'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.
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.
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
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.