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Dutch, but different
11:46am Tuesday 12th February 2013 in Reviews
From striking architecture and innovative modern art, to underground fortresses and culinary delights, Lizzie Anderson discovers there is more to Amsterdam than canals, cycles and coffee shops
IF ever there was perfect a time to visit Amsterdam, it is now. Whether you are exploring for the first time or returning to a city you know and love, the Dutch capital and the surrounding towns and countryside are sure to offer a wealth of new experiences.
And this year is a year of celebrations, with many of the city’s landmarks and attractions marking anniversaries. From 125 years of the famous Concertgebouw concert hall to the 400th anniversary of Amsterdam’s canals and the 40th anniversary and reopening of the Van Gogh museum – 2013 looks set to be one big party.
My journey began at North Shields ferry terminal for a trip on the DFDS Seaways cruise ferry King Seaways, which offers a direct overnight passage to Amsterdam. Access from the North-East could not be easier and you can even take your car. My party departed at 5pm, arriving at 9am after a restful night in an ensuite cabin. There was no shortage of entertainment on board, with bars, restaurants, live music, children’s play areas, shops and a cinema on offer.
When arriving in Amsterdam, most tourists jump straight on a bus to the city centre, but this year, the Amsterdam Tourism Board is encouraging visitors to venture further afield and discover the whole Amsterdam Metropolitan District.
So this particular Dutch adventure began at the port, Ijmuiden aan Zee, a bustling harbour which has grown to become a centre for the fishing, ferry, off shore wind and commercial sectors.
For seafood fans, it is the large choice of restaurants that really puts the area on the map. At Visrestaurant G.van Es (gvanes.nl), there were salted herrings, deep fried squid rings, tender langoustines and a mouthwatering fish plate boasting six varieties.
The harbour is also home to Forteiland, an island fort that formed part of the Amsterdam defence line and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site, museum and teambuilding centre (fortijmuiden.nl). Visitors can explore the underground tunnels and learn the fascinating history of the fort, which was built in the 1880s and taken over by the Germans during the Second World War.
My party rounded off our first day with a tour of the Duin and Kruidberg country estate (duin-kruidberg.nl/UK) in Santpoort, which is about a half hour’s drive from Amsterdam.
Now a five-star hotel and convention centre, the estate dates back to the 17th Century. The current villa and gardens were completed in the early 20th Century and reflect the tastes of its first residents, Jacob Theodoor Cremer and his English wife. It was here we spent our first night in Holland and I would certainly recommend its amazing Michelin star restaurant, where we spent an indulgent evening sampling exquisite dishes and delicious wines.
THE next day we ventured into Amsterdam city for a historic walking tour.
Moving from the old to new, we visited the recently reopened Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a brewery tour, rounded off with a canal cruise featuring a three-course meal and a traditional Dutch storyteller.
After a night at the centrally located NH Barbizon Palace Hotel (nh-hotels.com), we headed to Zandvoort aan Zee. In the summer, the long white beaches are a mecca for sun-seekers and watersports fans. The vast sand dunes, however, are popular all year round and the tranquil countryside made a refreshing change to the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam. During our visit we spotted several deer and a heron, and took a tour of the many Second World War bunkers at the site.
Our final stop was the historic city of Haarlem, 11 miles from Amsterdam and boasting beautiful architecture, Dickensian-style markets, shops and museums. We only had an afternoon to explore its many attractions, but it was long enough to fall in love with the place.
After lunch at Jopen (jopenkerk.nl) –a church that has been converted into a contemporary brewery – we headed to the Teylers Museum to see the Netherlands’ first exhibition on Raphael. The museum houses a fine collection of artwork and a science and natural history section (teylersmuseum.nl).
It was with heavy hearts that we made our way to the ferry terminal for our overnight passage home. However, we took with us many happy memories and, more importantly, bags full of cheese and beer.
How to get there:
- Travel between Newcastle and Amsterdam with DFDS Seaways as a foot passenger costs from £32.50 per person one-way based on two people sharing a two-berth inside cabin.
- The DFDS Seaways Amsterdam minicruise, left, which includes two nights onboard ship and five hours in Amsterdam, costs from £79 per person based on two people sharing an en suite cabin, including coach transfers to and from Amsterdam.
- Add an overnight hotel stay from £40 per person.
- Alternatively, take your car from £70 per person for a car and two people one way.
- Daily departures.
Visit dfds.co.uk or call 0871-522-9976
Where to stay:
- Rooms at Duin & Kruidberg start at about £95 per night, excluding breakfast and taxes. The breakfast buffet costs about £17. Visit duin-kruidberg.nl
- The average price of a room at NH Barbizon Palace, including breakfast, is £197 per night. Visit nh-hotel.com