Even though Utrecht is often overshadowed by its larger neighbor Amsterdam (remember, even Beyoncé has a sister), it’s a can’t-miss stop for students who love the relaxed and honest Dutch culture, beautiful canals, and fun cafés, but don’t care for the tourist-filled madness.
This medieval city was once considered the most important city in the Netherlands, and continues to be a religious center as well as the host of countless cultural events. It holds the tallest church tower in the country, nice shopping areas and markets, boats gliding over flat water, and canal-side restaurants accessed by stairs. It has small-town charm and can be easily navigated on foot, and the relative scarcity of tourists makes it feel traditional and authentic. Yet the presence of Utrecht University also means there are always plenty of young people biking through town and packing the popular bars.
The medieval city center is dominated by Dom Tower and the neighboring cathedral. Surrounding Dom Square, you’ll find many of the city’s shops and restaurants, as well as Utrecht University. East of the city center are a number of small parks and green walking paths along the large canal, which also bends around its northern end and to the south past the observatory. Near the observatory, you’ll find a number of the city’s other popular museums and the beautiful neighborhood of Lange Nieuwstraat. Farther west is the train station, Utrecht Centraal. Finally, a trip farther east will take you to the university’s beautiful botanic gardens and historic buildings.
To get to Utrecht by plane, you will have to fly in to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Trains leave directly from the airport to Utrecht Central Station. The train station is located very close to the city center, within walking distance of most accommodations and sights.
Most attractions in Utrecht are within walking distance. However, buses and trams also run throughout the city. Tickets cost €2.70 either on the bus or tram or at a vending machine in the station. One-day passes can be purchased for €6. There are also numerous bike rental shops around the city.
Tourist Offices: Domplein 9, 3512 JC Utrecht; 0900 1288732; open M noon-5pm, Tu-Sa 10am-5pm, Su noon-5pm.
Banks/ATMs/Currency Exchange: Western Union (De Lessepsstraat 59, 3553 RJ Utrecht; 030 244 4333; open M-F 8:30am-6pm).
Post Offices: Voorstraat 3 (Open M-Sa 8:30am-5pm).
Internet: The city of Utrecht provides free Wi-Fi nearly everywhere.
Emergency Number: 112
Police: Politie Utrecht Bureau Kroonstraat (Kroonstraat 25, 3511 RC Utrecht; 0900 8844).
Rape Crisis Center: Centrum Seksueel Geweld Utrecht (Postbus 85090, 3508 AB Utrecht; 88 755 5588).
Hospitals: University Medical Center Utrecht (Heidelberglaan 100; 088 755 5555; open daily 24hr).
Pharmacies: Apotheek Binnenstad (Van Asch van Wijckskade 30; 030 232 6010; open M-F 8am-6pm).