In the heart of the Netherlands, the medieval city of Utrecht, famed for its stunning architecture, tranquil canals and bicycle-filled streets, offers a true escape from the crowds of the capital, discovers Maria Bayley.
Check into boutique hotel Mother Goose, part of Utrecht City Hotels, a collection of unique hotel concepts at the heart of the ancient city. A renovated medieval building, this 23-room hideaway is the perfect base from which to explore Utrecht, with many important landmarks just minutes away. Each of the hotel’s four floors are named for a colour: our favourite is the suite on the “grey goose floor”, which features a separate bathtub in the middle of the room and wonderful views of the Dom Tower. The decoration is remarkably tasteful, and the staff are impeccable. Mother Goose is in the heart of Utrecht. www.mothergoosehotel.com
Make your way to restaurant De Rechtbank, a partner of Mother Goose, to fuel up. This eatery is famed for its delicious breakfast buffet, which boasts a variety of both sweet and savoury staple foods; including a local favourite, delicious piping hot pancakes covered in sugar or syrup. www.derechtbank.com
Time to answer the question you’ve had on your mind since you first stepped into Utrecht: yes, you can climb to the top of the Dom Tower. At 112m, the building is the highest of its kind in the country. It’s construction started in the 14th century, and throughout history it’s had bells and a carillon added. If you don’t have the energy to climb its 465 stairs, stick to visiting St Martin’s Cathedral (often called Dom Church) at the tower’s base. A tornado destroyed the central nave in 1674 and it was never rebuilt, thus resulting in the uncommon sight of a church separated from its tower. Be sure to also visit its beautiful Gothic cloister.www.domtoren.nl,www.domkerk.nl
Head across the Oudegracht (“old canal”) towards Café Olivier, a traditional Belgian beer cafe. Located in the heritage-listed buildings that once housed the Mary Minor chapel and St Elisabeth Hospital, the café’s beautiful interiors are worth a visit themselves, although the food won’t let you down either. Whether you choose to have some croquettes (typical in the Low Countries), or some Belgian mussels, you’re set for a pleasant waterside meal. www.utrecht.cafe-olivier.be
Get to know the city in the best manner possible – a tour of the city’s canal network with Schuttevaer shipping company. Departing frequently from the main canal pier, the hour-long round tour will offer a new perspective of many of the most emblematic buildings in Utrecht. The boat is covered and has a heating system, so that you’ll enjoy your ride comfortably regardless of the weather. Make sure to book your trip in advance during peak season, as demand can be quite high. www.schuttevaer.com
A short walk from the tour’s end point is Museum Speelklok. Among the most famous in Utrecht, its famed for its collection of automatically playing instruments, most of which still work. The story of these instruments started back in the 16th century in the Netherlands with the use of church carillons, and has evolved with inventions such as musical clocks, music boxes and street organs. A visit is a fun way to get your daily fix of history, and listen to what the Dutch heard throughout the centuries. www.museumspeelklok.nl
Wander through the city while enjoying the twilight colours reflecting on the canals as you make for Stadskasteel Oudaen, a medieval-era manor house by the water. Built in 1296, the building is now home to a restaurant and brewery, and its two terraces are popular during the summer months with visitors looking for respite over a cold draft. www.oudaen.nl
Return to the Dom area for dinner at Zussen, a trendy eatery that combines tasteful modern decor with rich architectural styling. Highlights of the menu include salmon tartar with mojito mayonnaise and sea bream fillet with fennel mousse and white wine sauce. www.zussen.com
In case you feel like a nightcap Zussen has some of the best cocktails in town, complimented by live music. Alternatively join the locals at Le Clochard; with its roaring fireplace right in the center of the dining room, this restaurant is a cosy local favourite and features a great selection of regional beers and wines. www.leclochard-utrecht.nl
Spend the morning exploring the Vredenburg Markt (open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays). Located close to the main train station, this colourful market has everything Dutch, from fresh flowers to artisanal cheese. Get a stroopwafel as your breakfast on the go: this thin caramel filled cookie is the most typical sweet you can get, and its sweet and rich flavours will give you plenty of energy for the day. Better served warm!