Amsterdam by trainPosted on: 08 July 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring
City Breaks! David Powell enjoys a short break in the lively city of Amsterdam
The phrase ... ‘let the train take the strain’, took on a whole new meaning for me as I jumped onboard the Eurostar at Ashford International. My destination - Amsterdam. Yes, Amsterdam by rail, really is that easy...
I opted for a two-night, three-day break to Amsterdam, a great way to relax, unwind and experience this lively, cosmopolitan city.
To travel to Europe by train made a wonderful change. With a stress-free check-in at Ashford (no air traffic delays!) I was soon on my way to Brussels. Although Brussels Midi is a large, bustling station, there are plenty of directions and officials ready to assist if necessary. With half an hour to spare, I made the short walk across the concourse to my connecting train, which three hours later arrived bang on time right in the centre of Amsterdam.
I was impressed with the ease and efficiency of European rail travel, no lengthy check-ins, trains taking you directly to the heart of your destination with no lengthy transfers and, of course, it was super to be able to sit back and enjoy the views as the train travelled through France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, is a beautiful, historic and compact city, making it easy to get around on foot by public transport, tourist sightseeing buses or, like thousands of locals, by bicycle. In Amsterdam, you can visit the museums, shop till you drop or just watch the world go by from a cafe, restaurant or canal boat.
With miles of scenic canals, this city is often referred to as ‘the Venice of the North’. There are canals, full of character, around every corner and a canal cruise is undoubtedly Holland’s number one tourist attraction an absolute must during your stay.
The canals and bridges are famous throughout the world and a canal cruise is a perfect way to view the 17th century picturesque gabled houses, the merchant's elegant mansions and the quirky house boats in the heart of the old city. The boats have panoramic roofs and sliding windows so you’re sure of a great view. Night cruises are also available, which can make for a unique experience when many of the canal houses and bridges become beautifully illuminated.
A city of museums
There is a real mix of fabulous museums and there seems to be one for just about everything! This is certainly the place to be for Rembrandt, Van Gogh and modern art.
There are approximately 50 museums (and many other exhibition areas) attracting over four million visitors a year, so it’s easy to see why Amsterdam is regarded as a major cultural centre. Probably three of the most famous museums are the Rijksmuseum, best known for its collection of 17th century Dutch Masters; the Van Gogh Museum, which houses over 200 of his paintings, and the Anne Frank Museum which is based in the house where she hid with her family from the Nazis and wrote her famous diary.
What to do
Almost every area of this city has a building or monument to give it a claim to fame. Dam Square is the national square and also the oldest part of Amsterdam with the Royal Palace to the west and is a hive of activity and entertainment.
Leiden Square is another vibrant nightlife area illuminated by neon lights with countless bars, clubs, cafes and restaurants. The famous Rembrandt Square is one of the top going-out areas of the city, awash with bars, cafes, restaurants and the bright lights.
You could consider a visit to the Heineken Experience, the 4D Ice Bar Experience or a tour of the Gassan diamond polishing works, where you’ll see skilled craftsmen transform the most precious crystal known to man into dazzling, ready to wear diamonds. Or head to the countryside to see the famous windmills, cheese farms and traditional clog makers at work... or head to the infamous red light district!
Where to shop
You’ll find an excellent selection of markets and shops here. The main pedestrianised shopping streets are Leidsestraat and Kalverstraat where you’ll see most of the regular high street stores. There are also 26 markets in Amsterdam where you can hunt for bargains or stock up on your tulip bulbs on a visit to the colourful flower market.
I stayed at the Eden Hotel Amsterdam, right in the heart of the city. The Eden is a modern, 218 bedroom hotel right next to the River Amstel. My room was very comfortable, spacious, well appointed with air conditioning and a flat screen TV and was rather stylish! With a fabulous view of the Amstel, it was great to wake up in the morning to see the canals and watch the city springing to life.
It seemed all too soon my visit was over. 3pm from Amsterdam Central and I’m heading home on the stylish, high speed Thalys train to Brussels for my onward Eurostar connection to Ashford International. So this was my first real experience of a rail holiday to Europe. Would I do it again? Most definitely!
Top tips for a trip to Amsterdam
- Amsterdam is accessible by boat, plane and train so you can select the easiest and cheapest option for you.
- Do your research before you go and create an itinerary, which will ensure you don't miss any of the sites of the city.
- Smoking or eating cannabis is legal, but in the last few years 'magic mushrooms' have been made illegal. All other hard drugs are also illegal and obviously because it is legal in Amsterdam doesn't mean it's legal to bring them home! Beware of stoned cycling!
- July and August are the hottest months in Amsterdam and also the busiest, so for a more relaxing break go off season. Early Spring is also a great time to go to see the Tulip fields in bloom.
For more information
David travelled to Amsterdam with Railbookers who specialise in European rail holidays and short breaks. They can tailor-make a holiday or short break to most European countries, with train travel & carefully chosen hotels, for however long you like, leaving on any date you like.
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