Forget Amsterdam, Stay here instead

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Why Amsterdam is on Most people's List

I think Amsterdam is a “must see” for a lot of people because of the popularity of the coffeehouse and red light district scene. 

Apart from that, Amsterdam is known for its many canals which actually serve a very important purpose. 26% of the Netherlands is under sea level. I find this astonishing and worrisome at the same time. The canals purpose is to dissipate the water that otherwise would have washed away the coastal cities and most of the countryside.

If the canals are what you are seeking, there are many more cities and towns outside of the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam to see with more character and charm.


Only 46km southeast of Amsterdam lies Utrecht. It is the 4th most populous city in the Netherlands and one of our favorite cities so far in Europe. Utrecht is the picturesque, canal-laden, beautiful city you are really looking for. 

As a university town, there’s a certain energy about it. It is full of bikes, cobblestone streets, squares, markets, shopping, and restaurants lining the canals both on top and water side.

As the Dam Square and Palace is the historical center of Amsterdam, Utrecht is towered by Dom Tower and St. Martin’s Cathedral. Dom Square became a square when the cathedral was partially destroyed by an tornado in 1674. As you walk around the square, colored stones indicate the original building outline.

If museums are your thing, Utrecht hosts the railway museum (Het Spoorwegmuseum) and Museum Speelklok. Museum Speelklok is dedicated to automated musical instruments throughout history. 

Enjoy a nice meal canal side in the many restaurants that sit in the coves underneath the streets. Or you can checkout the shopping mall, Hoog Catharijne, which is the only mall in the world you can get to by canal. Go ahead, dock your boat and head in for some shopping. Within the mall, there’s see-though glass fountains that view right into the canals below.

Hoog Catharijne Mall above canal

How to Get to Utrecht

Utrecht Centraal is actually the largest train station in the Netherlands. It has more then 1000 departures a day! With so much traffic, there’s no doubt it is one of the easiest cities to get to in the region.

Photo by Alp Ancel on Unsplash

If you fly into Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam’s airport), you can take an intercity train to Utrecht Centraal. It should take about 30 minutes and costs about $11. 

Utrecht Centraal is a stop on OBB nightjet trains coming from Vienna, Innsbruck, Zurich and Munich. Aside from Nightjet, you can easily get to Utrecht from most of Western Europe.

Day trips from Utrecht

There’s so many more places in the Netherlands to see. Within an hour train ride, you can visit Gouda, and Castle De Haar among most other large cities. Lucky for us, The Netherlands isn’t very large and with trains everywhere, it’s pretty quick to get places.

Windmill in Gouda
Stadhuis van Gouda

Gouda, the city, is a sight not to be missed and you must buy Gouda, the cheese. It’s actually a city requirement, JK but it should be! Check out the city center where the city hall stands towering over the city. 

Castle De Haar; Photo by Sydney Brouwer on Unsplash

Another quick day trip is Castle De Haar. The castle isn’t the easiest to get too, but worth a visit if you can. The best way (without driving) is by bike but it’s quite a long ride coming in at an hour (13km) from Utrecht. The next best is by train & Bus. Take a train to Vleuten, then take bus 127* to Haarzuilens, Brink then walk 15 minutes. The castle costs €18 for adults, Children 4-12 €12.5, Children under 4 free. 

Are you Convinced?

I hope you chose to stay outside Amsterdam. If it isn’t Utrecht, then maybe Den Haag, Rotterdam, or even a smaller town! The train system, NS makes it so easy to get around the Netherlands. Feel free to immerse yourself in the Dutch culture. Grab a bike, a tulip and a Stroopwafel!

If you are interested to see how much we spent while in Utrecht, check out our expense report.

6 thoughts on “Forget Amsterdam, Stay here instead”

  1. Wow I have never been to Utrecht but I really love the photos it looks so nice. I went to Amsterdam and loved it but I have wanted to explore the Netherlands more. Thanks for sharing this !:)

    1. Absolutely!!! We loved the Netherlands. Were able to go to Amsterdam too because the train from Utrecht wasn’t long at all! Our Airbnb included bicycles, so it really felt authentic. 10/10 would recommend!

  2. University towns/cities are often quite vibrant and interesting to travel to and spend some time wandering around. Utrecht sounds like it has a lot to offer and could well be an alternative (or addition) to an Amsterdam-focused trip. Great post!

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