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