The canals of Utrecht in Netherlands
Iris Van Den Broek

Most visitors to the Netherlands flock to Amsterdam. But if you’re looking for canal-lined streets, bicycle paths and pastel-colored houses without the crowds, head to Utrecht instead. It’s about 30 minutes away from the Amsterdam airport by train and offers an equally lively, but much more affordable, experience.


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The Domtoren, an iconic medieval site that dominates the city’s skyline, offers stunning views of the entire city (you just have to climb 300-plus steps to see them). Nearby Utrecht University, established in the 1630s, showcases a blend of architectural styles; from its modern library to the neo-Renaissance University Hall.

Woman biking in Utrecht, Netherlands with a Tour de France street art in the background
Iris Van Den Broek

Take some time to explore Utrecht’s canal-and-cafe culture — of the espresso, or, depending on your predilection, the marijuana variety. (Amsterdam isn’t the only Netherlands locale where visitors are encouraged to spend hours in state-sanctioned “coffee shops.”)

Once you’ve recharged, head to one of the city’s unorthodox attractions, like the Sonnenborgh Observatory (€9.50), an astronomy museum surrounded by a 16th-century moat, or Museum Speelklok (€14.00), which is devoted entirely to self-playing musical instruments. If you’ve got young kids, the interactive Miffy Museum (€0 to €7.50), celebrating an iconic cartoon bunny from the 1950s, belongs at the top of your list.

Statue of Miffy in Utrecht
Iris Van Den Broek

SEE: Domkerk, Castle de Haar, Domtoren, Utrecht University Botanic Gardens
VISIT: Centraal Museum, Sonnenborgh Observatory, Museum Speelklok,
SHOP: Bloemenmarkt, Twijnstraat (Twin Street)
EAT The Streetfood Club, Dapp Frietwinkel, Silk Road, Humphrey’s, Dogma Hotdogbar
DRINK: The Malt Vault, Lebowski, Kafe België, Maximus Brewery