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It seems like it is becoming more popular to visit the #2 or #3 cities of a country instead of heading straight for the capital city which is over priced, over crowded and a tad too dirty. While Amsterdam is incredibly beautiful and should not be missed while traveling through Holland, it might be more beneficial to just skip all the crowds and head straight for Amsterdam’s little brother, Utrecht.

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Utrecht - The Less Touristy Version of Amsterdam, The Netherlands - California Globetrotter

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How to AVOID Looking Like a Tourist in Europe

Despite only being about an easy day trip from Amsterdam, most tourists don’t seem to bother with this little Dutch town that is actually older than the capital! Most seem want to do many of the free things in Den Hague, near the coast of the Netherlands. 

Utrecht, however, has everything Amsterdam has just without the hordes of tourists and is one of the most beautiful canal cities in Europe! It was so peaceful here strolling the Oudegracht (Old Canal) passing cute cafes and restaurants and still getting the contact highs from nearby Coffee Shops.

Take a River Cruise or Sit Along the Banks

Unlike Amsterdam, there aren’t as many canals to stroll through, however, the main canal, the Oudegracht stretched right through the middle of the city. It is a medieval canals that connects the city with the Rhine River. Here, there are shops and cafes which line the lower levels of the canal and there are stretches of the canal that you can walk along.

Climb the Tower at St. Martin’s Domkerk

As soon as we got into the center of town, you could see that the tower from the St. Martin’s Domkerk (cathedral) dominates the town, as it is the tallest tower in the Netherlands standing at a whopping 367ft tall. However, I was surprised to see that once coming closer to the cathedral that the tower was not actually a part of the cathedral. Turns out there was a huge storm in 1674 which caused the nave to collapse after a tornado plowed through the center of the church. Due to low funds, the cathedral was never completed nor repaired and the ruins actually laid there for 150 years.

Today, you can climb the 465 steps to the top of the tower for amazing views over the town. Unfortunately, the RonDom tourist center located in the same square only sells a limited amount of day tickets. It is best to plan ahead for this.

Inside the Domkerk you can still see the choir and the transept. It makes for a quick walk around as there isn’t much to see on the inside. There are several tombs throughout the cathedral.

Take a Gander at the Utrecht University

Next to the cathedral is a beautiful brick building which is part of the Utrecht University. Directly in front of the University building is a statue of Graaf Jan Van Nassau who was the brother of the first King of the Netherlands who helped form the union of Utrecht.

The Utrecht Wall of Fame

Whenever I am meandering around, I always make sure to look down because there is usually something interesting which meets my feet! In Utrecht I found a row of hand and foot prints similar to the hand prints at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Turns out, this is the Utrecht Walk of Fame of famous Dutch celebrities. The Dutch Film Festival takes place every year in Utrecht when new plaques are unveiled.

Admire the Architecture & Play “I Spy” With the Cathedral

One thing I truly loved about Amsterdam and Utrecht was that it was like stepping back into colonial America. For some reason, it truly made me feel like this is what the east coast probably felt like before the Revolution. Or maybe it was that I was too in love with the architecture that I was dreaming again. Or maybe I watch too many movies. And it felt like from every angle in town you had a fantastic glimpse of the Domtoren (Cathedral tower)!

Devour a Burger from Burger Bar

We finally plopped down to eat at a great burger restaurant called Burger Bar. We had planned to eat at one in Amsterdam, but discovered that a new one opened in Utrecht. This was much better as the several Burger Bars in Amsterdam that we passed were way crowded. The burgers here are massive and messy but delicious and while eating my burger, I had to introduce my friends to the Carl’s Jr. slogan “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face”.

Stop and Smell the Flowers at the Pandhof

After consuming our juicy burgers we felt that we needed to walk around a bit more to burn off dinner before we could go for drinks, so we found a cute Pandhof (courtyard) of St. Mary – a former monastery and its garden filled with a variety of plants and flowers.

