What’s the best way to enjoy Utrecht on a sultry late-summer evening? On a boat of course! The city looks completely different when seen from the water.

Last year, an Australian news site proclaimed Utrecht the most beautiful canal city in Europe. To be fair, Venice isn’t bad either, but the droves of tourists tend to spoil its allure. The same is true of Amsterdam. Utrecht, however, is still basking in unsung glory. And if you drop down to water level, you see a completely different side to this splendid city.

An electric canal boat is the best way to meander through the canals of Utrecht. In fact, one of the canals, the Nieuwegracht, is only open to these silent vessels. You can hire them from hire companies such as Greenjoy or Sloepdelen, but they must be returned by 22.00 or 23.00 at the latest.

To get the best out of your ‘Utrecht from the water’ experience, start at Weerdsluis (to the north of the city) in the late afternoon. You can moor your boat there and enjoy a concert in the Muzieklokaal, the only bistro/bar in the Netherlands where everything revolves around classical music. Sit back on the vintage furniture and relax, with a glass of bubbly to accompany a frivolous serenade or a full-bodied red for a more complex symphony.

Set sail straight ahead to the Oudegracht, drifting leisurely between the canal-side cafés, with a background buzz of voices, clattering cutlery and strains of music from the odd street musician. The Oudegracht takes you to a fairy-tale canal-side street called Twijnstraat aan de Werf. After passing under two bridges, moor at the wooden pier on Oosterkade and join the pre-dinner revellers or loved-up couples relishing the last of the summer sunshine on the pavement terraces outside Orloff aan de Kade.

When it’s time for dinner, change course and head back towards the city centre. Moor your boat at the Tolsteegbrug and wander through the streets until you reach Twijnstraat. The Yum Saap restaurant offers the most delicious Thai-Vietnamese hors d’oeuvres you’ll ever taste. Or try an authentic wood-fired oven pizza at Da Portare Via. Alternatively, order a take-away to eat on your boat.

Once you’ve eaten, carry on through the Tolsteegsingel into the Nieuwegracht. This is a lovely, calm route compared with the Oudegracht, with lots of bridges and historic buildings. Moor opposite the Hamburgerstraat and follow the road until you find Behind Bars, Utrecht’s only real cocktail bar. The place has a Berlin feel to it, with a long list of cocktails, mixed with a measure of love.

Continue to the end of Nieuwegracht and take the Plompetorengracht to the Wittevrouwensingel to return your boat to its mooring. If you’re still up for a night out, turn back and head towards Weerdsluis, which was the starting point of this boat trip. From here, you can go to EKKO for a concert, an evening of dancing or an album release. A great place to round off this beautiful late-summer evening. Happy sailing!


Article by Pam van der Veen