First impressions of Utrecht are rarely positive: the mammoth shopping centre that encloses the city’s train station is not encouraging and neither is its tangle of busy dual carriageways. But persevere: much of Utrecht’s old centre has survived intact, with its network of canals, cobbled lanes and old gabled houses at their prettiest around the Domkerk, the city’s cathedral. Domkerk apart, it’s the general appearance and university atmosphere of the place that is its appeal rather than any specific sight – and indeed Utrecht’s two key museums, the Centraal and the Catharijne Convent, both of which have an enjoyable collection of old Dutch paintings, are out of the immediate centre to the south. Utrecht was also the long-time home of the De Stijl luminary Gerrit Rietveld, whose assorted furniture decorates the Centraal Museum, which pays further tribute to the man by organizing bus trips to the house that Rietveld built – the Rietveld Schröderhuis. Further De Stijl treasures can be seen at the Mondriaanhuis in the nearby town of Amersfoort.
As you might expect of a university town, Utrecht has a vibrant café, bar and restaurant scene and the presence of students ensures that prices are kept down. One of the best times to visit is during the Netherlands Film Festival, ten days of cinematic inspiration held every year at the end of September (w filmfestival.nl).