Discover Utrecht’s picturesque canals, whimsical castles, and underground history

river-cruisesExplore the captivating wonders of Utrecht on our Best of Holland & Belgium itinerary – or, beginning in 2026, on your Captivating Rhine or Enchanting Rhine itinerary. With its canals and street cafés, this Dutch city is reminiscent of Amsterdam. However, the intimate haven lies off the beaten path and boasts its own unique history and appeal. 

Utrecht’s Split-Level Canals

In the Middle Ages, Utrecht thrived as the cultural center of the Netherlands, as the Rhine River once flowed through the town. However, during the 12th century, the locals decided to change the course of the river, and thus the Oudegracht (Old Canal) was born. Eventually, this canal area was built up with shipyards and vast cellars to conveniently store ship parts at water level. Over the centuries, Oudegracht’s shipyards transformed into shops, restaurants and homes, creating a “split-level” canal formation. With this unique structure, people can sit at cafés next to the water or stroll by shops and homes a level above.

A Castle Out of a Fairytale

Just outside the city is the picture-perfect Castle de Haar. Straight out of a storybook with turrets, moats and drawbridges, the castle is the biggest and most luxurious in the Netherlands. It is so large that when it was built in 1822, the entire village of Haarzuilens had to be moved to make space for its walls. Today, the historic monument plays host to guided tours and lavish events. The grounds hold an expansive park and lush gardens covering 135 acres. Among the most beautiful are the Rose Garden, with over 1,200 roses in 79 different varieties, and the Roman Garden, featuring ponds, canals, bridges and more. Our included visit to De Haar allows guests to explore the castle grounds and luxurious interior.

Above and Below Dom Square

The 14th-century Domplein Square, called Dom Square for short, is home to Dom Tower, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands at 369 feet high. Adventurous visitors may climb the 465 steps to reach the top for a spectacular aerial view of the surrounding city. 

The DOMUnder is a new cultural center of Utrecht. Two thousand years of Dutch history can be uncovered within the pillar foundations of the medieval Gothic Dom Cathedral underground. Those who choose to descend beneath the town’s square will learn through an archeologist’s lens, uncovering history by torchlight. These special lights activate stories and animated films, bringing the past to life. 

A Self-Playing Orchestra

Imagine for a moment a time before iPhones and cassette players, when self-playing musical instruments, or musical automata, were all the rageWith its focus on an impressive collection of such instruments, the Museum Speelklok lies in the heart of Utrecht and declares itself to be the most entertaining museum in the Netherlands. During our included tour of the museum, guests may experience the cheerful mix of music that radiates from all corners as musical clocks, orchestrions (self-playing orchestras) and traditional Dutch street organs play throughout the day. 

With enticing stories and engaging sites, Utrecht offers something intriguing for every type of traveler. Contact S.T.S. at 469-846-8004 today and uncover the charms of Utrecht on your Best of Holland & Belgium or, beginning in 2026, on your Captivating Rhine or Enchanting Rhine sailing.