Utrecht Introduction Walking Tour, Utrecht

Utrecht Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Utrecht

The earliest settlers to the area now called Utrecht likely arrived millennia ago during the Stone Age. While there are also signs of inhabitation during the Bronze Age, scholars today credit the Romans with building what became the town.

They set up a castellum around the year 50 AD, a fort right at a crossing point on the river Rhine. The fortress marked Rome's northernmost point in their sphere of influence. A settlement grew around the fortress, then called Trajectum.

The Latin Trajectum morphed into the Dutch word Trecht, meaning "a crossing." Then the U was added, which denoted that it was downriver, differentiating it from Mass-trecht.

The fort survived for several hundred years, eventually getting stone walls. But the Romans left in the middle of the third century. It wasn't until 650 or so that missionaries arrived and used Utrecht as a base for Christianity in the region.

This history is apparent above and below ground as you start your tour in Dom Square, the central square of Utrecht. This is the original location of the Roman settlement, remains of which can be toured under the square as part of the DOMunder museum.

Domkerk, also known as the Cathedral of St. Martin, also stands here, as churches have since those first missionaries arrived. Across the square, you can climb the 465 steps to the top of Dom Tower for a panoramic view of the city.

The church and many areas of town were badly damaged in a severe summer thunderstorm in 1674. A possible tornado destroyed the church's nave. The space it left between the rest of the structure and the tower is now Dom Square.

The city history continues beyond Dom Square. Walk the shores of the Old Canal and see how shipping and trade helped build the modern city. And don't miss the many notable churches and structures, like Jan's Church and the Pope House.

Utrecht is a historic town full of fascinating cultural sites and Old World charm. Join us on our Utrecht Introduction Walking Tour to get a taste of this tourist-friendly and mesmerizing city.
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Utrecht Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Utrecht Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Netherlands » Utrecht (See other walking tours in Utrecht)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 Km or 1 Miles
Author: NatalyD
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Domplein (Dom Square)
  • DOMUnder Museum
  • Dom Tower
  • Domkerk (Dom Church)
  • Pandhof Domkerk (Dom Church Garden)
  • Paushuize (Pope House)
  • Janskerk (Jan's Church)
  • Neude (New Square)
  • Museum Speelklok (Musical Clock Museum)
  • Oudegracht (Old Canal)
Domplein (Dom Square)

1) Domplein (Dom Square)

Just like many other medieval European cities, Utrecht has its fair share of city squares. But it has been said that there is only one that matters--Dom Square. Home to the impressive Dom Church, history abounds above and below this beautiful plaza.

Dom Square's history goes back to Roman times. The original settlement was a castellum at a ford near the river Rhine. This original settlement was called Trajectum, which translates to "crossing point." As a monument to that history, the city has lights in the road surface that outline the wall of the original castellum.

The best way to taste the centuries of history here is to visit the DOMunder Museum, the entrance to which is right in the center of the square. From there, you can see parts of the original castellum and foundations from the original Dom Church.

In the 11th century, this was the site of the Lofen imperial palace. Unfortunately, a massive nine-day-long fire in 1253 burned it to the ground, along with most other buildings in the square. However, parts of the palace are still visible in some of the cellars of surrounding buildings. These are being opened soon and will eventually be part of the DOMunder Museum.

The most prominent feature in the square today is the Domkerk, otherwise known as Dom Church. Opposite the church is Dom Tower, a Gothic bell tower with 465 steps that leads to a fantastic panoramic view of Utrecht. The original cathedral connected the two--the tower was meant to be part of the larger structure. But a tornado in 1674 destroyed the unfinished nave, and the two structures were never again connected.

On the south side of the square lies the University of Utrecht. Between it and the Dom Church is one of the can't-miss sights at the square, the beautiful Dom Church Gardens.

Several monuments are dispersed throughout the square, including one statue of Count Jan van Nassau. Van Nassau is shown carrying a piece of paper, his Union of Utrecht--the charter he drew in 1579 between several Dutch regions.

There is also a monument dedicated to the resistance movement during World War II. The statue was dedicated in 1949 and created by Corinne Franzén-Heslenfeld.
DOMUnder Museum

2) DOMUnder Museum (must see)

DOMunder opened in 2015. The museum allows visitors to explore an archeological excavation site from 1949 that goes below Dom Square.

The primary attraction is to see what remains of the ancient Roman fortification known as Trajectum--the first structure that settled the area that would later become the city of Utrecht.

Trajectum was a castellum that guarded a crossing point on the Rhine. It was built around 50 AD. At that time, it marked the northern border of the Roman Empire. It was a simple wooden structure built to protect from raids made by northern tribes.

