If you take the P&O Ferries minicruise from Hull to Amsterdam, you’ll be dropped off in the city-centre at 11am and picked up at 5pm. You might be thinking that doesn’t leave you with much time, but follow my tips and you can enjoy six hours of heaven in the Dutch capital…
It’s quite possible to spend your mini-break in Amsterdam by just visiting the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank’s House and the Heineken Experience (and if it’s raining that could be the perfect itinerary). But the city is made for wandering around on foot, stopping at pavement cafés and generally soaking up the laid-back atmosphere. It may have a seedy reputation, but Amsterdam is surely one of the most romantic cities in the world.
The coach will drop you on Prins Hendrikkade, in front of Centraal Station. The first thing you’ll want to do is get a map – there’s no time to dither. If you’ve not got a guidebook with you, you can pick up a free map from the tourist information office (VVV) on Stationsplein.
Head down the main road, Damrak, towards Dam Square – the place that gave the city its name, as it was here where the River Amstel was dammed. Although breakfast is served on the ferry before arrival, you might fancy a quick coffee and cake at one of the bars lining the square. We sat outside at Majestic Café and watched the world go by, taking advantage of the blankets and patio heaters.
Continuing down Damrak, you hit a street called Rokin and eventually a canal with the same name. From here you can take an hour-long cruise on a canal boat for €9 – an excellent way to get your bearings, see the sights and learn some history and quirky facts. For instance, did you know one car a week drives into the city’s canals?
After the tour, head for Langebrugsteeg – a narrow lane off the Rokin canal. There is an inordinate number of little cakeshops here, but De Laatste Kruimel (The Last Crumb) got our vote with its dizzying selection of pastries and breads in the window. We had an amazing chocolate brownie each, which we ate on the way to our next stop, the flower market.
The Bloemenmarkt runs along the Singel canal south of Rokin and sells bulbs, tulips, Christmas trees and seeds. It seemed as popular with tourists as locals – a fact not lost on stallholders who, aware that they wouldn’t sell too many flowers to holidaymakers, make a roaring trade in brightly coloured wooden tulips.
The area around the flower market is a bit of a tourist trap and is full of shops selling Dutch clichés. We didn’t bother with the clogs, but popped into Henriwillig to sample some edam and gouda cheeses – this shop is really generous with the sizes of the portions to try before you buy.
Amsterdam’s biggest park, Vondelpark, is not too far away – a brisk walk down the busy Leidsestraat. Named after local poet Joost van den Vondel, there are ponds, parrots and a constant stream of cyclists.
After our stroll around the park, we fancied a sit-down so headed back to Leidseplein, Amsterdam’s busiest square full of bars and clubs. I’d never tried Jenever, the Dutch Gin so thought I’d never get a better chance. When in Rome and all that. We sat outside at Le Pub, warmed with blankets, heaters and potent booze. Although the drink was something I’d never have again, I’d quite happily have stayed peoplewatching in the Leidseplein bars. It’s also the place to go to see street entertainers – Amsterdam’s Covent Garden.
Conscious that time was creeping on, we reluctantly left Le Pub and followed Prinsengracht back towards Centraal Station. This canal is lined with elegant, gabled houses and is also home to Royal Bagels and Muffins – our final food stop before our evening meal on the ferry back to Hull.
We couldn’t leave Amsterdam without having a walk through the Red Light District, and that’s where we found ourselves before our coach pick-up. The area is as seedy as you can imagine, but perfectly safe – we followed two Dutch policemen who were on horseback patrol through the streets. Groups of lads and dirty old men were just about outnumbered by Japanese tourists.
There are plenty of pubs in the Red Light District, and as there was still time for a beer, we popped into Café de Stoof for a cold glass of draught Heineken with a big frothy head, while watching the transactions beside the windows outside.
As we headed back to the coach, we reflected on our six hours in Amsterdam and said we’d definitely do it again. If you fancy it too, bring walking shoes, a map, plenty of euros (this town is not cheap) and an empty stomach for all that cake and booze!