Oh how much do I love the tiny city centre of our Utrecht, always busy as a bee. Students on bikes working one’s way through the shopping crowd, flower sellers barking their best prices and the gypsy street musicians providing the streets with music. Still, sometimes you crave for a quick get-away to catch some breath. Lucky enough, Utrecht has some hidden gems left for you! Hidden in the city centre are a few gardens and little courtyards which form islands of calm in the urban jungle.
Of course you can always sneak into one of the courtyards, since you know where they are now, but it’s even better to discover all the courtyards and gardens whilst strolling down town. Pay attention to the little alleys, because you’ll easily overlook them.
Each of the courtyards and gardens tell a unique part of the city’s history.
Did you know there’s a palm tree in the middle of Utrecht? No wonder if you didn’t, because it’s very well hidden at the Flora’s Hof. This city garden, hidden in the long shadow of the Dom Tower, used to be a royal nursery garden established in 1803. Nowadays this unique garden is kept by local volunteers, who built a plant theater and patio tubs.
Pandhof Sinte Marie dates back to the 11th century and is therefore the oldest Roman courtyard from the Netherlands. In Spring and Summer the aromas of rare herbs, indigenous and Biblical plants will make you forget you’re in the city centre. Pandhof Sinte Marie is tucked away behind the academy of music, so if you’re lucky you’ll hear some eager students practising whilst you’re enjoying the open air.
De Oude Hortus is a part of the University Museum (which is definitely a must-see) and forms a unique and green sanctuary in the middle of town. The garden is divided into a few areas, including a beautiful cottage garden and a medical garden. Next to that, the garden also accommodates several greenhouses for tropical plants ánd the oldest ginkgo tree of the Netherlands (it’s more than 250 years old).
The Dorstige Harthof might look like an ordinary open space in town, but a few hundred years ago a Dominican conventicle was built on this place. When the conventicle was broken down in 1842, nothing was built instead. Nowadays the Dorstige Harthof is your way to escape the city rush.
My favourite hofje is the Abraham Dolehof, reachable through a small alley from the Oude Gracht. This beautiful garden is all what’s left of the 15th century Saint Ursula monastery. Still, the plants and old trees bear witness to some of the holiness.
This city walk will end in the Dom garden, and hopefully also your journey at Utrecht University. Because if you’ll receive your diploma at the Academy Building, the Dom garden is the perfect spot to take some graduation pictures in style. This picturesque garden dates back to the early 15th century and is one of the most beautiful enclosed gardens of the Netherlands.