Utrecht, Netherlands

Guide to Utrecht on a Budget:

10 Cheap Things to do in Utrecht

While backpacking around Europe, we are always searching for the most cost effective and eco-friendly ways to travel. If you're looking to travel to Utrecht on a budget, we've got you covered. Everything from free/cheap things to do in Utrecht, transportation on a shoestring, how to get around, and where to stay.

After coming from Bruges, we were excited to make our way into the Netherlands. Our first instinct was to stay in Amsterdam, how cliché, but after meeting some Dutch people during our travels they advised us to go to Utrecht instead.

We entertained the idea while looking at lodging in Amsterdam and immediately saw how expensive it was going to be, €60-70 for a dorm bed! It was then we decided we were going to Utrecht instead.

Utrect is an equally attractive city at fraction of the cost of Amsterdam, and only 30 minutes by train. It worked out better this way because we actually ended up liking it better than Amsterdam.

10 Things to do in Utrecht

No matter how to slice it the Netherlands are pretty expensive, even by European standards. Everything from groceries to transportation, the costs add up quickly. However, there are plenty of cheap, and even free things to do in Utrecht if you know where to look. Fortunately we've done some of the leg work, so to get you started check out the list below of free and cheap things to do in Utrecht.

1. Free Guided Walking Tours

Our number one free things to do in Utrecht is to go on a walking tour. Some of the best things to see in this city can be seen by foot. Two of the highest rated free walking tours in Utrecht are 1) Free Walking Tour – Utrecht, and 2) Utrecht Free Tours. The first one is a network of free tours offered in several cities throughout Western Europe.

Some of the free walking tours we’ve done in Europe have been hit or miss but this one was fairly decent. As always, if you feel the tour is worth it then feel free to give a donation to the tour guide at the end of the tour. That way they are encouraged to keep giving great tours. Nonetheless if you’re looking to travel Utrecht on a budget, the free walking tours are at the top of our list.

Frequency: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays
Times: 13:30
Duration: 1.5-2 hrs
Meeting Place: Domplein (near Dom Square)

Free Things to do in Utrecht on a budget

Frequency: Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays
Times: 12:00
Duration: 1.5-2 hrs
Meeting Place: Dom Square

Free Things to do in Utrecht on a budget

2. Gazenmarkt Tunnel

One of the coolest free things to do in Utrecht is checking out the Gazenmarkt Tunnel. Located near the Bezembrug bridge is this lit underground passage.

The first time we passed through the tunnel we thought it was an anomaly, but it turned out to be part of a larger artistic project in Utrecht, the Trajectum Lumen.

Trajectum Lumen is a collection of light displays throughout the city with the Gazenmarkt tunnel being the most obvious and largest display.

Free Things to do in Utrecht

3. Trajectum Lumen: Light Art in Utrecht

One of the bestfree things to do in Utrecht at night is to walk around the city discovering at finding the Trajectum Lumen. Though some light installations are more hidden than others, the full list of exact locations can be found here. These displays are part of a project to display homage to historically important places in Utrecht. Though some people might think these displays are an artsy way of livening up the city, you can read more about the project's purpose here.

Free Things to do in Utrecht
Burrkerkhof 11
Utrecht on a Budget
Bezemburg Bridge
Free Things to do in Utrecht
Drift 9

4. Pandhof Sinte Marie

One of the places we learned about on the free walking tour around Utrecht is the Pandhof Sinte Marie botanical gardens. Nestled between University of Utrecht and Dom Church, these gardens belong to the monestary. This lovely courtyard is full of herbs, flowers, and shrubs and is a nice place to enjoy a sunny day.

Cheap things to do in Utrecht on a Budget
Cheap things to do in Utrecht on a Budget

5. Walk the Streets and Canals

Though the canals of Utrecht are similar to Amsterdam, they’re just as picturesque but much quieter and less crowded. In fact, walking around here reminded us a little bit of Bruges. Utrecht is a fairly small city so it’s easy to wander around and get lost, but you’ll find yourself in a similar place soon enough.

Free things to do in Utrecht on a Budget
Free things to do in Utrecht on a Budget

6. De Haar Castle

Though it’s not one of the free things to do in Utrecht, if you’re interested in history, Castle de Haar is certainly rich with it. Dating back to the late 14th century, it has passed through many families and undergone several reconstructions.

In 1892, the ruins of De Haar underwent it’s final restoration to it’s current day state. Now owned by the Rothschild family, De Haar is open to the public and is about 14 km from Utrecht; 30 minute drive, 45 minute train or bike ride. Similar to the Sonnenborgh Observatory, price is also based on age; 0-3 yrs: Free, 4-12 yrs: €11.00, 13 yrs+: €17.00.

7. Sonnenborgh Observatory

If you're into astronomy, one of the cheap things to do in Utrecht is check out the Sonnenborgh Observatory. Founded in 1853 as the observatory for the University of Utrecht, nowadays it’s a museum that can be visited for a small entrance fee. Price is based on age, 0-3 yrs: Free, 4-12 yrs: €4.50, 13 yrs+ €7.00.

