Charming would be the one word I would use to describe Utrecht, a quintessential Dutch town close to Amsterdam. The historic city center of Utrecht is small and compact, making it very possible to see all of its top attractions easily within one day. It’s one of the most enchanting and photogenic places I have ever visited. I immediately fell in love with this lovely town and I know you will too. Here are the top things to do in Utrecht. (Updated April 2022)

A Brief History of Utrecht

Utrecht has a rich and interesting history dating far before the Middle Ages. It’s believed that the first inhabitants date all the way back to the Stone Age, earlier than 2000 BC. For many, many centuries, Utrecht was considered the heart of the Netherlands and considered the top city. It once had a large population size of 300,000 people within the province of Utrecht and it was home to the main offices of both the Catholic and Protestant faiths. It wasn’t until the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age, that it was replaced by Amsterdam. Despite being the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, Utrecht’s old city centre is incredibly charming. 

canal with bridge

Day Trip from Amsterdam to Utrecht

Travel by train from the central station in Amsterdam to Utrecht in 25-minutes. You will arrive in the city centre where the train station is connected to a modern shopping mall. Fun fact, this is actually the largest indoor shopping mall in the Netherlands. Likely by design, everyone who arrives by train needs to walk through this light modern space featuring over 160 stores until you emerge outside to the old urban center.

After a mere couple of steps, I fell upon a local market. I adore European market days! Utrecht’s Biologic Farmers’ Market takes place every Friday on Vredenburgplein in Utrecht’s city centre. This features all your typical vendors selling cheese, produce, bread, fabrics, and flowers. Your nose will lead you to some deliciously sweet-smelling food trucks offering traditional Dutch pastries, like Hagelslag, Olieballen, Pofferties, and Stroopwafels. After sampling a couple of Olieballen (deep-fried fritters), I was on my way to find the historic town center.

Best Things to Do in Utrecht The Netherlands

The Dom Church of Utrecht

In the heart of Utrecht is the beautiful Cathedral Square or Domplein, often referred to as Dom Square. The most impressive historic building that frames it is St. Martin’s cathedral, but locals call it Dom Church, or Domkerk. Of all the things to see in Utrecht, this needs to be top of the list. The Dom Church is considered one of the most important churches in the Netherlands. What’s so impressive you ask? It dates back to the 13th century and has two chapels and a 14th-century choir.   

The Dom Tower of Utrecht

The Dom Tower, built between 1321 to 1382, is the city and the Netherlands’ most notable landmark in the historic town center. It’s the highest and oldest church tower in the Netherlands, soaring at 112 meters. The tower was originally part of a 14 to 15th-century cathedral complex, but due to a freak hurricane in 1674, it was blown down and never rebuilt. Climb the 465 steps to the top for some unbeatable views, which on a clear day stretch as far as Amsterdam. The ringing of the 13 bells, which weigh between 880 and 18,000 pounds, can be heard throughout the city.

Pandhof Sinte Marie

Right next to the Dom church is the peaceful medieval monastery garden called Pandhof Sinte Marie. It connects the cathedral to Utrecht University. In the center of this beautiful garden is a fountain with a bronze statue, of priest Hugo Wstinc, sitting and writing. It is one of the most idyllic spots to sit and relax.

statue and gardens in park

Dom Quarter

One of the best Utrecht hidden gems is the Dom Quarter. It’s a peaceful side of the city with little alleyways, pretty houses, and tiny little shops. This residential neigbourhood is worthy of a stroll and it’s here you will discover Utrecht’s first church, St. Peter’s Church, built in 1048.

Old Canal

Definitely what sets this city apart is the beautiful Old Canal, or Oudegracht that flows right through the city’s center. Of all the places to visit in Utrecht, this is a must. The southern part traces, in part, what was once the original route of a section of the Rhine, while the northern section includes a part of a canal built around AD 1000 that connected the Rhine to the River Vecht. Once locks were created in 1275, warehouses were built on either side of the canal.

canal with trees reflecting

Today, they are now boutique shops, galleries, restaurants, and cafes. Don’t rush your time strolling along the picturesque double-level canal. To me, this is what makes Utrecht so special and one of the best day trips from Amsterdam. 

Experience | Enjoy City Canal Cruise see all the highlights Utrecht has to offer from the water. Click here to book.

Best Museums in Utrecht

Utrecht’s most notable museums are the Miffy Museum and Centraal Museum. The first would be a child’s favourite, featuring the origins of Miffy the rabbit, whose creator was from Utrecht. The second is an art museum showcasing local artists, past and present.

One of the most unusual things to do in Utrecht is to visit the Musical Clock Museum or Speelklok. This museum is dedicated to music boxes, organs, and crank music players. 

For lovers of architecture, a museum not to be missed is the Rietveld Schröder House. This is considered one of the icons of the Modern Movement in architecture and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lastly, one of the most fascinating just might be the railway museum. This museum is housed in one of Utrecht’s old railway stations and is located in the eastern part of the town.

canal with flowers and townhouses

Popular Utrecht Attractions Outside the City

Botanical Gardens

Although it lies on the outskirts of the city, the wonderful Botanical Gardens are certainly worth visiting. Especially if you want to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy some splendid scenery. Part of Utrecht University, the peaceful gardens were founded all the way back in 1639 and have been open for the public to enjoy ever since. Although this is not a free thing to do in Utrecht, it is worthwhile and a considered a popular attraction in Utrecht. 


If you love visiting castles, de Haar Castle and is one to seek out. It is the largest castle in the Netherlands and is considered the most attractive. This fairy-tale castle from 1822 is known for its impressive setting too. The grounds feature 135 treed acres, fountains, and a formal garden. 

Best Restaurants in Utrecht

Getting to know a town or city through its cafés and restaurants is always a good idea. Here are some of the best ones to try:

  1. Oliver – a café serving up Belgian pub-style food and drink in the former Maria Minor church
  2. Le Jardin – a vegetarian French restaurant and flower shop in one. With one bite, you will be transported to France.
  3. Yogurt Barn – a cute café style eatery for that perfect coffee fix or breakfast/brunch 
  4. Gys – light, airy bistro specializing in vegetarian dishes is a local’s favourite for brunch and lunch 
  5. Syr – a casual bistro-style restaurant serving Middle Eastern and European fusion cuisine that is cooked and served by refugees who have escaped Syria’s civil war

Other Popular Day Trips from Amsterdam

If you think you will enjoy this day trip to Utrecht, check out these other unmissable places that are near Amsterdam:

  • Haarlem – my guide to spending a day in this quintessential Dutch town
  • Dutch Countryside – my guide to visiting typical Dutch villages of Volendam, Edam, Marken

As a holidaymaker…

How can you not help but fall in love with this pretty little Dutch city? A city full of history and charm with its beautiful old canal, architecture, and top sites makes Utrecht a perfect day trip from Amsterdam. 

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  1. Thanks for highlighting an alternative to Amsterdam; the town looks lovely and somewhere a lot less busy to visit in the Netherlands.

  2. Utrecht looks really awesome! during my last visit to the Netherlands i had no time to visit it and i honestly regret it! it looks very genuinely Dutch and less crowded than Amsterdam! i believe Autumn could be a fantastic time to visit! love the photos!

  3. I have been to the Netherlands only once and I did visit a few of the small towns outside of Amsterdam. I wish I had known about Utrecht, so I could have visited it as well. I am surely adding Utrecht to my list for my next visit. The canals and the town definitely look very pretty.

  4. Your post makes me realize we will have to plan a longer stay for the next time we get to Amsterdam. A day trip like Utrecht would definitely add to the Dutch charm. You had me convinced that this was a very photogenic spot to see. I would definltey want to float slowly along the canals and take in all the charming sights from the water.

