Utrecht Tourist Attractions
Utrecht, capital of the province of that name and the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, lies at the northeast corner of "Randstad Holland" on the Kromme Rijn, which here divides into the Oude Rijn and the Vecht, and on the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, exactly on the geographical divide between the fenlands to the west and the sandy heathlands to the east.
This position on the natural dividing line between the two territories favored the development of the town over the centuries, since the heathlands, lying higher, were out of reach of the storm tides of the North Sea and offered ideal conditions for human settlement before the dyking of the fenlands.From very early times Utrecht was one of the principal political, economic and cultural centers of the Netherlands. The seat of the provincial administration, with a famous university founded in 1636, it is also an important religious center, the see of a Roman Catholic and an Old Catholic archbishop and the seat of the Oecumenical Council, the supreme Roman Catholic authority of the Netherlands. The existence of the University has led to the establishment in Utrecht of other educational and research institutions, including branches of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science, the Central Institute for Nutritional Research, space research laboratories and the Institute of International Law, to mention only the most important.But Utrecht is not only an educational, research and ecclesiastical center; it is also of importance in the services sector, commerce, transport and industry. Industry is concentrated primarily on the west side of the city, where railroad lines, roads and canals converge. The most important industrial installations are steelworks and rolling mills, engineering and rolling-stock plants, factories producing electrical apparatus and appliances, petrochemicals and textiles, railroad workshops and furniture factories.Tourism also makes a significant contribution to the economy, for the picturesque old town with its historic buildings, surrounded and intersected by grachten and canals, attracts large numbers of visitors, as does the beautiful surrounding country.Known to the Romans as Traiectum ad Rhenum and later to the Frisians and Franks as Wiltaburg, Utrecht is one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands. The Romans built a castellum below (Old Dutch uut) a ford (Old Dutch trecht) on the Kromme Rijn, and remains of this were found outside the Cathedral; and the situation of the little trading settlement which grew up "below the ford" gave Utrecht its name.The Frankish king Dagobert I (623-638) founded here the first church in the territory of the Frisians, whose first bishop, appointed in 696, was St Willibrord. The bishops (from 1559 archbishops) of Utrecht were powerful and influential prelates, and the town was famed from an early stage for its magnificent churches. It belonged to Lotharingia (Lorraine) and later to the Holy Roman Empire, and was frequently the imperial residence. In 1528 Bishop Henry of Bavaria ceded secular authority over the town to the Emperor Charles V, who built the castle of Vredenburg.Utrecht was the birthplace in 1459 of Adriaen Florisz, one of the most learned men of his time, tutor to Charles V and later Pope as Hadrian VI. In 1579 the Union of Utrecht, an alliance between the seven Protestant northern provinces of the Low Countries which paved the way for their separation from the southern provinces, was concluded here under the chairmanship of Count John of Nassau (Jan van Nassau) the Elder, brother of William the Silent. In 1672 the town was sacked by French forces. The treaty of Utrecht in 1713 ended the War of the Spanish Succession.Alone among the towns of the Netherlands, Utrecht remained within its medieval circuit of walls (built in 1130) until the 19th century, when the town's increasing prosperity led to the development of new residential districts outside the old town.
Old Utrecht is surrounded by the Singel, the old defensive moat, along which extend attractive promenades. On the west side it has been filled in to make way for a fast road. The central area is traversed by the Oude Gracht and the Nieuwe Gracht or Drift, the water level in which is so low that the vaults in the embankment walls are used as store rooms; some of them have been converted for use in summer as cafe-restaurants. In summer too there are attractive motor launch tours of the grachten. The Oude Gracht is part of the Kromme Rijn, which divides in the city center into the Oude or Leidse Rijn (to the west) and the Vecht (to the north).
Churches of Grachten
There are five churches in old Utrecht, situated in the form of a cross, with the Cathedral in the center, the Boorkerk to the west, St Pieterskerk to the east, St Janskerk to the north and St Nicolaaskerk to the south.
