Utrecht in 3 Days:..    What’s The Plan?

Make the most of your time in Utrecht with our tour guide recommendations.  Since Roman times, this area has been a strategic military border, a vigorous trading post, an important religious center, and a thriving transportation hub.  Veteran guide Jeffrey Scott Pearson shares his ideas for a special weekend here below.

A three-day weekend agenda is the perfect timetable to get a good understanding of the soul of Utrecht. As every traveler is different, my biases will play a part in my recommendations; so this is from an experienced traveler who’s more interested in culture and history than retail shopping or fine dining. (I’ve made a special itinerary for families here)

Prepare: The night before, you’ll want to sign up for the 10:30 am or the 1:30 pm Free Walking Tour. (Just flip this itinerary if you choose the afternoon walk instead). The walking tour is a good way to get to know the basics of the city and a great way to meet fellow travelers. In addition, reserving tickets and times at the main attractions in advance is crucial, since the DomUnder and Bell Tower don’t even start tours until midday.

Morning in Utrecht

In the morning one assumes you’ll be coming in by train through Utrecht Centraal Station, as 90% of our visitors do, so my advice is to store your luggage at the train station lockers near platform 18/19 for a few hours until your hotel room is ready. This costs less than 10 euros but some of the better hotels might let you drop off your bags as a courtesy, so plan accordingly.

After storing your bags, head out to the east end of the station under the bubble roof into Hoog Catharijne, a big modern mall that takes less than five minutes to walk straight through. Exit outside onto Vredenburg Square, where there is often an open-air market. Use your mobile GPS or follow the signs to the Dom Toren, a large medieval bell tower in the middle of town – you literally cannot miss it.

On the way, note the variety of architecture on the storefronts, especially on the upper floors. Stop, shop, and take pictures but make sure you get to the Dom Plein (Church Square) in time for your tour.

Afternoon in Utrecht

After your two-hour walk, you’ll have a good sense of what’s available in town. Take this time to revisit the Oudegracht (Old Canal) for a slightly overpriced lunch by the water. Note the canal landings or werfkelders on the waterside – occupied by relaxed locals and happy tourists. Unlike other canal cities, these convenient shelves are unique to Utrecht and enable businesses to thrive both on the water and below the street level underground! Cafes like The Silk Road Utrecht, Broadway American, Chillz, and Il Pozzo are popular locally, but there are dozens of cute choices to explore. On rainy days, try the historic Oudaen eatery built in the city’s oldest castle for a pricy but special experience.

Nearby you can see the Post Utrecht building, an icon of Expressionist architecture and home to both the city library and Utrecht’s largest bookstore – Broese which is blessed with a light and airy café of its own. The 100-year-old building is the poster child of the Amsterdam School of Architecture and is absolutely wonderous inside. Especially compelling are the huge quartz crystal skylight and the Art Deco totem statues in the main hall. Secret: Inside there’s a ‘locals only’ restaurant called NODA on the top floor with wonderful views overlooking the city. It’s an undiscovered gem!

Utrecht spacer

After lunchtime, I would suggest a lazy boat ride on the canals from the Schuttevaer boat dock near the Oudaen on the Viebrug. The hour-long journey through Utrecht’s enchanting canals reveals perspectives only available from the water. A skilled skipper will guide you past wharf cellars, graceful bridges, and iconic statues, all illuminated by enchanting antique lampposts at dusk. Plus, boats are temperature-controlled, with rain covers and audio tours in many languages, with tickets costing 16-20 each, sans tip.

If you have the physical energy, perhaps a pedal boat would be more fun. These can be found on the canals in front of the Winkel van Sinkel near the Stadhuisbrug (City Hall bridge). The building is from the 1830s and represents the first ‘department store’ concept in Holland and later had a thriving catalog business. Further down the waterway, kayaks and canoes are available to rent for the truly adventurous. Whatever the case, find a way to see Utrecht from the waterline before you leave.

After a day of getting to know the town in general, head back to Utrecht Centraal to pick up your luggage and check into your lodging. For convenience, splurge on a taxi or Uber to your hotel – you’ll find the taxi stands at each end of the train station. No hotel downtown should cost more than 20 euros, even with two people and luggage.

