Introducing Utrecht City
Utrecht is one of the Netherlands' oldest cities, with a compact medieval centre set out around canals unique to the Netherlands. There's a lower level where warehouses were located in the 13th century, giving the canals a split-level character and meaning that diners and drinkers can nip off the street and enjoy a snack or a drink down at water level.
Of course a drink is what many people need after arriving in Utrecht, as the train station feeds into a vast enclosed mall, the Hoog Catharijne shopping centre, which goes on and on in all its unattractive glory until you are spat out at ground level in what seems to be a construction site. Wandering east you find the old town and suddenly you realise why you came.
Fortunately, the entire station region is undergoing the kind of rebuilding that will please anyone who thought the area needed to be blown up. Roads such as Catharijnebaan are being turned back into the canals they once were and the tatty station is being replaced by something that will both inspire and complement the old town. One downside: the vast project will last until 2019 (www.nieuwhc.nl).
Meanwhile, Utrecht's student population of 40,000 is the largest in the country, making the city a very vibrant place.