One Day in Utrecht Itinerary: A Day Trip from Amsterdam

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by Olivia Ellis

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Planning a one day in Utrecht itinerary is one of the best ways to see a bit of the Netherlands beyond the capital. Just an hour by train outside of Amsterdam, Utrecht is the perfect day trip from the Dutch capital.

While Amsterdam is a thriving city with vibrant nightlife and culture, Utrecht is the close and friendly neighbor giving a deeper look into everyday life in the Netherlands.

Home to the largest train station in the country (Utrecht Centraal), a cyclist’s paradise without intimidation, and a picturesque medieval city center, you’ll discover that Utrecht is the Dutch city you may have never heard of but undoubtedly will fall in love with.

How Many Days in Utrecht?

As the 4th largest city in the Netherlands, Utrecht is a mid-size city with a deep history, culture, and things to do. With that being said, how many days in Utrecht are ideal to do the Dutch city justice?

The city center of Utrecht is quite small, with suburban and residential areas making up a large area of the city.

With that being said, if you’re hoping to see the main sights of Utrecht and get a good understanding and visit of the city, one day in Utrecht is enough.

Moreover, if you’re planning on visiting Utrecht and would like to have more of a holistic experience, getting stuck into local life, I suggest 2 days in the city. This way, you’ll be able to explore the city center as well as wander into more residential areas or nearby areas.

Canals of Utrecht
Canals of Utrecht

Getting To & Around Utrecht

Getting to Utrecht from Amsterdam is extremely quick and convenient. The best mode of transport between the two cities, as well as other Dutch destinations, is by train.

Trains run frequently between Amsterdam and Utrecht, with direct connections available. The journey takes around 20-30 minutes, and you can catch a train from Amsterdam Centraal, Amsterdam Amstel, or Amsterdam Bijlmer ArenA stations. You can view train schedules here.

Another option for transportation to Utrecht is to take a bus, although ticket prices are around and transportation time is a bit longer than the train, at around 30-50 minutes depending on traffic and time of day. You can view bus schedules here.

Another important factor for your visit to Utrecht is deciding how you’ll get around the city.

Fortunately, getting around Utrecht is relatively easy due to its compact size and well-connected transportation network. Utrecht has an efficient public transportation system that includes buses and trams.

You have the option of using an OV-chipkaart (public transport smart card) or purchasing a single-use ticket to travel on buses and trams.

If you mainly plan on exploring the city center during your Utrecht day trip, I think that walking is the ideal way to see the city. Utrecht’s city center is wonderfully pedestrian-friendly, and many of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other.

Walking is also a great way to explore the historic streets, canals, and picturesque medieval and modern neighborhoods.

Finally, the local’s favourite mode of transportation in Utrecht — cycling. If you are visiting Amsterdam and really would like to take a spin on the local cycling scene but are too intimidated by the busy bike lanes, Utrecht is perfect.

While Utrecht is still a busy city with many people and a lot going on, the atmosphere is much more laid back, with locals being more forgiving if you’re a visitor looking to learn the ways of the bike culture in the Netherlands.

You can rent a bicycle from various rental shops or make use of the public bicycle-sharing systems, with bicycles all around the city, from cargo bikes to simple bicycles and electric bicycles.

The city has dedicated bike lanes and paths, making it safe and convenient to cycle around, and honestly, just cycling around the city between the center and relaxed residential areas makes for a wonderful day out in Utrecht.

St. Martin's Cathedral
St. Martin’s Cathedral

1-Day Utrecht Itinerary

Less than half an hour away from Amsterdam by train, Utrecht is the quintessential Dutch city to visit.

On your day trip to Utrecht, you’ll make your way through the medieval and traditional Dutch architecture, get lost in the culture, art, and quaint canals of Utrecht, and take a bite into an incredible local food scene. You can take a walking tour or a bike tour if you prefer to explore with a guide.

Utrecht Historic Center

A great spot to begin any trip to Utrecht is in the city’s stunning historic center. Compared to other European city centers, Utrecht’s is rather compact, allowing you to see all of the magical city center during a day trip without needing to rush.

Despite its small size, Utrecht’s historic center is a captivating blend of picturesque canals, charming streets, and remarkable architecture, giving a special experience in this friendly Dutch city. Spending time wandering around this area is one of the best things to do in Utrecht.

