Utrecht

The fourth largest city in the Netherlands (population of about 300,000) has a rich historical back that dates back all the way to 47 AD. This ancient military stronghold along the river turned textile and commercial centre is located in the eastern end of the Randstad, on the banks of the river Rhine. The name is derived from the words “Uut-Trecht” which means “lower Trecht” where “trecht” was the derivative of the word “traiectum” (crossing place). Utrecht was granted city rights by King Henry V in 1122.

Utrecht’s history has made it only second to Amsterdam in terms of cultural and religious heritage. During the Golden age, the city was the seat of important religious figures and events in the Netherlands – it has been the centre of Christianity in the country from the mid 7th century onwards. Currently, it is the see of the Archbishop of Utrecht as well as the location of a number of monasteries, churches and even Protestant churches. Its growth and development as a municipality took off with the advent of the Industrial revolution and its role as a fortified town was redefined with the expansion of neighborhoods and commercial areas around.  Today, Utrecht is still experiencing expansion with the construction of the largest housing and industrial development in the country, the Leidsche Rijn. 

There are ten districts in the city of Utrecht, the most populated one being the Northwest district of Zuilen-West, Zuilen-Northeast, Pijlsweerd and Ondiep. The city’s relatively young population is made up of a majority of  Dutch nationals with other ethnic groups comprised of Moroccans, Turkish, Surinamese and other Western and non-Western origins. Residents of Utrecht are called “Utrechter.” As it has the advantage of being in a central location, the city of Utrecht has sufficient transport connections and a well-developed public transport network. The Utrecht Centraal is the main railway station which is the largest railway station in the country in terms of size and is the biggest junction station with approximately 900 stations leaving the station per day. There is also a well-connected bus network operating in Utrecht and the central railway station which connects Utrecht to other cities in Europe.

There is so much to see and do in this bustling city which aims to be Europe’s cultural capital by 2018. Small wonder that it receives an average of 3.2 million visitors per year. Among its many cultural attractions are the following places:

The DOM Church in Domplein (Dom Square) is the most important religious building in the city. Visitors queue up to climb the 112-metre Dom Tower which is said to be the highest church tower in the Netherlands. 

The Rietveld Schroder House, designed by Dutch icon and De Stijl founder Geritt Rietveld for his family. The house was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and said to be the only authentic De Stijl-styled building in existence. 

The Kasteel de Haar is the largest castle in the Netherlands and provides visitors the perfect example of a medieval castle with its towers, moats, gateways and opulent dining and celebration halls.

There is also a number of notable museums to visit in Utrecht and has been the city’s regular crowd-drawers. Most of these can be found in the Museumkwarter located in the southern part of the old town. The Dick Bruna House, located in the Utrecht Centraal Museum showcases the works of Dick Bruna, Dutch icon and creator of the well-loved bunny, Miffy. For a better appreciation of the history of Christian and Catholic culture in the Netherlands, there’s the St. Catharine’s Convent Museum. The Centraal Museum in Nicolaaskerkhof is the oldest municipal museum in the country and has the world’s largest collection of Rietveld’s works. For an interactive and multimedia exhibit on money there’s the Geldmuseum of the Royal Dutch Mint. Another popular museum is the Dutch Railway Museum (Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum) where an extensive collection of steam trains, electric and diesel-powered locomotives, train cars, trams and a well-defined history of the railway system in the Netherlands can be found.

Aside from these cultural attractions, Utrecht has a number of theatres, cinemas and a sports arena where visitors can watch interesting events. The city hosts the annual Dutch Film Festival which runs from September to October, as well as the Utrecht Early Music Festival. In 2012, the city plays host to the football matches of the much-anticipated Euro 2012 Football Championship. Those looking for retail therapy can also find shopping meccas in the city like the Hoog Catharijne which is a large indoor shopping area, the trendy and upscale Oudkerkhof, Shoutenstraat for antique shopping and the local farmers’ markets for unique finds and the freshest produce in the city.