If you are going to spend some time in the Netherlands, and explore different parts of the country you could travel around, or choose a solid base. Staying in Utrecht is just perfect if you choose for a solid base. In this blog I will explain why.
INDEX TO THIS PAGE
- Utrecht has a central location
- Utrecht is not (yet) overrun by tourists
- Hotel prices in Utrecht are lower than in Amsterdam
- Utrecht is a lively student town
- It is also a historical town
- and a great base for hikers
reason 1: Utrecht is the most central town in the Netherlands
Let’s start with a practical reason: Utrecht has a very central location, especially if you are traveling around by public transport. It is the main hub of the Dutch railway network. From Utrecht central station it is only:
- 15 minutes to Amersfoort
- 30 minutes to Amsterdam, Den Bosch or Arnhem
- 45 minutes to Rotterdam, Leiden, The Hague, Haarlem or Tilburg
- less than an hour to Zwolle, Deventer, Nijmegen or Eindhoven
When shouldn’t you choose Utrecht…
- If you want to visit what I call the outer rim of the Netherlands. For example: southern Limburg, Zeeland or the provinces of Groningen and Leeuwarden up north. If that is where you want to go, spend the night in those areas. You’ll loose too much time travelling up and down to Utrecht every day.
- If you want to focus on the North Sea coast. Though the towns along the North Sea are perfectly reachable from Utrecht, you may want to choose a base that is closer to the coast. Think of for example Leiden or Haarlem. Both of these towns are charming and have good railway connections to other towns along the coast.
reason 2: Utrecht is not (yet) overrun by tourists
The city center of Amsterdam is lovely. It is also quite overrun by tourists and filled with tourist restaurants, souvenir shops and travel agencies organizing day trips or canal tours. If that is what you are interested in, by all means, go there. But if you are looking for a more local experience, you should try to stay elsewhere. I wrote about the less touristic areas in Amsterdam before, and about Haarlem. Utrecht is another good option.
Utrecht is the 4th biggest city of the Netherlands, and it is quite popular among the Dutch. Due to its central location it is a popular place to live and a practical place to meet up with friends who live in different parts of the country. Though it is a lively and historic city, it is not yet overrun by foreign tourists. So staying in Utrecht will certainly give you a more local experience.
reason 3: hotel prices in Utrecht are lower than in Amsterdam
Having stated that, Utrecht is the most expensive town in the Netherlands after Amsterdam. The price difference is considerable though. Whereas the average price for a hotel room in Amsterdam is 156 euro per night, this is 107 euro per night in Utrecht. Also I noticed that generally there are more rooms available in central Utrecht than in central Amsterdam if you want to book 1 month ahead for example.
reason 4: Utrecht is a lively student town with lots of bars and restaurants
Utrecht is smaller than Amsterdam, so its student population stands out more. Though most of the university buildings are outside of the center, you will notice many young people and a lively atmosphere, especially around Janskerkhof and Nobelstraat.
Are you past that student age? Don’t worry, there are plenty of nice restaurants and bars in Utrecht where you can crash after a day of sightseeing. What I particularly like about Utrecht are its canals, and the fact that they have quays at two levels. When you go to Oudegracht, you will notice the restaurants that are located on the lower level, in the vaults below the street. In summer time they even have terraces here, and you can enjoy the canal without any traffic in front of you. Except for boats.
Interested in the Utrecht craft beer breweries? Check my earlier blog on Utrecht craft beer!
reason 5: Utrecht is a historical town with lots to see
Actually, Utrecht is the 3rd oldest town in the Netherlands. It was originally a Roman fortification, built around 50 AD and called Trajectum. Now don’t expect to find any Roman remains in Utrecht. The center of his town may rather remind you of the Middle Ages, when it was the most important city of what is now the Netherlands. So if you are staying in Utrecht, don’t just use it as a base for exploring Holland, explore Utrecht too!
Go for a city hike
- For example this 5 kilometer hike through the historical city center of Utrecht
- Or this 10 kilometer hike around the edges of the center, passing by many hidden courtyards that you might miss if you just wander around by yourself.
Interesting spots to visit in Utrecht
- The medieval Dom Tower and church. This used to be one building and was split in 2 parts during a huge storm in 1674. By that time, this church, which was built as a Catholic cathedral, had already been taken over by protestants. You will notice the lack of Catholic decoration when you visit. Don’t miss the beautiful and peaceful cloister garden, that you can enter from the street. And climb the tower to have an amazing view of Utrecht!
- Presently the Catharina Cathedral is home to the archbishopric of Utrecht. This cathedral is open to visitors on Saturdays. Right next to this you can find Museum Catharijneconvent, full of medieval and catholic art if you are into that.
- There are several interesting museums in Utrecht, depending on your taste. For art, visit Utrecht Centraal Museum, for trains the Railway Museum, and for modern architecture the Unesco World Heritage listed Rietveld Schröder Huis.
reason 6: hiking around Utrecht
Utrecht isn’t just a good base for catching trains to other Dutch towns, it is also a good base if you are into hiking. It is kind of in between several areas with excellent hiking opportunities, such as National Park Utrechtse Heuvelrug and Hoge Veluwe National Park. Read my blog about hiking in Baarn to get inspired.
Closer to Utrecht there are also some amazing hiking opportunities. I love the quite simple hike from nearby Bunnik back towards Utrecht. It follows the Kromme Rijn river along a footpath. I found a route description with GPS at the route.nl website, but as long as you follow that river, you can easily hike it without GPS.