What is Utrecht Famous For?

When you want to visit Utrecht while visiting The Netherlands, you probably wonder, what is Utrecht famous for? In this article, we will tell you all about the famous things of the city Utrecht. 

Utrecht is famous for The Dom Tower, a historic bell tower dating back to the 14th century. Also, the city is famous for The Treaty of Utrecht, one of the first significant international peace negotiations at the end of the 18th century. Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the country with a unique and historic city center and canal belt.

There’s a lot to see and do while visiting Utrecht. Especially when you love to explore the European and Dutch history. We recommend planning your trip in advance, so you know which landmarks you don’t want to miss while visiting the city. Ready to explore more? Let’s find out why Utrecht is a famous city in The Netherlands. 

History of Utrecht

The history of Utrecht goes back a long way. The city started to develop during the 7th century AD, but there was also a settlement during Roman times. During this period, the place where now the fourth-largest city in The Netherlands is located was not more than a Roman Fort. Which made it possible for the Romans to cross the Rhine River at a safe location. It’s also where Utrecht gets its name from. A fort in Roman was called a Traiectum, which in the old Dutch language became “Trecht.” The Romans left the city around 275AD, and it took until the 7th century for the city to develop. 

It’s still possible to visit the remains of the Roman Fort while visiting the DomUnder museum below the famous Dom Tower. 

In the centuries that followed, Utrecht developed as the center of Christianity in The Netherlands. Utrecht became the most important place for bishops after the Frankish leader Frank Martel named the fortress of Utrecht, the base of the Bishops. The archbishops of Utrecht became very important, and their influence reached all Christianity in Europe. The best prove of their importance is to find in the fact that in Utrecht born, Adriaan Florenszoon Boeyens got elected as the Pope (which is the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church) in 1522. 

Fun fact, he was the last non-Italian Pope before John Paul II became Pope in 1978, 455 years later! 

Economic Heart of The Netherlands

For a long time, Utrecht was much more important then the city of Amsterdam. The presence of the archbishops was essential for the development of the city. Also, the location of Utrecht next to the Rhine River was from much importance for the city to grow. Located next to the most significant river in the country, it gave the city the opportunity to develop a trading company with other parts of The Netherlands. Some people say this trading company was the precursor of the Dutch Eastern Company, which had his heydays in the 17th century. 

The economic growth of The Netherlands shifted to Amsterdam at the end of the 16th century during the Dutch Revolt. A period when the northern parts of The Netherlands combined forces to fight the suppression of the Spanish government. Lead by William of Orange, the united northern provinces signed a treaty to stand up against the Spanish rulers, The Union of Utrecht is seen as the first steps towards the Dutch Republic, what we now know as The Kingdom of The Netherlands. 

After the Spanish were defeated, the role of Utrecht became of less importance. Amsterdam became the new economic heart of The Netherlands, mainly because of the fast growth of the Dutch Eastern Company. 

Treaty of Utrecht

At the start of the 18th century, there was a large conflict in Europe known as The War of Spanish Succession. Charles II of Spain died childless in 1700, but he left no children. Thus the discussion started who had the right to own the lands he left. One conflict was followed by another, and to prevent a massive war, international peace negotiations were launched, which were held in Utrecht between 1713 and 1714. The result of these negotiations was the Treaty of Utrecht. With these peace agreements, the war was ended, and the paths were paved for other countries, like The Netherlands, to create economic development. 

You can read more about the history of The Netherlands, and Amsterdam in our articles;

Historic City Center

The historic city center of Utrecht is best known for the Dom Tower, the Dom Church, and its many different districts. History of the city dates back for centuries with its heydays during Medieval times. It makes from Utrecht a unique city to visit.

Dom Tower

The Dom Tower of Utrecht, or simply Dom Tower, is the highest church tower in The Netherlands. The tower reaches a height of 112.5 meters (368 feet) and is the most famous landmark of the city. The church tower and church were built at the end of the 14th century. Between 1321 and 1382. However, the construction of the church was never finished because it was too expensive. 

During a tornado in 1674, the church was heavily damaged. Such heavy storms are very uncommon in The Netherlands, but this tornado separated the church and the tower. After the reconstruction was finished, the people made the two buildings that are divided by a large square. This square, today knows as Domsquare, is now one of the most famous and busiest squares in the city center. 

