In the heart of the Netherlands, Utrecht has been one of the country's major cultural hubs for centuries. The imposing 14th-century Domtoren church tower marks the centre, and you'll find charming medieval buildings and a ring of canals as you move outwards. The city has lots of university students and a reputation for being friendly and fun. There's also a vibrant nightlife scene and a lively café culture to discover in this lesser-known Netherlands gem.
There are plenty of Utrecht hostels right in the medieval centre. You'll find one in a listed 17th-century building, as well as one with free barbecues in the summer. There are hostels a little further out too, such as in the Kromme Rijn forest area: perfect for hiking. Look out for hostels in Utrecht with a garden, a common room and shared kitchen – or even an on-site bar. Every Utrecht hostel has free Wi-Fi, and most places also provide free linen.
There are plenty of neighbourhoods to visit in Utrecht. The historic, lively city centre is home to a mixture of architectural styles, from Roman times through the Middle Ages. For a modern attraction, there's the cuboid Tivoli Vredenburg music venue. The suburb of IJsselstein is a 25-minute train journey away, and makes for a peaceful day out in the countryside. Multicultural, up-and-coming Lombok is bustling with fresh food markets and lively coffee stands. You can also visit the original workers' houses in this fast-changing neighbourhood.
See the city from up high by climbing the Domtoren, the highest clock tower in the country. For an extra dose of culture, the Centraal Museum has modern and classical artworks and historic artefacts. Visit St Martin's Cathedral, or Domkerk, for its 13th-century architecture. The quirky Museum Speelklok has a range of self-playing instruments piping out cheerful tunes. Check out the wharf cellars that line the Oudegracht canal for boutique shopping, delicious coffee and snacks, and a buzzing atmosphere.
The closest airport to Utrecht is Amsterdam Schiphol – it's just 30 minutes from the centre by train, with regular connections. If you're arriving by rail, Utrecht Centraal station is your destination, right in the heart of the city. The city centre is car-free, so rent a bike and ride around to explore like a local. If you're making a longer journey, the buses, trams and trains are easy to use.