6 Fun Trivia about Utrecht, One of the Happiest Places in the World

31 October 2013

I can’t help but wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something. I not only live in one of the happiest countries in the world, surrounded by the happiest kids in the world, but the city I used to live in, Utrecht, was recently proclaimed as one of the happiest places in the world according to BBC Travel.


However, BBC Travel isn’t the first one to sing praises of Utrecht. The Lonely Planet listed Utrecht as part of the world’s 10 Unsung Places, describing it as charming city off the beaten track despite its wondrous charms. Even New York Times, enamored by the vibrant Dutch city of Utrecht, describes it as a dutch town that nurtures its quirks.

I must confess that my love for Utrecht did not come naturally. I’m a San Francisco-Berkeley girl, and it took quite a while for this provincial Dutch city to charm me over.  My heart always flirted with the more glamorous, world renowned, international Amsterdam. I knew there was some sort of wonderful party going on, but like a deaf girl at a disco, I couldn’t hear the amazing music. 6 years of having lived in the heart of the city center, I’ve gained some privileged insight as to why Utrecht is arguably the most beloved city in the Netherlands.

Here are six fun trivia about Utrecht, one of the happiest places in the world:

1. Utrecht embodies genuine “gezelligheid“. 

Gezelligheid is one of those untranslatable words – it embodies cosiness, quaint, pleasant atmosphere, general togetherness, the feeling you get when you see a good friend after a long absence, the peace of spending quality time with loved ones. Gezelligheid, some would argue, is what is at the very core of Dutch culture. It’s not hard to let nostalgia take a hold of your senses when you’re walking around the beautifully preserved medieval streets.


2. Utrecht is as authentic Dutch as you can get.

Although more and more tourists are braving this obscure town, the streets of Utrecht remains quintessentially inhabited and occupied by the Dutch. There are plenty of times when you would be hard pressed to find a tourist.  And unlike Amsterdam which is much more accommodating to English speakers, Dutch is the preferred lingua franca of Utrecht.  However, for non-Dutch speaking people interested in giving the city a visit, never fear.  Chances are you will run into a proud Dutchie who would love to show off his or her English speaking skills with you.

3.Utrecht embraces art with reverence to the past, passion for the present and a special nod to the future.

Utrecht’s historical and cultural legacy boasts the largest density of treasures in the Netherlands with over 9 museums and a plethora of historical monuments. It a thriving city where “new ideas are taking shape in old buildings resting on ancient foundations.” Utrecht is home to Netherlands’ beloved children’s author Dick Bruna, offers Cultural Sundays,  and even has a living poem etched in stone.


4. Utrecht is the center of Utrecht province, the most competitive region in the entire European Union.

While this trivia is quite surprising given other European powerhouses such as London and Berlin, Utrecht Dutchies can give themselves a pat in the back for doing something right. The ranking of 73 European regions was based on evaluations of the area’s institutions, infrastructure, macro-economic stability, health and school education. Money makes the world go round and Utrecht province has figured out a way to keep it going. The full report can be read here.

5.Utrecht is home to Utrecht University, the largest university in the Netherlands.

There’s no doubt that the creative and entrepreneurial spirit endemic to academia (Utrecht University) filters over to the city of Utrecht. Students, professors, researchers, and their families from all over the world bring a microcosm of the world right at Utrecht’s doorstep. The energy of college age kids also makes Utrecht city center one of the best places to party starting from Thursday evening.


6. At the very heart of Utrecht is the Domtoren, the tallest church tower in the entire country.

It’s not too hard to catch a glimpse of the 112m high Domtoren when walking around the center of Utrecht. After taking almost 300 years to complete, the cathedral (Dom) and its tower was completed in the 14th century. An infamous hurricane-like storm in 1674 blew down the cathedral’s main nave, forever separating the tower and the cathedral. The Domtoren, an enduring symbol of Utrecht, resonates tenacity against all odds, an undefeatable spirit and sincere love for the people who call it home.

Correction: A reader kindly informed me that the Dom tower is the highest climbable tower in the Netherlands. The tallest tower in the Low Countries is the Gebrandy Tower.


Bonus 7

My husband and son were both born in Utrecht. That is reason enough to make Utrecht one of the happiest places in the world.

Important Insider Tip when Visiting Utrecht

If you’re not a fan of hoards of endless crowds, do not visit Utrecht on a Saturday. Being the most loved city in the entire Netherlands, it’s no wonder that the Dutchies would flock to it on their day off!


P.S. Want to read one more article? Check out my most recent post called “How To Piss Off The Dutch“, or more accurately,  “How Not To Make Friends With the Dutch and Alienate Dutch People”.

P.P.S. Want to waste more time? Come join me on my Facebook page to get regular updates of my adventures in the Low Countries and random but guaranteed interesting (parenting) articles circulating around the web.

