The best way to explore Utrecht’s thriving city center with its stunning canals and world-famous wharves is by canoe. It’s probably not something most people think of, but if you visit Utrecht, then this is a great chance to explore the beautiful natural surroundings. This is the best travel tip in Utrecht I can give anyone who visits the most beautiful city in the Netherlands! Let me take you along.
Canoe route Utrecht (3 hours)
With this canoe tour you will definitely experience Utrecht at its best! See the Domtower, the Old Canal, it’s beautiful buildings and Utrecht’s stunning natural surroundings.
Canoeing on the Old Canal with it’s beautiful wharves and vibrant terraces
It’s 12.00 noon. The sun is at its highest point. There are two of us: me and a friend. We rent two 1-person canoes. Our valuables are safely stored in a waterproof bag and off we go!
We start on the Old Canal (in Dutch: de Oude gracht). Back in time, parts of the old river bed were dug out to create the Old Canal (de Oudegracht). Wharfs were added to create an inner city harbour system and boats were able to directly dock and unload their cargo onto the wharfs. While Utrecht no longer is an important trade center, the unique wharfs, now dotted with restaurants, shops, cafés and boutiques still hold tribute to its former glory and significance. The canals in Utrecht are beautiful from the streets, but the views are even more spectacular from the water.
Slowly we drift towards the Dom Tower, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands, at 112.5 metres in height. We pass the town hall, beautiful wharves and vibrant terraces.
We pass through the bird district and see the beautiful mural with all the birds. Utrecht is full of surprises.
Spotting polar bears on the Biltse Grift
We calmly leave the city and canoe towards Hooghiemstra and Griftpark. The Griftpark is a beloved and modern park in the middle of Utrecht.
Those who thought polar bears did not exist in the Netherlands are wrong. We float past a rectangular pedestal on which there is a limestone statue. The statue is a standing polar bear and commemorates the entry into Utrecht of the English/Canadian reconnaissance unit ‘Polar Bears’ in 1945, after the surrender of the Germans.
An oasis of calm: the Minstroom and Zilveren Schaats
After this, we enter an oasis of calm amidst the urban bustle. We enter the ‘Zilveren Schaats’, a nature reserve, over 3 hectares in size. It’s home to unique species of mushrooms, grasses, aquatic plants and birds, some of which are on the list of endangered species. After passing the Zilveren Schaats, a calming stream begins.
Through the little lock, past the Alosyus church, you can canoe back towards the Old Canal. If you like adventure and want to paddle a little further, you can paddle towards the FC Utrecht stadium or even plan a stop at Theehuis Rhijnauwen. We decided to continue the route.
A fun challenge under the three bridges
When you paddle towards the FC Utrecht stadium, you have to pass under three very low bridges. The bridges are so low, you have to lie down in your canoe. We had to push ourselves with our hands under the bridge to move forward. Paddling was not possible. It was a fun challenge and very adventurous. Also quite a relief when we crossed the bridges.
An extra stop at Pancake House (Theehuis Rhijnauwen)
After passing the three bridges and before heading back to the Old Canal, you can choose to make an extra stop at Theehuis Rhijnauwen. Keep in mind that it’s about two kilometres extra that you have to canoe towards the pancake restaurant. The pancake house isn’t located where the icon is located on the map (the pancake house is off the map). It will probably take you one hour extra to reach the pancake restaurant, but believe it or not, it’s definitely worth a visit. I especially like this place because it’s in the middle of nature and the tables and chairs are in the grass. You hardly see that anywhere. Besides this, they serve delicious pancakes!
Pass the FC Utrecht Stadium
After our bridge adventure (or perhaps delicious pancake at Theehuis Rhijnauwen), we canoed back to the Old Canal via the Minstroom. We passed the ‘Galgenwaard’ stadion, a soccer stadium which is home to FC Utrecht since 1970. Slowly we left the peaceful green oasis behind and found ourselves back in urban waters. Before we knew it, we were back on the Old Canal and the fun canoe adventure was over.
Canoe route map Utrecht
Click on the button below to discover the different canoe routes through Utrecht.
Kanoverhuur Utrecht (also known as Kanoverhuur aan de Gracht) rents 1-person and 2-person canoes for a good price. You can rent a canoe from €6 p.p. per hour and for a maximum of €14 p.p. for a full day. The prices are inclusive of a waterways map and a waterproof bag. The rental company is located in a very convenient location, only a 10 minute walk from Utrecht Central Train station. You can reserve canoes in advance, easily online.
Make sure to bring a rain jacket, (waterproof) camera and something to eat/drink.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our canoe experience in Utrecht. Make sure you explore Utrecht’s thriving city center with its stunning canals and world-famous wharves by canoe next time you visit this beautiful city!
This article is part of the GPSmyCity iOS app. You can download it, read this article offline and obtain travel directions (by foot, car or bicycle) to the places mentioned in this article. Click here to download it.