When I’m not traveling abroad, I still enjoy being a tourist in my own country. I recently posted about my day out to Amsterdam and this week I decided to spend a day in Utrecht, a lovely city less than an hour away from my home. It had been a while since I spent a full day there so it was about time to return to this beautiful city. I was lucky to have picked the ONLY snowy day we had all winter and the city looked absolutely magical!
Utrecht is the fourth largest city of the Netherlands and one of the oldest ones too. The city is built around a centuries old church tower and just like Amsterdam, Utrecht is known for it’s canals. There are hundreds of cozy shops, bars and restaurants lined along the water that add to the charm and lively atmosphere of the city.
Curious? Here is how to spend a winter’s day in Utrecht!
Walk by Utrechts Conservatorium
Utrecht has it’s very own Hogwarts! Well, they don’t exactly teach magic at this school but music is close enough. This conservatory of music is the oldest music university in the Netherlands and it’s housed in a gorgeous neo-gothic building that used to be a hospital back in 1896. The best view is from the “courtyard” at the back of the building.
Climb the Dom toren
The Dom tower is the pride of Utrecht and it’s not hard to see why. With a height of 112 meters the Dom toren towered above the city since 1382 and remains the most dominant feature of Utrecht’s skyline today. You simply can’t miss it! On a clear day you can admire the view from the top of the tower, which you definitely should do when you visit Utrecht. I decided to skip this oportunity this time around because frankly… I’ve done it before and it was way too cold to do it again!
Another cool thing to do is DOMunder. Although I have not yet had the chance to check this out, it is something I’m really looking forward to. DOMunder allows you to discover a 2000 year history underground! So if you are visiting Utrecht, make sure to check it out and let me know what you think!
Admire Dom square
The square around the Dom tower is beautiful. This was the birthplace of Utrecht 2000 years ago. The gothic cathedral on the photo below used to be attached to the Dom tower, but the connecting nave collapsed during a storm in the 1600’s. Because it has never been rebuilt the church and the tower remain separated today. As you can see on the photo below it started snowing and the square started to look magical!
Enjoy a cup of hot cocoa at Lebowski…
Lebowski is one of the most excentric café’s I have seen. It’s a great place to hang out for drinks and lunch, or for a night out if that’s what you are looking for. Make sure to walk over to the back of the building to admire the life sized giraffe! Although this is not my all time favorite place, there is something about it that makes me love coming there every once in a while. And it was the perfect spot to seek shelter from the snow for a while.
…Or have a cup of coffee in court
“See you in court” has a whole different meaning in Utrecht! De Rechtbank (the court) is a lovely café/restaurant in the heart of Utrecht. The building was built as a monestery in 1054 but got turned into a court in the 16th century when Utrecht became a Protestant city. De rechtbank got renovated into a hotel and café/restaurant quite recently and it’s a lovely place to read a newspaper over a cup of coffee. The food is fantastic too! This is definitely one of my favorite places to hang out in Utrecht and as you can tell by the lack of snow in the picture, I went here first thing in the morning!
Stroll around the canals
Amsterdam isn’t the only city with canals! Utrecht has a system of canals that dates back 800 years. Lined by the typical narrow houses Utrecht’s canals are possibly the prettiest ones in the country. The main canal, or “oude gracht” is about 2 kilometers long and runs all the way across the center of the city. It is an absolute must to stroll along thi canal and take in the magical views along the way!
Warm up while enjoying religious art at Catharijne convent
Catharijne convent is a museum with the largest collection of religious art in the country. A visit to this beautiful museum will take you on a journey from the early middle ages to the present. Even though I’m not religious myself, I was deeply impressed by the collection of artifacts used in churches over centuries. The treasury alone was well worth the visit! (Sorry, too dark to take pictures) For me, the old bibles were a highlight. Some of them are from the 1300’s and still looking in great shape. The detail on the drawings is amazing! Not into bibles and gold? No worries. The museum has a large collection of statues and robes as well!
What is most impressive about this museum is the building itself. Originally, it was the site of a shelter for the homeless. In the fifteenth century the Carmelites acquired the land and built a convent. Later it was turned into a hospital, which it remained until it became a museum. The building is beautifully renovated to modern standards, leaving the original ornaments intact. All in all a wonderfull way to spend a few hours!
Check out Centraal Museum
I have to be honest with you… I don’t know if I felt over- or underwhelmed by this museum. There was a Caravaggio exhibition going on when I visited, driving the entrance fee up quite a bit to EUR 19,50 per person. When I entered the exhibition, it turned out that there was only one original Caravaggio left. The rest had been replaced by posters of the original. Ofcourse there were a lot of original paintings from the Utrecht Caravaggisti like Dirck van Baburen, Hendrick ter Brugghen and Gerard van Honthorst, but I had seen their paintings before which left me a bit dissapointed.
The rest of the museum was a bit unorganized. It felt as though the museum had no idea how to display their collection so just went with general themes and put everything together. Van Baaren and Rietveld were presented in one room as “a huge contrast” and it is… It just doesn’t make any sense. But, if you are a huge fan of Miffy, it’s definitely worth a visit. Dick Bruna’s studio has been replicated on the top floor, giving you an interesting look on his work. However… The Miffy museum is right across the street 😉
End the day with a drink at one of the many bars around the canals
Well you can’t go wrong with this one. There are plenty of choices and I never had a bad experience in any of the pubs in Utrecht! The nicest views are along the canal obviously. This is the view from Café de Morgenster, lovingly named after a medieval weapon called a morning star. I love this café for it’s local vibe and the fact that it’s been there for over a hundred years! A perfect spot to meet up with friends and drink a nice glass of wine and that is exactly what I did after a lovely day!
I guess it’s clear that I had an absolutely magical day! Utrecht is such a gem and I’m so lucky that I got to capture it in the snow! Luckily the city is very hospitable and there are plenty of places to warm up after a walk around town. This makes the city suitable for all seasons although I will admit that I also love Utrecht in summer when everyone is out on the terraces. I guess there is always an excuse to go back 🙂
Have you ever been to Utrecht or would this city make it to your travel wishlist?