Monday 19 March 2018

24 Hours in Utrecht, The Netherlands

Utrecht was the city that surprised me the most on our trip around The Netherlands. I didn't know much about it, except that it's the home of Miffy and my friend, Sarah. She always gives the city high praise and that was enough for me to add it to the itinerary. We had 24 hours to explore but it was not enough time, I definitely could have done with an extra day. But we squeezed a lot in and I'd love to visit again. Now that direct trains are running from London to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, The Netherlands is even more accessible. Utrecht is lovely, it's a small city that combines the the charm of the Amsterdam canals, with the alternativeness of Rotterdam thanks to a big student population.

Here's my Utrecht city guide.

Rest up in the most gorgeous hotel ever
Utrecht has some lovely looking boutique hotels and for a long time I was torn between booking Mother Goose or Mary K, but I am so glad I went for the former as Mother Goose is quite possibly the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. The vibe is modern with a slight rustic twist; think exposed brick work, neutral tones, and lots of wood. As we were only staying for one night, I decided to upgrade our room from a standard double to one of the suites. We had so much space. From the biggest, comfiest bed I've ever slept in, to a lovely seating area, and an open bathroom with an enormous tub. Our room looked out onto the city's central square and the staff were extremely helpful. We only had about 12 hours in our room which was such a shame because the hotel was beautiful. As affordable boutiques hotels go, I don't think Mother Goose can be beaten.

Ganzenmarkt 26, 3512 GE Utrecht, Netherlands
Rooms from €110

Perfect Dutch pancakes for breakfast
Pancakes are synonymous with The Netherlands, and the cheese and bacon ones at organic cafe Gys make the perfect breakfast. Gys is a lovely space; bright and airy with ample seating, it's the perfect location for breakfast, lunch, or a coffee stop.

Voorstraat 77, 3512 AL Utrecht, Netherlands
Open 10am - 9:30pm daily

Climb the tallest church tower in the Netherlands
Utrecht's gothic Dom Tower stands proud over the city in all it's 112m high glory. If you join a tour you can climb the 465 steps to the top for bracing views over the city. We didn't manage to do this as our timings didn't quite work out but I hear it's absolutely worth the effort. Dating back to the 14th century, the tower was once part of the city's cathedral but a hurricane blew done most of the building in 1674. North of the tower, a row of paving stones mark the location of the original cathedral. The tower is iconic and once you see it up close it's easy to realise why it's Utrecht's most famous landmark. The area surrounding the tower is charming; cobbled streets, double tiered canals, and the cutest narrow houses.

Domplein 21, 3512 JC Utrecht, Netherlands
Open 11am - 5pm Tuesday to Saturday
Midday to 5pm Sunday
Tours on the hour (€9 for adults)

Miffy Mayhem!
A big reason for me wanting to visit Utrecht was to visit the home of Dick Bruna, the creator of Miffy. The cute bunny first appeared in 1955, in a picture book based on a story Bruna had told his son. Miffy is adored universally, especially in Japan, and Utrecht, the birth place and home of Bruna for 40 years has done a wonderful job of celebrating it's success. Bruna's studio is now located in the Centraal Museum* and it is here you can find out about the life of Bruna and how the character was developed.

Agnietenstraat 1, 3512 XA Utrecht, Netherlands
Open 11am - 5pm daily (except Monday)

Across the road you'll find the Miffy Museum, which is basically a Miffy themed indoor playground. I felt a little silly walking around without having a kid of my own but it was nice to see Miffy's world brought to life. Entry is included with the Centraal Museum ticket but you need to book a time slot as the museum can get very busy.

Agnietenstraat 2, 3512 XB Utrecht, Netherlands
Open 10am - 5pm daily (except Monday)

North of the city you'll find a Miffy sculpture (Nijntje Pleintje) which was created by Bruna's son, Marc.

1e Achterstraat 1, 3512 VL Utrecht, Netherlands

Not too far from the sculpture is the Miffy Traffic Light, where the rabbit shaped lights and a rainbow pedestrian crossing will help you across the road. It's pretty random but also quite cute.

Sint Jacobsstraat 1A, 3511 Utrecht, Netherlands

A spot of lunch
Steve and I didn't have firm plans for lunch so when a local mentioned that city centre Rabarber was his favourite place to eat we decided to take his advice and mosey on over come the afternoon. The restaurant, called rhubarb in English, serves all day breakfast, lunch, and drinks. The menu changes depending on what's in season, and they try to support local, and sustainable businesses where possible. The menu is eclectic and I can very much recommend the Turkish eggs which were delicious and the perfect size for lunch when all you need is a little pick-me-up.

Zadelstraat 20, 3511 LV Utrecht, Netherlands
Open various times daily (except Monday)

Shop till you drop throughout the city
Utrecht is fantastic for shopping, there are so many independent businesses and interesting boutiques scattered across the city that you could spend an entire day just checking out the shops.

Slightly north of the central square, you'll find the area Breedstraatbuurt which is a haven for fashion, design, and everything in between. Studio Ayqido (Jansveld 39) is a small boutique run by a Dutch couple who make their own Japanese inspired clothing. The colour palette is predominately black and white and very androgynous in design. Showcasing independent international designers, The Domestic Botanist (Jansveld 49) stocks a range of styles for women. Many of the styles are feminine with a contemporary twist so do pop in if you're on the lookout for something a little different. Plato (Voorstraat 35) is the local record shop. It stocks new releases and second hand gems so be prepared to spend a bit of time browsing as there's a lot on offer. Puha (Voorstraat 48) is a lovely store that stocks all manner of items, from clothing, footwear, and interiors. Everything is made by local designers and the owners have even produced an independent guide to Utrecht so make sure you pop in to pick one up to see what else is in the area. Revenge (Voorstraat 6) sells clothing for men and women and whilst the style isn't strictly street wear, some of the brands to edge on that direction.

Heading into the central core of Utrecht you'll find my favourite Dutch concept store, Hutspot (Vinkenburgstraat 19), it's full of the usual Scandinavian lead fashion and lifestyle. Daen's (Minrebroederstraat 3) is another city centre concept store that specialises in Dutch and Scandinavian labels for men and women, plus there's a lovely cafe on site for a coffee stop. Daen's also has one hotel room, yes you read right, just one room. It's more of a bed and breakfast as there isn't even a reception. Maybe next time I visit we'll stay here. Nearby Live Today (Minrebroederstraat 6) is a nice furniture and lifestyle shop with a strong focus on sustainability. Swordfish and Friend (Oudkerkhof 43) is a small curated record shop. Workshop of Wonders (Domstraat 25) specialise in retro and mid century furniture, it's a really great shop if you're interested in design.

If you head a little south you'll come across the street Zadelstraat where's there a ton of great shopping options. Quadrat (Zadelstraat 11) is a Scandinavian fashion lifestyle shop, Nukuhiva (Zadelstraat 36) sells fair trade clothing, Spruyt and Ko (Zadelstraat 41) sells a wide range of women's clothing, All the Luck in the World (Zadelstraat 15) is perfect for jewellery, lifestyle pieces, and gifts, and nearby Cris (Mariaplaats 3-A) is good for men's fashion.

Heading further south along the Oudegracht canal you'll come across Waar (Lijnmarkt 21) which is a good option for gifts. Cacao (Oudegracht 179) a deliciously delightful chocolate shop, and Jason King (Oudegracht 201) a boutique that specialises in small independent labels for men and women. Cross over the canal and keep heading south and you'll stumble across even more shops. Emma B. (Oudegracht 218) specialises in Scandinavian home and design pieces, Hinderickx en Winderickx (Oudegracht 234) is a charming second-hand bookshop, Vaen (Oudegracht 246) sells vintage clothing, and Things I Like Things I Love (Oudegracht 364) is great for contemporary fashion and lifestyle pieces.

Right in the south of the city, next to the Centraal and Miffy Museum, you'll find another handful of delightful shopping gems. Mooi en Bell (Twijnstraat 37) is the go to place for charming interior pieces,De Bierverteller (Twijnstraat 47) is an excellent craft beer shop that specialises in Dutch brands,Transit (Twijnstraat 36) is another fashion store, and It all starts with a postcard (Twijnstraat 38) is perfect for gifts and cards.

Cafe culture
The Netherlands really excel when it comes to cafes and Utrecht is no exception. No matter where you are in the city, there's always a place to great a cup of something hot and rest your feet. Right in the south of Utrecht you'll find KEEK (Twijnstraat 23), a modern and airy cafe that does lunch, sweet treats, and plenty of things to drink. A short work north, along the Oudegracht canal, will bring you to De Keuken van Keek (Oudegracht 362), an outpost of KEEK that serves drinks and smaller edible things to takeaway. Further north, and closer to the city centre is Blackbird Coffee and Vintage (Oudegracht 222), a cute little cafe that makes the perfect canal side stop when you've had a long day of exploring. North of the city centre you'll find The Village Coffee and Music (Voorstraat 46), a fantastic cosy cafe that doubles up as a record shop as well.

The perfect chip
The Netherlands make pretty great fries and Frietwinkel in the city centre is no exception. Frietwinkel started life as a food stall and now they've opened several shops across the country, they even won an award for the best fries in 2015. The fries are perfectly crisp and taste amazing, plus they're made with organic potatoes. A small portion is the perfect afternoon snack and make sure you order some mayo as it's the perfect dip.

Vinkenburgstraat 10, 3512 AB Utrecht, Netherlands
Open various times daily

An Indonesian feast for dinner
From the early 17th century, up until the Second World War, Indonesia was a Dutch colony, known as the Dutch East Indies. There is still a huge population of Indonesians living in the Netherlands today, and Indonesian restaurants are very prevalent throughout the country. Steve and I are visiting Indonesia for the first time this year so we were excited to try some traditional food. Restaurant Blauw, a little south of the city centre was our location for dinner and our meal couldn't have been more enjoyable. Before our visit, a Dutch family friend told us about the rijsttafel, or rice table, experience where you receive a huge assortment of little dishes. Whilst the concept is entirely colonial, the dishes served are traditionally Indonesian,  and include the likes of sateh, rendang, nasi goreng, and many other things I can't remember the name of. The meal was delicious and a great way for us to experience many different styles of Indonesia cooking.

It's worth reading up on the history of rijsttafel as the idea behind the meal is not as simple as a cornucopia of Indonesia dishes. The concept was introduced as a way for the Dutch to enjoy a range of dishes, and to show off the rich cultures of their colony. While a tasting platter might sound harmless, when you factor in that this was usually served at banquets by lines of servants or sarong-clad waitresses, you're beginning to enter the world of exploitation, especially as Indonesians consider this style of eating extremely extravagant. When Indonesia won independence in 1945 the rijsttafel was rejected from Indonesian culture and is almost entirely found outside of the Indonesia these days.

Springweg 64 3511 Utrecht, Netherlands
Open various times daily

The perfect location for a nightcap
As we only had one night in Utrecht we weren't able to check out a huge range of bars but I really enjoyed Kafé België. This popular bar bar serves an enormous selection of local and international beer and punters spill out onto the adjacent canal. The location is lovely as the twinkling lights of the city bounce off the picturesque canal.

Oudegracht 196, 3511 NR Utrecht, Netherlands
Open various times daily

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  1. Your hotel looks so beautiful and stylish! Love that Utrecht is the home of Miffy! x

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