Climbing the tower

It is possible to climb the tower, and once on top, you’ll have an amazing view of the country. The Netherlands is mostly flat, so when it is a clear day, bring your binoculars, you can see a lot! 

The stairs to the top count over 400 steps, and with the narrow staircases, you might think you’ll need to be in a top physical condition to do this, and climbing the church tower is only for the ones who are top fit. Luckily this activity is accessible to join for everyone who has an average physical condition. You need to be able to climb stairs, though, and it is not recommended to bring large backpacks because of the narrow staircases. 

Climbing the tower is only possible via a guided tour. The guide will stop at many lookout points while walking to the top, so there are many moments where you can catch your breath and rest for a bit. The guide will tell exciting stories about the history of the tower and the city Utrecht. 

Unique Towerbells

The Dom Tower has 14 unique bells, which you’ll find halfway up the tower. Six of these bells dating back to 1505 and are known as The Voice of The Dom Tower. They ring every Sunday, during religious holidays and with special events, like Kingsday. 

Dom Tower bells are unique because they are still rung by hand. Today, most of the church bells are rung mechanically, however in Utrecht, they still doing this the old fashioned way. A tough job, which is not for everyone. The bells weigh over 32000 kilograms and can only be set in motion using the ropes below the bells. This job is in the hands of the Utrecht Bellringers Guild, a group of people that are specially trained and keeping this cultural heritage alive. 


You can also visit the area under the DomTower. It brings history alive. A unique route under Domsquare will bring you across many archaeological findings, bring you back to the time of the Romans, and you can even learn more about the massive tornado that damaged the Dom church in 1647. 

A must visit when you want to learn more about the history of Utrecht and the Dom Tower. 

City Districts

The city of Utrecht offers many more highlights to visit. However, many of the famous historical buildings are located close to the Dom Tower. The historic city center of Utrecht is divided into districts. The most famous one is known as Dom Quarter because everything is built around the church tower. 

Other famous districts in Utrecht are Museum District, where you’ll find the best art and history museums in Utrecht. An exciting museum to visit when traveling with kids is the Miffy Museuman entirely dedicated museum to the happy world of Miffy.  

Vredenburg District, which is known as the best place for shopping with a lively food market multiple times a week. Locals say it is almost impossible to leave empty-handed while visited Vredenburg District. There are many local shops, which makes it great fun to walk around! 

A similar district is Town Hall District, which is the area close to the cities town hall. It is the district where you’ll find many cafes, bars, and locally-owned shops. 

Utrecht is known as a university city, and what better place to discover that then in the University District. A perfect area to find out why Utrecht is known as a university city. With many trendy (coffee)bars and restaurants, this area is the ideal place to relax and meet some locals. 

Domsquare walking tour

When you’re visiting Utrecht, we recommend exploring the city on foot. It is great walking around while enjoying the environment and historical buildings. When you’re not keen on walking, you can also rent a bicycle and cycle around the city center. 

You can find the best walking tour on the website of Visit Utrecht, their walking tour takes up to 1.5 hours and brings you across the best historical landmarks, lovely city parks, and many more highlights. 

Utrecht Canal Belt

Besides the Dom Tower and many medieval buildings, Utrecht is also famous for its canal belt. Like the rest of The Netherlands, water plays an essential role in the development of the city of Utrecht. The canal belt in Utrecht consists out of different man-made waterways that run through the historic city center and connects the city with the important waterways and large rivers. This way, it was possible for suppliers to easily reach the city with different goods. 

The canal belt in Utrecht is different than the famous canal belt in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, the canal belt is a Unesco World Heritage site. During the 17th century, which is known as the Dutch Golden Age, the Amsterdam canal belt played a vital role in the transportation of goods and people (bringing them to work) and the development of the city. You can read more about Amsterdam and this canal belt in our article What is Amsterdam Best Known For?

Boat Tours in Utrecht

Exploring the city from the water is a unique thing to do in Utrecht. You’ll get to know the city from a completely different perspective. We recommend taking a boat tour that sails alongside the medieval houses and cellars. And crosses unique trees that are a hundred years old. During a guided tour, the guide can explain more about the city’s history and tell you exciting stories about the unique buildings you’ll cross. 

When you’re more keen on going around the canal belt by yourself, it is possible to rent a pedalboat! A super fun activity to do, one pedalboat has seats for a maximum of 4 persons. The availability of the pedalboats varies per season. During the summer months of July and August, the company opens daily between 10:00 and 18:00. 

