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Two weeks ago, I headed to Utrecht for the ultimate insider tour of Utrecht. I was lucky enough to be shown around by Utrecht by Suzanne, a proud resident of Utrecht, that I met using a website called 2 glimpse. We had a lovely time doing the off the beaten path things to do in Utrecht that many tourists miss.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by 2 glimpse, a website for connecting locals with travelers to get a glimpse into their everyday life or hang out with a local. I do not guarantee positive reviews on my blog and came into this with an open mind. All opinions are my own.
How I met Suzanne, a Utrecht local
I love connecting with locals whenever I travel to a new country, however I don’t do this enough in my home of the Netherlands. In the past, I’ve used other websites to connect with locals for tips, so I decided to take a staycation in the Netherlands.
The idea behind 2 glimpse, a website, is that you post whether you want to meet up with people or just meet up with travelers/locals in the area. I spent a little while looking around for someone who could show me something in the Netherlands that I didn’t know about.
I love seeing a place with new eyes and I came into 2 glimpse with an open mind. I’ve found the vibe incredibly open, positive, and inspiring with people simply wanting to learn about another person’s life.
While looking through the profiles of the members of 2 glimpse, Suzanne caught my eye. Suzanne is an entrepreneur, girlboss, and blogger based in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Her 2 glimpse profile advertised her as a lover of learning about new cultures, food, animals, cool cafes, and sports.
After we started talking, I knew that I wanted to meet her as I could just tell that we’d click like we did. You can scroll down to read what she showed me in Utrecht!
Suzanne blogs in Dutch at VrijeMeid about lifestyle, travel, and entrepreneurship. If you don’t know Dutch, that’s okay as I included a video of hers in English in this blog post!
Utrecht is only about forty minutes by me by train, so it was super easy to hop over to Utrecht. Some people on 2 glimpse only meet up for specific things, like the woman that I heard about who works a pharmacist who is interested in seeing what working in a pharmacy is like elsewhere in Europe.
I decided to have a laid back approach and I told Suzanne that I wanted to get a little glimpse into her favorite places in Utrecht that other people don’t necessarily know about. I told her that I trusted all her picks and the only thing that she required from me was that I rented a bike for the day to make it easier to get around. As a Type A personality, it was a bit unnerving trusting someone with my staycation, but spoiler alert: it was a blast.
I really thought that I knew Utrecht. I’ve been dozens of times and I love visiting Utrecht. This stunning Dutch city with two level canals is super romantic and relaxing, but I’ve honestly rarely leave the historic city center as I stay on foot and I love the historic center so much. I challenged Suzanne to show me something different…
Off the beaten path things to do in Utrecht
Rent a bike
One of the best ways to get around the Netherlands is by bike. I recommend using some caution in terms of using proper signaling, but in general, I absolutely love biking in the Netherlands and I’d encourage you to try out biking in Utrecht.
If you’re a Dutch resident, I recommend getting a personal OVchipkaart along with the NS Ovfiets subscription. With this, you pay about 4 euros for a bike rental, however this is not possible if you’re a tourist in Utrecht.
To rent a bike in Utrecht as a tourist, I recommend looking into William Street Bike, which comes recommended. It’s typically cheaper in the Netherlands to get a bike with a pedal break although many people aren’t comfortable with this at first.
Breakfast/Coffee at Gys
Gys is an organic coffee shop with a nice assortment of vegan/vegetarian-friendly food is perfect for a lazy breakfast or a relaxing afternoon. There are two locations: one in the center and one lesser known one along the gentrifying Amsterdamsestraatweg area. I visited the Amsterdamsestraatweg location and I was really impressed with their lactose-free options!
Healthy brunch at a former bank, Karibu
Karibu is a former bank turned cool digital nomad hub as well as cafe. This African-inspired cafe serves up delicious, healthy, and food in a surprising setting. Needless to say, I did not expect the lush green plants and the cozy atmosphere after seeing the very official exterior of the building. Suzanne described as a hidden gem–and she was so right!
Karibu is vegan and vegetarian friendly with a modern take on Dutch food. I loved my vegan flapjack pancakes made with banana and spinach! If I lived in Utrecht, I’d be here regularly.
