Utrecht: Arteries of City Life

Lesley Williamson discovers contemporary buzz and medieval history along Utrecht’s picturesque canals in the Netherlands.

The canal is an example of old mixing with new.
The buzzing canal sides of Oudegracht. Photo by Lesley Williamson

Urban regeneration in Utrecht

Out with the old, in with the new. Utrecht is a perfect example of a European city that has accomplished repurposing, preserving and maintaining the past and where the concept of recycling buildings is mastered with expertise. The glorious Winkel van Sinkel, the Netherland’s first department store is now a sumptuous grand cafe, the former police station an arthouse cinema, the Courts of Justice a boutique hotel, the water tower the Dutch Waterways museum.

In Achter Clarenburg, Café Olivier is housed in a converted 16th century clandestine church from the time when Utrecht was strictly protestant. This secret church looks like an ordinary building from the outside as showing your catholic faith and praying was risky during reformation. Blessed with high vaulted ceilings, religious carvings and an imposing organ, the sacred atmosphere of heaven for beer lovers is lively and vibrant.

Utrecht has a long tradition of café culture. The French may have invented the concept of grand cafés, but the Dutch implement it with true panache. Nothing beats a few hours spent lounging in a grand café, Winkel van Sinkel to start with, Lebowski facing the Dom Tower, or the Stadskasteel Oudaen housed in a medieval defensive tower house which serves homemade beers only, exclusively tapped at Oudaen. The range of social outlets in Utrecht is impressive, the city has arguably one of the largest outdoor terraces in Europe.

Cafés are popular in the city.
The cosy inside of Lebowsky grand Café. Photo by Lesley Williamson

In a recent attempt to tenaciously fight frivolous and impulsive buying of clothes and shoes, I was determined to resist the urge on this trip, only to realize that when it comes to shopping, the compact pedestrian inner city center has it all, once again.

Fashion wise, you are spoiled for choice with the abundance of big brands, little independent boutiques, craft and jewelry shops, not to mention the indoor department stores. De Bijenkorf on St Jacobsstraat or V&D stock some of the best fashion brands while Hoog Catharijne is believed to be the biggest shopping center in the Netherlands. Utrecht is also a city where you can visit a market every day of the week.

The largest and oldest fabric market in the Netherlands is the Lapjesmarkt (fabric market) held every Saturday, the Bloemenmarkt (flower market) at Janskerkhof or OudeGracht and Bakkerbrug. The large general market at Vredenburg is the perfect place to sample a traditional bread roll with fresh herring.

The perfect example of old world charm.
Medieval serenity can be found at the Pandhof. Photo by Lesley Williamson

Yes. In the sheer loveliness of this exquisite canal city, temptation is endless.

How to get to Utrecht:

Direct train from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport takes 30 minutes to the city center of Utrecht

Where to eat in Utrecht:

Traditional at Deans Café, fusion flavors at Umami, organic at Gys, authentic food coupled with homemade beer at Stadskasteel Oudaen or Talud9.

What to see in Utrecht:

DOMunder, the underground experience www.domunder.nl; climbing the Dom Tower www.domtoren.nl; the Grocers Museum www.kruideniersmuseum.nl; the light art route Trajectum Lumen.

Where to stay in Utrecht:

New boutique hotel just outside of the city,  Star Lodge Hotel www.starlodge.nl or Mary-K Bed & Breakfast by the old canal www.marykhotel.com

Official tourism boardwww.visit-utrecht.com



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