Tourists in Utrecht

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One of the great things about Utrecht is that it isn’t overrun with tourists, especially in a city that is relatively small. Not that there is any shortage of things to see and do in Utrecht; it’s all just easier to reach on foot without taking lots of trams, buses, or even having to bike. (And really, if you’re a tourist, think twice about biking in the actual hearts of the big cities. Save it for outside the cities where you’re less likely to cause problems.)

Yet Utrecht does have a few spots where you’re likely to find the most tourists. This bridge over the Oudegracht is probably one of the busiest spots. To the left if the Domtoren and the white building on the corner on the left is one of our two souvenir shops. Plus, during the summer, locals and tourists alike enjoy some ice cream from the ridiculously cute ice cream truck there on the bridge. The bridge is also a great spot to take photos of the Domtoren, the views up and down the Oudegracht, and to debate whether or not to go into the “coffee shop” just out of shot.

The city has been making an effort to increase tourism, and there are pros and cons in both attracting more people and how they’ve gone about it. But so far it’s all still bearable. Having lived in Orlando, New Orleans, and New York, these are the kinds of tourist numbers that are easy to live with on a daily basis.

Eight More Things to Do in Utrecht

Last November, when I had friends from three countries visiting at once, I wanted to make a list of things they could do when I wasn’t available for sight-seeing — and some I wanted to do but hadn’t gotten around to yet. Of course, there were the museums. Utrecht has a lot of great museums, covering everything from art to automated music players. (Seriously, a guided tour of the Speelklok Museum is surprisingly entertaining.)

My map of 18 things to do in Utrecht has been getting a lot of hits recently, probably due to the fact that people who are coming for the Tour de France Grand Depart in just a few days are looking for, well, things to do in Utrecht. So while I have a few minutes free, I thought I’d share a few more things to check out while you’re in town, whether for the Tour de France, or just in general.

1. Visit V&D Cafeteria for the view
Utrecht 3|2013
In the Hoog Catharijne shopping center (next to the train station, so, hard to miss) the V&D department store has a cafeteria on the top floor. They serve a variety of hot and cold dishes and snacks, but the real reason to go is the view. They have a wall of windows looking out over the city center and if you can get a table next to the window, you won’t be disappointed, even on an overcast day or at night. To guarantee getting a good spot, it’s best to go at off-hours when people are less likely to be there for major meals of the day. (ETA: Sadly, this isn’t really an option now that V&D is closed, plus Hoog Catharijne is a construction nightmare. Hopefully, though, someone else will come in and make the most of the view.)

2. Walk along the Maliebaan
Artful Path
The Tour de France route goes along the Maliesingel, but it generally misses the Maliebaan itself. Somewhat ironic, as that was the site of the very first bicycle path in the Netherlands. Today, it’s a beautiful, peaceful, tree-lined street with a mix of roads and paths, as well as sculptures along one section. If you just want to get away from a bit of the hustle and bustle (or want to move between two sections of the route), it’s simply a nice walk to take.

3. Walk the ring canal
Around the Bend
11/11/11 at the Utrecht Meridian
If you look at a map of the city center, you’ll start to realize that there’s a canal that runs almost completely around the binnenstad (old city center). At one point, the canal did circle the city, and in a year or so, it will do so again. In the area around the Vredenburg/Hoog Catharijne/Centraal Station, you’ll see a lot of construction. They’re building bridges and re-installing the old canal, which had been turned into a roadway. Fortunately, most of the canal that rings the city is still in place and it makes for a nice walk around the city. You’ve always got the scenery of the canal, but you’ll also come across some other interesting sights, including the Wolvenplein, which was a working jail up until the past year or so. At the other end, you’ll find the Sonnenborgh Museum with its remains of the city’s walls(second photo).

4. Flower market
Utrecht Bloemenmarkt
There’s no shortage of flowers for sale in Utrecht throughout the week, but on Saturday, the big flower market can be found at Janskerkhof. Under the tree-covered square surrounding the picturesque church, you’ll find a huge assortment of seeds, plants, trees and more for sale, as well as beautiful bouquets, all at incredibly good prices. Even if you don’t purchase anything, it’s a lovely spot to meander.

