The capital of The Netherlands is a city with a split personality. But if you have ever been put off from a visit because of its censurable side, it is worth rethinking in order to enjoy the beauty, culture and excitement that can be found in between the charming canals.
Amsterdam's name is derived from the fact that it was once the dam for the River Amstel. The city's excellent maritime trade has allowed it to grow from its origin as a small fishing village in the 12th century, through a time when it was considered one of the most influential ports in the world to the modern day cultural powerhouse that it now.
The infamous canals are listed on UNESCO's list of world heritage sites, and the fact that there are over 60 miles of them throughout the whole city turns the many cobbled streets into a maze-like structure. Everywhere can look the same if you don't know where you are going and so a map or smartphone navigation app is priceless during your Amsterdam city break.
The easiest way to arrive in Amsterdam is by plane. Nearby Schiphol airport is one of the busiest in Europe and is served multiple times a day by British Airways from London's three major airports. Low-cost lines such as EasyJet also touch down on the runways of Schiphol but these may be slightly less frequent. One thing that is worth remembering, for your trip home especially, is that this is a very large airport. It's best to arrive with plenty of time to spare in order to navigate your way around.
Once you are through baggage claim, head towards the underground train station to catch an easy connection into the city centre. Trains go to either Amsterdam Centraal or Amsterdam Zuid so it is best to see which of these is nearest your hotel before leaving for your trip. Another top tip is to buy your ticket from the yellow automated machines as they offer a cheaper rate than the ticket counters. The journey should take around 20 minutes.
Alternative ways to reach Amsterdam include a trip on the Eurostar or sailing in on a cross-channel ferry. Of these two options, Eurostar presents the most convenient as you can take a 2-hour ride into Brussels before continuing your journey to the city centre on board a Thalys train. Both legs can be booked at once so you don't have to worry about matching up the times yourself.
Arriving by ferry involves a much longer transfer time but is still a viable option. Services run from Newcastle to the port of Ijmuiden, from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, and from the Port of Hull to Rotterdam Europoort. From there it's a 50-minute train ride, a 1-hour 40-minute train ride, or a 1-hour 30-minute car journey respectively.
Where To Stay
At the luxury end of the hotel market is the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The building is actually made up of six different mansions that have been merged into one impressive place to stay. You'll be as centralised as possible with many of the main sights just minutes away, and the beautiful canal on the front doorstep will captivate you almost immediately. If the location doesn't win you over, though, the period style rooms will. Quirky, spacious and with all the mod-cons you need (including free Wi-Fi); you may not actually want to explore the outside. All this luxury and convenience doesn't come cheap though with nightly rates coming in close to the £400 mark.
Slightly more affordable is the equally well-placed Canal House Hotel. As can probably be deduced from the name, this boutique option is a converted canal house and lies just moments away from the Anne Frank House and Museum. Elegant bathrooms and a rich purple colour scheme beckon you to stay in the 23 bedrooms of this characterful building that has received a stylish 21st-century lick of paint. Nights start from around £180.
With prices that start from around £45 per night for a double room, you won't find many options better than The Poet Hotel at the budget end of the market. Not only is free Wi-Fi and breakfast included in the price, you will also find yourself right in the heart of Amsterdam's peaceful museum district. The fact that the bar is open around the clock doesn't harm the hotel's appeal either.
The easiest way to navigate on your Amsterdam city break is by using the tram system. There are sixteen lines in total which will take you all over the city and drop you off right outside most of the main attractions. There is also a metro service which includes sections of underground track which can be used as an alternative. Tickets for both these services can be bought at the major tram/metro stations as well as special booths at the airport and Centraal train station.
Tickets come in the form of a system similar to London's Oyster card. You can buy a permanent card at a cost of €7.50 (plus additional travelling funds) or you can get a free disposable card and just pay for the hours you need it. Cards can be purchased for anything from 1 hour up to 168 hours (7 days) with a 24-hour pass costing roughly £6. Don't forget to pick your metro/tram map up when you buy your card and you must remember to wave it in front of the onboard ticket reader when you enter and exit the tram.
Whilst riding the tram network is fun, there is one form of transport that Amsterdam is nearly as famous for as it is for its canals. Bicycles are everywhere in the city and there are dedicated cycle lanes all over the place to help you get around. Rent your two wheels from any of the numerous vendors and explore the hidden side of Amsterdam under your own steam.
Where To Eat
If you are up for sampling a taste of Dutch cuisine then 'Greetje', located in the Nieuwmarkt area, is a great place to start. This restaurant has earned attention from review sites such as Trip Advisor, travel sites like Lonely Planet, and even highly regarded news outlets such as the Washington Post and the New York Times. Whilst the service offered is close to what you might get were you to visit the home of the woman that the restaurant is named after (the owner's mum), the menu includes options such as 'Smoked breast of Beemster duck' and 'Braised veal check in its own gravy'.
For slightly different cuisine but equally homely service, 'Koevoet' offers Sicilian dishes in what looks like (on the surface at least) a traditional Dutch café. This busy restaurant is located in the north-west of the city and serves dishes such as flavourful homemade sausages and richly filled ravioli for around £30 a head.
If you really want to sample some haute cuisine during your time in the Dutch capital, perhaps Michelin starred 'Vinkeles' will provide something to tickle your taste buds. Named after the famous 18th-century Dutch painter and found within the stylish Dylan Hotel, the restaurant provides a wonderful array of French dishes including 'Anjou pigeon', 'Garden snails', and 'White truffle risotto'.
Top 3 Things To Do
Meander Through A Myriad Of Museums
Amsterdam has a plethora of interesting museums in which you can spend hours losing yourself. Most of them are concentrated in one area in the south-west of town and provide an intriguing look at the city's history and art culture. Amongst the most well-known and popular are Anne Frank's House, in which you can actually see where the diarist hid, and the Rijksmuseum which houses Amsterdam's premier collection of art and historical pieces.
Drink It In At The Heineken Experience
Whether you love the popular Dutch pilsner or not, a visit to the Heineken Experience provides an educational and interesting view into the history of the brewery. The interactive tour involves an insight into each stage of the process, a go on the 'Brew You' ride, and of course the chance to taste the end product.
Stroll Through The Vondelpark
In a city that can sometimes feel a little crowded, the 47 hectares of the Vondelpark provide the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle. Mixed in with the greenery are a number of sculptures, including that of the man which the park is named after; poet Joost van den Vondel. Once you have stretched your legs and enjoyed a slice of nature, stop by at the Vertigo restaurant for a well-prepared lunch.
If you would like to plan your Amsterdam city break, Fred.\ Holidays can tailor-make a trip that suits you perfectly. Call us today or submit an online enquiry.