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Everything you need to know about the Utrecht Dom Tower

The Utrecht Dom Tower from where the Comedy Walks starts

The Utrecht Dom Tower, also known as the Utrecht Bell Tower or simply the Utrecht Tower, is undoubtedly the city’s showpiece. Not only is it the tallest tower in Utrecht, but also the tallest church tower in the whole of the Netherlands. After reading this piece, you’ll be in the know about everything you need to know about the Utrecht Dom Tower, including all the fun facts and entertaining stories.

About the author: Laura Danielle is the co-founder of Comedy Walks: the only city tours with a stand-up comedian as a guide! In Utrecht, we start from the Domplein or Dom Square, next to the Utrecht Dom Tower. It’s the perfect mix of history and humor!

The history of the Utrecht Bell Tower in a nutshell

The construction of the Utrecht Dom Tower began in 1321 and lasted a whopping 60 years. Jan van Henegouwen, also known as Jan van den Doem, was the first architect and built the lower part of the Dom Tower. The Utrecht Bell Tower was built in the Gothic style of the late Middle Ages.

The Utrecht Dom Tower, the starting point of Comedy Walks

The Utrecht Dom Tower

Originally, it served as a bell tower for the neighboring Domkerk (Cathedral). Unlike the current situation, the Utrecht Bell Tower was actually connected to the Domkerk. However, during a severe storm in 1674, the nave, the middle part of the Utrecht Dom cathedral where the pews for the churchgoers stood, was completely blown away. Only the choir and the bell tower remained standing. The choir was later bricked up, and to this day, the choir and the bell tower stand separately on the Domplein.

The separation of the Utrecht Dom Tower and the Domkerk due to the storm in 1674 is partially true. At the time, the famous Utrecht Tower was built about 4 metres away from the middle part of the Domkerk. The reason for this was that the board of the Sint-Salvator Kerk, which was also located on the Domplein, demanded that there should be a passage between the Dom Tower and the Domkerk to have easy access to their possessions. They had a connecting air bridge, likely containing a chapel. So, on the ground floor, the Utrecht Tower and the Domkerk have always been separated.

And for those wondering why there is only one Utrecht Bell Tower? Wasn’t it customary for cathedrals of this size to have two tall bell towers? Probably, there simply wasn’t enough space for a second tower. The area to the west of the cathedral was already completely built up.

Throughout history, the Utrecht Tower had various functions. First and foremost, it served as a bell tower for the Domkerk. It also had the private chapel of the bishop, known as the Michaëls Chappel, located above the gate of the Utrecht Dom Tower, where you can now just walk or cycle through. For a certain period, the tower also served as an observation post for the tower watcher, who lived above the chapel. Beneath the Utrecht Bell Tower, there is a large cellar that was believed to have been used as a prison.

In 2023, the Utrecht Tower is still a bell tower. There are 14 tolling bells hanging in the Utrecht Bell Tower, with 7 of them dating back to the early 16th century. You can hear these bells every Sunday, on religious holidays, and during special occasions. It takes a team of no less than 26 people to ring all the bells! Additionally, the Utrecht Bell Tower has 50 carillon bells. The carillon of the Utrecht Dom Tower plays daily, and believe me, not every Utrecht resident is charmed by it.

Tale about the Utrecht Dom Tower

Was there ever a popular pub in the Utrecht Tower? The stories about the Utrecht Dom Tower reveal yet another remarkable function of the famous tower. There was supposedly once a pub inside the Dom Tower! The bell ringer apparently needed some extra cash and secretly opened a little pub on the second floor of the bell tower. However, there was one problem: to get there, guests had to pass through the private chapel of the bishop on the first floor. That was definitely a no-go! So, the clever bell ringer placed a ladder staircase against the tower, allowing regulars to sneak into the pub unnoticed. Only, descending after a few drinks proved quite hilarious and risky. Many a wife has looked for her husband at the bottom of the Dom Tower’s ladder when he didn’t return home after a visit to the “Dompub.”

The Utrecht Tower: the tallest church tower of the Netherlands

Many wonder how tall the Utrecht Tower actually is. What’s your guess for the tallest church tower in the Netherlands? The Utrecht Bell Tower is precisely 112.32 meter high. For a long time, it was believed that no building in Utrecht could exceed the height of the Dom Tower. However, the city has now relaxed this rule and decided that it only applies to the historical center. So, the era of restraint and limitations is over. Utrecht is finally reaching for the skies! The city has grand visions and advanced plans for structures that will dominate the skyline.

Dom Tower Tickets

Nowadays, the Utrecht Dom Tower  is a hot spot for tourists, where visitors have the opportunity to climb the tower and enjoy a breathtaking view of the city. But believe me, it’s quite a climb to that amazing viewpoint on the historic Utrecht Tower. Be prepared to spend about half an hour tackling all 465 steps, but the view is more than worth it! If you want to climb the Dom Tower, you can order your tickets online or visit the VVV office on the Domplein. An adult ticket costs €12.50, while a ticket for a child between 4 and 12 years old costs €7.50. Kids up to 3 years old can join for free, but keep in mind that you’ll probably have to carry them up 465 steps! A U-pas, 65+, CJP, or student card also grants you a discount on your tickets. Unfortunately, the Museumkaart is not valid.

