Sitting roughly in the center of The Netherlands, Utrecht (pop. 250,000) is a national hub that draws visitors with its lively festivals, numerous museums, young nightlife, and winding, tree-lined canals.

TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION. Trains arrive in the Hoog Catharijne from Amsterdam (30min. 3-6 per hr. ‚5.60). To get to the VW tourist office, Vinkenbrugstr. 19, follow the signs to Vredenberg, which leads to the town center. Pick up a map of the city and a complete listing of museums and sights for ‚2. (s (0900) 128 87 32; www.utrechtstad.nl. Open M-W and F 9:30am-6:30pm, Th 9:30am-9pm, Sa 9:30am-5pm, Su 10am-2pm.)

ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD. Near the comer of Lucasbolwerk and Nobelstr. B&B Utrecht City Centre , Lucasbolwerk 4, offers a kitchen, sauna, piano, and home video system to its guest’s. ( (0650) 43 48 84; www.hostelutre-cht.nl. Breakfast 24hr. Free Internet. Dorms ‚16; singles ‚55; doubles ‚65; triples ‚85; quads ‚100.) Slightly farther from the city, the same owners run B&B Utrecht O, Egelantierstr. 25. Take bus #3 to Watertoren (‚1), cross the street and head to Anemoonstr. then go two blocks to the end and turn left. The street turns into Egelantierstr. and the hostel is on your left. ((0650) 43 48 84; www.hotelinfo.nl. Breakfast 24hr. Free Internet. Dorms ‚12; singles ‚40; doubles ‚45; triples ‚70; quads ‚85.) Strowis Hostel , Boothstr. 8, has impeccable rooms, shiny darkwood floors, and an outdoor terrace overlooking a garden, ( 38 02 80; www.strowis.nl. Dorms ‚12-15; doubles ‚45; triples ‚55.) For a pastoral setting perfect for recharging, try Stayokay Ridderhofstad Rhijnauwen (HI) , Rhijnauwenselaan 14, in nearby Bunnik. Take bus #40, 41, or 43 from Centraal Station (10-15min. round-trip ‚4.20) and tell the driver to let you off at Bunnik. From the stop, cross the street, backtrack, and turn right on Rhijnauwenselaan. The hostel offers bike rentals and a small bar. (656 12 77. Brealtfast included. Dorms July-Aug. weeknights ‚22, weekends ‚23; doubles ‚52; triples ‚64-77; quads ‚78-‚94.)

Sit among a hip crowd, either by the canal or in the cozy lounge area inside Het Nachtrestaurant , Oudegrt. 158, which serves great tapas (‚2.40-6.80) and san-gria (‚3.20 per glass) in this night restaurant. ( 230 30 36. Open M-W 6-1 lpm, Th 6pm-midnight, F 6pm-lam, Sa 6-10:30pm.) Toque Toque , Oudegrt. 138, just off Vinkenburgstr. is an upscale restaurant with a nine page wine list, large salads under ‚13, and homemade pasta between ‚11-15. Deep red walls, 2m aluminum bar, and terrace seats overlooking the canal make this one of the hipper restaurants along the Oudegrt. (231 87 87. Open Su-W lpm-midnight, Th-Sa lOam-lam.) Other cheap meals can be found along the Nobelstraat, where a string of pizzarias, pubs, and sandwich shops are clustered together.

SIGHTS. Get info on churches and museums at RonDom, Dompl. 9, the Utrecht visitors’ center for cultural history. Then make your first stop the awe-inspiring Domkerk (Dom Church), which was started in 1254 and finished 250 years later. Initially a Roman Catholic cathedral, the Domkerk has held Protestant services since 1580. (Open May-Sept. M-F 10am-5pm, Sa 10am-3:30pm, Su 2-4pm; Oct.-Apr. M-F 1 lam-4pm, Sa 1 lam-3:30pm, Su 2-4pm. Free.) The Domtoren, the tallest tower in The Netherlands, was attached to the cathedral until a medieval tornado blew away the nave. (Tickets for tours sold at RonDom. Daily July-Aug. every 30min. 10am-4-30pm; Sept.-June every hr. 10am-4pm. ‚6, children ‚3.60.) The Museum Quarter contains the core of Utrecht’s extended family of museums, with something for everyone. The Central Museum, Nicolaaskerkhof 10, is now the oldest municipal museum in The Netherlands. Each of its galleries pays tribute to its national and civic past, with exquisite collections that range from paintings by 17th-century Utrecht Carav-aggists to 20th-century Dutch masters. ( 236 23 62; www.centrsialmuseum.nl. Open Su and T-Sa llam-5pm. ‚8. Under-12 free.) At the nearby Aboriginal Art Museum, Oude Gracht 176, view contemporary art created by Australian Aborigines. Most info is in Dutch, but ask for the walk-through pamphlet in English. ( 238 01 00. Open Tu-F 10am-5pm, Sa-Su llam-5pm. Admission ‚8, seniors and children ‚5.) Visit Museum Catherijnconvent, Lange Nieuwstr. 38, located at the site of a medieval convent, to view an extensive collection of Christian art. ( 231 72 96. Open Tu-F 10am-5pm, Sa-Su llam-5pm. ‚6.) The Nationaal Museum Van Speelklok tot Piere-ment, Buurkerkhof 10, traces the history of mechanical musical instruments. Amidst the kitsch, check out the collection of automats from the 17th to 20th centuries. (231 27 89. Open Tu-Sa 10am-5pm, Su noon-5pm. ‚6, under-12 ‚4. Tours every hr.) If you’re an astronomy buff, make sure to check out the Observatory Sonnenborgh Museum, Zonnenburg 2, which is The Netherlands’s oldest domed observatory, and has a large collection of antique scientific instruments. (230 28 18; www.sonnenbourgh.nl. Hours depend on the cosmos; call or check the web to make a reservation. Generally open M-F 10am-4pm. ‚3.50, under-14 ‚2.50.)

ENTERTAINMENT. Utrecht is The Netherlands’s largest college town, and it has the nightlife to prove it. Pick up a copy of UiLoper at bars or restaurants to scout out the cultural scene. The big stepping-out nights are usually Wednesday through Friday; on Saturday many university students go home, so plan according. De Wlnkel van Slnkel, Oude Gracht 158, is the city’s most popular grand-cafe. This huge, mandarin-colored complex has martinis lining the walls for a very chic effect. (Wine ‚2.60. Beer ‚2.30. Open Su-F llam-2am, Sa llam-5am.) In t Oude Pothuys, Oudegrt. 279, musical instruments hang from the ceiling in a converted cellar that hosts live music every night. (Open daily 10pm-l :30am.) Once the rest of Utrecht has shut down, students can party at fratemity-run Woolloo Moollo on Janskerkhof 14. (Student ID required. Cover varies. Open W-Sa llpm-late.)

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