Have you ever visited a place that you fall in love with instantly? From the moment that I visited Utrecht on a day trip from Amsterdam, I fell in love with Utrecht. This beautiful Dutch city has canals that are two stories, unlike Amsterdam, which only adds to the delightful architecture, slow pace, amazing food, and the few tourists. Keep reading for my one day guide to Utrecht with what to do in Utrecht in one day and a complete itinerary for visiting Utrecht.
Why visit Utrecht?
Utrecht is one of those European cities that will make you sigh and think I’m in Europe. Utrecht is a university town that dates back to medieval times and it’s easy to imagine how life was just centuries ago. I particularly love the pace in Utrecht as the center is still not overly touristy and you can just stroll around the city without worrying about directions as each corner is absolutely beautiful. One of the most unique experiences to have in Utrecht is to have a meal or a drink in one of the atmospheric cellar restaurants in Utrecht. I consider Utrecht the better version of Amsterdam as it has the canals, the buildings, and what I imagine Amsterdam was like before all the tourists arrived. If you’re debating taking a day trip from Amsterdam here, do it and you might even like it more than Amsterdam.
Your one day in Utrecht itinerary
Start off your day with a proper coffee at one of Utrecht’s best coffeeshops, Blackbird coffee. If you prefer a more hearty lunch, consider heading to Ted’s for a trendy brunch because who doesn’t love banana pancakes with nutella. For those looking for healthier options, Ted’s has healthy omelettes and/or vegan-friendly options.
Climb the Domkerk
Climbing the Domkerk, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands, is one of the main things to do in Utrecht. The exact spot of the Domkerk has long been of importance as a fortress, then a church. The Domkerk actually dates back to the 1200s although construction was stopped in the 1500s. Technically the Domkerk is the only Dutch pre-Reformation cathedral although it’s been Catholic since the mid-1500s. Most of the church was destroyed in a tornado in the 1500s, so only some parts of the church remain. The church is in the Gothic style and only has one tower that 112-metre-high (367 ft).
The tower with its 465 steps can ONLY be visited with a guided tour, so prepared for the climb to take about one hour. It’s possible to get a combination ticket for the Domkerk with Museum Speelklok, which is good deal. (It’s possible to get a guided tour in English.)
Be sure to visit the Pandhof garden, which was part of the old monastery garden. It is one of the most elaborately designed courtyards in the Netherlands and it’s free to visitors of Utrecht regardless of whether you buy a ticket to the Domkerk. You can admire the 15th century cloister surrounding the courtyard as well.
Healthy lunch (or unhealthy lunch)
For those looking for a healthier lunch (or have food restrictions), I recommend Bluzone2GO. This small restaurant is all about healthy eating and I was pleasantly surprised by the menu given its inexpensive prices.
While walking along Oudegracht, you’ll find a lot of options for fine options around lunch that often include two or three courses as part of the set price. I’ve heard good things about Darah Afghan Restaurant, but feel free to see your options first.
A friend of mine who lives in Utrecht recommends eating at Firma Pickles Burgers & Wines, a classy burger bar with good creative burgers. Although it’s not particularly Dutch, I loved their creativity and it was a good meal.
This museum is a delight for both adults and children with countless interactive exhibits, a fascinating history and a lot of quirk. the entirely of Museum Speelklok is dedicated to automated instruments that can play a melody without humans. I somehow thought that these machines were relatively new, but it turns out that date back to the 15th century. I was amazed by the history behind these extraordinary instruments that we often take granted today. Both my husband and I had a blast turning all the levers to see how the various instruments would sound when they played. Give yourself at least two hours here as it’s too much fun!
Walk along the canals and beautiful streets
Enjoying the scenic canals are a must in Utrecht. Oudegracht is the most iconic canal in Utrecht, however the narrow streets south of the Domkerk (Dorstige Hartsteeg) are absolutely beautiful and quiet. I also like following Twijnstraat until you get to old city limits close to Eetcafé de Poort Utrecht (a cozy cafe with a nice outdoor area). Kromme Nieuwegracht is also quite pretty as you get to peek at the canals while surrounded by stunning Dutch architecture. It doesn’t take that long to walk around Utrecht, so enjoy it properly.
