Visit Utrecht On A Day Trip From The Hague

Welcome to Utrecht

In the first century AD, Roman legions sailed up the Rhine River until they came to a convenient turn in the waterway and set up a fort in what is now downtown Utrecht.  Two thousand years later the old outpost is a well-preserved Renaissance village, a thriving college town and the fourth largest city in The Netherlands.  It’s also one of the most beautiful medieval townships in the world, with graceful canals and landings that are uniquely elegant.  An easy day trip from The Hague, Utrecht has some of the most remarkable scenery in Holland and offers a nice change of pace compared to other Dutch cities.

Free Walking Tour Utrecht
Getting to Utrecht
Top things to do in Utrecht
Videos about Utrecht
Don’t Miss This In Utrecht

Start Your Utrecht Trip With Our Free Tour

Free Walking Tour Utrecht

The night before your trip, book the next days’ 10:30am Utrecht Free Walking Tour to guarantee a spot with the best guides in the province! Set your alarm for 8am and get a good night’s rest for your big adventure tomorrow!

The next day after breakfast, take the 9:15am Intercity train to Utrecht Centraal so that you arrive after the busy morning commute, right around 10am. You can rent a bicycle just outside the depot, but unless you know your way it’s best to explore on foot.

Entering The City

Walk east out of the station under the bubble roof and into Hoog Catherine, the largest enclosed mall in the Netherlands.  Head straight through the shopping centre and you’ll come out the other end onto Vredenburg Square, home of the busy Utrecht Open Market (on Wednesdays and the weekend).  The ultra-modern Tivoli Vredenburg music centre is on your left, but instead walk right towards the Domtoren, a medieval bell tower in the city centre.  You can’t miss it – at 112 meters it’s the tallest building in town and the second tallest belltower in Europe.

What The Tour Covers

The Free Walking Tour starts right below the Domtoren at 10:30am or 13:30pm.  It takes about two hours and hits most of the best sights downtown.  This includes four important historical churches; St. Martin’s Cathedral (Domkerk), St. Catherine’s Church (Catharinakerk), St. Peter’s Church (Pieterskerk) and St. John’s (Janskerk).  It also highlights the incredible architecture of the Pope’s House (Paushuize), the Old City Hall (Stadhuis), and the Old Post Office (Hoofdpostkantoor) at Neude.

How To Get To Utrecht

By public transport: By far the easiest and cheapest way to go to historic Utrecht is by ‘Intercity’ train, which takes less than 45 minutes and costs just over 25 euros round trip. Be sure to avoid the ‘Sprinter’ trains, as they are slower, local options.

By car: Travel by car is possible, but not recommended. You can drive the A12 east from The Hague and arrive in under an hour, but parking in Utrecht is a big problem, especially on weekends and holidays. If you must drive, avoid downtown and visit Utrecht’s Parking website, and find a secure lot on the outskirts of the city – saving both time and aggravation, trust me.

Top Sights To Visit In Utrecht

City Of Waterways

But by far the most popular tourist attraction are the historic canals (grachten) with their distinctive wharves and cellars – now converted into shops, cafes, and restaurants. The most famous canal is the thousand-year-old Oudegracht, or ‘old canal’ which runs through the centre of Utrecht, following the original course of the Rhine River.  It’s lined with historic buildings, graceful bridges and splendid sculptures, and its cute café’s make for the perfect place to have lunch after a lovely walking tour through the city.

After a tasty meal on the old canal, walk up the ancient waterway to find the Schuttevaer Boat Company at number 85 on the Oudegracht.  Take the lovely boat tour for under 20 euro a person, including tip, but skip the lacklustre audio guide and just enjoy the scenery.  Afterwards, consider a visit to one of the many quality museums or the DomUnder experience explained on the tour.

The Sound Of Historical Music

For music lovers, you must find time to visit the Speelklok Museum near the city centre.  Housed in an old church, the museum specializes in self-playing musical instruments – from priceless crystal Faberge music boxes to huge Dutch street organs and everything in-between.  When you go, be sure and take the special tour, as guides are required to turn on and operate these instruments for visitors or it’s a very quiet visit indeed!

Family-Friendly Activities In Utrecht

With its large squares with playgrounds and car-free city centre, Utrecht is a great city to enjoy with the kids. Make sure to visit the Nijntje Museum for children, based around Miffy, the beloved international cartoon from local artist Dick Bruna.

Prepare to spend a couple hours at Het Spoorwegmuseum, a ten-minute walk from the Domtoren and worth every step if you have children.   This Dutch National Train Museum is housed in the former Malibaan train depot, which was bombed in World War II.  Since then, it has become a major tourist attraction for locals and tourists alike for about 20 euros a person.  Inside you’ll not only find some 80 trains to walk through, but fully reconstructed train cafes, unique artifacts, travel art and historical items from over 150 years of Dutch rail service. 

Top Museums In Utrecht

Not far from downtown towards the south end of the Oudegracht is a collection of museums for history buffs and art connoisseurs including the religious Museum Catharijneconvent, the large and impressive Centraal Museum (with its large art and historical archives) and the Sonnenborgh, a scientific museum with antique telescopes, astronomical instruments and a working observatory.

While there, consider a quick visit to the Rietveld Schröder House on the edge of the town near the Science Park. Take the number 8 bus and ask the driver for details. This UNESCO World Heritage was designed in 1924 by the Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld for Truus Schröder, who wanted a unique house that was functional and adaptable in nature. What she got was a strange, post-modern two floor condominium with a radical design involving flattened roof panels, sliding walls, and movable storage designs with a stark Mondrian colour scheme.

If you like exhibitions, consider purchasing a Museumkaart which gives you free access to over 400 collections nationwide for the next year. Available online or from nearly any museum. (Click picture below to purchase)

Videos About Utrecht

Don’t Miss This In Utrecht

Floating High & High Tea

After your visit, consider walking back downtown (20 minutes) through nearby Wilhelmina Park, up the stylish Burgemeester Reigerstraat and towards the large Stadsschouwburg Theatre.  From there, take a right to nearby Griftpark and have a smoke at the CultureBoat, the only floating coffeshop in the Netherlands.  Top things off with high tea at the fancy Oudaen restaurant near the boat dock, or an apéritif in the quirky but stylish Bunk Hotel, which was constructed within a hundred-year-old church and retains the original organ, stained glass and architecture.

Utrecht After Dark

Utrecht has a hyperactive nightlife scene, a bit surprising for a historic town but a welcome distraction for the over 40,000 students in the region! You can find out all about activities after dark here if you still have energy to explore the village at night.

For the rest of us, jump back on the train after dinner and in less than an hour you’ll be back in The Hague, wiped out and napping in your hotel!