Lonely Planet recently listed its top travel destinations for 2013. Under top cities, they ranked Amsterdam number two. Overall, kind of cool, I guess, although many of you know my frustration with travel publications never seeming to look past Amsterdam. Still, they did list Utrecht as a hidden gem earlier this year, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
When I looked at the actual Lonely Planet article I found out their reasoning for choosing Amsterdam is that there are lots of anniversaries being celebrated next year. The canal ring turns 400; Van Gogh’s 160th birthday will be celebrated, along with the 40th anniversary of the Van Gogh Museum; and the Rijksmuseum re-opens after a 10-year renovation (although it’s been partially open throughout).
Those are all good reasons to visit Amsterdam and rather than complain that Utrecht wasn’t chosen, I’ll simply suggest that anyone who is planning on visiting Amsterdam in 2013 should also plan a visit to Utrecht. You see, Utrecht is also celebrating a major anniversary next year. 2013 marks the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, which brought about the end of the War of the Spanish Succession.
I first learned about the Treaty of Utrecht in some long-ago history class, although it was the name that stuck with me, rather than the history behind it. So when I knew we were moving here and people asked if Utrecht was famous for anything, I always mentioned the treaty. It turns out there were a series of treaties and that they formed the Peace of Utrecht, which explains why it’s usually called the Vrede van Utrecht here (vrede=peace).
It’s not exactly clear why Utrecht was chosen, although it was probably for a number of reasons, including the fact that the city had been positive toward the French in the past and previous successful treaties had been signed in the Dutch Republic. It still took more than a year of wrangling and negotiations at the Stadhuis – which had dual grand entrances that eliminated any diplomatic issues as to who should enter first – but eventually the series of bilateral treaties were signed on Tuesday, 11 April 1713.
In theory, a 300-year-old treaty doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, especially since the Dutch Republic didn’t seem to be involved other than as host. In fact a member of the French envoy tauntingly said, “De vous, chez vous, sans vous” (referring to the fact that the negotiations included the Republic and were taking place on their own lands, yet the Republic had no say in the outcome). However, 300 years later, Utrecht is turning the treaty on its head, in a sense, taking over control of how the historic event is celebrated now.
Utrecht has been preparing for the celebrations for years. The Trajectum Lumen light art installations are just one of the many lead-ups to the official 2013 celebrations. Various cultural events that take place every year will have specially themed events throughout 2013, including the Nederlands Film Festival, the VJ op de Dom light and music event, and the music Festival de Beschaving, just to name a few. There’s a whole year’s worth of events being planned around the idea of celebrating peace, which makes Utrecht worth a visit in its own right.
Over the past year or so, Utrecht has been promoting tourism in the city, using the tagline: te veel te leuk voor één dag (too much fun for just one day), and it’s true! For one thing, anyone visiting the city should stay overnight so that they can walk through the city and enjoy the Trajectum Lumen light exhibits all over town. They keep adding new ones, including the new lights in the Nieuwegracht by the Pausdam (where you can see other fantastic artistic light displays). Utrecht is a beautiful city at night, with the warm glow of the Pyke Koch lamps on the ancient city streets, and there’s plenty to do, with great restaurants, fun night clubs, and inviting cafés. Plus, there’s a ton to do during the day, whether it’s shopping along the Oudegracht, visiting local breweries, enjoying some of the unusual museums, or climbing the Domtoren.
So if you’re thinking of visiting Amsterdam in 2013, consider adding in a trip to Utrecht. Plus, Utrecht is a great central location for visiting other cities and is a short 20-minute train ride to Amsterdam. You could make it your base city and probably find cheap hotel rooms that cost less than similar rooms in Amsterdam. We’ve got everything from youth hostels to 5-star hotels right in the city center. Plus, I learned last year that all those souvenirs everyone (rightly) buys to take home to family and friends are much cheaper in Utrecht, including the cozy clog slippers.