Evening in Utrecht

Around dinnertime head to the lively Neude Square for a drink or two, and then perhaps a walk up the street to Janskerkhof for tapas at the Street Food Club or a dinner at the elegant Ruby Rose next door. It’s all fun, funky, young, and a little bit pricy – but if you hang around long enough the whole area turns into quite the party on weekend nights! Often during warm weather, there’s a late-night scene here, at Neude or around Janskerhof square – usually at the Hofman Café, Café Het Hart, Feestcafé T’ Pakuis, or the wild Australian dance club Woolloomooloo – check the local Uit Agenda magazine for details.

DOM TOREN AT NIGHT
THE DOM TOREN AT NIGHT
Utrecht Centraal Station
UTRECHT CENTRAAL STATION
Hoog_Catharijne
HOOG CATHERIJNE MALL
Oudegrahct 1901
DE OUDEGRACHT (THE OLD CANAL) 1900
Post Utrecht
POST UTRECHT
Utrecht boattour
CANAL BOAT TOUR
Winkel van Sinkel
THE WINKEL VAN SINKEL
Ruby Rose restaurant
THE STREET FOOD CLUB & THE RUBY ROSE AT JANSKERKHOF
Day 2 in Utrecht

Hope for decent weather today because you’ll be outside a lot.

Start with a good breakfast on Saturday at either your hotel or at a pannenkoekenhuis (pancake house) for a real Dutch ontbijt (breakfast). There are plenty in town but I recommend Anna’s Pancakes with several locations or Pannenkoekenbakkerrij De Muntkelder – which is conveniently near our first destination.

Morning in Utrecht

The Breedstraat Fabric Market, known locally as the Lapjesmarkt, is a vibrant tapestry of history and commerce located here. Every Saturday, from 8:00 AM until lunchtime, the street transforms into a colorful bazaar, boasting the title of the oldest and largest fabric market in the Netherlands. Even if you’re not into textiles, the market makes for a vibrant and colorful Dutch experience.

Stroll down the street through the crowded marketplace and find the Eye Hotel – take a right and in a minute you’ll end up on Voorstraat. From there, head north just 25 meters and turn right again onto Boothstraat and in another minute you’ll end up at Janskerkhof (St. John’s Church) and the most famous flower market in the province.

The Utrecht Flower Market has a centuries-old history; far too much for this blog. I would only say the bloemenmarkt is not just about purchasing flowers; it’s about immersing oneself in a local Dutch tradition since the 1830s. It’s more than a mere transactional space; it’s a social hub where friends meet, families stroll, and gardeners exchange tips. Plus, the air is filled with a mix of languages as tourists mingle with the locals, all united by their love of Dutch flowers. While photography is encouraged, do remember to ask for permission before capturing the stall owner’s faces with their artful arrangements.

As you wander through the colorful displays, you’re greeted by an array of blooms—from the classic roses and tulips (synonymous with Dutch horticulture) to exotic orchids and cheerful sunflowers. The market also offers a variety of plants, bulbs, and garden accessories, ensuring that every visitor finds something to take home, whether it’s for a windowsill, a balcony, or a backyard garden. However, for now, don’t buy any blooms just yet – there’s a bike ride ahead!

While you’re in the shadow of the large cathedral nearby, take a look inside St. John’s Church (Janskerk) and admire the architecture within. Once finished, walk east (away from downtown) for two minutes until you reach 030-Fietsen a bike shop at #3 Nobelstraat, and still within sight of the flower market. Here you’ll rent a bike for the rest of the day and the Free Walking Tours Utrecht has arranged a half-price rate of 7 euros a day for you. The city bicycle rack next to the nearby Willibrord horse statue 50m west offers other possibilities.

Once you’re all set, using this GPS setting to guide you, turn right out of the bike shop and pedal away from downtown. You’ll go past the Stadshowburg theatre on the left and cross the Lucasbrug at the stoplight, then head down Nachtegaalstraat..

After the Malibaan crossroad, continue to the train tracks and stop there for a moment to appreciate it was here the Doppler Effect was proven (see mural). Continue on through until you reach Wilhelmina Park and check it out with a few loops around the pond. Then continue east until to encounter a strange boxy house on the left-hand side of Prins Hendriklaan – behold a modernistic architectural wonder.

