Canals, museums, bars and a diminutive bunny are all part of the attraction in Utrecht, writes BELINDA SZONERT
SHE'S small, she's cute and she's one of the Dutch city of Utrecht's most famous exports. Miffy - or Nijntje, as she is known in her native Netherlands - has her own series of books and has appeared on TV.
Utrecht, about an hour's drive from Rotterdam, is the birthplace of Miffy creator Dick Bruna who, now in his 80th year, still spends his days there producing sketches.
But Utrecht is more than the home of Miffy. It's the perfect place for a short break, with a network of 14th-century sunken canals, bars and restaurants, great shopping and an eclectic mix of tourist attractions.
Utrecht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. Founded by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago, it was, for a long time, the largest and most important city in the country.
Today, Utrecht is rising in popularity as a city-break destination. But while the Dutch are familiar with the city's charms, it remains largely undiscovered by Brits, even though it is as easily accessible via Rotterdam's Europoort, served by overnight cruise-ferry crossings from Hull.
The city's focal point is the Dom
Church and its tower. A nave once connected the two, but this was never finished, and in 1674 it collapsed in a fierce storm. Energetic visitors can climb the 465 steps to the top of the 112-metre tower for magnificent views and a close look at the mechanism which sets the bells tolling in a cacophony which spills over the city.
The mechanically and musicallyminded are sure to enjoy a visit to the nearby National Museum From Musical Clock To Street Organ.
The museum attracts thousands of visitors every year who come to see automatic musical instruments from the 15th century to the present day.
Our guide tells us that one of the public's favourites is the Rabbit In A Cabbage, although it is one of the simplest of automatons, both musically and technically.
However, there's only one bunny in Utrecht who can boast a museum of her own.
The Dick Bruna Huis is a must for Miffy afficionados of all ages. There are displays charting Bruna's career while younger visitors listen to stories. These tales of Miffy have been translated into more than 40 languages - among her biggest fans are the Japanese.
The Dick Bruna Huis is part of the Centraal Museum. Aside from Miffy, highlights of this museum are works by the 17th-century paintings inspired by Caravaggio, and 16th-century painter Jan van Scorel.
An impressive art collection is also on display in the Catharijneconvent Museum. Housed in a late medieval monastery, the museum tells the story of Christian culture in the Netherlands.
The Museum Quarter, as it is known, is easy to explore on foot. But for a different perspective on what the city has to offer, a canal cruise comes highly recommended.
From the comfort of this watery vantage point, you survey life on two levels - the cityscape above and the cellars below, many of which have been given a new lease of life.
Here you will find subterranean restaurants where delicious food is served with a flourish.
There are also numerous bars with a range of beers and often offering delicious food - just the thing for lunch or to prepare you for the overnight voyage home on the comfortable Pride of Rotterdam, where you can doze off to dreams of canals, bells - and that charming little rabbit.