Why You Should Visit Utrecht.
Often passed over in favor of better known Amsterdam, Utrecht remains relatively untouched by tourism. But the small city in the center of The Netherlands has everything Amsterdam has, without the crowds and with lower prices.
Utrecht is worth a visit for anyone who’s dreamed about strolling past charming canals, exploring cute boutiques and restaurants and, for those who are into that, trying that famous Dutch weed. And, Utrecht’s central location makes it the perfect base to explore the rest of the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, there is one thing that cannot be guaranteed in Utrecht: sunny weather. The Dutch weather is notoriously fickle with over 800 mm (31.5 inches) of rain a year. Even in July and August sun is not a given. Luckily, after living in Utrecht for 8 years, I know the best places to hide from the rain that aren’t your hotel room.
These are My Top 5 Picks for Things to Do in Utrecht When it Rains:
1. Visit a Museum
Sure, there is no Van Gogh or Rijksmuseum in Utrecht, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of art and history to admire.
The Centraal Museum has an impressive collection of modern art that will keep you occupied for most of the day. If you’re a fan of De Stijl, the minimalist style of Mondriaan and Rietveld, then a visit to the Rietveld Schröderhuis is a must. In 2017 Utrecht celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of this art and design style. And, the Rietveld Schröderhuis was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.
Alternatively, the Catherijneconvent is a former nunnery that has been turned into a museum with a wealth of Medieval art and information on the history of Christianity in the Netherlands.
If you are traveling to Utrecht with kids, you can’t miss a trip to the Spoorweg Museum. This Museum is dedicated to the history of train travel in the Netherlands with fun, interactive exhibitions and historic trains to climb into.
2. Climb the Dom Tower
The first thing you’ll spot when you arrive in Utrecht is the tip of the Dom Tower. It is the tallest building in the city at 112 meters. Climbing the 465 steps is a bit of a challenge, but the fun guided tour makes it absolutely worth it. And even on cloudy days, the view from the top is incredible.
Next to the Dom tower you find the St. Martin’s Cathedral (or Dom church), which was once connected to the tower. Part of the cathedral was destroyed in a storm and never rebuilt. The remaining structure is impressive and beautiful on its own. So sprint across the square to hide from the rain and admire this Gothic church from the inside.
Like many European cities, Utrecht was built on the remains of a Roman settlement. If you are interested to know more about what lies below, buy yourself a ticket for DOMunder. The tour paints an interesting picture of the history of Utrecht and even takes you underneath the Dome Square to look at the archaeological site.
3. Cozy Up in a Café
There is no better way to enjoy the rainy weather than from inside a cozy café or restaurant. Luckily, Utrecht is full of them. Try the coffee and cakes at independent coffee houses like The Village, De Ontdekking, Blackbird and De Bakkerswinkel. The high tea at De Bakkerswinkel is especially good!
The Netherlands is definitely a beer country and the darker brews lend themselves perfectly to cold and rainy weather. Taste the excellent Dutch beers in one of the many bars around the city, where you’ll find people hanging out any day of the week. If you are interested in trying local craft beers, go to Drie Dorstige Herten, Beers & Barrels or Cafe Voortuin. Don’t forget to order some of the typical Dutch beer snacks like bitterballen. De Voortuin even lets you create your own selection of delicious fried snacks.
4. Catch a Movie or Listen to Live Music
No better reason to catch a viewing of that great new movie than a rainy evening.
Utrecht is blessed with two excellent art house theatres: Louis Hartlooper Complex and Springhaver, where you can enjoy the best new films inside a cozy art deco cinema.
Movies and tv in the Netherlands are never dubbed but subtitled so you can watch everything in the original language. If you’d prefer to see a blockbuster, go to the brand new Kinepolis, a giant movie theatre next to the Central Station.
Music lovers will enjoy the programming at Tivoli Vredenburg, with almost daily classical, jazz and pop concerts. They also have cool themed parties if you want to dance the night away to 80’s, 90’s or 00’s music.
5. Go Shopping in Utrecht
Utrecht draws a lot of people from the region every weekend, looking to shop their hearts out.
The city center is home to both big brands and small designer boutiques. Wander along the Oudegracht dipping into the shops from Dutch and international brands. If vintage is more your style, try the Voorstraat and the lower end of the Oudegracht where you’ll surely find a few second-hand gems.
Bonus: 3 Things to Do in Utrecht When it’s Sunny
Although rain is a common thing in Utrecht, the weather can change just like that. The Dutch weather gods may even bless you with some unexpected bright days in the fall or winter.
So here a few suggestions for things to do if you are lucky enough to get a sunny day in Utrecht:
1. Take a Boat Tour
The canals of Utrecht lend themselves perfectly to exploring the city by boat. There are guided boat tours you can go on as well as themed boat rides, such as a tapas or a BBQ boat trip. The Dutch call this leisurely day on the water “bootje varen”.
More active travelers can also opt for a canoe instead of a powerboat. There is even a canoe pub crawl along the Oudegracht!
2. Lounge in the Park
The sporadic appearance of the sun makes the Dutch even more thankful for good weather. At the first sign of sunshine, everyone spills into the parks and onto the terraces. Copy the locals and hop over to Wilhelminapark or Griftpark. Be sure to stop by the supermarket for some food and drinks and have a picknick while you lounge in the sun.
If you want to stroll rather than sit, take bus 12 or 28 to the Botanical Gardens at the University Campus. The gardens are lovely and rather big with flora from around the world. Unfortunately, the Botanical Gardens are closed from December to March.
3. Hit up a Festival
Summer in the Netherlands means festivals. The festival season runs roughly from April to October, with the peak in July and August.
From cultural events to multi-day music fests, there is something for everyone. In the past few years, there has been a boom in food festivals for everything from sushi to locals beers. So make sure to check what events are going on during your trip to Utrecht. Visit-Utrecht offers a good list of events.
If you can, there is one festival to top all others in Utrecht: King’s Day. On this national holiday, the Dutch celebrate the monarchy by drinking beer, listening to music and dressing in orange. It’s the biggest party of the year so make sure you don’t miss it!
Also read: 10 of the Best Annual Events in Amsterdam – Including King’s Day in Amsterdam
Conclusion: Plan a Trip to Utrecht, no Matter What the Weather is Like!
As you can see, there’s plenty to do in Utrecht when it rains, as well as when the sun comes out.
There are enough indoor activities and if all else fails, invest in a good raincoat and boots. The locals don’t let the cold and rain deter them from going out and riding their bike, so why should you? After all, Utrecht in the rain is the most authentically Dutch experience you can have.
Map of the Best Things to Do in Utrecht When it Rains and When it’s Sunny
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