I Love My Neighborhood: Utrecht’s Leidsche Rijn and The Museumkwartier

Welcome to another edition of “I Love My Neighborhood”, where I ask expats from across the globe to share the joys of local life they’ve found in their corner of the world.

If you’re just joining in now, feel free to check out the other cities that have been covered so far: Paris, France and Qingdao, China.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the positive responses I’ve received to this series. It also means that I’ve had the chance to connect with quite a few new travel bloggers, which I always love. One of those people includes today’s guest blogger, Kaitlin, who is an American living in Utretcht, The Netherlands.

Kaitlin Hawthorne: Why I Love Leidsche Rijn and The Museumkwartier

I didn’t get to pick where I live in Utrecht. When I decided to move to The Netherlands from my home state of Georgia, my Dutch fiancée put us on all sorts of waiting lists for a bigger apartment (his apartment was just one room). We were lucky enough that our number came up for a big one bedroom in an up-and-coming section of Utrecht called Leidsche Rijn.

Leidsche Rijn has a rich history — a fully intact Viking ship was found really close to my home — but it seems like after the Vikings left, the area wasn’t settled again until about 10 years ago. With no buildings over 10 years old and no local flavor, it can be easy to forget that I live in Europe. Which is why, when I want to get out, I take the bus ten minutes into the center of Utrecht, which is the fourth largest city in The Netherlands. It was founded before Amsterdam was even a thought, but it is not an international tourist city, and I am trying to work on this! We only have one Holland Souvenir Shop!

I tend to hang out in the same three neighborhoods along the Oudegracht (our grand canal) but I will try my best to restrict this post to the Museumkwartier.

Bi-Level Canals

One of my favorite things about Utrecht is the fact that the Oudegracht is a bi-level canal. This means that you can go into a store at street level and it will have a basement that goes down to canal level. Or, it means that you can walk down some incredibly steep stairs to dine along the canal in the restaurants located on canal level. This is a unique feature in The Netherlands that only Utrecht has. Whenever we have guests, we like to dine in the lower canal restaurants for a unique experience.

Restaurant Cats
When you go into one of the aforementioned restaurants, chances are there will be a kitty running around your feet. It seems that every restaurant here has what I like to deem a “restaurant cat.” Restaurant cats are welcomed guests in the establishment, but you can also see them running along the canal, going into random stores, and watching the numerous waterfowl that make their home in the canal. At first it is a little strange to see a cat being fed table scraps by restaurant patrons, but I like them because they keep the mice away. Plus, I’m a cat person.

My Secret Garden

Utrecht is famous for its gorgeous Dom Tower. Built between 1321 and 1382, it is the tallest church tower in The Netherlands. However, it is not physically attached to the cathedral because of a hurricane that hit in 1674. While most people are walking through the Dom archway, I like to veer to the right (if you are going from the Oudegracht) into what I deem my secret garden. Part of the Dom, it has the remains from a building built in the 1000s and is filled with some breathtaking reliefs. I almost hesitated to write about the garden because it is empty (or almost empty) every time I go. It is the perfect place in the city to read a book.

The Central Library

Speaking of book reading, I am an incredibly proud member of the Utrecht Public Library. The main branch is along the Oudegracht, and is the largest library I have ever been in.  It is four levels (I believe) with an amazing stained glass ceiling. In addition to the numerous volumes they have for people who can actually read Nederlands, they have a ton of books in English, a whole section dedicated to helping people learn Nederlands, and a massive DVD/Blu-ray collection. You have to pay for a membership, which is 40 euros a year. But, it saves me a ton of money in the long run. If there is any place in the city where I feel known, it is by the librarians of the Central Branch.

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About Kaitlin: Kaitlin is a 25-year-old Atlanta native who moved to Utrecht, The Netherlands six months ago to live with her Dutch fiancée. Although being an expat is not always the glamorous life she envisioned, she could not be happier with her decision. You can read about her adventures at A Georgia Peach in Utrecht or follower her on twitter @GAPeachAbroad.

All photos courtesy of the author.

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Comments

  1. I can’t wait to explore Utrecht more with you, great article Kaitlin!

  2. I just wrote about my neighborhood in San Cristobal de las Casas. I’m not an expat (yet) but found that traveling slower really feels different.

  3. Michael Ann says:

    My family and I are moving to the utrecht area and I too am from Ga! We are a family of 4. And suggestions on where to live that is close to shopping and such?