You should be standing in front of the retrofuturistic Rietveld Schroder House. Stop and admire this 20th-century architectural jewel from the outside, but let’s not visit the interior unless you’ve prepaid for tickets online; they only have tours, no free exploration.

Continue cycling under the nearby bridge and follow this route, which takes you onto the University College Utrecht campus, then past the Museumhuis van Ravesteyn another architectural landmark. Pedal onwards to a fine restaurant in the woods, (Het Oude Tolhuys) where you can stop for a break or carry on.

The bike path continues underneath some big, noisy highways until you reach the wide-open Science Park and ultimately the Utrecht Botanical Gardens. Spend an hour or so at the gardens, and maybe have lunch at the charming cafe on site – be sure and try their vegan chocolate cake – trust me!

Afternoon in Utrecht

Now that you’re refueled we’ll take a 15-minute ride to a lovely, hidden forest with wonderful bike trails, just follow this route. You’ll pass all sorts of business parks and neighborhoods, but the tan bike path is clear, just stick with it. You’re rewarded with a ride through the beautiful Park Voorveldse Polder, a dynamic public space with trails, soccer pitches, and tennis courts in addition to amazing bike paths. This section of the ride ends at the Meneer Vink restaurant, and if you skipped a meal at the Botanical Gardens this is a good alternative.

Bike back into town using this route and you’ll end up at Roberto Gelato, Utrecht’s premiere tiny ice cream parlor. There will likely be a line on Saturday but it’s worth it! Then you’ll pedal through the Wittevrouwen neighborhood until you get to Griftpark – another public greenway with all sorts of secrets (skateboard park, kids zoo, local pub etc.)

If you take this pathway you’ll be biking beside a lovely canal (Weerdsingel Oostzijde) most of the way; heading towards a harbor area where you have a choice. Take a right and you’ll see the weird ‘fish doorbell’ that allows for seasonal river migrations of various marine life. Take a left across the bridge and you’ll find the odd-looking model stadskraan (city crane) in the canal.

From the crane, it’s a nice long, straight ride along the waterside all the way to Hoog Catharijne, the same large mall you first met outside Centraal Station. Go to the big intersection, cross the bridge, and continue underneath the mall (see picture).

Keep pedaling straight with the mall behind you but look back for a moment to see a huge teapot on the roof. Continue forward and on your right is the De Inktpot, the huge national railway headquarters with a UFO on the roof! Further down this road, cross over Bartholomew’s Bridge.

This last leg continues our tradition of biking by the water, so you’ll follow the singel (city moat) around the south end of town to the Sonnenborgh Observatory. A number of optional loops have been added for this leg, including routes past at the Nijntje Museum, the Centraal Museum and Spoorweg Museum with the big World War II monument in the parking lot. Pick your own path but keep following the singel and you’ll eventually end up back ay 030 Fietsen, where you can turn in your bicycle and head back to the hotel for a big nap!

Evening in Utrecht

This evening take a walk along the canals after the sun sets, it’s a magical and romantic experience, especially in the wee hours. But before that, go to the Winkel van Sinkel area and find the nearby Ganzenmarkt Tunnel, an underground passage that gently leads to the wharf landings on the Oudegracht. On weekend nights there’s a surprise inside this crowded, dodgy passageway – a karaoke bar! Yes, Duke of Toyko Karaoke is located behind a secret entrance but there’s nothing secret about it. The bizarre nightclub is a hugely popular venue that allows you to be the mega pop star that only you want to be! Reservations recommended.

Oudegracht
OUDEGRACHT CAFE MORNING
Breedstraat Fabric market
BREEDSTRAAT FABRIC MARKET
Utrecht Flower market
UTRECHT FLOWER MARKET
St. John's Church Sint Janskerk
ST. JANSKERK (SAINT JOHN'S CHURCH)
030 FIETSEN BICYCLE RENTAL ON NOBLESTRAAT
Doppler Effect Utrecht
DOPPLER EFFECT TRAIN MURAL
Reitveld Schroder Huis
THE RIETVELD SCHRODER HOUSE
UTRECHT UNIVERSITY BOTANICAL GARDENS
park polder best
VOORVELDSE POLDER PUBLIC PARK
Utrecht Fish Doorbell
THE 'FISH DOORBELL' IN UTRECHT
Hoog Catherijne
BIKE PATH UNDER THE HOOG CATHARIJNE MALL
Space in Utrecht
UTRECHT UFO (INSET) AND SONNEBURGH OBSERVATORY
Duke of Tokyo Karaoke
GANZENMARKT TUNNEL & DUKE OF TOKYO KARAOKE
Day 3 in Utrecht