  • I love Utrecht, it is beautiful! Reminds me of Delft a lot- but then many Dutch cities remind me of Delft ;D Beautiful pictures, too!

    • rinamae

      Delft is a very beautiful city. I’ve only been there once, but would love to see it again. Perhaps it would be a great way to have coffee with you!

  • Shobha George

    love the rainbow photo. hardly see such a bright rainbow around!

    • rinamae

      I love rainbows too. There are lots and lots of rainbows in the Netherlands. 😉

      • Jarno

        So, also a lot of rain 😛

  • Awesome!

    • rinamae


  • Patrick van Kesteren

    I need to make one correction the dom tower is not the highest tower in the Netherlands, it is the highest climable tower. The highest tower in the Netherlands is the gebrandy tower.

    • rinamae

      Thanks for letting me know! I’ll definitely correct that soon!

      • Tom Terwan

        It is, however, the highest tower of Utrecht. Contractors and builders, up to this point, have never been allowed to build a building higher than the Domtoren in Utrecht. This has been a general rule in building plans across Utrecht. This is done to value the original historic symbolism.

    • ceesvangils

      Silly Patrick, off course it is the highest church tower as stated. Other kind of towers like Euromast don’t count

  • Candida Van Natta

    Gezelligheid kent geen tijd! 😉

    • rinamae

      Ik ben het met je eens!

  • Cor Denneman Heilscher

    Utrecht is the place of birth of my wife Joke Kloppenborg and myself. The centre still is stunning and striking. The Nieuwegracht, where we have lived with both sons Onno & Joris during eight intensive years in particular…

  • Timo Cox
  • Karien Coetzer

    I have only spent 8 days and I am in love!

    • Olivia Newton

      No way! So funny. My vriendin van Ultrecht het die post geshare en nou sien ek julle twee awesome mense op die page se replies. Mal. Julle twee moet dit geniet! “Aubster”

  • orschiro

    Living here for six months and can just confirm what you have written!

    Utrecht en de Nederlands zijn prima! 🙂

  • kevin

    yes but the maastoren in rotterdam is not a church tower so the maastoren is not the biggest CHURCH TOWER but a normall tower

  • Stella Heijnens

    Thank you for writing 🙂 I spend some time in Berkeley myself for an internship there and loved it! I was happy to be back home again though and you have just revived that feeling for me! I recently went through a tough breakup but knowing I live in the happiest place that kind of lights up my mood again 🙂

  • Hans Donck

    As you remarked in your list, the Domtoren is the tallest CHURCH tower in the Netherlands. The http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerbrandy_Tower is a RTV-broadcasting tower.
    Being a long time resident of Utrecht, and working at the Utrecht University, I am really pleased with your praise of the city and its inhabitants!

  • Wim van Basten

    I fully agree with the comments about Utrecht. Visiting for work some, mostly pore countries for work, and for holydays several rich countries I always are very happy to return in my home-country and especially my home-town Utrecht. Here I lived for more as 65 years now. I am a very satisfied and happy person.
    It is very nice to read here all the positive infromation about my “staadsji Utereg” (this is a pover try to write the slang / dialect overhere)

  • Serena

    Utrecht is simply amazing. I was also fascinated about Amsterdam at first, but after all it does not seem that Dutch. I mean, of course you can feel you are in Holland, but there are too many tourists. I felt a tourist myself, and I could easily hear my own native language in the streets. If you really want to get into Dutch culture and mentality, moving to Utrecht is definitely the way to go. Despite the weather, I cannot stop smiling when biking around in my new city. And despite taking the same bus every single day, I will never stop staring at the view, trying to catch every single detail of this fascinating town. If this is not love.. 😉

  • Eva

    Having studied there for five years I have grown fond of all the beautiful sides the city has to offer. I especially love the “grachten” and all the great bars. Although I love Utrecht…my favorite place in Holland is still Den Bosch…but I am probably biased being born and raised there 🙂 Thank you for writing this!

  • Rolina

    Nice blog! I’m Canadian born, to Dutch parents. I’m moving from Canada to the Netherlands in a few months. I’ll live close to Delft and work in Bilthoven. While I am super excited to move, there are moments of doubt and fear — as always with big and exciting life changes. You’ve helped me push some of them away, and look forward, more than ever, to living in the Netherlands! So very excited!!! 🙂

  • You’re making me get that warm-fuzzy feeling, reminiscing about the good old days spent in Utrecht. I went to school here.. and lived in the centrum, in the vicinity of the Oude Gracht. I miss it. Thanks for writing this! 🙂

  • Emanuel Beunder

    Yes, Dutch is the Lingua-Franca but you’d be hard pressed to find someone in Utrecht who doesn’t speak English. After all, it has the youngest inhabitants from the whole Netherlands and most are (ex-)students..