Kayaking around the city
Every single time that I visit Utrecht, I always see people kayaking along the stunning canals, but somehow, I always stay on the land. I let Suzanne decide what we’d do together and she surprised me by telling me that we’d take a kayaking journey through Utrecht. Even as a local, she told me how much she was surprised by how lovely it was–and how she had to show me. I heard from Suzanne that one of the most magical times to go is around sunset and that it’s super romantic.
We ended up renting a two person kayak from Canoe Rental Utrecht along Oudegracht, which cost six euros per person per hour. Depending on how long you want to canoe, you can do a more classic route along the canals or do two hours on the outskirts. We ended up following the Grift out of the city center.
Along the way, we passed stunning canal houses, medieval cellars, adorable baby birds, lush parks, residential neighborhoods, and stunning churches. As we did the longer trip, I saw a lot of Utrecht out of the city center and in many cases, I seriously envy those with a house along the canals.
I was truly taken aback by how beautiful Utrecht was by kayak and it almost felt like visiting another city. Two hours seemed like the perfect amount of time as my arms really felt it after that time… Just be warned that if you do the two hour kayak tour, there are some very narrow canals and if you’re not the best kayaker when it comes to navigation (cough), you might run into some thorny plants like I did.
View a historic hofje
All around the Netherlands, you’ll find stunning hofjes. These historic almshouses were often constructed by the rich as a way of helping the poor. Some of these homes are still used as social housing while others are privately owned. Some of these hofjes have stunning secret gardens within them, however it’s very important to ensure that you’re discreet and quiet as people live there. You can find a list of the many hofjes in Utrecht here.
Have a game day at one of Utrecht’s many game cafes
Many people don’t realize that Utrecht is full of game cafes. As a board game geek, I have often stopped into the board game shops here. Many do a board game night where you can play different games, so check ahead on Meetup. At minimum, you can pick up a new game for home.
Go shopping on Twijnstraat
Twijnstraat is one of the coolest streets in Utrecht. You need to be on a bike or to walk a while as it’s a bit far on foot. That said, it’s full of independent shops and cafes that you’ll want to peek into. It almost feels like a village, but a cool modern village. As a beer lover, I was intrigued by the De Bierverteller, a little beer shop.
Vegan-friendly coffee and cakes
When Suzanne promised me cake, I was pleasant to end up arriving at Broei. This cozy cafe has vegan-friendly cake that is healthy. Broei is a 100% vegetarian cafe with modern coffee and organic products. I tried the Roze Bunker, a delicious drink from Utrecht.
Exploring the modern area of Utrecht
Rotsoord is a modern part of Utrecht just outside of the city center where you can truly see the edge of Utrecht. Despite being so close at Utrecht Centraal, I had never ventured out to this area, which is full of hot spots, cute cafes, and interesting restaurants… There’s a lovely view of the water and the neo-Renaissance water tower mentioned below.
Have a meal in a former watertower!?
In Utrecht, like many Dutch cities, the canals were filled with sewage. With cholera epidemics spreading across Europe and thanks to the game changing discovery by John Snow, Utrecht decided to build a water tower. The water tower was built in 1895 in a neo-Renaissance style. It’s over 39 meters–and had a museum inside of its former tank for a long time.
Now, it houses one of the most exclusive restaurants in Utrecht: WT Urban Kitchen. Suzanne told me that getting a reservation is not easy, but the food is worth it!
Eat insect based sushi
LE;EN is a popular hangout in the Rotsoord area. This Asian fusion restaurant experiments a lot with food–and their ingredients. Are you brave enough to try insect sushi? 😉
Go out for a local beer
There are lots of great craft beer places in Utrecht. Suzanne recommended Klein Berlijn, a craft beer bar with a lovely terrace. However, we ended up going across the street to Gist, a craft beer bar with an amazing Dutch beer selection and a lovely view of the canals, perfect for ending a day exploring Utrecht off the beaten path.
If you’re looking for something local to drink in Utrecht, consider trying a beer from VandeStreek brewery (from Utrecht). If you get hungry, there’s always bitterballen if you’re a meat eater.
If you enjoyed this post, consider checking out my other posts about the best day trips from Amsterdam, what to do in Utrecht for first time visitors and attending the Woerden cheese market. If you’re feeling inspired to meet a local to show you around, you can create a profile on 2 glimpse!