Utrecht – praised for its unique canals and wharves
Utrecht has been elected ‘most beautiful city of canals in Europe’ by Go Euro and ‘happiest place to be’ by BBC Travel. CNN Travel named Utrecht ‘the new Amsterdam’ and Lonely Planet called Utrecht ‘One of the World 10 Unsung Places’.
Being praised by not the least international travelorganisations, we had great expectations of Utrecht when we decided to pay a visit to the city. Although we went by car, Utrecht is very easy to reach by train from almost every trainstation in Holland. The trainride from Amsterdam Central Station to Utrecht Central Station for instance only takes 27 minutes.
After parking our car, we already see the Dom Tower rising above the city. Not so strange, as it is the highest church tower in the Netherlands. Over 112 meters high and you can climb the tower. But to get a breathtaking view over the city, you need to conquer 465 steps. No elevator available.
In 1254 the construction of the church started. Unfortunately due to a tornado in 1674, the nave of the church, that had never been finished, collapsed. Therefore, the tower and the rest of the church were separated. Until today only the tower, the transept and the chancel remain.
In the Dom Church you can find one of the most beautiful innercourts of Holland, named Pandhof. Originally this used to be a monastery garden from the 15th century. Nowadays it is a beautiful ornamental garden with more than 140 different types of (herbal) plants. In the middle of the garden you will find a fountain with a bronze statue of a 14th century canon. Amidst the bustling city, this innercourt is an oasis of tranquility.
Near the Dom Tower you can find the Oudegracht canal. This is the famous canal of Utrecht and the reason why this city has been elected ‘most beautiful city of canals of Europe’. The canal has a length of around 2 km and flows through the innercity from North to South. It’s the wharves however , which give the city’s canal its unique character.
The unique wharves
Traditionally the canal was used to deliver merchandise and goods. The houses at the canal belonged to rich merchants. In the 12th(!) century someone came up with the idea to build tunnels from the berths at the canal to the cellars under the houses at the shore. Then the decision was made to extend the cellars of the houses to the canal. These had to be built underneath the road. In front of the cellars, new wharves were constructed. This is how the unique wharves were formed. Nowadays there are many restaurants and little shops based in these cellars.
What to do on the canals
There are excursion boats in Utrecht on which you can hop on and have yourself sailed through the canals of the city. The excursion takes around 1 hour. It is also possible to rent a pedal boat or a sup board. Most adventurous is to rent a canoe at night and sail through the enlighted canals.
Inflatable boat mission
Since the summer of 2012 there is an annual event in Utrecht, called the inflatable boat mission. Two friends had this very amusing idea. In 2012 it all started with 40 inflatable boats in the canals of Utrecht, nowadays there are more than 1000 boats floating through the canal. Due to the huge success, it is no longer possible for everyone to join in on this event. You need a ticket upfront. Since 2015 there is also an inflatable boat mission in Kollum (province of Friesland) on the same day. It is fun to watch the stream of inflatable boats float by through the canal. At night there is a huge party. On www.rubberbootmissie.com you can find more information.
Paushuize (Pope House)
This monumental house is one of the oldest buildings of Utrecht. It was built in the 16th century. It got its name from the only Dutch pope Holland ever had, Adrianus VI. He had the house built from 1517 while he stayed in Spain. However, he never got to live in the house. In 1522 he was elected pope and he moved to Italy. A year later he passed away in Rome.
Lodewijk Napoleon Bonaparte
After pope Adrianus’ death, the house had many owners. One of them was Lodewijk Napoleon Bonaparte. He was appointed king of the Netherlands by his brother the great Napoleon. He bought the house in 1807 and only lived there for few weeks until he could move into his palace. After a few months Lodewijk left Utrecht in order to stay in Amsterdam. During his stay in Utrecht, the city has been the capital of Holland for half a year.
Utrecht is a real student city. There are several universities. Therefore the city has a lively character. There are many reastaurants, bars, café’s and other places of nightlife. Utrecht also has many shops and boutiques. Along the Oudegracht you will find most shops opened 7 days a week. At the end of the Oudegracht (south) you will find Ledig Erf. This is a fun area with lots of terraces and cafés.
The city has several museums. I will mention two of them. The first one is Nijntje Museum (Miffy Museum). Dick Bruna, the author and creator of Miffy, was born and raised in Utrecht. Until old age he worked in his studio in Utrecht. In 2006 the Dick Bruna Huis (house) was opened. Ten years later the house was renovated. Since its re-opening, it bears the name Nijntje Museum.
The second museum is called Aama (Aboriginal Art Museum Utecht). This is the only museum in Europe exhibiting contemporary Aboriginal art. Unfortunately the museum will close down on June 15, 2017. You can find more information on museums in and around Utrecht here.
Castle De Haar
Near to Utrecht you can find castle De Haar. It is the biggest castle of Holland, but it is not very old. In 1892, the castle was rebuilt on the ruins of the old castle, which had suffered tremendously under attacks and had undergone devastation. The same tornado which damaged the Dom Tower did a lot of devastation to the old castle as well.
In 1890 Baron Etienne van Zuylen inherited the ruin from his father. He was married to Baroness Hélene de Rothschild, a rich heiress of the rich bankersfamily. Thanks to her assets, Etienne van Zuylen was able to rebuild the castle. Since 2000 the family van Zuylen does not posses the castle anymore, but the Vereniging Nauurmonumenten (Dutch Society of Preservation of Nature).
You can find more information on their website www.kasteeldehaar.nl.