Dom Tower (Domtoren)

Easily the most recognisable monument in Utrecht and the tallest church tower in the Netherlands, The Dom Tower, an architectural masterpiece of the Netherlands, graces Utrecht’s skyline. Standing 112 meters tall in the center of Domplein Square, it offers breathtaking views of the city.

Built in the Gothic style, the Dom Tower symbolizes the city’s rich history and serves as a reminder of Utrecht’s cultural significance. For a unique experience, I suggest taking the opportunity to climb the 465 stairs to the top for unforgettable, panoramic views of the city.

A standard adult ticket to enter Dom Tower is €13.50, with reduced and free ticket options available. Tickets include access to the lower sections of the tower along with the upper section.

Dom Tower
Dom Tower

St. Martin’s Cathedral (Dom Kerk)

Next up during your time in Utrecht, I suggest visiting St. Martin’s Cathedral, also known as Dom Kerk, a church adjacent to the Dom Tower.

Dom Kerk is a magnificent Gothic masterpiece in Utrecht with a stunning interior featuring intricate stained glass windows, ornate chapels, and a rich history dating back centuries to the middle ages.

The church is open at varying times depending on the date of the week as well as the time of year, so make sure to check the daily hours in advance before visiting.

University Quarter

Utrecht University, established in 1636, is a prestigious public research institution located in Utrecht. Situated in the lively University Quarter, this area of the city is brimming with charming and distinct corners, showcasing a side of the local culture that is not to be missed.

The University Quarter features a mix of modern and historic architecture, with charming shops such as vintage shops and trendy boutiques. Also located in the University District of the city in Janskerkhof Square, you’ll find The Janskerkhof Market.

Known for its lively atmosphere and diverse offerings, you can explore stalls selling fresh produce, flowers, local crafts, clothing, and more. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in the local culture, interact with friendly vendors, and discover unique items.

Much of the architecture in the University Quarter is some of the oldest in the city, with a unique blend of Gothic, Neoclassical, Renaissance Revival, and Modern architecture styles. The blend of architecture styles in the area shows a comprehensive past of the city, along with idyllic corners and photo opportunities.

Utrecht University Building
Utrecht University Building

Coffee and Apple Ball at Graaf Floris

Wandering through the enchanting city center of Utrecht in the first half of your one day in Utrecht will likely have left you ready for a sweet pick-me-up. Herein lies the perfect opportunity to try my favorite local sweet treat, apple ball, or “appel bollen”.

Dutch appel bollen are a traditional treat consisting of whole apples encased in dough and deep-fried until golden and crispy, stuffed with a cinnamon and sugar blend.

These treats are truly delicious and best enjoyed somewhere local such as Graaf Floris, a cosy traditional cafe canalside, offering great views, delicious coffee, and possibly the best appel bollen in the city.

Wander the Utrecht Canals

The canals of Utrecht are the lifeblood and soul of the city, offering a charming and romantic atmosphere. When searching for what to do in Utrecht for one day, make a point to explore the Oudegracht and Nieuwegracht canals, lined with cozy cafes, boutique shops, and bustling markets.

Another way of seeing the city through the canals, is to take a leisurely boat tour to discover hidden gems and picturesque views of the city’s architecture.

Taking a boat tour is an ideal and budget-friendly way to witness this symbolic part of the Netherlands but at a fraction of the price you would pay to do a similar boat tour in Amsterdam.

Another option is to take part in a walking tour of the city. With walking tours, knowledgeable guides will share fascinating stories, facts, and insights about Utrecht’s landmarks, architecture, and traditions giving a unique insight into the historic city.

Enjoy a relaxing stroll along the promenades, soak in the vibrant ambience and admire the beautifully restored wharf cellars.

Unlike Amsterdam, the canals of Utrecht consist of two levels, with the bottom level named the Wharf Cellars. The wharf cellars of Utrecht are historic spaces where goods were once loaded and unloaded.

Today, many of them have been transformed into unique bars, restaurants, and shops, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich trading past.

Oudegracht Canal
Oudegracht Canal

Dinner at Humphrey’s

For dinner, a wonderful option to take in the surrounding scenery while eating history within the Wharf Cellars is to dine at Humphrey’s, a local restaurant in the heart of Utrecht offering a warm and inviting atmosphere.