The Romans abandoned Trajectum sometime around 270 AD, but the city continued to build up in the area. In the seventh century, a church was built on the site. Over the years, larger churches were added and rebuilt.

Dom Church, in its present form, was begun in 1254. It was built on the foundations of those prior churches and the castellum. Evidence of these historic layers can be seen while touring the DOMunder exhibits.

Admission to the DOMunder museum also includes Dom Tower and the Dom Church tours.
Dom Tower

3) Dom Tower (must see)

Dom Tower is located right on Dom Square, but you can't miss it. It is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. You can join a guided tour of the tower and enjoy the incredible vistas from the top observation platform.

During the trip up the tower, you will climb 465 steps. Luckily, the tower is full of stories from its long history. During the hour-long tour, the guide will make lots of stops to discuss the various chapels and galleries along the way.

Dom Tower was built from 1321 to 1382 and designed by John of Hainaut. At the time, it was one of the largest towers in Europe. It was part of St. Martin's Cathedral, which was never fully completed. The unfinished nave collapsed in 1674 and left Dom Tower as a freestanding building. Overall, the tower is 112.5 meters tall.

The tower has always been a multifunctional structure--it serves as a belfry and contains private chapels. Over the city's history, it has also served as a watchtower, with quarters for the tower guard inside.

The tower features a carillon, the largest bell of which weighs 8,200 kilograms (18,000 pounds) and has a diameter of 227 centimeters (89 inches). Like the tower, the carillon has been restored several times, most recently in 1972. At that time, it was expanded to include 50 bells.

The tower has just undergone another massive renovation project. During the process, a lift was added so that you could skip the workout and just enjoy the view.

Why You Should Visit

Most people do not consider a trip to Utrecht complete without visiting Dom Tower and seeing the city from above. The tower is known as the symbol of the city.

You can see a 360-degree panoramic view of the city and its surroundings from the viewing galleries. You can see both Amsterdam and Rotterdam from the top on clear days. The upper gallery is 95 meters (311 feet) above street level.

But the tour of Dom Tower is also an extraordinary glimpse into the history of the area. The Romans founded the city on this very site, and guides share the city's lore throughout the ages.
Domkerk (Dom Church)

4) Domkerk (Dom Church) (must see)

Domkerk, as it presently stands, was begun in 1254. It was initially a cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Utrecht and dedicated to St. Martin, but it has been Protestant since the Reformation in 1580.

This wasn't the first church built here, though. Dom Church has been built on centuries of history. Dom Square was the site of a Roman castellum that guarded a crossing of the river Rhine. The castellum likely included a small stone temple.

During the Middle Ages, the Utrecht area was the cradle of Christianity in the Northern Netherlands. Frankish missionaries built a wood church here in 630, long after the Romans had left.

In 695, Willibrord, an Anglo-Saxon monk, was charged with building a stone church dedicated to St. Martin. At this time, there was also a second church dedicated to St. Salvator. Unfortunately, Normans destroyed the churches here in 857 and the local bishops fled.

Bishop Adalbold built a Romanesque-style church on this site, consecrated in 1023. Sadly, Adalbold's church was mostly destroyed in a nine-day fire in 1253 that affected much of Utrecht.

The Gothic St. Martins Cathedral was started in 1254. However, progress on the cathedral was slow as money for the project was scarce. It wasn't until Jan van Nassau put together a series of measures to secure financing that construction started. That was in 1288.

The 14th and 15th centuries saw several additions and expansions to the church. This included the bell tower, transept, and nave. Still, even after all these years, the money dried up for the projects, and work was done in starts and stops. At this time, the nave connected the church to the tower in one grand cathedral.

A severe storm on August 1, 1674, destroyed the church's nave. The result was the separation of the church and the tower, which has remained to this day. The remains of that original nave stood until 1826.

Over the years, there have been several attempts to rebuild the nave, or at least mark its existence. In 2004 a temporary structure was created using scaffolding.
Pandhof Domkerk (Dom Church Garden)

5) Pandhof Domkerk (Dom Church Garden)

Adjacent to the Dom Church's choir are its lovely gardens. They are accessed through an 1894 neo-Gothic gate on Dom Square.

The gardens are part of the church cloister, which was built in two phases. The eastern and southern arms have different window tracings compared to the western. The vaults are also different, with the older having rib vaults and the newest parts having net vaults.

Above each window and vault, you will find scenes from the life of St. Martin. Unfortunately, some of these are deteriorating, and they've been replaced and restored several times over the years.

There are more recent additions, as well. In the center of the garden stands a 1913 bronze statue and water feature. The tea house that overlooks the gardens was built during the last reconstruction in 1988.
Paushuize (Pope House)

6) Paushuize (Pope House)

The house at the corner of Kromme Nieuwegracht and Achter Sint Pieter was built for Adriaan Floriszoon Boeyens in 1517. When the house was built, he was in Emperor Charles V of Spain's court, and he wanted to move back to Utrecht one day.