The administrative offices of the University (founded 1636) are in buildings which belonged to the chapter of the Cathedral. The chapterhouse itself, in which the Union of Utrecht was signed, is now the Aula (Great Hall) of the University. Part of the University is housed in 19th century buildings on the north side of Janskerkhof. The new University quarter, De Uithof, with the Botanic Garden and a hospital, lies to the east of the city.
Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments
From the Cathedral tower Servetstraat runs west and crosses the Oude Gracht on the Maartensbrug (to right, an attractive view of the Vismarkt) into Zadelstraat. To the right, at Buurkerkhof 10, can be seen the Buurkerk, now housing the National Museum "From the Musical Box to the Barrel-Organ" (Nationaal Museum van Speelklok tot Pierement), with a collection of mechanical musical instruments from the 18th century to the present day, including domestic instruments like musical boxes, street organs, dance organs, fair organs, orchestrions and player pianos. The popularity of the barrel-organ in the Netherlands is due to the fact that local firms not only hire out organs but guarantee to maintain and service them.
Address: Buurkerhof 10, Utrecht, Utrecht 3511 KC, Netherlands
Opening hours: 10am-5pm; Closed: Mon
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Dutch National Day (Apr 30), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Palm Sunday - Christian
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €8.00, Child 4-12 €4.50
Disability Access: Full facilities for persons with disabilities.
Guides: Guided tour included with admission.
Transit: 2/22 GVU, busstop 'Domplein'.
The Buurkerk is the oldest parish church in Utrecht (12th C.). It was rebuilt in the 13th century, after a fire, as a cruciform basilica with a massive brick tower. Parts of this older building can still be seen in the present church, which has been twice rebuilt since then. The choir was pulled down in 1586; the site is now occupied by Choorstraat.
Farther along Zadelstraat is Mariaplaats. In this square is the House of Arts and Sciences (Gebouw voor Kunsten en Wetenschappen; 1840), with a music school and halls for theatrical performances and lectures, which was burned down in 1988. At the southwest corner of the building is the Romanesque cloister of St Maria, all that remains of a church founded by King Henry IV in the 11th century and demolished in the 19th century. Southwest of Mariaplaats, beyond Catharijnebaan, is a large office block occupied by Netherlands Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen).
Northwest of Mariaplaats, extending to Vredenburg, is Hoog Catharijne, one of the largest indoor shopping centers in Europe. In this luxurious complex 180 shops with a total floor area of 250,000 sq.m/300,000 sq.yd offer shoppers an immense and varied range of wares. The complex also includes facilities for refreshment (restaurants, cafes, bars) and entertainment (four cinemas).
Hoog Catharijne is linked with the new Central Station to the west - the most important junction in the national and international rail network of the Netherlands. Southwest of the station are the Jaarbeurs congress center, with the Trade Fair grounds, and the head office of the Rabo-Bank.
Phonographic Museum of Utrecht
In one wing of Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht is the Phonographic Museum, which illustrates the development of sound recording from the invention of Edison's phonograph (1877) and E. Berliner's gramophone (1887) to the present day. There is also a model of an early recording studio.
On the left-hand side of the picturesque Oude Gracht (Weerdzijde), at No. 99, stands Huis Oudaen, a fortress-like patrician house of the 14th century with a fine doorway of 1680. The treaty of Utrecht (1713) which ended the War of the Spanish Succession was signed in this house. Restored in 1986, it is now a popular restaurant. On the opposite side of the gracht is Huis Drakenburg, which may be even older than Huis Oudaen.
At the north end of the Oude Gracht is St Jacobikerk (Reformed), founded in 1173 and rebuilt in 1423 as a Gothic hall-church. Between 1476 and 1500 two new choirs and two chapels were built. The tower (1334) was badly damaged by a hurricane in 1674 and restored only in 1953.
To the east of the Oude Gracht along Potterstraatin Utrecht lies the Neude. In this square are the imposing Head Post Office (1919-24) and, opposite it to the south, the Neudeflat, a 15-story tower block (1963) occupied by the municipal administration. In Voorstraat, which branches off the northeast corner of the square, is the Vleeshuis (Meat Hall; 1637).
To the left of St Jacobikerk is Vredenburg (Vreeburg), a large and busy square on the site of the castle of Vredenburg, destroyed in 1577.
