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Exploring Netherlands from Utrecht

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My journey to the Netherlands unfolded amidst multiple challenges: the country had just entered another lockdown for Christmas 2020, and I had recently endured the ordeal of having my wallet stolen during my previous stop in Paris. Arriving essentially devoid of cash and cards, the situation seemed dire.

Fortunately, I was in the Netherlands to meet and stay with a friend residing in Utrecht. Upon arrival, I was promptly picked up from the station and provided with a transport card that would prove indispensable until my new card arrived. Affectionately known as the OV-chipkaart, this card wasn’t just for local transport; it could also be used for long-distance travel across the Netherlands. As someone who relishes exploring beyond my base, this card became the single most important item I cherished throughout my stay.

Basing in Utrecht

My friend stationed himself in Utrecht, the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands, mainly for work. It was pure coincidence that it is situated right in the heart of the main cities of Amsterdam, the Hague, and Rotterdam, from where he came. The under-an-hour train rides to all cities made it ideal for his roaming work, but honestly, the charm of Utrecht also won him, and eventually me, over.

Utrecht’s skyline is defined by the towering Dom Tower of St. Martin’s Cathedral, although it was undergoing renovations during my visit. The city itself presented a blend of historical and modern elements, particularly along the picturesque banks of the river Rhine.

In keeping with the Netherlands’ renowned bicycle-friendly culture, we rented bicycles to explore the city before strolling through the city centre on foot. Due to the lockdown in effect at the time, our exploration was mostly limited to the outdoors. Nevertheless, I was already deeply charmed by the convenience and quaintness that Utrecht exuded.

Beach, park and the Hague

Having business to attend to, I followed my friend to The Hague, also known as Den Haag. Serving as the royal capital of the Netherlands, it is renowned as a hub for international law and arbitration. Additionally, being a beach city destination, it delighted me in my perpetual pursuit of nature.

Naturally, we visited the parliament and courthouse, both conveniently walkable from the station. However, we encountered an ongoing protest at the time, complete with reporters and cameras, prompting us to decide to avoid it for the time being.

While my friend attended to business, I seized the opportunity to rent a bicycle and headed to the beach. It was thriving with locals in need of fresh air from lockdowns. Curious sculptures lined the area, adding an entertaining touch for those not keen on a winter swim.

Leaving the beach behind, I hopped on my rental bicycle and pedaled my way through Oostduinpark in pursuit of a ‘high’ point. In all honesty, the Netherlands is inherently flat, so I didn’t anticipate a spectacular view even from an observation deck. Nevertheless, the journey itself was exceptionally enjoyable, even though I almost lost my way.

For the capital of Amsterdam

Just a short 25-minute journey from Utrecht lies Amsterdam, the capital and largest city of the Netherlands. This international hub is a renowned tourist destination, perhaps due to my earlier visits to Utrecht and The Hague, Amsterdam appeared underwhelming when I arrived.

That’s not to say that the city’s numerous canals and historic buildings were any less beautiful. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic during my visit did put a damper on the overall experience. I had a stroke of misfortune for arriving in the Netherlands just two days after it began a fresh lockdown for the holidays. Restaurants did not allow dining in, and the famous red light district was shuttered. Consequently, I confined my exploration to the area around the main train station before eventually heading back.

I also encountered an unsavoury experience during my walkabout, which I will detail in a separate post.

On a brighter note, the live Christmas show by the canal provided a delightful experience!

A hop to Rotterdam

Just a 40-minute train ride from Utrecht and in close proximity to The Hague lies Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the Netherlands known for its modern architecture. From the Eurovision-famous train station to the Wilhelmina pier, I was truly blown away by how the Netherlands had seamlessly integrated itself into the modern world through this city. It made for a fitting final stop on my journey, even though my visit coincided with a lockdown.

Although Utrecht serves as a great base for all four cities, I believe it’s best enjoyed on a longer trip rather than a day excursion. The pandemic lockdown limited my exploration, but with the world once again open for free movement, individual stays in each city would be worthwhile. Perhaps this is what I will do next time I visit.

Behind the trip

I’m Angie, a traveller, web developer and blogger behind A Head Full of Travel. I’m here to document my adventures through words and photography, kindling a love for life. You can trust that all content and advice shared here is genuine and from my own experiences.

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