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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The #1 mistake you're probably making in planning your trip to Holland

So, you’ve made your vacation plans: you're headed for Europe, and on your list of things to see is Amsterdam.

Wait! Stop right there.

Amsterdam?

Now, don’t get me wrong – Amsterdam is a beautiful city with loads of historical and cultural influence, a fantastic night life, and exotic sites. But what about the rest of the Netherlands?

“Is there such a thing as ‘the rest of the Netherlands’” you ask.

You’d be surprised.

While I do encourage you to visit Amsterdam, I urge you not to pass the rest of the country by.

I know back when I was living in the US, the Netherlands was never referred to as ‘the Netherlands’. It was always just ‘Amsterdam’. When my then-boyfriend told me that he lived in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I was shocked.

There’s more than just Amsterdam? I thought.

Now that I live in the Netherlands, there is no doubt in my mind that there is so much more to the country than ‘just Amsterdam’. If I were to list all the things there are to do and see in this country (small though it may be) outside of Amsterdam, this would surely become the world’s longest blog post... Period.

Instead, I want to share with you some of the wonderful things you can see in Utrecht, the city I called home for the first three years after moving to the Netherlands.

Going back all the way to 97 AD, you could definitely say that Utrecht has a rich history. The city of Utrecht was officially declared a city in June 1122. And it has the architecture to prove it.

About a 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam, Utrecht joins Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague to form the Randstad – the four largest and most influential cities in the Netherlands.

If you ever decide to visit Utrecht (which I highly recommend that you do) here are a few things you won’t want to miss:


  • Every Saturday morning from 9am till noon in the city center is a huge textile market and an all-day flower market complete with bulbs, cut flowers, and indoor and outdoor plants of all shapes, sizes, and types. A regular market is held in the Vredenburg square every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
  • Be sure to grab a Broodje Mario to satiate your hunger as you shop and take in the sights. You can only get these amazingly delicious, super-Italian, ├╝ber-filling sandwiches in the city of Utrecht. Amsterdammers come to Utrecht during the weekend specifically to indulge in a Broodje Mario.
  • Museums in the city include the Spoorweg Muesum (a super-cool train museum), Speelklok Muesum (clocks of all kinds, organs, organ grinders, you name it), Centraal Museum (modern art, Utrecht history, and various exhibitions), the home of famous Dutch architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld with some of his more popular works, the Dick Bruna House (Utrecht artist who created the little white bunny with a cross for a mouth called Nijntje - known in English as Miffy), and the Catherijneconvent Museum (former convent complete with ancient manuscripts, various artifacts, and Dutch art).
  • Hoog Catherijne is one of the only (as well as one of the largest) shopping malls in the Netherlands for those with holes in their pockets and Euros to spend.
  • The Dom Tower in Utrecht used to be joined to the beautiful Dom Church until turbulent weather destroyed the poorly-made passageway. After visiting the church and next-door cloister, head over for a tour of the tower. Tours are held in English and Dutch and the tower is a good 465-stair climb. But, if you make it all the way to the top and it happens to be a clear day, you can tell everyone that you’ve seen Amsterdam. In addition to being able to see Amsterdam from atop the tower, keep your eyes peeled for some of the rooftop decorations left for the benefit of tower visitors.
  • There are also some gorgeous castles nearby. Kasteel de Haar is a medieval castle and the largest castle in the Netherlands. It was restored from ruins in 1890 by Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt and is now open to visitors. Slot Zuylen is another medieval castle though much smaller. During the 18th century it was the home of writer Belle van Zuylen.

(Unfortunately, the Netherlands in general is not always so fantastic about providing information on their websites in English. Luckily, Yahoo! BabelFish does direct translations of websites!)

So how about adding Utrecht to your travel wish list? Or any other city in the Netherlands while you’re at it. Then you’ll be able to say that you did more than ‘just Amsterdam’. Happy travels!

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4 comments:

Megan said...

I have to agree with you! I've been to the Netherlands a few times, and though I liked Amsterdam, I just didn't find it quite as enchanting as other cities in the country. Of all the cities I've visited there, I'd definitely call Utrecht my favorite. (So much so that I'm hoping to relocate there by sometime next year!)

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I'm a foreign exchange student in Utrehct. It's wonderful. A bike city done proper.

Angry Birds said...

My Dream Destination...Netherlands

Green said...

I have been doing much research due to the possibility of me coming to the area for the first time, for my job. I have a deeper purpose, however, as my mother and her entire family are from the Netherlands. I want to see everything I can, but I admit I have never flown overseas or been out of the US, so I am a bit nervous. I would love to learn more! My grandmother, maiden name Hamstra) was born in Utrecht, so it would be great to visit. Perhaps we could email, but not publicly. LOL If I do get approved to come, I want to find all the things I grew up eating, seeing, smelling and experiencing. Zwart Wit! Stroopies! Thanks for keeping up your blog to enjoy! :)