Utrecht tips from locals

A small big city. Full of canals, parks, museums and silent boats. But it also has an observatory and a courtyard where, if you are lucky, the silence is filled with beautiful music. Utrecht, five tips from a local.

She appears on various social sites as Vrouw Polle. In everyday life, Esmee Aarbodem, as she is officially called, writes teaching methods and other materials for primary school children and e-courses in the field of personal development and creativity for adults. All these activities come together in Studio Polle. For us, however, she wrote het Utrecht tips.

For love

“Twenty-0ne years ago, I moved from Amsterdam to Utrecht in the pursuit of love. It was the love for a man, not for the city. It took several years before it clicked between Utrecht and me. It grew slowly. Where at first I could only see the ugly concrete of shoppingcentre Hoog Catharijne around the train station area, I discovered later, the beautiful quiet places in the old city, its history, the greenery, water and culture.

If you want start appreciating Utrecht, forget about Hoog Catharijne, the train station and IKEA and venture along into the following five areas. The exploration is on foot, because everything is within walking distance.” Here are Utrecht tips by Esmee.

Utrecht tips from a local:

1. De Nieuwegracht

Utrecht is the city of canals and yards. My favorite is the Nieuwegracht (New Canal) Where the Oudegracht is surrounded by shops and people shopping, the Nieuwegracht with its monumental canal houses, trees and bridges is much quieter and more stately. If you want to enjoy the canals take a ride on one of the silent boats.

The city looks very different from the water. There’s a new world of hidden stories opening up for you. They are told told by the lantern consoles you will find anywhere along the canals in the inner city.


The lampposts along the canals are at the top of the walls of the yards. Because the yard wall is narrower than the foot of the lantern, consoles were made. Many of these consoles are equipped with small sculptures. The subjects are often linked to the history of the city, mythology, Christianity or the location of the sculpture. Enjoy history by looking at the consoles from a boat. It is the best tip I can give you. Although…

2. Silence in the City: Mariaplaats

When I want to escape the crowds in the city, I go to Mariaplaats. In the 11th century St. Mary’s Church was built here. The church is no longer there, it was demolished in 1813. The reigning emperor Napoleon needed money for new armies. To raise this money, he sold buildings to demolishers, like St. Mary’s Church. Only the cloister remained.

Due to its beautiful flower, herb and butterfly garden, it became one of my favorite spots in town. A place of peace and calm in the middle of the shopping area. A lovely place to enjoy nice weather from one of the benches.

It is situated behind the academy of music. With some luck, the windows are open and you can enjoy beautiful music. Peace, beauty and gentle music in the old city. It is the best tip I can give you. Although…

3. Louis Hartlooper building

After all the air, the green, the history and the silence it is time for some entertainment and culture, namely in the Louis Hartlooper Complex. Louis Hartlooper Complex is located in a former police station. It is in use since 2009 as a center for film and art. The building was designed in 1927 in the style of the Amsterdam School. It is so beautiful.

You can enjoy a meal or a drink and go to an art movie. Some of the films are introduced by a filmexplicator. Filmexplicator, I find it a magical name. Later, when I grow up  I want to be a filmexplicator. Or footballer. Anyway, something to eat first and then to the movies. In a beautiful building. It is the best tip I can give you. Although…

4. Bolwerk Sonnenborgh, Zonneburg

In the southeast of the center of Utrecht, you find the wall of the stronghold Sonnenborgh. On top of the bulwark is the building Sonnenborgh, museum and observatory. The museum has lots to explore on astronomy, meteorology, solar research and the history of the bastion.

At least, according to the stories, because honesty forces me to say that I’ve never been in there. So far my enthusiasm for the Observatory. I am particularly interested in the beautiful wall. And the park with old trees in which the stronghold is situated.

Zocher Park

Zocher Park was built in the 19th century for the Utrecht city dwellers to walk and have a stroll. And that’s exactly what you can still do nowadays. Take your dog along, the stroller, or someone you love and stroll along ancient trees and canals. And enjoy. It is the best tip I can give you. Although…

5. Amelisweerd Estate and Rhijnauwen

I promised a journey of discovery, where everything would be within walking range, but I admit, from the center it is a long walk to Rhijnauwen and Amelisweerd. I would therefore make a day of it. A classical Utrecht day out and not just for the pancakes lovers.

The estates New Amelisweerd, Old Amelisweerd and Rhijnauwen originated in the Middle Ages along the Kromme Rijn, and have since grown into one.  There is forest, there are historic estates, there is a fortress, there are small paths, plants and animals, there is water (again I recommend a boat) and the famous pancake house.


What more does one need on a nice day? Nothing but water and forest. Mosquitoes! Take a bottle of mosquito repellent when you go to Amelisweerd and Rhijnauwen. It is the best tip I can give you. Really!

Image: Shutterstock

 More city tips? Groningen

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