Humphrey’s is known for its fixed-price three-course menu, which provides a variety of delicious dishes to choose from. The menu features a combination of international and Dutch cuisine, prepared with fresh and high-quality ingredients for an affordable price.

Trajectum Lumen

If your Utrecht itinerary brings you into the evening hours when the sun has set, one of the most unique and exciting ways to see Utrecht and explore the city is with the artistic light route, Trajectum Lumen.

Trajectum Lumen is a free, captivating light art installation in the heart of Utrecht that is a distinctive display within the city and the perfect way to end your day.

This nighttime experience takes you on a mesmerizing journey through the city’s canals and streets, highlighting its landmarks with enchanting light installations. Follow the designated route to witness the stunning transformation of bridges, buildings, and hidden corners into works of art.

Trajectum Lumen showcases Utrecht’s beauty in a unique and immersive way, offering a magical experience that will leave you awe-inspired. Trajectum Lumen begins after dark and the route of the installations begins in the central point of the city, Domplein Square.

From there, you’ll want to look for the starting signs for the route which then will lead you through the light exhibits in their entirety throughout the city.

Have More Time?

If you have more than one day in the city and are looking to further enhance your trip, there’s still much to see and explore, both in Utrecht and in other nearby areas.

Utrecht has a wide array of unique museums where you can learn more about the history of Utrecht that can be worth visiting if you have a longer period of time:

The Centraal Museum, located in the historic center of Utrecht is a wonderful option. The museum features a wide collection of art from artists worldwide along with a dense collection of art from local Dutch artists spanning from the Middle Ages to contemporary works, including Dutch Golden Age paintings and exhibitions.

For architecture enthusiasts, the Rietveld Schröder House is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important part of architectural history. The house itself was designed by renowned Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld in 1924 and is an iconic example of De Stijl architecture that at the time was beyond its’ years in the current architectural style.

The house showcases Rietveld’s innovative use of space, geometric forms, and primary colors and offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of modernist architecture and its impact on design.

If you’re keen to spend time in one of the city’s many green spaces to take an airy break during your stay, one of the best parks in Utrecht is the Griftpark.

Located in the northern part of the city, this spacious park offers a peaceful retreat from the urban bustle, along with outstanding panoramic views of the city thanks to its elevated spot in Utrecht.

And if you’re a fan of fairytale-like castles, then make sure to venture a bit outside the city center to visit De Haar Castle. Though it was only built in the 19th century, its medieval style and beautiful grounds are certainly impressive.

For those looking to venture further out into a nearby city/town, I highly suggest visiting the medieval city of Gouda as a day trip from Utrecht, just about 20 minutes by train from Utrecht.

Gouda is a charming city that offers a rich blend of history, culture, and delicious cheese that, yes, is even more delectable when you taste it from its source! While in Gouda, visit the historic City Hall and the magnificent St. Janskerk, famous for its stained glass windows.

Explore the picturesque canals, enjoy a few cheese tastings, and savor the city’s delightful atmosphere and medieval city center.

Historical Town Hall in Gouda
Historical Town Hall in Gouda

Where to Stay in Utrecht

Slapen onder de Dom – This cosy B&B is a great option for mid-range visitors to Utrecht. Situated on one of the city’s many canals, they have a range of rooms on offer, a great location and a wonderful breakfast available for guests each morning.

Cozy Pillow – If you’re looking for something a bit more upmarket while staying in Utrecht, then this hip hotel is a great choice. Centrally located close to all the city has to offer, they have a number of bright and comfortable rooms available.

Hostel Strowis – This highly-rated hostel in the center of Utrecht is a great place to stay for budget and solo visitors to this Dutch city. Located close to all of the top attractions, they have both dorms and private rooms along with great common areas and self-catering facilities.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Utrecht hotels!

Utrecht is one of the most delightful cities in the Netherlands, which deserves much more attention than it gets under the shadow of Amsterdam. Spending time in this city full of both old and new with friendly locals is truly a highlight of any trip to the Netherlands.

Are you planning to visit Utrecht in one day? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Olivia is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Michigan, USA, she is currently living in Athens, Greece exploring Europe and filmmaking. When she’s not travelling or writing, Olivia can be found cooking delicious new recipes from around the world, reading, and spending time outdoors.

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