In the center of Janskerkhof is St Janskerk (Reformed), a Romanesque basilica (ca. 1050) with a choir of 1539 and a facade of 1682. In the 13th century the original columns were reshaped as pillars; in the 17th century they were removed altogether; and during restoration work in 1986 they were rebuilt in their original form. The painted wooden barrel-vaulting dates from the 13th century. After the Reformation, from 1584 to 1817, the church housed the Municipal Library, and from 1636 to 1817 the University Library.
To the northeast of Janskerkhof are the State Archives (entrance in the Drift). Close by, in Wittevrouwenstraat, the University Library contains some hundreds of thousands of volumes, as well as manuscripts, including such famous items as the 11th century Utrecht Psalter.
From the Janskerkhof, Nobelstraat runs east to the Lucasbolwerk (bastion), now laid out in gardens, and the Stadsschouwburg (Utrecht's Municipal Theater), designed by Dudok (1940).
Janskerkhof Flower Market
A narrow street, Kintgenshaven, with numbers of 17th century houses and the Hoogt cultural center, leads by way of Slachtstraat and Lange Jansstraat to the Janskerkhof (flower market on Saturday morning). To the right, beyond a monument to Franciscus Donders, a celebrated 19th century ophthalmologist, is the Statenkamer (the meeting place of the States of Utrecht), originally a Minorite friary (Minderbroedersklooster) and now a University institute.
North of the Cathedral of St Martin, in Pieterskerkhof, stands St Pieterskerk (Walloon). It was the earliest of the five churches in the old town (consecrated 1048). In the Romanesque crypt is the sarcophagus of the founder, Bishop Bernold. Notable features of the church itself are the capitals of the columns in the nave, the wall paintings in the north aisle and the 12th century reliefs in Maasland style. The high choir and transepts are Gothic. The south choir was rebuilt in the 15th century. The west front, flanked by two Romanesque towers, was damaged in the 1674 hurricane.
At the corner of Achter St Pieter and the Kromme Nieuwe Gracht is the Provinciehuis, seat of the provincial government. Part of it occupies the Paushuize ("Pope's House"), built in 1517 for the then provost of St Salvator's, the future Pope Hadrian VI.
House of the Teutonic Order
In the Nieuwe Gracht, which runs south from the Pausdam, can be found the former House of the Teutonic Order.
Catharijneconvent National Museum
At Nieuwe Gracht 63, in a former hospice of the Order of St John, is the Catharijneconvent National Museum (Rijksmuseum Het Catharijneconvent), which is concerned with the history of Christianity in the Netherlands. Opened in 1978, it brought together the collections of the Haarlem Episcopal Museum, the Archiepiscopal Museum of Utrecht and the Old Catholic Museum, and is now the country's largest collection of medieval art treasures, with sections devoted to church interiors, religious beliefs, the worship of the saints and medieval monasteries. There is also much 17th and 18th century material. Among notable exhibits are liturgical vestments, valuable Books of Hours and a model of the Cathedral in its original form, with explanations of its architectural history.Within this convent is a museum of the history of Christianity in Holland. To be found in this museum is the largest collection of medieval art in The Netherlands.One of the finest displays of embroidered Flemish church vestments of the late Middle
Address: Nieuwgracht 63, Utrecht, Utrecht 3503 RM, Netherlands
Opening hours: 10am-5pm; Sun: 11am-5pm; Sat: 11am-5pm; Closed: Mon
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Dutch National Day (Apr 30)
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €10.00, Senior €9.00, Group discounts €6.00, Child 17 & under €6.00, Child 5 & under FREE
From the Catharijneconvent Museum a narrow street, Catharijnesteeg, leads west into Lange Nieuwstraat, with St Catharijnekerk (No. 36). The church was begun by the Carmelite order in 1468 and completed by the Knights of St John in 1550. It was a Protestant church from 1635 to 1815, when it was returned to the Catholics. In 1853 it became the cathedral of a Roman Catholic archbishop, and is thus the principal Catholic church in the Netherlands.
