The Netherlands' Lesser-Known And Just-As-Pretty Canal City To Visit Instead Of Amsterdam

Each year, millions of tourists flock to Amsterdam for its host of historical and cultural attractions. Of course, the idyllic city's canals are also an alluring factor. However, Amsterdam is not the only European town with stunning canals. The underrated Utrecht, one of the largest cities in the Netherlands, waits Only a 20-minute train ride away. Best of all, it's as picturesque as Amsterdam but without the notorious crowds. Think medieval architecture and canal houses.


"If you enjoy old city quarters with historical buildings, then Utrecht is the place to go. It has a special atmosphere, somewhat like Amsterdam, but with the cosiness of being a much smaller city. Worth spending a couple of days and visiting the major sites," states one review on Tripadvisor, where Utrecht's canals rank as its leading attraction. Others note that this is one of the absolute best day trips to take from Amsterdam.

Head to Zocherpark, surrounded by greenery, for a serene nature walk by the canals. Or traverse the watery lanes on a boat (Sloepdelen offers boat rentals). Since you control the vessels with a joystick, you don't need a boating license. You could also take a guided boat tour with Rederij Schuttevaer. However, exploring the historic canals is far from the only adventure travelers can have in Utrecht.


Utrecht's many unique museums

Like Amsterdam, Utrecht is home to various enthralling museums. Art lovers should head to Museum Catharijneconvent for its religious works, items, garments, and more in a centuries-old monastery. At DOMunder, visitors receive a flashlight and head underground the city's Dom Square to learn about Utrecht's past. Tripadvisor reviewers say the experience primarily centers on archaeology. If you want a family-friendly activity, consider Museum Speelklok, which has an array of antique mechanical musical instruments and devices (pictured) on display. The museum's Musical Tour allows visitors to see how these self-playing magical objects work and sound.


The Spoorwegmuseum, also known as the Railway Museum, is another Utrecht attraction ideal for children and adults. It's housed in a former train station and features historical trains, model trains, performances, a rollercoaster, and other delights. "Walk through one door and you suddenly find yourself in a magical recreation of early Victorian England, with full sized buildings," one Tripadvisor reviewer about their experience at Spoorwegmuseum. "But in addition to the child-friendly fun stuff, there are also plenty of very informative exhibits focusing on the social history and the engineering triumphs of Dutch railways."

Getting the most out of your trip to Utrecht

Make sure to check out De Haar Castle, the largest of its kind in the Netherlands, during your trip to Utrecht. Visitors can explore the structure and its gorgeous gardens. If you love architecture, you'll also want to tour the Rietveld Schröder House, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to 1924. Like Amsterdam, Utrecht is incredibly bike-friendly. To explore the city and its many cycling paths, rent a bike from a local provider such as Black Bikes.You could also take a guided bike tour, such as this highly-rated two-hour excursion from Airbnb Experiences.


You can expect a lengthy itinerary for Utrecht. On that note, if you're planning a visit to the city or nearby Amsterdam, learn about the common packing mistake tourists make that you'll want to avoid. Keep in mind that you will have to fly into Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to reach this destination. The airport has a train station. From there, you can hop on the Intercity 3777, which takes passengers to Utrecht.

If you need a place to stay, Bunk is a former church from the 1800s that has been transformed into contemporary accommodations. It offers affordable sleeping pods in a hostel-style setting and upscale private rooms. Not sure when to visit? Utrecht is chilly for the majority of the year. For milder temperatures, consider spring or early fall.