When thinking of family holidays in Netherlands I’m sure Amsterdam is top of most people’s list but there’s so much more to do in this beautiful country and if you’re travelling with the family then there are loads of things to do in Utrecht with kids.
During our recent Interrailing adventure, we weren’t actually planning on spending time in Utrecht, we were literally using it as a base from which to get to Amsterdam. However, as soon as we arrived and had a little look around this characterful city, we knew we wanted to spend more time there.
Here are my 10 top reasons why I think Utrecht is a great place for a family holiday in the Netherlands.
Like Amsterdam, Utrecht is a city based on a fantastic canal network, restaurants, bars, cafes are perched, overlooking the water, bikes line the beautiful bridges and it’s so much fun to spend a few hours on the water on your very own pedalo.
We were able to book a pedalo for under €20 from one of the canal side booths (you’ll need cash and an extra €20 deposit), we all took a turn pedaling, the steering was quite an adventure and enjoyed chasing the ducks along the water. You’ll see a variety of different size boats on your journey, make sure you steer clear of the big ones, it can get pretty choppy.
If you don’t fancy going it alone, you can take an organized boat tour, tickets are available from the kiosks around the main canal area, some even come with extra activities for kids.
Miffy (or Nijntje in Dutch), the cute rabbit created by Dutch illustrator Dick Bruna can be found all over the city but for little ones, a visit to the Miffy Museum is sure to make their visit to Utrecht a memorable one. For the observant amongst you, there’s even a Miffy traffic light but I won’t spoil the fun by telling you where it is!
The tallest Church tower in the Netherlands at 112 m high, you can take a climb up the Dom Tower for some breathtaking views of the city, just be warned, it's 465 steps up and there's no lift!
The rest of the buildings aren’t too shabby either.
This is an old train station which has been repurposed into a fantastic railway museum, perfect for any little fans of Thomas or Chuggington.
There’s a little playground, a train to play on, examples of switches and railway signals and some interactive exhibits, all extremely family friendly and well organized.
KidZcity is a huge indoor play area with loads of different play equipment to climb, slide and tunnel around. There are a few small rides and a laser area making it a fun place to spend a few hours if the weather isn’t great.
Number 1 on your list should be the crispy, chunky fries with a side of mayo which somehow manage to taste better than anywhere else I’ve tried, even better when served in a paper cone and eaten outdoors watching the boats go by.
Waffles, oh my! You cannot end a family holiday in the Netherlands without trying the stroopwafel at least once, they’re super sweet, great value and best eaten as hot and freshly baked as you can handle. Half will probably do for most kids.
Cheese, cheese and more cheese, specifically Gouda. Try some chunks with a glass of wine or beer which will be served in most bars, it goes surprisingly well!
At this point in our European adventure, we had walked to the point of exhaustion, exploring cities like Prague and Brussels is amazing but can be tough on tiny feet and Pipers feet were blistered and rubbed to shreds. We spent quite a while scouring the shops for Birkenstocks, the only things she could stand on her feet and were relieved to find some reasonably priced ones.
You won’t just want to do shoe shopping though, the food markets are amazing, we had fresh waffles for breakfast daily
The Netherlands are expensive, there’s no getting around it but the popularity of Amsterdam has made it even more so. We saved at least £50 a night by basing ourselves in Utrecht than staying at a similar standard hotel in Amsterdam.
It’s the same for restaurants and bars. Canal side restaurants in Utrecht do not charge sky high prices with the added bonus that it’s much easier to get a table than in Amsterdam.
Utrecht is just half an hour on a train from Amsterdam making it a perfect base for a family holiday in Netherlands. We hopped on a train each morning, spent a couple of days in Amsterdam and caught the early evening train back.
The train station is central so easily walkable from most parts of the city. It’s right next to a large shopping centre so perfect for picking up any bits and bobs you need or for walking through if it’s raining. Unlike lots of other European train stations, we found the travel and platform information easy to understand and the trains were very regular. It even has a piano which is hard to resist for any child!
Utrecht is also a surprisingly good base from which to explore the rest of Holland, the stunning Castle de Haar, a true fairytale castle is just half an hour away or head to the beach resort of Scheveningen with its traditional pier and sandy coastline.
There is no airport in Utrecht, your closest is in Amsterdam from which you can easily take a train to the city, the central train station is also on many International routes.
The cellars were first created in the 11th century and most have been converted into restaurants, bars and shops whereas some have been left in their original state making them dark, dingy, (exciting for kids) places to explore.
One is now even a hotel which makes for a brilliantly fun place to stay. Hotel 26 has just 5 cellars, each converted into a small apartment which can sleep up to 5 people, some with a small terrace overlooking the canal.
We chose to stay at Apollo Hotel primarily due to its location right next to the train station, we knew we would be lugging our bags to our room so didn’t want to have to go far. You can get to the hotel through the shopping centre next to the train station, just head all the way through and down the steps at the end and you’re there, 5 minutes walk tops!
The hotel was fine, our room had a cute little balcony from which we enjoyed watching the millions of bikes on their daily commute across the city. Be warned, the lift is tiny and slightly temperamental so give yourselves plenty of time if you’re checking out. Running for pre-booked trains with luggage sucks.
As you can probably tell, we totally fell in love with the city on our visit. There are so many things to do in Utrecht with kids but perhaps the most enjoyable thing to do is simply wandering the quaint cobbled streets, dodging the bicycles, stopping at the pretty cafes and soaking in the amazing architecture. Even disregarding its close proximity to Amsterdam, it’s still worth a visit. If you have a bit more time I highly recommend choosing it as a base for a family holiday in Netherlands from which you can explore this beautiful country further. And if this isn’t enough to convince you, the BBC once named Utrecht as one of the happiest places in the world. Take a visit and you’ll quickly understand why.
Have you visited the Netherlands with kids? Which are your favourite cities? Let me know in the comments below.
If you're looking for family friendly European City Break inspiration, you might also like to read Everything you need to know about visiting Bologna with kids or our Ultimate guide to visiting Prague with Kids or Ten Epic Things to do in Brussels with Kids.
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