    1. I’m so happy to hear this might have inspired you to check out this charming town. You not regret, I promise.

  5. I love reading your posts on the Netherlands, they have given me some great travel ideas once we get out of lockdown! Utrecht is not a place often spoken about even though it is only a short journey from Amsterdam, It will definitely be put on my travel list for a future trip.

    1. Thank you for your comment Angela. I appreciate you taking the time and that you may plan a future trip to this area.

    2. It is definitely underrated, once there it is very similar to Amsterdam- just without the tourists. We enjoyed it! Hopefully you will get there one day soon. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Utrecht looks so beautiful! I always love to get out of city centers and explore surrounding towns, so this would definitely be my kind of place. The Dom Tower looks so ornate, and I’d be sure to stroll along the canal as well. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you Kevin for your comment! And, I am so glad you love to explore those places outside of the city centre too.

  7. It’s somewhere I was aware of, but not a place I would have considered visiting … so thanks for those amazing photos to inspire me to add it to my list of places for 2020 Renee.

    1. I am always happy to inspire Carole, and so happy to know you would fall in love with Utrecht too! Thank you for your comment.

    1. Thank you for your comment Margo. Hopefully you enjoyed Netherlands enough to return. We did, and will definitely return to explore more.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment Rob and Ann. Glad to hear I am not the only one who would want to get lost in those pretty canals.

  8. So sad I missed this city when I visited this year. I especially love gardens and one by that amazing church would be lovely. Is the church still active? The grand church in the small city we visited was completely empty inside, which was so odd to me.

    1. Thank you for your comment Jamie. It is too bad you were not able to visit this city when in Netherlands, but hopefully you are able to return. Yes, indeed the garden sanctuary is so lovely. The attached cathedral is still active, although there are so many churches in this small town, I doubt they ever fill it. Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, I appreciate you taking the time and I am glad it may inspire future travels.

  9. I LOVE these photos! The Dom Tower is just stunning. I’m a huge gothic architecture nerd, and that is a perfect example of it. I tend to fly into and out of Amsterdam a lot – I will need to include this as a day trip next time!

    1. Thank you Annick, I am glad you think the photos highlighted the architecture! I appreciate your comment.

  10. We recently visited Amsterdam and wish we had time to visit Utrecht. It’s great that it’s only a short half-hour away and that it can be explored within a day. The shopping mall that is connected to the train station sounds very similar to the station in Singapore i. I love how picturesque the entire town is and would love to visit Dom Tower.

    1. Thanks Candi for your comment, and its too bad you weren’t in Amsterdam long enough to enjoy a couple of day trips outside of the city. People told us it’s just like Amsterdam but without the crowds. It definitely is a picturesque town and wish I had been able to climb the Dom Tower. But maybe a returned trip is in order.

  11. I went to Utrecht for a day trip and I totally loved it. Though it was freezing, I loved my time at Dom Toren. The shopping mall by the station is so addictive, I ended up buying so much which was cheaper than Amsterdam so it was a steal 😉 Great post!

    1. Thanks Ketki, I am so glad you agree with me! I thought it made for a great day trip too! The only downside for us was that the Dom was under renovation, so no photos and couldn’t go to the lookout. I hope to return. Thanks for commenting.

  12. I’ve been to that church! Your photos make me miss the heck out of living in this gorgeous country. The canals, the bicycles, the frites mit mayonnaise — I miss it all nearly every day!

    1. Well, hopefully I have captured it accurately and the way you remember it. I loved visiting the Netherlands, and can see why you might miss it! Thanks so much for your comment.

  13. The canals in Holland look so pretty and so tranquil always make me so annoyed that I haven’t yet been there! Ulrecht sounds like a great idea for a day trip and 25 minutes on the train is incredibly convenient!

    1. Well Sandra, it sounds like you need to plan a trip! And, if you are looking for tranquility you might consider staying in Utrecht and taking the train to Amsterdam as a day trip! Thanks for commenting.

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