Utrecht is situated in the heart of the Netherlands and is one of the oldest cities in the country. Despite its charming, medieval center, ancient canals and vibrant feel, Utrecht often gets overlooked by tourists. Next time you consider a city break in the Netherlands, you should definitely include Utrecht in your itinerary, because the city has not only got plenty of fascinating stories to tell from over 2000 years of history, it is also a fun and young place, that immediately makes you feel comfortable and safe. The city is the perfect destination for solo travelers and groups alike. After spending some time in the university town, here are a few things you shouldn’t miss if you only have 24 hours in Utrecht.
What to do & see in 24 hours in Utrecht
The city of Utrecht was built around the Dom Tower, which makes it the main landmark of the city. The Dom Tower is 112m high and you can climb all the way to the top if you are willing to face 465 steps that is. It is not only the highest, but also the oldest church tower in Holland. Right next to the Dom Tower is the St. Martin’s cathedral, a magnificent structure built in Gothic style. The Dom Tower and the cathedral are no longer connected due to a heavy storm that hit Utrecht in 1674, which caused severe destruction across the Domplein and the whole of Utrecht. Which brings me to my visit at DOMunder (Under the Dom). This is the ideal attraction to start your day of sightseeing in Utrecht.
DOMunder is a unique underground discovery that tells the story of 2000 years of history in the heart of Utrecht. The tours start every hour from 10.30am until 4.30pm, Tuesdays t0 Sundays and cost 11€. The audio is available in Dutch, English and German. Before I embarked on my underground tour, my two lovely guides gave me an overview of the history. A multimedia introduction helped me understand some of the dark moments in the squares history, as well as the turning points which made the square into the fascinating sight it is today.
It all started with the Romans who built their Castellum Traiectum, where the Dom square is located today in the bid to defend their empire on the Northern border of the limes in AD 45. Centuries after the empire had fallen Utrecht transformed into a religious center thanks to the English missionary St. Willibrord. The city around the Domplein continued to grow in size and increasingly became more influential until terrible storm casted a shadow on to Utrecht that was going to last 150 years. It became clear to me that Utrecht went through some horrible events over the years, yet the people and the city itself always grew stronger after each set back.
In just a little over half an hour I had traveled through 2000 years of history and it was about to get even more interested. We left the building and headed towards a set of stairs in the center of the square that allowed me to enter an underground world of archaeological findings. I was told to pick up an intelligent torch, which acts as interactive tool to uncover the traces of the past. The air was humid and stuffy underground, which helps to preserve the artefacts and keeps them in perfect condition. The underground discovery display a unique piece of Dutch history and turns into an exciting mission as you uncover layer after layer of events in the mystery that is DOMunder.
Once you leave and return to the present, you suddenly start to see the Domplein in a completely different light. All the details become stories from a distant past.
Just a few minutes’ walk away from the Domplein is the Centraal Museum, a place to discover modern and classical art. The Centraal Museum has a huge variety of exhibits in an exciting mix of design and local history, some temporary and others are displayed long term. The museum is open from 11.00am until 5.00pm from Tuesday to Sunday and the admission fee for adults is 12.50€. I picked two very different exhibitions during my visit.
Nice’N Light was a temporary exhibition based around light and the effects it has on us. The visitor was taken on a glowing journey of light featuring design, music, fashion and visual arts of from different eras. This exhibition encouraged the viewers to participate and experience how light affects the body and mind. The exhibition finished on 24th January 2016, but will be replaced by “HAIR! Human hair in fashion and art” from 20th February 2016.
Here are some of my personal favourites:
The second exhibit I choose was far more classical, but just as fascinating as the first one. ‘An Utrecht Painter in London’ tells the story of Dutch Romantic painter Pieter Christoffel Wonder, who lived in Utrecht during the nineteenth century. His portraits and scenes from everyday life impressed the Englishman Sir John Murray so much, that he invited him to come to London with him. The exhibition displays the paintings he created during his eight years in England. This is the first and maybe the only time that his work will be exhibited to the public as his paintings are privately owned. If you’re interested in seeing the work of Wonder, you can do so at the Centraal Museum until 13th March 2016.
A canal cruise is the perfect way to end a day of sightseeing in Utrecht. You can easily make your way from the Museum Quarter to the starting point at Oudegracht just south of Lange Viestraat in less than half an hour. Tickets for the one hour round trip of Utrecht’s medieval center are 10€ and can be purchased from the ticket office at the top of the landing. The tour gave me a chance to sit back, relax and see Utrecht from a completely new perspective.
For more information about Utrecht and things to do in the city, check out Visit Utrecht. They have kindly supported me during my visit in Utrecht. I do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage. All opinions are my own.
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