View from the Utrecht Dom Tower_Comedy Walks Utrecht

View from the Utrecht Dom Tower

A quick tip: you’re not allowed to bring (hand)bags upstairs. Luckily, the VVV office provides convenient lockers where you can securely store your belongings. So, leave your heavy baggage behind and get ready for an unforgettable climb to the top of the impressive Utrecht Dom Tower

The tragic love story of het Pandhof van de Dom

The Pandhof of the Dom, that architectural gem nestled between the Domkerk (Cathedral) and the Academiegebouw (Academy Building), is truly a treasure you can leisurely stroll through from the Domplein (Dom Square). It’s a garden filled with medicinal herb beds, surrounded by a splendid covered cloister adorned with beautiful window arches. In the past, the Pandhof served as the connecting point between the Domkerk and the Groot Kapittelhuis (Great Chapter House), where important clergymen – the canons – gathered their brilliant minds to assist the bishop in his sacred duties. Today, the Groot Kapittelhuis functions as the auditorium of the Academiegebouw on the Domplein. During our unique city walk with a comedian as your guide, we also make a stop at the Academy Building and pass by the Pandhof of the Dom.

The Pandhof of the Dom featured during a Comedy Walk

The Pandhof of the Dom

Behind this exquisite piece of architecture lies a remarkable tale. It all begins with our protagonist, Jan van Henegouwen, the first architect of the Dom in Utrecht. Inexperienced yet determined, Jan fell in love with none other than Maria van Ath – a stunning lady from a wealthy noble family. However, their love faced obstacles due to their different backgrounds, making marriage seem like an impossibility.

But Maria’s father had a plan: he promised that if Jan could be appointed as the architect of the new cathedral, he would gain enough prestige to marry Maria. And so it was; Jan embarked on a passionate quest to secure that building commission. Employing a clever manoeuvre that involved sidelining his competitor, Jan succeeded in his mission.

However, fate had other plans. Maria learned that Jan had been appointed, but constructing the cathedral, along with the Utrecht Dom Tower, would be a lifelong project. Marriage now seemed more distant than ever. In desperation, she sought refuge in a convent, hoping to escape an arranged marriage with someone else. Her dream of marrying Jan shattered.

Meanwhile, Jan confessed to the bishop that he had killed his rival to secure the building commission. Surprisingly forgiving, the bishop decided that Jan could remain as the architect, but as punishment, he must spend the rest of his life in seclusion.

Maria, now disenchanted with the life of a nun, ultimately chose to leave the convent. However, the shame of her departure made her unwelcome among her family. Filled with sorrow and despair, she arrived in Utrecht. There, between the cloister and the garden of the Pandhof, she met her tragic end. Jan discovered her lifeless body and, as a tribute, carved a stone rope from natural stone as part of the embellishments on one of the window arches of the Pandhof.

The Pandhof of the Dom, a place of beauty and history, holds a tragic love story that continues to echo through the ages. And if you look closely, you can discover the particular window arch where the symbol of their love can still be found. Want more of such stories? Be sure to check out Bert van Zantwijk for even more Utrecht folk tales!

What other people ask about the Utrecht Dom Tower:

Why is the nave of the Dom Church in Utrecht missing? 

Many individuals are curious about the fate of the nave of the Dom Church in Utrecht, along with its side aisles. Once, the Dom Tower used to be a part of the Dom Church. However, in 1674, a severe storm ravaged the church, completely obliterating its nave. An ancient Dutch news magazine from the 17th century, known as the Hollantsche Mercurius, documented the event, describing thunder, lightning, fierce winds, torrential rain, and hailstones. And they were not talking about chocolate sprinkle size hailstones, but hailstones the size of children’s heads (“Kinder hoofden”).

Only the choir and the bell tower managed to withstand the destructive force of the storm. Subsequently, the choir was enclosed by brickwork. Presently, the choir and the bell tower stand independently on the Domplein. The recovery process was a slow one, taking the people of Utrecht more than 150 years to clear the debris of the Dom Church, ultimately giving rise to the current Domplein, or Dom Square.

Should you climb the Dom Tower in Utrecht? 

If you get a chance you should definitely climb the impressive Dom Tower in Utrecht! You’ll experience history and see breathtaking views. As you go up the 465 stairs, it’s like travelling back in time. The tower has been around for centuries and has seen many changes in the world. When you finally reach the top, you’ll be amazed by the beautiful view of Utrecht below. You can see the canals, historic landmarks, and lively streets. It feels like time stops, and you can enjoy the peacefulness of this charming Dutch city. So, don’t miss this opportunity to reach new heights and experience the unforgettable Utrecht Bell Tower

To climb the Utrecht Dom Tower, you have two options: you can either purchase your tickets online or visit the VVV office located on the Domplein. The ticket price for adults is €12.50, and for children aged 4 to 12 years old, it’s €7.50. Kids under 3 years old can join for free, but remember that you’ll need to carry them up the 465 steps! If you have a U-pas, are 65+, possess a CJP, or a student card, you can avail of a discounted ticket. However, please note that the Museumkaart is not valid for this attraction.

What is the height of the Utrecht Tower? 

The exact height of the Utrecht Dom Tower is 112,32m or 367ft. That makes is the tallest building in the historic centre of Utrecht and the tallest bell tower of the Netherlands. The Makkah Clock Royal Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, holds the record as the tallest clock tower, standing at an impressive height of 601 meters (1,972 feet).