Explore Utrecht

Go see the start city of this year’s Vuelta on a bike

August 18, 2022

Try riding across Utrecht on a townie bike.

Odds are you can get wherever you want to go faster than it will take the winning team to lap the Dutch city during the opening TTT of this year’s Vuelta a España.

Yes, the Tour of Spain is starting in the Netherlands, though it’s been 443 years since Utrecht was ruled by the Spanish crown. No matter—the city wants to show the world that it is a cycling capital. After hosting starts of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, the Netherland’s fourth largest city is set to hold the first two stages of this year’s Vuelta. First up is a 23.3-km team time trial. Then, for stage two, the peloton will race from Breda, out in the fields of Dutch Brabant, into the forested countryside around Utrecht, before arriving back in the city and onto the finishing circuit.

Our Dutchman, Julius van den Berg, can’t wait to race in front of his family and friends.

“It will be nice to start in my country, on roads that I know,” he says. “I know Utrecht pretty well. It’s like a little Amsterdam, with the canals, impressive squares, and the Dom Tower.”

"Utrecht is like a little Amsterdam, with the canals, impressive squares, and the Dom Tower."

-Julius van den Berg

Tens of thousands of cycling fans will travel to Utrecht to watch the races. Don’t go by car. Utrecht is the Dutch rail hub, and once you get off the train, there’s hardly a place you can’t reach by bike in less than 20 minutes on the city’s well-laid paths.

You don’t even have to rush. Locals might navigate bike traffic with the peloton skills of professionals and make a game of beating the lights, but go with the flow on a rental bike—you can get one at the gleaming new central station—and you’ll soon find yourself at your destination.

Utrecht is more like a bustling village than a big city. Thanks to all of its bike paths and trees and dense low-rise buildings, it does away with much of the stress of 20th-century metropolitan living. It is home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, where over 70,000 students from all over the world go to learn. Many of them decide to stay after they have graduated, so the city centre is full of young entrepreneurs who have founded all sorts of creative businesses. In the afternoons, Utrechters young and old gather in the cafes cluttered under the cathedral and by the old canal to eat and drink late into the night.

“The centre is really fun, with bars and restaurants,” Julius says. “It’s a cosy city.”

For every hip restaurant, gallery, or coffeeshop, there’s a classic bar or antiquarian bookshop. Utrecht’s patios are always full on sunny summer days. Music floats through the air. Most weekends, there is a festival in one of Utrecht’s parks.

On the 19th and the 20th of August, that festival is the Vuelta a España.

Whether you’re going to Utrecht for the races or another time, here are a few of the best places in the city to visit on a bike.


Amsterdammers move to Utrecht for its-laid back vibe. Maats too. The coolest bike shop in Amsterdam recently opened a location in the city centre, right down by the old canal. Head there for a coffee or to browse Rapha’s latest collections. If you’ve got your road bike, join them on one of their rides. It’s a great way to meet other cyclists. On Friday night, Maats will be hosting a party with the Vuelta’s opening TTT up on a big screen.

Rietveld Schröderhuis

A three-dimensional Mondriaan painting is the best way to describe the Rietveld Schröderhuis. Built in 1923, its architecture is still radical. When Mrs. Schröder asked the designer Gerrit Rietveld to create a house for her, he drew a space made of shifting geometric shapes, coded in white, black, and primary colours, with overlapping, sliding walls. The house was meant to blur the lines between indoor and outdoor living. That ethos lives on in Utrecht today. Grey pavement is for cars; red pavement is for bikes, for instance. It’s a simple design language, which the people of Utrecht respect, so they can use the city like their own living room.

Utrecht Centraal Bike Park

Few parking lots are sites to behold, but the one for bikes at Utrecht’s central train station is a wonder. It has space for 12,656 bicycles, stored over three stories underground, which makes it the biggest, by far, in the world. It was built to encourage locals to use bikes and public transport instead of cars to reduce congestion and make the city more sustainable. As you ride down from the street, a digital system will guide you to free places. There’s a repair shop down there and a place to rent bikes for your visit to Utrecht.

Biercafé Olivier

Utrechters left the Spanish Empire centuries ago because they wanted to swap one church for another. Nowadays, the most popular church in Utrecht is probably Biercafé Olivier. Thankfully, Belgian monks are still keeping tradition alive by brewing the world’s finest beers. Settle into a pew in the old Maria Minor church and enjoy one or four of their rich creations. Olivier’s beer bible includes just about every brew you could imagine.

Gooise Heide

If you have time and want to go a bit further afield, bring, borrow, or rent a gravel bike–or just a road bike with wide tyres–and head for the heather fields of ‘t Gooi. Hard-packed dirt paths weave through the forests and dunes northeast of Utrecht, skirting around lakes full of sailboats and past old and new villas. The star-shaped fortress in Naarden is a good place to stop. So are the prosperous, thatch-roofed villages of Laren and Blaricum. Het Gooi is especially beautiful in late summer and early fall when the heather fields flower and turn purple.

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