42km (26 miles) SE of Amsterdam

A good starting point for exploring this province is the capital city, with its thriving cultural life. Utrecht's modern face hits you the moment you arrive by train at Utrecht Centraal station, in the multitiered Hoog Catherijne mall that spreads over a 6-block area to the edge of the Old Town. But don't let that dampen your interest in visiting this well-preserved city, Holland's fourth largest (pop. 296,000). Utrecht was founded by the Romans as the fortress of Trajectum ad Rhenum (Ford on the Rhine) in A.D. 47.

When the Dutch Republic was established here in 1579, Utrecht had already been a powerful political player from the earliest days of Christianity in the Low Countries, since the English missionary St. Willibrord founded a bishopric here in 695. As a result, this is a city of churches, with many restored medieval religious structures in the old heart of town.