Just 30 minutes away from the picturesque, grass-infused city of Amsterdam, Utrecht might be considered the sensible sister of the weed capital with its cute, cobbled streets and endless alleys bustling with independent cafes and restaurants. A twisting canal cuts through the town centre aligned with bankside bars, stamping the city with a charming first impression.
Streets are narrow and busy with shoppers of all ages. Compared to the fast-paced stride of highly-strung Londoners, the atmosphere in Utrecht is notably more relaxed with al fresco diners spilling onto the pavement soaking up the rays.
Lining the canal are pointy, ancient looking buildings, juxtaposed with the usual fast food franchises which admittedly takes away from the first impression of a ‘fairy tale scene’ greeting you upon your exit from the train station. It’s still very much a tourist destination and student city so the golden arches have their usual, intruding presence here.
DISCO NAP//R&R//A NEST TO REST//SLEEP//RECOVER//REFRESH
Splurging on accommodation but staying where the activity is, the luxurious 5 star hotel Karel V is the ultimate cocoon for a disco nap, hidden away from the main square and looking out over a serene park. It’s the perfect hideaway to relax before checking out the small but alive underground music scene that has grown in Utrecht over the last few years.
But first, food. A variety of pubs and restaurants are tempting but we want to see what’s below street level along the canal. A dimly lit ‘Beers & Barrels’ eatery could be any East London, food bloggers dream but it’s filled with a rowdy Dutch, predominately male crowd. Instagram your meal? Out of the question. Opting for the calorie-laden bacon and cheeseburger with fat fries for under a tenner, the quality and taste of dinner almost moves me to tears of joy. Quite a change from the overpriced, fairly average, considered ‘cool’ burger joint we’re used to in London.
Armed with enough energy for the next 7 hours, we head to canal level BASIS club. A compact, high ceilinged space, it’s literally underground – just like their bookings including Paula Temple, Rebekah, AnD and Ansome to name a few. Bare brick walls and a bar stocked high with spirits from every corner of the world ensconce the dance floor giving the place a nice, eerie feel.
BASIS is a trademark techno club so we’re thrown into a sea of straight up industrial sounds from Berghain resident Kobosil, noise maker Vatican Shadow and dark techno queen Ireen Amnes. Visuals featuring an Asian woman blinking rapidly and looming babies heads floating around the projector accompany the darkness in a delightfully disturbing way.
Reluctantly leaving the club but appreciative of the tiny size of Utrecht, the 6 am walk to the hotel is completed (albeit hazily) in a matter of minutes. Enveloped in a puffy bed, plumped with at least 4 pillows, the Karel V helps us feel human again.
If you’re into a hard techno in a stripped backspace with a decent sound system, a respectful, open-minded crowd (no v-necks and ket spoons here) and potentially life-changing burgers, Utrecht is your city.
By Niamh O’Connor