Utrecht is the classic hidden gem, the ultimate understudy, the overshadowed sibling, a forgotten wallflower to cousin Amsterdam. This, however, turns out to be Utrecht’s unique selling point: a charming medieval canal town that is blissfully crowd-free. Only a short train ride away from Schiphol airport, I decided that although Utrecht may not have some of the big name attractions as A’dam it still had enough allure to entice me to visit. I started with an evening mystery light show.
The Trajectum Lumen is a self-guided walk around the city centre between various notable locations all especially and artistically lit up. Obviously, it is a tour that is best taken after sunset! I had a little trouble finding the first ‘illumination’ but a tip put me on the right track. From there it was really fun following the handy yellow arrows on the ground and trying to work out where the next artistic display was.
I particularly enjoyed the exhibits in the Ganzenmarkt tunnel and the vestibule of the Sint-Willibrordkerk church, especially how impressive the Domtoren tower looked; however some of the art I couldn’t locate or maybe wasn’t working? Nevertheless, it weaved together some of the interesting buildings in a magical and whimsical way, I was curious and inquisitive as I detected the installations.
There were plenty of welcoming bars and cosy food stops en route and I definitely got my bearings whilst participating in an unusual and engaging introduction to Utrecht. On the way home I did some Grade A snooping as the grandest of houses along the canals had their curtains open, allowing for a series of framed snapshots of local life. I almost invited myself in!
After a grand night’s sleep, I was up and about ready for some more Utrecht loveliness. The southern streets of the town are dotted with fantastic artisan bakeries, curious antique emporiums, and chic boutiques all splendidly individual. I thoroughly enjoyed the window shopping and had to resist spending a whole day wandering the streets.
Instead, I grabbed a slice of legendary culinary fare by picking up a ‘broodje’ from Mario’s. I met the local sandwich hero, who definitely has a charismatic character; he confessed to knowing everyone in Utrecht. I chose the most popular item on the menu, named after the owner himself, which was tasty, hearty and good value for money.
There was one other well-known celebrity of Utrecht I needed to meet. Nijntje, otherwise known as Miffy, is an international star of children’s books. Created by Dick Bruna, there is a museum dedicated to the rabbit, and she pops up all over the town as statues, in store windows and also as a traffic light! I managed to take a selfie with this icon of childhoods worldwide and loved her decorative presence.
If you are looking for a city that can capture your heart then Utrecht is up there. It doesn’t have any one ‘thing’, it has more of a unique vibe. It is a city that mixes small, independent cafes, wine bars, and shops, with a layer of student quirkiness and a dollop of Dutch upper class finesse. It hasn’t got that tacky trashy element that Amsterdam is trying to erase, it definitely has some serious class and allows for a more wholesome, authentic Netherlands experience.
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