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 …. although to be honest, I did have help in the form of Railbookers, a well established company who specialise in European rail holidays and short breaks.
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 3 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 and has to be 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 seventeenth century picturesque gabled houses, the merchant’s elegant mansions and the quirky houseboats in the heart of the old city. The boats have panoramic roofs and sliding windows so you’re sure of a great view and the opportunity to take some good photos. Night cruises are also available which can make for a unique experience when many of the canal houses and bridges become beautifully illuminated.
Amsterdam is a charming city and has a mix of fabulous museums, there seems to be one for just about everything! This is certainly the place to be for Rembrandt’s, Van Goghs and modern art. There are in the region of 50 museums (and many other exhibition areas) attracting over 4 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.
Popular City Attractions
Almost every area of this city has a building or monument to give it a claim to fame, but the key tourist areas are Dam Square, Leiden Square and Rembrandt Square. Dam Square is the national square and also the oldest part of Amsterdam with the Royal Palace to the west. It’s 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. This area is also amass with bars, cafes, restaurants and the bright lights. Amsterdam has all the nightlife you would expect from a big city and there are literally thousands of restaurants and cafes to choose from.
With so much to see and do, you’ll be hard pushed to fit everything in. Plan your day and evening to get the most out of your visit. The hotel Concierge desk is a good starting point where you can pick up leaflets, brochures and offers on the many attractions available. 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.
A day trip to the countryside north of Amsterdam can also be arranged from the hotel and where you’ll see windmills, a cheese farm and traditional clog makers at work. A city tour by bus is another good option and these tours take in pretty much all of the tourist sights including the old harbour, Skinny Bridge, the Royal Palace and the infamous red light district.
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 26 markets in Amsterdam where you can hunt for bargains and there are loads of souvenir shops around every corner. Don’t forget to stock up on your tulip bulbs on a visit to the colourful flower market which is yet another must.
The quality of your accommodation is a key factor in a short break or holiday and Railbookers include handpicked, quality hotels in their packages. I stayed at the Hampshire Hotel Eden, right in the heart of the city. This 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. The motto for the hotel is ‘Love City Life’ and this is rather appropriate as it’s situated in a perfect location, near Rembrandt Square, from which you can explore the many tourist sites and attractions.
After a full day exploring Amsterdam it was good to get back to the relaxing atmosphere of the hotel’s Bar Pipa for a cold beer and if you’re looking for somewhere to eat nearby, the hotel is very proud of their restaurant called Brasserie FLO. The a la carte menu offers classic French dishes served in very elegant surroundings.
It seemed all too soon my visit was over. 3pm from Amsterdam Central and I’m heading home on the high speed Thalys train to Brussels for my onward Eurostar connection to the U.K.
So this was my first real experience of a rail holiday to Europe. Would I do it again? Most definitely, the only question being, where next? Probably a good start for inspiration is the Railbookers website.
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