5. Lapjesmarkt (Fabric market)
Stoffenmarkt
On Saturday mornings on Breedstraat (just off Voorstraat and near Neude), you’ll find the oldest and largest fabric market in the Netherlands. It has been around for more than 400 years and takes place, rain or shine. You’ll find a variety of fabrics for everything from clothing to upholstery, as well as assorted sewing accoutrements. It’s set on another lovely tree-line street and is a fascinating part of history, even if you have no interest in fabric. Take a stroll through and then head off for some other adventures, such as …

6. Domtoren
Domtoren
Come on. Like I’m going to do a list of things to see in Utrecht and not include this. Sure, it’s hard to miss, but it’s still pretty damn impressive. Even if you don’t want to take a guided tour up the 400+ steps, you can still enjoy a lot of it from ground level. On Saturdays, you can also typically enjoy one of the carillon concerts that ring out over the city. There will be some bicycle-themed songs for the Tour de France, of course. And while you’re in the area, check out the cathedral and the cloistered garden there in the Domplein, and Flora’s Hof, another garden with an adorable marmalade cat usually on the prowl.

7. Utrecht free tour
utrecht free toursEvery Saturday at noon, under the Domtoren, you can take an amazing free guided tour of the city. Completely led by volunteers, they take you on a three-hour walk around the city, giving you some great insight into the history and culture that makes Utrecht so wonderful. It’s a fantastic way to also get an idea of things you might want to explore further during your visit. It’s also great for anyone new to the city, and even those of us who have been here for a while. Just show up at noon and you’re good to go!

8. The Inktpot and the UFO
Urban Invasion
I can’t believe I have forgotten to add this to either of my lists! Sadly, it’s rare that you can go inside the Inktpot building itself, which is spectacular, but you can certainly see the UFO that landed on it in 2000! The aliens liked Utrecht so much, they decided to stay. I don’t blame them at all. Some say the UFO is just an art installation. Believe what you will. (The building is located by the Moreelsepark, near the train station.)

Taking it too far?

Too far?
Perhaps it’s just as well that there’s now less than a month to go before the Grand Depart of the Tour de France here in Utrecht. Bicycles are obviously a common sight, but the amount of yellow popping up is definitely increasing, as is the amount of — at times — cheesy promotional stuff. Take this flag hanging outside the entrance for the Domtoren tours. Throw in some yellow, a bicycle, and a random apostrophe, and suddenly anything can be related to the Tour de France. Zut alors!

More Goodies from the Zelfgemaakte Markt

Zelfgemaakte Markt
I’ve posted before about my love for the Zelfgemaakte Markt (Handmade Market), so I was thrilled that it was back in Utrecht this weekend. This time, it was in the Domplein, instead of its previous spot at Mariaplaats. It was also paired with a food festival of sorts, with one side of the square filled with food stalls selling food to eat then and there, as well as food to take home. Tempting, but I was there for the arts and crafts.
Zelfgemaakte Markt
I continue to be impressed with both the quality and the cost of the items in the market. Everything is appealing and made by lots of talented people and surprisingly affordable. Ceramics, t-shirts, prints, drawings, and so much more … I wanted just about everything! Way too often, you go to markets like this and there are only one or two stalls with things you’d actually be interested in looking at, much less buying. Here, everything is of interest!

I did a quick run through to see what was really catching my eye (and to see what I could afford, since I had limited cash and not everyone takes PIN). My mental list was getting pretty long! Then I saw the Toepas stall and had to stop.
Zelfgemaakte Markt
It was at the market around this time last year that I first saw the Toepas Creaties stall and the fantastic items she makes from reclamed/recycled items, including ad banners and, of course, wine bottles. We ended up buying a number of her wine bottle candle holders for Vino Veritas and they remain real eye catchers. I stopped at her booth to say hi, but also to get a look at the necklaces she has started making. I’d seen them on her Instagram account and wanted to see them myself. They were just as cute in person and I made my first purchase of the day, buying one of the fox pendants.

After chatting, as I was walking away, I heard someone go up to the booth and clearly say “Vino Veritas”. Whether customers or someone who had seen the candles in our window, it was great to hear someone recognize them and make the connection!
Zelfgemaakte Markt
Next up was a stop at IsaBella’s stall. As soon as I saw her flamingo print, I knew I had to have it. That said, I would have happily bought one of everything. I really like her style and the whimsical nature of her prints. The hot-air balloon print would also go nicely with the new sofa pillow covers I recently bought. And though it wasn’t intentional, I love that I caught her in much the same pose as the girl in her print!
Zelfgemaakte Markt
My final stop was at the booth of another artist, Julie. As well as a fondness for flamingos, I also have a thing for dodos. When I saw her “Je t’adore” illustration of a dodo, I couldn’t resist!

