Utrecht’s Green Heart
Utrecht got featured in the newspapers last year, as the city chose to replace a busy driving street with a canal. The canal now surrounds the old city center like it once did years ago. The battle between nature and urbanization is present in most of the world’s cities, yet urbanization is almost always the winner… but not in Utrecht. Utrecht’s people have always loved green in their city and so the green initiatives don’t only come from the municipality but also from the inhabitants themselves. Not only do trees and plants give the city a vibrant healthy look, but green has a restorative effect on attention and stress. Also, the greenness has a positive effect on the development of children, the social cohesion of neighborhoods, the physical movements and the attitude. For employees are benefits as well, such as more productivity and creativity. (Smit, 2009) Greenness also helps the city to adapt to climate change, as it decreases heat stress and prevents flooding after rainstorms (Derkzen, Van Teeffelen, & Verburg, 2017). Because of all this, Utrecht has a special ‘groenbeleid’, which translates to the green policy, which aims at more and more greenness in and around the city.
Let’s explore! This tour will take you to Utrecht’s most beautiful gardens and green spots you may not have seen before.
We suggest you begin the tour in the late morning (10:00 or 11:00) so you can lunch in the city center and still visit the Botanical Gardens and drop off your bike at Upsalalaan.
- The ‘Pandhof Domkerk’ is opened from 10:00 till 16:00 (closed till 20-4-2021).
- The ‘Pandhof Mariakerk’ is opened from 8:00 till 18:00.
- The ‘Botanische tuinen’
- …open at 10:00 and close at 16:00, so be sure to start the tour on time.
- …, due to corona, have a protocol where you must reserve a timeslot, or it could even be closed. To check, see: https://www.uu.nl/en/utrecht-botanic-gardens/visitor-information/visit-the-botanic-gardens
- …are free to students of Utrecht University if they show their university card. Otherwise, the fee for adults is €8.50. For more information: https://www.uu.nl/en/utrecht-botanic-gardens/opening-hours-and-admission
- The bike as transport.
- If you do not have a bike, you can simply rent an OV bike. Make sure you arrange this in advance via: https://www.ns.nl/en/door-to-door/ov-fiets. You can pick-up this bike at Utrecht Central Station and drop it off near the Botanical Gardens at Upsalalaan 7.
- There, you can pick up the key for the entrance on the first floor of the parking garage. Then, you can take the bus and tram to Amelisweerd (see below).
- Other ways of transport:
- If you are not feeling like riding a bike, you can also take a walk. The tour is doable by foot as well. When traveling to the Botanical Gardens take bus 27 or 28 to P+R Science Park at Janskerkhof, and get off the bus at Botanische Tuinen.
- Traveling to Amelisweerd.
- If you are doing the tour by OV-bike or by foot, you have to take tram 22 to Utrecht CS and get off the tram at Stadion Galgenwaard. There you transfer to bus 41 to Wijk bij Duurstede. Get off the bus at Koningsweg and walk to Amelisweerd.
- This is because there is no place to drop off your OV-bike near Amelisweerd. Therefore, you will have to either do the whole tour on OV-bike and ride back to Utrecht Central Station or leave your bike at the ‘Uithof’ (Upsalalaan 7) and take public transport to Amelisweerd. After taking public transport to Amelisweerd you can go home via station Utrecht Lunetten or back via the ‘Uithof’.
Google Maps route:
For a link to the Google Maps route, click here: Google Maps
IMPORTANT: to avoid a fine for biking with your phone, listen to the route with earplugs while biking and stop in a safe place if you need to look at the map!
First off we are going to get a look at some recent and future projects in the city center, Utrechts ambition:
- Get off the train at Utrecht Central station and ride towards the Smakkelaarsveld side of the station. Here, Utrecht is building a gigantic green living park, called Smakkelaarspark. The buildings will have solar panels on the rooftops and there will be enough space for many to sit and relax on the grass at the sight of a wonderful canal. The planned opening for this living park is in 2023. For more detailed information, see the website, https://smakkelaarspark.nl/.
- Ride along the Catherijnesingel. In 2020, this is where the busy street full of cars was replaced by a canal, as mentioned in the introduction. The contradictory decision to let nature win of urbanization reached a multitude of newspapers, even abroad. The uniqueness of this decision shows the willingness of the Utrechters to make their city green. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/14/utrecht-restores-historic-canal-made-into-motorway-in-1970s
Then we move on to the more historical gardens of the city center:
- Ride on towards the Andreashof, this one, especially compared to the Dom Garden which will come along later, is younger. It was created in the eighties, when the people of the district wanted more nature in their neighborhood.
- Ride on to Pandhof Mariakerk. This little garden is one of the many classical gardens that Utrecht has. The city has always tried to maintain its green, even in times of rapid industrial growth.
- On to the most famous of all gardens: The Dom Garden. This one is one of the oldest gardens, at the heart of Utrecht’s city center.
Thirdly we are going to explore more recent green accommodations in Utrecht.
- Ride towards Janskerkof. Here, on Saturdays, you will find a very beautiful flower market. Also, look at the green busstops. The plants on top filter the air and attract bees, which are endangered species, but very important for our food systems. These green busstops are everywhere in Utrecht and are also busstops with solar panels so that the lights don’t need any other form of energy than the sun.
- From there you can cycle further to the botanical gardens (“Botanische Tuinen”) You guessed it, this is where Utrecht’s botanical gardens are, right at the university campus. This is a beautiful garden where you are more than welcome to see all sorts of plants and where students and researchers do research on for example biodiversity.
Finally, and maybe most important on this tour, is the activist spirit of Utrechters, as residents of the city are called. (Please note the google maps route takes you to the building in the picture. You do not have to follow this exactly; this is to show you where you can find the picture and encourages you to explore.)
- At last, you can continue your journey into the largest ‘park’ of all: Amelisweerd. Along the way, you will encounter Fort Rijnauwen, which is part of the historical Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie. This was an important defense line in Dutch history. The waterline protected a large part of Holland and the city of Utrecht. The waterline was in use from 1870 to 1945. Now, the area belongs to Staatsbosbeheer, which is responsible for nature conservation in The Netherlands. This is thus another example of parts of Utrecht that became even more green in recent history.
- Amelisweerd itself is an amazing area with many old trees and a haven for many breeding birds. Also, the area has a large history of with knight homesteads and fortresses. Unfortunately, the park is in danger due to urbanization and plans of the government to broaden the highway here, which would mean that many of the beautiful trees end up being chipped up to pieces. As we would expect from the green-loving Utrecht people, there has been a lot of protesting this. Maarten van Rossem, Barry Atsma and more famous Utrecht based famous people have stood up for this cause. For more information about these protests, see: