Friday 29 October 2010

Utrecht Old Town, Netherlands Running Route

Length: 8 km (5 miles), terrain flat

For more running routes, see Route List.

Ahhhemm... He doesn't know about it yet, but photos for this article are provided by John Moran. Take a look at his amazing nature photography at

Utrecht is just another typical Dutch town: beautiful old houses lining a network of canals crossed by stone bridges, full of cafes, medieval churches and a vibrant street life. The Dutch have really figured out how to make city life livable. You can spend your entire run just jogging up and down the old-town streets, being amazed at one fascinating spot after another. So why don't we do just that, with a quick tour of the old town. This run isn't so long, but you can easily extend it by running down any extra streets that you please. I added a loop to nearby Grift Park, but that only adds another half-kilometer to the total.
Local consultant team advises the author on scenic routes
The Utrecht Old Town Route
The old town runs basically north/south, at just 2 km long and 0.5 km wide. Two canals, the Oudegracht (old canal) and the Neuwegracht (you guessed it: new canal) run the length of the old town, and it's also surrounded by a moat on the south, east and north sides. The main train line runs along the western edge. Between the train station and the old town is a strip of ghastly modern buildings, throned-over by the soulless Vredensburg shopping center (the west-side moat was covered over for it!!??!!)

We'll start next to Vredensburg, at the central tram station. and then get the heck out of there quick. Just head east on Vredensburg street and in just a block you're suddenly immersed in the beautiful old-town buildings. The street changes its name to Viestraat (cattle street), and then bridges the Oudegracht canal, where you'll see the big main post-office at the corner. Turn right here and just run south. 
Along the Oudegracht canal
Just enjoy the scenery, but watch out for collisions with the many pedestrians and zillions of bicyclists. The canal zig-zags at the old town hall, then we'll turn left on Servetstraat, to run to the cathedral (or "Dom"), which you'll see, looming up ahead of you. The church tower, which you run THROUGH is strangely detached from the church, a block in front.
Hey, share the road! Bikes are everywhere.
We'll run a half-circle in the square in front of the church, then continue for a block southwards on Domplein, then turn right to run the one block back to the Oudegracht canal. Here, we'll turn left and continue southwards for a kilometer until it ends. 

Head diagonally left, towards the bridge over the southern moat, but just before the bridge, turn left onto the path called Manenburg, which runs through the park along the water, where there used to be the city walls. Keep running along the water, and the path makes a left-turn to the north, around the old observatory with the funny white-domed towers.
What a hangout!
We could just continue going straight along the water, in this nice park, which you can do as an alternative. But we'll turn left, circling the observatory to get onto the other north/south canal, Neuwegracht. Like with Oudegracht, you can run on either side of the canal. Turn right at the canal, heading back north. 

This street isn't as lively as Oudegracht, it's more a residential neighborhood. There are a lot of quiet, scenic side streets, so feel free to just turn down one any time to take a look. Eventually, the canal makes a 90-degree turn at Trans street, but we keep going straight, pretty much. The road ahead forks here, and we'll take the more scenic way, Achter de Dom, which runs along the back side of the cathedral. There are some great old houses here. 

When you run behind the church, curve around to the left and then cross the street and continue north on Domstraat. You'll run straight to the next big church, the Janskerk. It sits in a big, empty square, the flower market (flowers are big business in Holland).
Utrecht street life
Hang right at the church, on Nobelstraat, and run out 4 blocks over the bridge on the eastern moat again. Once you cross the bridge, turn left immediately to go north on Wittevrouensingel, which skirts the canal and will take us up towards Grift Park. 

Keep going until the moat and street make a sharp left turn around the prison. You just need to keep going straight into the park across the street. The park is split by a canal (yes, I know, they're everywhere!), but there's a bridge. So do a loop through the park and exit the way you came in. 

But instead of running back the same way again, we'll turn right and continue along the moat on Wittevrouensingel for about 7 blocks, until it runs into the Oudegracht canal again. Turn left here and in 3 blocks you'll see the post office where we first turned onto Oudegracht before, at Viestraat. Turn right here, and you'll be back at the tram station in just 3 blocks.

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