides and fascinating films set the historical scene before you become an archaeologist as you explore the subterranean area beneath Domplein. A ticket from Domtoren will get you a 20% discount on DOMunder and vice versa.
6. Utrecht Saturday Markets
While the city has the large Hoog Catharijne Mall near the train station and more mainstream shops on Vredenburg and Steenweg, the best place to shop in Utrecht is the variety of markets that take place each Saturday. If you’re visiting on a weekend you can find vendors selling everything from clothing, food, and of course flowers! Make sure to wander through the Bloemenmarkt on Jankerkshof.
7. Speelklok Museum
Museum Speelklok is one of the typical Dutch sights which is a definite must-see! Museum Speelklok will take you through the wonderful world of self-playing musical instruments, surprising its visitors every day with the cheerful tunes sounding from all corners of the museum. A fun day out in Utrecht for children and adults. Museum Speelklok is located in the centre of Utrecht. It’s housed in The Buurkerk, which is one of the largest and oldest parish churches of Utrecht.
8. Railway Museum – Het Spoorwegmuseum
Discover the story behind 175 years of the railway in The Netherlands with the Railway Museum. Discover magnificent historic trains and explore the invention of the steam engine. Ride a Mine Lift that takes you back to the time and see actors play scenes about the well-known Orient Express. Great for kids and adults alike, Het Spoorwegmuseum will make you feel as if you were the engine drivers of the old days.
Final Thoughts on Utrecht, Netherlands
Utrecht, Netherlands is often overlooked by most visitors in favour of visiting Amsterdam or the Hague. As great as those cities are, there are still many things to do and see in this charming, medieval city. Stroll around the historic Domplein, the heart of the city, before wandering the canals and sitting at one of the many cafes here along the water. On weekends, you can also join walking tours that start outside Domtoren.
Utrecht makes for the perfect day trip from Amsterdam, or a stop along the way if you’re touring the Netherlands. While it doesn’t have the size of the other cities, it certainly has its own history and charm! We were lucky to spend the day here while visiting an old friend of my mom. I would love to go back again and spend another day enjoying this beautiful city!