Interesting buildings in Utrecht
Utrecht is a historical city, originally founded by the Romans, with a generous share of historically significant structures and well-preserved architectural masterpieces stretching right back to the Middle Ages.
A city brimming with interesting buildings
It's amazing that such a city has so many well-preserved examples of the architecture, showcasing trends and movements throughout the centuries. It features a Medieval city centre and examples of Renaissance, Baroque and Romantic architecture, right up to modernist, brutalist, Amsterdam School and even contemporary buildings of the present day. Here are a few interesting Utrecht buildings from the past:
Oudaen, often referred to as the stadskasteel or city castle, was built in 1276 as a family home for the rich Zoudenbalch family. It came into possession of the Oudaen family in 1395 and the building has since retained the name. Nowadays, it’s a bar, brewery and restaurant, which means that anyone and everyone can step inside and see what it’s like to be in one of the oldest buildings in Utrecht.
During the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, the Oudegracht, (Utrecht's main city canal), became home to many wealthy families who built resilient stone houses. Unlike the standard family homes at the time which were made of wood, houses like the Oudaen stood the test of time. Other such houses exist along the Oudegracht, but Oudaen is the best preserved of all.
It has been renovated many times, the most prolific renovations being in 1500, 1680 and 1986. In 1758, it changed from a private family residence to an old peoples’ home, which lasted until 1965. For a short time, it was also home to a student fraternity. In 1986, it underwent major renovations and has been a popular bar and restaurant ever since.
Many tourists have climbed the 465 steps to the top of the Dom Tower, the highest church tower in the Netherlands. Its extreme height was intended to show how powerful Utrecht was as a religious centre – an idea that was deemed vain, over-the-top and boastful by Geert Grote, the catholic preacher who was an influential voice at the time.
The tower dates from the 14th century – construction began in 1321 and it wasn’t complete until 1382. It was to be part of St Martin’s church, but although the unfinished nave of the church has long disappeared, collapsing in 1674, the tower still remains, standing all alone as the pride of Utrecht. It was built to be multifunctional – on the first floor is St Michael’s chapel, there's a belfry containing an impressive 14 bells and it also functioned as a watch tower.
There are two viewing galleries: one at 70 metres and one at 95 metres and visitors can go on guided tours to the top to see the bells up close. During December and January, you can join in with the "Lights Tour of the Dom Tower", which culminates in all visitors enjoying a warm mug of hot chocolate.
The tower is such a distinctive part of Utrecht's skyline that residents can find foggy weather extremely disconcerting – it can look as though the tower has disappeared completely.
The Papal House
The Papal House, or Paushuize, is the second oldest surviving building in Utrecht's historical centre, completed in 1517, built for a pope who never had a chance to live there.
Its stripy appearance, with alternating red bricks and sandy-coloured blocks of stone, makes it stand out amongst the other Renaissance buildings in this historical part of Utrecht’s centre. On the outside, it appears quite understated and modest; however, the inside is lavish, with a grand ballroom and many other opulently-decorated rooms and hallways.
It was built before Utrecht-born Adrianus VI became Pope, although he actually never lived there – he was elected pope in 1522 and died a year later, in Rome. Pope Adrianus VI was the only Dutch pope in history, and the last ever non-Italian pope until the Polish Pope John Paul, 455 years later.
The most famous former resident of the Papal House was Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who ruled the Kingdom of Holland from 1806 to 1810, younger brother of Napoleon, Emperor of the French.
Royal Dutch Mint
Coins have been minted in Utrecht since 1567. Royal Dutch Mint, (in Dutch Koninklijke Nederlandse Munt, simply known as De Munt) is where Dutch coins are made - the only Dutch entity allowed to issue coins. The handsome building was built between 1902 and 1911, although the organisation itself dates back to Napoleon’s time.
From the Middle Ages onwards, coins were minted in several large trading cities and each one had its own mint and coins, meaning many versions of the same monetary values were circulating. Under the rule of King Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, coins had to be made by a single national body.
The Royal Dutch Mint was where the old Dutch guilders were sent to be destroyed when the euro came into circulation in 2002. As well as euros, the Royal Dutch Mint also produces commemorative collectors’ coins, medals and other coin-like products.
The Inktpot (with a model UFO)
The Inktpot, or Inkwell, is the largest brick building in the Netherlands. The UFO perched on the front of the building, created for Utrecht’s Panorama 2000 art exhibition, is what most people remember about the building.
It was built between 1919 and 1921 for the NS or Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the government-run railway company. Although NS is no longer resident there, it is still in the hands of railway matters: it’s now the head office of ProRail.
This imposing building is made of more than 22 million bricks, and its construction also relied heavily on oak timber. Old rails were used in the building’s foundations, due to the scarcity in building materials compared to the building’s massive size. NS acquired two brick factories for the building’s construction, as well as a timber company, three ships and a forest.
Inside, there are many notable preserved features, such as Art Deco clocks and the stairwell, which is a listed historical feature.
The building is not open to the public, as it is in full-time use by ProRail; however, each year the public can access it during Open Monuments Day.
Rietveld Schröder House
The Rietveld Schröder House is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The Dutch architect, Gerrit Rietveld was born in Utrecht and was renowned for his modernist ideas, influenced by De Stijl movement. His most famous and enduring masterpieces are his Red and Blue Chair and the Rietveld Schröder House.
The house was commissioned in 1924 by Truus Schröder, a widowed socialite and pharmacist with clear ideas of the surroundings she desired for herself and her three children. Many people in her social circle were sceptical at how minimalist her personal style was, seemingly unconventional for a woman of her social class.
Truus Schröder was a modern, independent-minded woman of the early 20th century and the individualism of the house reflects this. She lived there until her death at the age of 96.
The house took a radical break from all architecture that appeared before it. According to the UNESCO committee, it is “an icon in the Modern Movement in architecture and an outstanding expression of human creative genius, in its purity of ideas and concepts, as developed by the De Stijl movement.” The house is now a museum, open to the public.
Enjoy the fascinating buildings of Utrecht
Walking around Utrecht can feel like entering a large-scale outdoor museum. On the other hand, life goes on as usual and the scale of Utrecht tourism doesn't overpower the overall vibe of the city. Taking a walking tour of Utrecht and observing all the fascinating buildings is an absolute treat.