Instead, Adriaan was elected pope in 1522 and died a year later, never to return to the house in Utrecht. Pope Adrian VI was the only Dutch pope.

After the Reformation, the house was purchased by private individuals. Each owner added a few touches to make the house their own, adding facades and Renaissance-style additions. At one point, the house was operated as a restaurant with lodgings.

In its recent history, the house has been used for a wedding venue and meeting space. In addition, the University of Utrecht has used the space from time to time, and in 1985 Pope John Paul II visited here.

Technically, the house is a Renaissance design with Gothic influences. Nevertheless, the interior is beautifully done, with four salons and even a ballroom.
Janskerk (Jan's Church)

7) Janskerk (Jan's Church)

This church was founded in 1040 and dedicated to John the Baptist. It was one of Utrecht's five collegiate churches in the Middle Ages. All founded by Bishop Bernold, these churches were laid out in a church cross. Janskerk was the northernmost point of the cross.

The original building was built in the Romanesque style. The transept and nave have mostly been preserved. The small choir and crypt were replaced in the 1500s.

At one point, there was more to the structure on the west side, but this collapsed in the 1300s. The same August storm that destroyed Dom Church's nave did much damage to Jan's Church as well. It took down the tower and what was left of the westwork.

One of the church's best artifacts is no longer on-site. A relief of John the Baptist, carved sometime around 1200, is now kept at the Utrecht Central Museum.

This is still an active congregation with weekly Protestant services. It is also used for community events, like an occasional flower market, and private functions like weddings and lectures.
Neude (New Square)

8) Neude (New Square)

Cafes, shops, and restaurants surround this city square in Utrecht. If you're looking for a place to go for a bite to eat, or maybe to pass the time at an outdoor restaurant, start your search here. There's always something happening, and the square is a popular meeting place for students from Utrecht University.

The primary building here is the towering Neude Library. The building was formerly the central post office. The square and library have many displays of sculpture and modern art.

The square hosts community events, from concerts, markets, and even random things like beach volleyball competitions. You can find a meal or drink to suit every budget, and there are several lodging options nearby as well.
Museum Speelklok (Musical Clock Museum)

9) Museum Speelklok (Musical Clock Museum) (must see)

The Musical Clock Museum features all types of self-playing musical instruments. Visitors will find musical clocks, musical boxes, self-playing orchestras, and Dutch street organs. Visitors will also find a turret clock with a carillon, the original self-playing musical instrument.

All of the exhibit items are kept in working order so visitors can hear each instrument's unique and lively voice.

Self-playing instruments started gaining popularity in the 16th century when church carillons were used.

The museum is suitable for all ages. Adults will be fascinated by the Violina, which still plays its tune. Kids can join the organ monkey "Toon" on a treasure hunt to discover Toon's favorite tune.

The Royal Room houses self-playing musical instruments once owned by monarchs. The instruments are gilded in gold and made to be admired. Visitors will see the Clay clock, created by Charles Clay around 1738. This beautiful clock plays music by G.F. Handel.
Oudegracht (Old Canal)

10) Oudegracht (Old Canal) (must see)

This canal is likely the most famous in the city since it runs the entire length of the town from north to south. It is two kilometers long and connects Kromme Rijn and the Vecht.

When the Romans settled in the area, they chose the spot where the Vecht split from the Rhine. Unfortunately, the Rhine had begun to silt, and a dam built in 1122 threatened to limit navigation to Utrecht drastically. So a series of canals were built to compensate for these issues.

These canals served several purposes. First, they connected the town to the Rhine and the North Sea for trade routes. They also served a defensive purpose--many were used for moats around castles. Plus, the silt dug to make the canals was piled on the sides, which braced the community from flooding.

By creating a waterworks system, water levels in the canal are kept at a constant level. This enabled many homes and buildings along the canal to build quays and storage cellars, which eventually grew into wharves. By the 15th century, the city has a two-kilometer-long harbor of wharves with storage cellars.

An impressive collection of 16 beautiful bridges cross the Oudegracht. Most of these have two arches each, but a few have only one arch.

Walking Tours in Utrecht, Netherlands

Create Your Own Walk in Utrecht

Create Your Own Walk in Utrecht

Creating your own self-guided walk in Utrecht is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Utrecht's Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Utrecht's Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Originally founded by the Romans, and once the most important city in the Netherlands, Utrecht boasts a generous share of historically significant structures. The collection of its architectural masterpieces, one of the richest in the country, dates back to the early Middle Ages.

The amazingly well-preserved pieces of historic architecture in Utrecht showcase the trends and movements throughout...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles