Utrecht is one of these places that I have passed many times as it’s around 40km south of the main tourist hot-spot of Amsterdam. Being alone this weekend and since the weather was meant to be stunning (and probably the last good weekend before winter sets in) I decided to visit Utrecht; also as a last minute hotel in Amsterdam was averaging around 200€ a night for some reason. After a bit of searching I decided to stay at the Holiday Inn Express, Papendorp just on the outskirts of Utrecht, close to the A2 Autoroute; offering free parking and breakfast it’s based in a new business district and there is not much around, but like all these kinda places in the Netherlands there’s attention to detail and generally well landscaped, so it doesn’t feel too business park like. For me I don’t mind being away from the city centre, especially in the Netherlands where the public transport is excellent .
The hotel was a real surprise, the staff are super efficient, knowledgeable and welcoming; they were able to answer all of my questions quickly and the information they provided was very clear. The rooms are super nice too; again I was really surprised. I expected a faceless boring room full of practicality like most of these places; the rooms with their full length windows and super comfortable beds were a welcome change to a tired traveller. They even had a choice of pillow firmness – superb. One of the things I’m always comparing when travelling is the shower; in the USA for example the shower head is mostly fixed to the wall and there is no possibility to change the height or reach your bits. I think this is the first time I can say the shower (which is nearly the same as mine at home) was excellent! Hurrah!
Being only 1.5 hours drive from the south of the Netherlands I tend to visit regularly; sometimes for a spa weekend in Valkenburg, or shopping weekends in Maastricht, Rotterdam or Amsterdam so I generally feel I have a good idea of the country. Utrecht is a real missed opportunity; imagine having the beautiful canals of Amsterdam, but on a more intimate scale surrounded by excellent little independent shops, cafés and galleries all connected by interesting little alleyways and beautiful streets. Image this, but without the hoards of tourists that flock to Amsterdam. For me, this was a real Dutch experience, I could honestly say that Utrecht is probably now my favourite Dutch city; I just feel sorry that I have passed by all these years.
If you want to spend your time in the Netherlands cruising gay bars then I would suggest making your way to Amsterdam; being the largest city, it has a lot more to offer for this kind of tourist. Personally I tend to search for good bear or 30+ bars where the music is not too loud and you can have a conversation. Maybe that comes with age (In the late 80’s early 90’s I used to go to a lot of acid house, techno and drum and bass clubs).
Having been around the world a bit, it seems that a city needs a population of around 4 million before there is enough people to support a great bear bar. Bars like The Laird in Melbourne, Australia and The Wrangler in Denver, CO.
Although I did Google gay bars in Utrecht, nothing really jumped out at me as being that interesting (maybe someone could correct me for the next time I visit?), so I decided with my one full day on a more cultural weekend with walking, shopping and eating.
I spent the morning walking around and enjoying the beautiful city centre, because in the afternoon I had book a tour of the Rietveld Schröder House via the Centraal Museum. If you like architecture and interior design then this a must to visit. The house is on the UNESCO world heritage list and after visiting you can understand why. Way ahead of its time and a fantastic use of space you would be hard to find something more modern and versatile in todays architecture. You need to book before hand and it is a little bit out of the city centre, but the museum does offer a loan of bikes and a handy map to get you to the house; the bike ride was also enjoyable following the canals.
Next to the museum you also have the house of Dick Bruna, the creator of Miffy. I have been a fan of Miffy for a long time as I love the simplistic graphic design of the character; although as a 40 year old bearded man I felt a bit out of place visiting, as the house was really geared to visiting children. The Centraal Museum its self was not of great interest to me, but things are always changing so it depends on your luck.