Chill in a Converted Church

For drinks we went into a bar, which I had thought looked like any other bar, only to discover once inside, it was actually a former church turned into a bar called Olivier Café-Restaurant. Here they sell a huge variety of Belgian beers, which I was excited about having fallen in love with Belgian beers during my first trip to Belgium. It was a great way to end a lovely afternoon in Utrecht.

I highly suggest coming here if you are looking for something off the beaten track away from the hordes of tourists and the crazy jacked up prices of everything. You still get the same amazing feeling and can enjoy it at a much slower pace. There is no rush here to get to the next must-see tourist checklist.

More adventures from the Netherlands:

A Day Strolling the Canals of Amsterdam

Zaanse Schans: Windmills, Clogs & Cheese!

Alkmaar: A Typical Dutch Cheese Market (for Cheese Lovers!)

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Replies to Utrecht: The Less Touristy Version of Amsterdam

  1. So glad you loved Utrecht–it’s my temporary home! I agree, it’s nice to get away from the hubbub of tourists in Amsterdam, and Utrecht is so easy to get to by train! Happy you had a sunny day–that’s not always the case in the Netherlands!

  2. Plus 1 to visiting the 2nd and 3rd (not to mention 4th, 5th and 6th) cities in European countries. That’s one of the great advantages of living in Europe, it’s easy to visit places that would be difficult to prioritize on a short trip over from the US. I loved Utrecht although it looks like you had *much* nicer weather than when we visited. We got seriously rained on 🙂

    1. This is why I love living in Europe and getting the chance to see the other cities one wouldn’t make the extra time for. We got lucky the whole weekend with great weather, but by Sunday afternoon as we were literally starting to drive away from the Netherlands, it pouuured!

  3. Utrecht is really pretty and it must get to my list! I’ve been in the Netherlands a couple of times when I was a kid and visited Rotherdam, Hague and Delft as well…but most recently I’ve visited Amsterdam (and on Queen’s Day no less…now renamed to Kings Day). It does get a bad rap because of the “coffee shops” and red light district, but I love it’s architecture and museums a lot!

  4. Utrecht looks very pretty indeed and I have not heard of this city other than Amsterdam. Thanks for sharing, at least now I know that there is another city to go to, some place to be away from hordes of people 🙂 #MondayEscapes.

  5. Must add this city to our must-sees in the Netherlands in 2017. What a vibrant and energetic nation – one could easily spend a month here and not see enough of it!!

  6. Utrecht looks lovely – somewhere I’ve never been although I was in Amsterdam this summer again. I agree sometimes it’s the smaller big cities which are the unexpected stars. #MondayEscapes

  7. I’ve never been to Utrecht but think I will remedy that if I go to Holland. It looks so pretty particularly the university. Sometimes these small towns are the biggest gems. Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

  8. I loved reading about your experience in Utrecht! I went to Amsterdam for a long weekend about a year ago, and I honestly didn’t really connect with the city. So many people LOVE Amsterdam, but I left feeling like I saw what I wanted to, and didn’t have a desire to return. It’s the only place I’ve been in the Netherlands, so I wouldn’t write off the country based on that one visit – so it sounds like next time I should give Utrecht a try! It looks beautiful. And how crazy that a tornado hit that church – I never think of tornadoes occurring in those parts of the world! #MondayEscapes

    1. I never thought of tornadoes hittin Europe either until I moved here. They are no where near as powerful as in the States but we get some big storms in through here which can cause small tornadoes! Pretty crazy though! You should definitely give Utrecht a go!

  9. I love going to the #2 cities as well — I guess I like to discover offbeat places more. This is a lovely post. Too bad I missed Utrecht when I was to the Netherlands, but it’s a good reason to come back. 🙂

  10. I love Utrecht! When my husband and I lived in NL, we’d take visitors to Amsterdam, but we’d often go to Utrecht on our own for a lovely Saturday of sightseeing, eating, and relaxing.

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