In the months April, May, June, September, and October, they open from Wednesday until Sunday. It is not possible to rent a pedalboat during the winter months between November and March. You can find more information about the pricing and the most recent timetables on the website of the rental company

Famous Landmarks of Utrecht

The historic city center of Utrecht is not the only exciting place for a visit to the city. Utrecht is centrally located in the country, and therefore an ideal place to use as a base during your stay in The Netherlands. You can easily reach other parts of the country while staying in Utrecht. 

Utrecht is surrounded by nature and beautiful historic buildings located in the countryside close to the city. These famous landmarks are a must-visit while staying in Utrecht. 

Royal Palace Het Loo

Royal Palace Het Loo, in Dutch Paleis Het Loo, is a museum since 1984. It was purchased by the royal family in 1684. In those 300 years, a lot has changed and happened in and around the castle. The palace, which is beautifully located surrounded by forest, functioned as a summer residence for the royal family. When you’re interested in royal history and love to visit century-old palaces, we recommend visiting the Palace Het Loo.

The palace undergoes a significant renovation, which is planned to finish in 2021. It is still possible to visit, but opening times change frequently. We recommend visiting their website first to find the latest information before you plan your visit. 

Castle De Haar

Another castle just outside Utrecht that’s worth a visit is Castle De Haar. For centuries the castle was a summer residence for wealthy families. It is the largest castle in The Netherlands, and for a long time, it was privately owned by the van Zuylen Family. In the last decades, the castle became famous worldwide when the international jet set attended fashion parties of Chanel, which were organized at the estate. 

Between 1892 and 1912, the castle was renovated by architect Cuypers, who is famous for designing the Amsterdam Central Station and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. He created a truly fairytale-like castle, one of its kind. Today you can visit the castle, which is now a museum and event location. It is beautiful to walk around, you’ll feel being in a completely different world! 

Windmill de Star 

When you think of The Netherlands, you probably have a picture in mind of flat land with lots of water, windmills, and tulips. The country is known for its many historic windmills. There are still 1000 historic windmills left that functioned as a water management system or to produce all kinds of products. The most famous historic windmill in Utrecht is Windmill de Star (De Ster in Dutch). Windmill de Star was built in 1739 and functioned as a wood saw mill. It is excellent for a visit, and they offer guided tours every Saturday. 

If you are interested in historic windmills, we recommend to read our article; Why is The Netherlands Famous for its Windmills? Where we explain more about the history of the windmills in The Netherlands, and the best places to visit historic windmills.

Utrecht Botanical Gardens

The Utrecht Botanical Gardens were established in 1639. The gardens are open for the public between the 1st of March and the 1st of December. It is the oldest university-owned, botanical gardens in The Netherlands. Utrecht Botanical gardens consist out of five different gardens with each its own theme. When you love being outside and stroll around, we definitely recommend visiting! 

Make sure to check the website of Botanical Gardens Utrecht for the latest information about opening times. 

The New Dutch Water Line

As you might know, rising water has always been a threat to The Netherlands. Overtime, Dutch people, turned things around and became specialized in protecting the country of the constantly rising water levels. Today dealing with water and changing sea-levels is one of the biggest strengths of Dutch engineering. The New Dutch Water Line is one of the first examples of that. It is a series of fortresses and water management systems that functioned as a defense line and runs from Amsterdam to Utrecht. The ability to flood essential parts of the country is the biggest strength of the defense line, making it impossible for enemies to reach cities like Amsterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague. 

Walking or cycling alongside The New Dutch Waterline, and visiting some old fortresses is a great thing to do! It’s not only fun being outside and to explore more of the countryside, but you’ll also learn more about the history of The Netherlands. 

Sonnenborgh Observatory

The first official home office of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (In Dutch known as; KNMI: Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut). The building is built in 1853 and functioned as the home office of the institute until 1897. Today it functions as a museum where you can learn more about the observatory. Most of their activities are focused on kids, to learn them more about astronomy. A perfect activity while traveling with kids! 

Zuylen Castle

Located just outside Utrecht, you’ll find Zuylen Castle, a castle that dates back to the 13th century. You can visit the castle with a guided tour, where the tour guide explains more about the history and importance of Zuylen Castle. For a long time, it was one of the most important buildings of the cities, where several dukes lived over time and conduct their businesses

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