A Vertical Hike in Utrecht

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Walks in the Netherlands

And now, for something completely different.

A Vertical Hike in Utrecht

Part three in our short series of “Walks in the Netherlands” provides a stark contrast both to the forested lake and windmills of Kralingen and to our delightful urban promenade along the canals of Utrecht. In the first two walks, you have seen an exemplary Dutch landscape and an exemplary Dutch townscape. Today’s walk offers neither. In fact, the view for most of the walk looks rather like this.

"Winding staircase of our vertical hike in Utrecht in the cathedral tower"

If you now say: this looks like the view from inside a walled staircase, you are very nearly there. Because today, we are going to climb up the tower of Utrecht Cathedral.

"Cathedral tower for our vertical hike in Utrecht"

This is the shortest walk our site has ever featured, with a distance from the top to the ground of about 110 metres, and our very first nearly vertical “hike”. Because from the street level, the only way is up, straight all the way, for 465 steps.

This is actually far less grim than it sounds, mainly because you are not made to take it all in one go. You can only walk up the tower as part of a guided tour (at a cost of € 8 per person), and the guide stops at different levels to explain a few things about the history of the building, also allowing you to catch your breath.

From the level of the first stop, you are already overlooking most of the buildings of Utrecht’s near-by Old Town. This is the part of the tower that the medieval bishops used as a sort of second home, at times – when things got a little sticky – a fortified retreat.

Later the church warden moved in to live here. At 20 meters above ground, this was highest home in all of the medieval Netherlands. You will see that the floors all have trap doors set into them: these were built in to haul up food – and drink, as the case may be.

The 16th century Dutch, it turned out, were not as strictly Puritan as they might have wanted each other to believe, at least some of them were not, and one warden was fired after it was found out that he had turned his upper-level flat into what must have been the medieval predecessor of a modern roof-top cocktail bar.

"first floor of the cathedral tower in our vertical hike in Utrecht"

The cathedral tower was constructed in the 14th century when it was one of the tallest buildings in Europe. The church attached to it was never fully finished, and when much of its middle section collapsed in 1674 (during a violent storm), the gaping holes in the nave were simply bricked up, and the tower was left to stand alone. This is what the Cathedral still looks like today.

"View from the top of the tower in our vertical hike in Utrecht"

The belfry marks the half-way stage of the climb. The oldest bells here date from the early 16th century, and the total set weighs over 30 tons – with the biggest bell alone accounting for 8000 kg.

"highest point of our vertical hike in Utrecht - cathedral belfry"

From here onwards of our vertical hike in Utrecht, the stairway becomes very narrow and slippery, too, since it is partly exposed to the elements. It is quite clear that the clergymen of the medieval diocese and not even the church wardens climbed this stairway as a matter of their daily routine.

"vertical hike in Utrecht along the winding stairways of the cathedral tower"

It seems that on a clear day, you can – we obviously had to take our guide’s word for it – see the steeples of the neighbouring towns and even Amsterdam from the top viewing platform.

"view from our vertical hike in Utrecht of the city from the belfry"

Made it Ma! Top of the Netherlands.

Or not, as the case may be. I actually looked this up – and was a little disappointed to find out that this famously flat country’s highest “mountain” clocks in at a surprisingly respectable 322 m. This is the Vaalserberg right at the Dutch frontier with Belgium and Germany, which doubled up – for about a hundred years in the 19th century – as one of the rarest things on earth, a veritable quadripoint.

That sounds like a great destination for another walk. We shall certainly come back to Holland at some point in the future.

Let us tell you where to go for a short hike or a pleasant walk wherever you may be on a holiday. Follow us on Facebook or get our free updates via email.

We thank the Utrecht Tourism Board for allowing us to discover their pleasant city as their guests. However, all the opinions expressed in our posts are our own, genuine and heartfelt.

18 comments to A Vertical Hike in Utrecht

  • Thanks for dropping by and sharing this great photo, Ed. This was one shot we tried to have, but the weather during our visit just didn’t allow it.

  • Ed

    Nice, engaging write-up. I was lucky to have a sunny day there a week earlier. View from the top: http://flic.kr/p/eAVBxt

  • One is distracted going up the narrow stone steps that one forgets how high it is. And from the top, there are reassuring protective fences, so it wasn’t too bad, vertigo-wise.

  • I like both the tower of Utrecht Cathedral and the Utrecht Cathedral. The oldest bells from the early 16th century? Interesting.

    And… yes, vertigo for me too as well as I was never there and at the Notre Dame. Wasn’t it all that bad up there? Good to know.

  • Glad you like it, Mary. I agree, seeing the city from a bird’s point of view is always awesome.

  • Great vertical hike and definitely worth the 400+ steps. We love seeing the city from buildings like these. It gives one a different perspective of a city. Have enjoyed seeing Utrecht through different angles from your posts.

  • Absolutely agree, Marcia. It must get pretty lonely up there in winter.

  • I’m not for heights at all, Jeremy. But this climb wasn’t so bad. Even at the top, it was easy to enjoy the views and not get a vertigo fit.

  • This is a pretty vertical hike, Michael. The views look pretty spectacular, despite the clouds.
    Poor warden, I can see why he’d want to have a little fun.

  • Jeremy Branham

    Great views from the top. I am not one with a fear of heights but that view down the staircase is pretty awesome!

  • How very romantic, indeed.

  • Sunset at the top can also be nice. I took my fiancée up for her first time on the day I proposed to her. We were fortunate enough to have the clouds part just enough to see the sun. See the link.

  • We’ve done the one in the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, Jeff. The reward for these vertical hikes are the views from there. Really stunning.

  • Thanks for confirming it for us, Sean. The view must be lovely up there on a clear sunny day. We were unfortunate that we had such a dreadful rainy day when we went up there. Thanks for dropping by.

  • I was living in Utrecht as of a few months ago and hiked up the Dom Tower a number of times (see link for photos from the first time in 2007). We did see both Amsterdam and Rotterdam at times.

  • Jeff Titelius

    I loved this vertical hike to the commanding views of Utrecht!! Wow!! extraordinary photography too! Reminds me of my ascent of Notre Dame in Paris and the Duomo in Florence!! Extraordinary!!

  • I don’t like heights myself, Leigh. But it wasn’t all that bad up there.

  • Love the view from the top. I almost have a case of vertigo looking at your pictures.

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