Sonnenborgh Utrecht
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

8. Blue Whale Sculpture

Another one of the free things to do in Utrecht is visit the Blue Whale. When we first arrived in Utrecht at the main train station, one of the first things we noticed was this fascinated whale sculpture located. This work of art was created entirely of single use plastics which is meant as statement to remind people of the importance of reducing your use before reusing or recycling plastic.

Utrecht on a Budget: Free things to do in Utrecht Blue Whale

9. Rent a Bike

The Netherlands are known for being extremely bike friendly. All the major cities in this country have dedicated bike lanes everywhere. With that being said, if you’re walking around on foot be cautious of where you’re walking so you don’t accidentally stray into a biking land and cause an accident.

The Netherlands has more bike than people at 1.3 bikes/person[1] so there is a big demand for parking. Thankfully the Dutch have come up with a few clever options, like these underground parking garages to accommodate thousands of bikes. With some garages offer the first 24 hours of storage free of charge and rental prices as low as €6/day, renting a bike is definitely one of the best cheap things to do in Utrecht. Don't forget a helmet 😉

Cheap things to do in Utrecht on a budget
Renting a bike Utrecht Netherlands
Cheap things to do in Utrecht on a budget

While you’re in Utrecht, you might as well check out the famous counterculture city of Amsterdam as it’s only a 30 minute train ride away. The trains in the Netherlands are very nice, but they're a bit pricey (€16.00 for a return journey). We are putting together a 3 day budget guide to Amsterdam, but we recommend a day trip here if you’re just trying to do Utrecht on a budget.

Getting around Utrecht on a Budget

Getting around on the cheap is quite doable if you're willing to put in the effort. As we mentioned, Utrecht is bike friendly with with rental prices as low as €6/day and first 24 hours of parking being free in some garages, biking is a very affordable way to getting around Utrecht on a budget. Besides that, the public buses/trams are roughly €2.90 for a one way pass. Public transport costs can quickly add up, especially if you want to take a day trip to Amsterdam with the intercity train. Return tickets from Utrecht to Amsterdam are between €14-16/person depending on which station you depart from.

Cheapest ways to get to Utrecht

Though most people think the Eurorail trains are the best way to get around Europe, taking a bus is really best option to travel to Utrecht on a budget. Hands down our favorite bus operator in Europe is Flixbus. They run to most countries and large cities, and are by far the most comfortable buses with the most leg room.

Photo Credit: Flixbus.com
Photo Credit: Flixbus.com
Paris ↠ Utrecht
  • Bus:
    • Cost: €15.00+
    • Time: 6 hrs+
  • Train:
    • Cost:  €67.00+
    • Time: 3.5 hrs+
Brussels ↠ Utrecht
  • Bus:
    • Cost: €7.99+
    • Time: 2.5 hrs+
  • Train:
    • Cost:  €29.00+
    • Time: 2 hrs+
Hamburg ↠ Utrecht
  • Bus:
    • Cost: €26.99+
    • Time: 8 hrs+
  • Train:
    • Cost:  €26.99+
    • Time: 5 hrs+

We also like browsing tickets on CheckMyBus to see the easiest and cheapest options. This website also suggests train tickets, but buses are usually the most cost effective option. Above are rough costs of getting to Utrecht from a few close-by European cities. Another good website we like to is Trainline for both bus and train tickets. They also offer a comprehensive search of the quickest/cheapest transport between European cities.

Pro Tip: If you plan on taking trains anywhere in Europe, you will need to book more than a month ahead of time if you want a decent price. Booking train tickets only a few weeks out can sometimes be 3-4x more expensive than a bus. Fortunately, bus tickets remain fairly stable and only increase a modest amount closer to the departure date.

Where to stay in Utrecht on a Budget

From our experience, we like to use Hostel World to check out potential hostels, then check other booking websites like Booking.com to make our reservations. Sometimes we also message hostels directly to get a better price. We also like to use Airbnb to book accommodations if its a better deal than hostels. Clicking on either of the icons will give you a deal with either of the sites, but are affiliate links so we earn a small commission.

Dorms: €19.50+ ($21.60+ USD)

Privates: €21.50+ ($23.80+ USD)

Amenities: Free Wifi, Laundry Facilities, Bar/Restaurant, Luggage Storage, 24 Hr Security/Reception

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Privates:€35.00+ ($38.50+ USD)

Amenities: Free Wifi, Bike Hire, Luggage Storage, 24 Hr Security, Free Coffee/Tea

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Privates:€35.00+ ($38.50+ USD)

Amenities: Free Wifi, Bike Hire, Luggage Storage, 24 Hr Security, Free Coffee/Tea

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: €18.00+ ($19.90+ USD)

Privates: €19.83+ ($22.00+ USD)

Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Luggage Storage, Restaurant, Lockers, Free Parking

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com
Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

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