I really wanted one of the Domtoren silhouette prints by Lucas van Hapert, but funds were running low at that point. But hopefully the opportunity will arise again. I picked up his business card as a reminder.
Zelfgemaakte Markt
It was a perfect day for the market, with the sun shining, and temperatures pleasantly warm. The square was filled with people, many of whom were clearly foreign tourists. On the plus side, yay, more people are learning about Utrecht! On the down side, it’s definitely getting more crowded and manoeuvring around all the tourists (who don’t want to move out of the way) is bringing back memories of New York.Zelfgemaakte Markt Hopefully, some of these tourists picked up a few items at the market to serve as lovely souvenirs. I’m certainly happy with the items I picked up! (The book was from a second-hand book shop and ended up being a story on its own. Not worth going into, but it seems I have an American laugh.)

800,000?!

DSC08161So it seems that 600,000-800,000 tourists are expected here in Utrecht for the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in July. The city’s population will double or nearly triple.

That’s a LOT of people.

I thought the Domplein seemed much too crowded with tourists as it is on a normal sunny Sunday. Hmmm. Maybe I should stop encouraging people to visit more of the country than just Amsterdam.

Utrecht Souvenirs and Hospitality

Utrecht recently won the Dutch award for innovative city marketing thanks to the Utrecht Hospitality (Gastvrij Utrecht) project initiated by Toerisme Utrecht. They won for their “significant contribution to the social and economic vitality of the city.”

The emphasis on drawing tourists to the city has manifest itself in not one but two shops selling souvenirs. There’s the “big” one right on the Oudegracht, just around the corner from the Domtoren (and right next to a “coffee shop”), where you can find all sorts of specifically Utrecht and generally Dutch souvenirs to take home with you. (It’s the shop on the right)souvenirs

But now there’s also the corner news/tobacco/lottery ticket shop on Nobelstraat that has recently added a few classic souvenirs, as well. We’ve obviously hit the big time.souvenirs

This post brought to you with gentle, tongue-in-cheek snark.

Opening People’s Eyes to Utrecht

Open
Last year, Utrecht got a mention in a Lonely Planet article about 10 hidden gems of cities. This year, tourism is up, although there’s no specific information as to whether the article influenced anyone or not. Who knows, maybe my own blog is the cause of the rise in numbers. 😉

Now, CNN has posted an article about the new cities in Europe that everyone should be visiting. Rather than hit the usual spots, visitors should look into other equally appealing cities. For example, one close to my heart is the suggestion that instead of visiting Rome, people should check out the beautiful city of Bologna. And of course, instead of Amsterdam, come to Utrecht!

My role as unofficial ambassador for Utrecht has been noticed, as well. A new article on the Utrecht tourism website takes a look at some of the websites and the people behind them who are singing the praises of Utrecht. I’m thrilled to be included in such a great group, since they’re all websites that I already follow and find useful. Even if you can’t read the article, click on the links. Most of the sites have content in English.

It’s always great to see the city get some recognition. If you’re coming to the Netherlands, do give us — and lots of other cities — a visit. But do please behave yourselves! Stay out of the bike paths, don’t litter, drink responsibly, and just be nice. For that matter, behave that way at home, too!

Utrecht: Come Visit

Vrede van Utrecht 1713/2013
Utrecht is gearing up for the big celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht next week. Banners are strung in the streets and the Domtoren is getting the finishing touches for the big light show that will launch on 11 April. The list of events that will be taking place this year is impressive.

There’s plenty going on in Utrecht, even when we’re not celebrating the end of a war, but I still get people writing to me as if I live in Amsterdam. While Utrecht is only 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam, it’s still its very own city and a unique one, too. To remind you, here are a few of my past posts where I talk about how great Utrecht is and why websites and magazines and more should pay attention to Utrecht (and other cities in the country) not just Amsterdam. Nothing against Amsterdam, but in such a small country, why not check out a few other cities while you’re at it!

Reasons to Visit

Ranting, You’re Doing It Wrong

An Open Letter (of sorts) to Travel Publications

Coming up this weekend, hopefully, will be some more gargoyles and maybe a mention of the Domplein trees that have pulled up roots and moved. However, this weekend is also the spring beer festival over at Leidig Erf, so who knows what will actually get done. Anyone else going to the festival on Saturday?

Reasons to Visit

Gathering

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.

Treat of Utrecht

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.

Stadhuisbrug

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.