The train system in the Netherlands (and in Europe in general) is so streamlined and accessible. Bill and I would be foolish not to take advantage of this effortless mode of transportation to explore as many nearby cities as we can.
Saturday we took a 50 minute train from Eindhoven to Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands. It is about 50K (31 miles) south of Amsterdam, making it a quick 25 minute train ride from Amsterdam for any tourists who are visiting the Dam but looking to check out another Dutch city during their stay.
One of Holland’s oldest cities, Utrecht has a medieval old town with a Gothic Cathedral and historic 14th century bell tower. We even discovered a hidden gem between the Dom Tower and St. Martin’s Cathedral; the Pandhof, a picturesque monastery garden ornate with flourishing plants and greenery. Some say it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful enclosed gardens in Holland.
One of the city’s most unique features is its split-level canals. The Oudegracht canal “old canal” is a major canal that runs through the city. Pedestrians and bikers can wander along the higher level which is lined with shops. You can find anything from name brand stores to antique shops, art galleries, and vintage and secondhand stores. The lower-level of the canal, formerly 13th century warehouses, is now occupied by cafes, restaurants and beer pubs where you can enjoy authentic European terrace culture.
Given the unusually warm late September day, we took full advantage of al fresco dining by the canal, meandering through the city, and popping in and out of beer cafes. We ate lunch at Stadskasteel Oudean, a 13th century historic castle in the heart of city center and only a short walk from Utrecht Central train station. The restaurant is situated at the castle’s first floor and we dined on the wharf with great views of people kayaking, canoeing and boating by. Though the food and drinks were tasty, we did have a bit of a “bee situation.” It’s fairly difficult to enjoy your meal while a family a bees hovers over your table and food. Yikes!
And of course, the best part of the day were the drinks. We visited two special beer cafes that I would highly recommend!
One of the most highly rated cafes in the Netherlands is located in city center and is housed in a the former clandestine church Mary Minor. Now modeled after a traditional Belgian-style biercafe, the old church’s vaulted ceilings and open floor plan, provide a unique atmosphere to imbibe a variety of Belgian beers. The only problem is deciding which beer to try! I went with the house Tripel, very tasty. My husband also read that the owner’s favorite beer is the Bootjes Bier, a mild and balanced amber-red ale finished with ginger and coriander. Next time (and there will be a next time, I will give this one a try).
We didn’t eat here, but in the future we definitely will! Cafe Olivier is the type of place where you could go with friends or family and sit for hours, maybe even feel bold enough to play one of the various games they offer for entertainment. Who knows, next time maybe I will even try to sit upstairs by the old organ.
Located on the lower-level of the Oudegracht canal, you might need a clever eye to spot this narrow but deep dwelling that accommodates a beer pub for all to enjoy. Today’s Utrecht trip was all about the drinks, but all the places we visited had food menus that will bring us back. If you come visit and expect a table, it is best to reserve ahead. Bill and I were able to post-up at the bar and enjoy a drink and some peanuts, but this is clearly a place where you come with friends, get a table and slug down some pints. Beers and Barrels has several high-tables with their own tap. The “Taptafels” need to be reserved ahead but are perfect for a big group or celebration. You can pour your own beer straight from the tap and you pay per kilogram of beer consumed — dangerous!
If you don’t feel like filling up on beer, they also offer a nice selection of wine, gin & tonics and “not-so gin & tonics” aka other cocktails. My obsession with ginger beer got the best of me, so I went with the Life Less Ordinary, comprised of Bulliet bourbon, Thomas Henry ginger beer and fresh mint. I slugged it own and had to exercise some self-control so as not to order another! Bill has been really into a budding Amsterdam-based brewery called “Two Chefs Brewing” and he was pleased to find their Kinky Koos saison which has lots of flavor, spice, ginger and basil.
Overall, we had a fantastic Saturday exploring and drinking our way through Utrecht. It’s an easy day trip and perfect for a walking tour along the canal. If you’re visiting the Netherlands and looking for a romantic, beautiful and cozy city similar to Amsterdam, but smaller and without too many tourists, you now know where to go!