At the south end of Lange Nieuwestraat is Agnietenstraat, in which, to the right (No. 1), is the former Agnietenklooster, a convent of Augustinian nuns, of which there remain the chapel (1512-16) and the refectory. Together with the adjoining Artillery Stables these now house the Municipal Museum (Centraal Museum) and the provincial archaeological collections. Utrecht painters from the 15th century onwards are particularly well represented - the "Romanists" influenced by the Italian Renaissance, with their principal representative Jan van Scorel, and the Mannerist painter Abraham Bloemaert, who had an enduring influence on the "Utrecht Caravaggists", also well represented in the collection (H. Terbrugghen, G. Honthorst, Dirck van Baburen, Paulus Bor, etc.). The museum also has a collection of costume from the 18th century to the present day, rooms furnished in period style, sculpture, silver and a collection of material on the history of Utrecht. Notable among the archaeological exhibits is an old ship of around 1200.A rare 17th C. completely furnished doll house with rooms decorated in chintz from the Dutch East Indies is a highlight.
Address: Nicolaaskerkhof 10, Utrecht, Utrecht 3512 XC, Netherlands
Opening hours: 11am-5pm; Closed: Mon
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Dutch National Day (Apr 30), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25)
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €8.00, Group discounts €6.00, Senior over 65 €6.00, Child 12 & under FREE
Guides: Guided tour available as optional extra.
Rietveld-Schröderhuis, at Prins-Hendrik-Laan 50, is a modern building in the Netherlands listed as a world heritage monument. In the manner of the De Stijl movement, it was built for Mr T. Schröder-Schräder by Gerrit Rietveld in 1924.The building is considered an icon of the Modern Movement. Tours begin at the Centraal Museum.
Address: Prins-Hendrik-Laan 50A, Utrecht, Utrecht 3500 GC, Netherlands
Opening hours: Jan 2 to Dec 31: 11am-5pm; Closed: Mon
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Dutch National Day (Apr 30), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25)
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €16.00, Students €14.00, Child €14.00, Senior over 65 €14.00
Useful tips: Visits by telephone appointment only.
Guides: Guided tour included with admission.
Transit: Bus 4
Frisian Sacrificial Stone
Close to the Geertekerk is the Bartholomeigasthuis, founded in 1407 as an old people's home. The Regents' Room has fine tapestries by the Delft tapestry-weaver Maximilian van der Gucht.
The Netherlands Mint Museum
The The Netherlands Mint Museum is housed inthe same building as the Royal Dutch Mint. Exhibits include pictures of coin production in the Netherlands from the beginning of the Christian era up to the euro.
To the east of the Binnengracht, which runs along the side of the old town, extends the famous Maliebaan, a 750m/820yd long avenue of lime trees. In 1672-73 it was spared by the French army on the express orders of Louis XIV.
At the northeast end of the Maliebaan, on the right, lies the little Hoogelandse Park and south of this, in Koningslaan, is the Wilhelminapark.
Netherlands Railroad Museum
In the old Maliebaan Station, at Johan van Oldenbarneveltlaan 6, is the Netherlands Railroad Museum (Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum), which offers an excellent survey of public transport, particularly railroads and tram systems, with models and old vehicles and rolling stock.The building most recently renovated in the early 2000s.
Address: Oldenbarneveltlaan 6, Utrecht, Utrecht 3581 XW, Netherlands
Opening hours: 10am-5pm; Sun: 1pm-5pm; Closed: Mon
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Pentecost Monday (Whit Monday) - Christian, Easter - Christian
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €14.50, Child 3-12 €11.50, Child 2 & under FREE
Useful tips: Open Mondays during school holidays.
Throughout the year, visitors can be visit and participate in a variety of special events in the city.
Early Music Festival
Festival of Early Music.This annual 10-day festival, also known as the Utrecht Holland festival, runs from late August to early-September and includes over 200 performances in the historic churches throughout Utrecht. There are over 60 major performances, including concerts, operas, and ballets. There are also smaller choral and chamber concerts, recitals, dance performances, fringe events, workshops and lectures.Since its inception in 1982, the focus of the festival has been solely early music.
A number of markets, in which a great variety of stores can be found, are scattered throughout Utrecht.
Den Dubbelden Arend
More Utrecht Pictures
Map of Utrecht Attractions