Whether as a tourist trying to steer off the beaten path, as a new student or as an expat, Utrecht is growing in popularity and for good reasons. The Netherlands’ fourth largest city is a gem of both historical picturesque sights as well as a vibrant cultural and social life.
Want to discover Utrecht and add something different to the perfect city trip? Here are five creative ways to explore Utrecht the way locals know and love it.
Join the Utrecht Photo Challenge
Launched in the summer of 2020, Utrecht Photo Challenge offers a playful approach to visiting the city. Get some people to play along, get handed in a polaroid camera, a map, and some pictures to recreate and spend a fun 2 hours exploring Utrecht’s streets, through the lens of a local. The best part? The challenge ends at a local pub, where you get to celebrate with a drink. This “tour” really ticks all the boxes. Covid-19 note: it was all planned keeping a 1.5 m society in mind. The challenge is a great corona-proof activity in either a smaller or larger group.
Paddle around the canals
There are few things prettier than Utrecht on a sunny day, and one of them is Utrecht, on a sunny day, enjoyed from the water. Rent a kayak of a water bike from one of the rental companies on the Oudegracht (old canal) and marvel at the magic of Utrecht from its historical canal.
Ideally, take an hour and a half and paddle around the whole canal loop taking you around town; you’ll get to see the old strong walls, the lively city center and get a glimpse of locals enjoying a few rays of sun in the parks along the way.
Follow an immersive digital tour
Utrecht, Amsterdam and The Hague have a new tour guide on the market; the CityChallenge app. Download the app from your Apple or Android app store and purchase one of the available tours, adding a digital layer over the city as you walk through it. In Utrecht, choose from games such as The Secret Crusade through Utrecht to more children-friendly tours like the Animals of Utrecht.
Fun warranty: if you play less than 25% of the game you can get your money back!
Tag along one of the free walking tours
If you are looking for a little more standard walking tour, or if you’re looking at keeping it free. (Even though tipping your lovely guide is always welcome and recommended). Joining one of the free tours is a great option. The tours take place on most days, starting at 13:30 on the Dom Square, and last about 2 hours.
Keep an eye out for themed tours; they regularly host a free Medieval Tour of Utrecht, bringing a Middle Aged slightly gruesome spin to your visit. Because of Covid restrictions and group-size limitations, don’t forget to book a spot in advance.
See Utrecht from above… and from below
There is no better view in Utrecht than the one from the top of the Dom tower. If the weather is clear, climb up the 495 steps leading to the top. Otherwise, you can hop on the lift to reach the 100m high platform overseeing the city. Buy tickets here or at the tourist office in front of the tower.
While you are on the cathedral grounds, jump on the opportunity to not only climb above the city but also to climb down under, or rather Dom Under. Discover Utrecht with 2000 years of history by walking through the ruins of what used to be, and experience the 1674 tornado that brought it to the ground. Quick note: while there are plans to translate the material to English, the tour is currently only available in Dutch and must be reserved ahead of time.
Get out there and get exploring! Whether you are new to the city or have been around a while, Utrecht is full of hidden gems to discover or rediscover.