Almost all the museums in Utrecht open at 10 am, so you’ll want to be out and about by mid-morning. You will have time for four tourist attractions and a nice lunch with this itinerary – but which museums are up to you. For me, the big ones are the Spoorweg Railroad Museum, the DomUnder experience with the Dom Toren, and the Speelklok Museum of self-playing musical devices. If you have a Museumkaart you’ll get ‘prepaid’ admission for any museum, but the DomUnder and Bell Tower attractions don’t honor it and cost around 14 euros for each experience – worth it.

Reality check: I can’t recommend everybody climb the famous bell tower, which is certainly a must-see for most. For much older folks and younger kids, the 450+ steps and required 1-hour plus tour may take a ‘toll’ (pun intended) and sap your energy for the rest of the day, so plan accordingly.

Since DomUnder and Bell Tower don’t even start tours until midday, it’s crucial to book these attractions ahead of time and then plan your day around that. For example, avoid a heavy lunch before a 112-meter climb or avoid booking the last tour (4 pm) after a long day of constant activity – you may be exhausted!

Morning in Utrecht

For your last day in Utrecht I would start out with a walk to the National Railway Museum, about 15 minutes from the city center or a six-minute bike ride. Weirdly, this massive attraction is NOT close to any bus line, so walking or biking really is the best way to go – as adults. But if you have kids, you should take the special museum train experience described below from Utrecht Centraal instead.

Every half hour from there’s a special kids train that goes directly from Utrecht Centraal to the yrain museum, which is a great time for families. Sometimes railway staff will interact with visitors and answer questions. Other times the train is filled with rowdy school groups, hurried day tourists and excitable Dutch kids – so the ride might be loud and chaotic, but always good fun. There’s a video about it here.

There’s also a whole page about the train museum here, but let me further recommend a snack, refreshments, or even lunch at the fine cafe inside the reconstructed historic train station before you leave.

Afternoon in Utrecht

When you’ve finished lunch at the Spoorweg, begin the walk back downtown and notice the WWII Memorial at the museum’s entrance. Take a moment to pay respect to these local heroes, ordinary men and women lost forever to the arrogance of a madman – it’s a sobering moment.

Now, find the bell tower on the horizon and direct yourself back into town in a ten-minute stroll on the old cobblestones.

Depending on your afternoon reservations, enjoy your Dom Toren or DomUnder adventures for the next couple of hours and try to take in the 360-degree view from the historic bell tower before you finish.

Once you’re back down to earth, make the two-minute walk to the Speelklok Museum, fully described here and a big hit with nearly everybody! Be advised to take their tour (check language), otherwise, the visit isn’t much fun and very quiet. Bilingual guides show you all the coolest ways machines have created music in the last 500 years.

Evening in Utrecht

After listening to five centuries of music played by clever robots, street organs, and music boxes it’ll be late afternoon and time to go either take a nap, do some last-minute shopping or go people-watching on the oudegracht.  In the evening, consider a nightcap at Het Gegeven Paard, the cafe at the bottom of the Tivoli Vredenburg music complex near the mall and the station. Perhaps you can find some live music to enjoy among the seven different concert venues offered in this enormous modern building.  If not, just enjoy the excited people and pleasant atmosphere of fans waiting for their show – it’s gezellig!

4 attractions
FOUR FAVORITE ATTRACTIONS
112m OF STAIRS TO THE ROCKET SIZED DOM TOREN
Spoorweg Museum
ANTIQUE RAILWAY ENGINE AT THE SPOORWEG
ww2 with inset
WWII MEMORIAL WITH JEWISH VICTIMS NAMED (INSET)
Speelklok front
SPEELKLOK MUSEUM ENTRANCE
Het Gegaven Paard with Tivoli
TIVOLI VREDENBURG WITH HET GEGAVEN PAARD CAFE