Exploring Netherlands from Utrecht

My journey to the Netherlands was tragic in several ways: they had just entered another lockdown for Christmas 2020, I had recently experienced the ordeal of having my wallet stolen during my previous stop in Paris, and I arrived essentially devoid of cash and cards.

Thankfully, I was in the Netherlands to meet and stay with a friend who lived in Utrecht at the time. I was picked up from the station and promptly provided with a transport card that would serve me well until my new card arrived. Affectionately known as the OV-chipkaart, it wasn’t just for local transport; it could also be used for long-distance travel across the Netherlands. As someone who enjoys exploring beyond my base, this card became the single most important item I cherished throughout my stay, and you’ll soon understand why.

First, Utrecht

Utrecht, the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands, is situated right in the heart of the country. Its 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, my companion and I decided to rent bicycles to explore the city before strolling through the city center 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 quaint charm that Utrecht exuded.

Moving on to the Hague

The Hague, also known as Den Haag, serves as the royal capital of the Netherlands and is renowned as a hub for international law and arbitration. During this part of our trip, my companion had business to attend to, prompting us to take a quick 40-minute train ride to the city. After a brief walkabout near the station, I was left to explore on my own.

Naturally, we had the opportunity to visit the parliament and courthouse (where we even encountered a live protest). However, what excited me the most, despite the winter chill, was the beach. While it may not have been the world’s finest, the soothing sound of the waves was a welcome change after spending a significant portion of my European lockdown vacation inland. Plus, there were plenty of cute statues to admire along the beach!

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, and though I almost lost my way, I wouldn’t exchange this experience for anything else. (Well, maybe for a delicious stroopwafel!)

At least, 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, although, perhaps due to my earlier visits to Utrecht and The Hague, Amsterdam seemed somewhat underwhelming.

However, that’s not to say that the city’s numerous canals and historic buildings were any less beautiful. Unfortunately, the ongoing lockdown during my visit did put a damper on the overall experience. Even the famous red light district was shuttered. Consequently, I confined my exploration to the area around the main train station before eventually heading back. Perhaps I’ll return in the future to explore the city’s renowned museums.

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

Finally, 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.

*All photos featured in this story are taken by the author.

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