'ad it with Amsterdam? OutUK's Adrian Gillan reaches Nether-parts other guides don't reach in Holland's nearby historic and cultural gem of Utrecht.
Utrecht is the capital, and most populous city, of the Dutch province of Utrecht; and the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, with a population of around 300,000 - double if you include its surrounds.

Utrecht University is the Netherlands' largest uni - so town's throbbing with young student cuties nearly all year round.

Due to the city's geographically central position within the country - as "Holland's heartland" - it is also an important transport hub, as evidenced by its vast railway station. A mere ½-hour by train direct from Schiphol Airport - and just 20 minutes from Amsterdam's Central Station - it is easily accessible, either on its own account, or in combination with the admittedly better-known Dutch capital.

Settled since at least Roman times, Utrecht has been the religious epicentre of the Netherlands since the 8th Century and is currently the home of the Archbishop of Utrecht, the most important Dutch Roman Catholic leader; of the main protestant group; and of countless churches, many of which throw open their doors for concerts, late summer, during the Kerken Kijken Festival.

SIGHTS

The city's medieval core is well-preserved, clustered around the Dom Tower - at 112 metres, the nation's tallest spire. Climb its 465 steps to inspect the bells and gain your giddy bearings. It used to be attached to the nearby splendid St. Martin's Cathedral until a Tornado hit town in 1674, crashing right through, and inadvertently creating an infamous former gay cruising grounds amongst the rubble. Note the discreet-yet-prominent, poignant plaque 'twixt tower and cathedral, commemorating cruisers who were "arrested, convicted and… strangled". Gulp. Thankfully, today's attitudes are a far cry!
Sticking to the religious theme, check out the spankingly newly-renovated and vibrant Catharijne Convent Museum - the museum for the Christian culture and art of the entire Netherlands, housed in a medieval monastery a mere spit-n-spunk from said Dom. Far from dusty, it glitters with famous pictures, ancient manuscripts, statues, altar pieces, holy robes and relics.
The Dom Tower.
You get a good overview of the broader history and culture of the city and area at the lively Centraal Museum featuring prominent regional paintings, furnishings, fashion and design - notably the work of celebrated local designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964). Don't miss the wonderfully preserved 1000-year old wooden barge; or the intricate giant-sized dollhouse!

Just across the way, pop into child-enticing Dick Bruna Huis which houses, and celebrates, the distinctly simple and direct draughtsmanship of local, still-living illustrator, Dick Bruna - perhaps best known for his much-loved long-eared cartoon bunny, Miffy.

Undoubtedly, the most relaxing way to view the city is via the hour's round trip, gliding along Utrecht's unique sunken waterways on a Canal Tour - complete with whacky commentary.

EATING, DRINKING & DANCING

And Utrecht is definitely a muncher's Mecca, boasting a plethora of modern Dutch cuisine eateries, often in unusual, atmospheric settings. Check out ambient, candle-lit Artisjok overlooking the Nieuwegracht (New Canal); take high tea (delicate cut sandwiches; scone, cream and jam; topped off with cakes, chocolate - and, of course steaming hot tea) at the swish Bis, overlooking the Oudegracht (Old Canal); or get lost in the scrumptious menu at snug and friendly Restaurant de Aal, in a long cellar which, again, opens out onto the shimmering Oudegracht.
Utrecht's student-dominated gay scene boasts three gay bars, all on the central Oudegracht; plus several nearby clubs also have weekly or monthly gay parties which attract a young crowd, and those in tow. There's normally at least one after-party on at the weekend, so do ask around.

Chueca (formerly De Wolkenkrabber) is a newly-refurbished and very lively DJ-bar for the young. Bodytalk, just over the canal, lures a generally slightly older crowd; but all sorts end up drawn in by its extra-late opening hours; and to descend its inner steps to the lower, more dancy and cruisy, U-Bar.


Getting to know the locals at a Pann night.
Mere metres away, down a canal, Rits club pulls in the queer youth, come Fridays; and there are a range of larger, monthly nights on occasional Saturdays, most notably Lux and Pann, both normally at the Tivoli de Helling, on De Helling. Check precise details on their websites.

And we fully recommend the gay-beckoning 4-star Malie Hotel on eponymous Maliestraat - a quiet residential district, a pleasant stroll just east of centre, scene and sites.

GETTING THERE

KLM fly direct to nearby Amsterdam from no fewer than 14 UK airports, for as little as £77 return, including taxes. For general info about Utrecht check out utrechtyourway.nl or holland.com

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Restaurant de Aal (Oudegracht a/d Werf 159; +31 (0) 30 233 4826; Website)
Artisjok (Nieuwegracht 33; T: +31 (0) 30 231 7494; Website)
Bis (Lijnmarkt 26; +31 (0) 30 231 5831; Website)
Lux (Tivoli de Helling, De Helling 7; no phone; Website)
Bodytalk (Oudegracht 64 ; +31 (0) 30 231 5747; Website)
Chueca (Oudegracht 47; +31 (0) 30 236 8931; Website)
Malie Hotel (Maliestraat 2; T: +31 (0) 30 231 6424; Website)
Pann (Tivoli de Helling, De Helling 7; no phone; Website)
Rits (K-Sjot, Oudegracht aan de Werf 155; no phone; Website)
U-Bar (Oudegracht 64 ; no phone; Website)

Revised January 2015.

 

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