While the lifestyle options in Utrecht may not be on the same scale as in other European cities, expats living here will find that Utrecht has plenty to offer in terms of shopping, eating out and nightlife. Expats who enjoy the outdoors will love exploring the countryside that surrounds Utrecht.
Shopping in Utrecht
While Utrecht may not compare to the shopping experience in the country’s capital, Amsterdam, expats moving here won’t be disappointed when it comes to getting their fix of retail therapy.
In the city’s charming old centre, shoppers will have a grand selection, from the leading Dutch department stores to small boutiques, trendy retail concepts and bustling markets. Head to the antique stores located along the Oudegracht or in the Museumkwartier to find unique second-hand gems. The best places for bespoke fashion are in Voorstraat and Schoutenstraat, where many young fashion designers are based. Expats on the hunt for home decor should check out the stores on Zadelstraat.
Most shops in Utrecht are open seven days a week. When bad weather strikes, shoppers can head indoors to Hoog Catharijne, one of the largest indoor shopping malls in the Netherlands, which is connected to Utrecht’s Centraal Station.
Eating out in Utrecht
Expats moving to Utrecht won’t be disappointed when it comes to dining out. The city offers an array of international eateries to suit a spectrum of palates. From French, Italian, Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisines to restaurants serving experimental dishes and vegan delights, expats won’t struggle to find a place to eat.
Being a student town, Utrecht's many restaurants often have weekly specials, which allow diners to eat out on a budget. Expats can mingle with the locals while enjoying a good quality steak and beer at one of Utrecht's famous pubs.
Nightlife in Utrecht
As you’d expect from a city that is home to a massive student population, the nightlife in Utrecht is buzzing. That said, it’s not all about student bars and raging nightclubs. Expats will also find live music venues, jazz cafes and intimate theatre performances.
A popular place for nightlife in Utrecht is the area known as Neude Janskerkhof en Domplein. This area is teeming with young crowds enjoying drinks and live music every weekend. Ledig Erf is also popular with locals in Utrecht thanks to its outdoor terraces, which provide a great spot for sundowners, especially during the summer.
Sports and outdoor activities in Utrecht
Adventurists and nature lovers will enjoy living in Utrecht. The city is small, and the city centre is easily navigable on foot or, of course, by bike. The locals love to cycle and besides the daily commute, recreational cycle routes abound.
Runners will also enjoy being out and about in Utrecht – each year the city plays host to the Singelloop Utrecht, or Canal Run, which is described as one of the world's fastest 10km races.
See and do in Utrecht
Expats moving to Utrecht will find that there is plenty to see and do in the city. From castles, forts and citadels to informative museums, galleries and stunning botanical gardens, the city has expats spoilt for choice. Below is our list of the popular attractions in Utrecht.
Founded in 1838, Centraal Museum gives visitors an insight into Utrecht’s history and culture through a range of exhibits.
De Haar Castle
A visit to the Netherlands' largest castle and its landscaped garden is the highlight of anyone’s stay in Utrecht. De Haar Castle dates back to the 13th century and has played host to regular fairs and events following its restoration in the 19th century.
Dom Church, also known as St Martin’s Cathedral, is a Gothic church dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. The architecture is impressive, but the real gem is the view visitors can take in after their 465-step climb to the top.
Likely to be one of Utrecht’s most unusual tourist attractions, Museum Speelklok houses exhibits displaying music boxes and barrel organs from the 18th century.
Rietveld Schröder House
Rietveld Schröder House is a UNESCO-listed 1920s building and is the brainchild of Dutch architect, Gerrit Rietveld. It was commissioned by the Schröder-Schräder family to be built without walls and occupies a prominent position in the development of modern architecture.
Utrecht Botanical Gardens
Located on the eastern edge of the city on Utrecht University’s campus, the famous botanical gardens are well worth a visit. Filled with an array of plants, trees and a beautiful collection of butterflies, the botanical gardens make for a perfect family day out.
What’s on in Utrecht
Utrecht may not be quite as large as Amsterdam or Rotterdam, but the city holds its own when it comes to entertainment. Expats will find that the city has a jam-packed annual calendar with something for everyone. Below is our list of annual events in Utrecht.
King’s Day (April)
King Willem-Alexander’s birthday is celebrated on 27 April, and Utrecht goes all out in celebration. The festivities often begin the night before the king’s birthday, with the traditional vrijmarkt (free market) jumble sale of second-hand goods and homemade treats kicking off in the early evening.
Liberation Day (May)
On the 5th of May, the Netherlands celebrates the end of the German occupation during WWII. Utrecht, like all the other main cities, puts together a programme of festivities packed with musical performances and vibrant street fairs as well as events for children.
SPRING Performing Arts Festival Utrecht (May)
An international festival where audiences are treated to stunning theatre, dance and visual art performances. The main events take place at theatre venues around Utrecht, and there are also plenty of spontaneous street performances.
Singelloop Utrecht (September/October)
Every September or October, runners from across the world head to Utrecht to take part in what is considered one of the world’s fastest 10km runs, the Singelloop Utrecht or Canal Run. The atmosphere is electric whether an expat chooses to take part or spectate.
International Chamber Music Festival (December)
A gathering of the world’s best classical musicians who come together to perform traditional pieces as well newer works. The festival is extremely popular and tickets sell out fast, so don't miss out.
►For more on how to travel in the city, check out Getting Around in Utrecht
"Get out and see and do as much as you can. Visit museums, walk through the parks, take bike and walking tours, visit various towns and cities, try new foods. Make sure your social network includes locals and expats as it will make you feel more integrated. It is also extremely important to learn the language. It will make you feel less alien and earn the respect of the locals."
Read what expat Tiffany J has to say about the quality of life in Utrecht.
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