Utrecht has so many great food options. If you ask any Dutchie on what to do in Utrecht, they say to relax, walk, eat, and drink. It’s pretty accurate. 😉 I recommend trying to make a reservation, especially if you’re going out to eat on a Friday or Saturday night.
Restaurant Syr is a non-profit Syrian restaurant that employs volunteers as well as Syrian refugees cooking up authentic food that also does good. Syr also does social initiatives, so be on the lookout for the cultural agenda at this innovative non-profit with some of the best food in Utrecht.
Restaurant Rhodos is a nice Greek restaurant with a lovely view on the canals. I found it so romantic sitting on the wharf watching the boats go by while enjoying a tasteful Greek dinner. Considering the location, I found the prices very reasonable and the portion sizes generous. The service was one of the better ones that I’ve ever had in the Netherlands. (I’m American.)
End the evening with a drink (or a few)
Something that I love about Utrecht is the university-town feel. You’ll find so many great bars in this town of students (and adults who never wanted to leave). Picking my favorite bars is a bit tricky as I’m always looking for new ones.
This cozy Belgian style bar isn’t great for Dutch beer, but you can find rare Belgian beers here. They hold pub nights, serve up decent vegan-friendly food, and it’s just cozy to spend the night here. The bartenders really know their stuff and I find the list of beers on the board paralyzing.
De drie dorstige herten
This bar, recommended by a Utrecht local, has such a stunning interior and a great selection. Be sure to get here early as it gets quite busy on a nice night. It’s also down the prettiest street, so it feels like a hidden gem when you finally find it. Be sure to try van Steek and De Leckere, local beers from Utrecht.
This cozy cocktail bar has knowledgeable bartenders mixing up drinks that you might be surprised by. Its location is convenient to the Domkerk. They also specialize in Japanese whiskey.
Where to stay in Utrecht
Although you can head home from Utrecht to Amsterdam very easily, I love staying overnight in a city as it gives me a little extra time to see it before rushing home. On my last stay, I stayed at Hotel Dom. This small boutique hotel with four stars and an unbeatable view of the Domkerk. Mother Goose is also a well-known four star boutique hotel with beautiful unique rooms. For the full luxury experience, stay at the 5* Grand Hotel Karel V.
Those on a budget will love the clean and affordable hostels in Utrecht. Although I wouldn’t recommend commuting from Amsterdam to Utrecht, hostels in Utrecht are considerably cheaper than those in Amsterdam.
How to get to Utrecht from Amsterdam
It couldn’t be easier to visit Utrecht from Amsterdam: There’s a direct train from Amsterdam Centraal to Utrecht Centraal. It takes about twenty-five minutes and your train ticket will cost about 8 euros each way. You’ll need to walk through a massive mall to exit towards the Center, so give yourself about twenty extra minutes to get from the Center onto your train.
Day trip from Utrecht
If you’re considering giving yourself a bit more time in Utrecht, you MUST visit the stunning Kasteel de Haar. This stunning Dutch castle is pretty close to Utrecht by car, however with public transportation and just seeing the grounds, you’ll want to give yourself a full day to explore it. Click for information about visiting de Haar.
Have you been to Utrecht? Anything you’d add?
Admittedly, this is a pretty short guide to Utrecht, so I’m sure that I missed some of the better things to do in Utrecht, so please let me know what else you think should done within one day in Utrecht.
Edit: I left out the Nijntje museum as this guide is more focused on young professionals traveling without children, but it’s definitely a big thing to do in Utrecht. Utrecht was the home of Dick Bruna, the author of Nijntje (Miffy). This museum in Utrecht was built in honor of his most famous work and it’s a super child-friendly museum, perfect for families with young children visiting Utrecht. You’ll find lots of Miffy stuffed animals, Miffy-inspired rooms, and interactive activities.
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