Amsterdam is a very beautiful city in the Netherlands with lots of tall houses and picturesque canals. I’ve heard a lot about it’s reputation as a lively and fun place to visit. So on 26 April I went there for 5 days. Here’s how I got on.
I flew from East Midlands airport and the flight only took about an hour or less. This was great because I’m not overly keen on flying. It was actually the shortest flight I have ever been on.
Boarding was as undignified as always. I had to be manually hauled onto a narrow aisle chair by 2 guys, tied down, and then squeezed down the aisle as everybody watches (usually with my shirt halfway up and my belly on show), before finally being unceremoniously plonked into my seat. It’s good fun.
After arriving at Schiphol airport we were picked up by a pre-booked accessible minibus which took us to our hotel.
We stayed in the Ibis hotel in the centre of Amsterdam, right next door to Centraal station. It was a very handy location with lots of attractions within walking distance.
My room was good. It was one of two accessible rooms in the hotel, and I believe it is actually the best in the hotel. It was a corner room and two of the four walls were made up from floor to ceiling of windows. Being on the 7th floor we got a fantastic view of the city.
There was a double bed in my room and a pull-out sofa bed. Unfortunately the double bed didn’t separate, so I had to sleep on the pull-out sofa. I didn’t mind, but it may have been nicer to sleep on one of the main beds if it separated.
Unfortunately the equipment that the holiday company booked for me was not great. I had the world’s worst designed hoist, which had a tendency to flip me backwards without warning. It was one of those that have pegs instead of hooks for the sling. And I had a shower chair that I needed to balance onprecariously whilst trying not to move in case I fell off. I’m thinking about buying my own travel shower chair for next time.
What I did
There was more to see and do in Amsterdam than I anticipated so I didn’t manage to see everything that I wanted to. But I did see and do some good stuff.
The 27th of April is a national holiday in the Netherlands called King’s day. As the name suggests it is the King’s birthday so everybody has a massive party. When I say everybody, I mean literally everybody. It can be quite difficult walking through the crowd as there are so many people.
There were thousands of people on the streets all wearing orange. There were street parties at every turn, and people selling their unwanted items from blankets on the pavement. The canals are packed with party boats blasting out music filled with drunken dancing revellers. It’s a brilliant atmosphere.
Public transport is stopped in the city centre on Kings day and no cars are allowed because of the sheer number of people. So we just wandered around and took in the sights and the atmosphere.
There were DJs playing music in the main squares, and singers performing on the stage outside of the many bars. It’s amazing to see how involved everybody gets on King’s day in the Netherlands. Celebrations happen throughout the country but the biggest party is in Amsterdam. It’s funny because in the UK no one seems to really care when it’s the Queen’s Birthday (on either of them.)
The downside to King’s day was that all the museums and many other places are closed. So really it took away a day of sightseeing from my trip. But saying that, it was a good experience and I enjoyed sampling the party atmosphere.
This is the 3rd most visited museum in the Netherlands, behind the van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank house. It has lots of paintings by famous artists such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh. I’m not the world’s biggest art fan but I can appreciate good paintings, and there were some spectacular paintings from some of history’s best painters on display.
Accessibility wise the museum was very good. There were lifts to get to the different floors of the museum and the staff were very helpful. If we asked them where something was they didn’t just point in the general direction, they actually lead us to it which was nice.
Some of the more popular painters such as Rembrandt had bigger crowds of people surrounding their paintings. So it might be a bit more difficult to get in view of the more famous paintings. Might be better to go during quiet times when there are fewer people.
Carers can get in free to the museum, and disabled people have to pay. It’s better to buy tickets online in advance to avoid queueing.
Body worlds exhibition
This place was incredible.
It is an exhibition involving real human bodies converted into statues called plastinates. Each body is arranged in a certain pose with the skin and fat taken off. This allows you to see all the different muscle groups and even internal organs. It’s an incredible way to learn about the human body, as you can see everything in such stunning detail. There were display cases showing individual organs with information about them.
The focus of this exhibition was happiness and its effects on the body. Did you know that 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics? The complexity of the human body is amazing.
This exhibition was over 6 floors and they had a lift to get between each floor. Unfortunately, the disabled toilet is only on the 2nd floor so that was a bit of a pain having to jump in the lift when you need it.
I also went on a cruise of Amsterdam’s famous canals with the Blue Boat Company, who have a number of accessible boats. I went on a night-time cruise which began at 10 PM and lasted for 90 minutes. It went past Amsterdam’s most famous landmarks and sites, including the red light district.
The boat itself had a platform lift to take the wheelchairs down onto the deck. I then went inside to all the seats were and there was a space for a wheelchair at one of the tables. Only one unfortunately, so it seems only one wheelchair can be on the boat at a time. Plus they had no accessible toilet which was disappointing.
The cruise itself was very good. It was nice to see the lights of the city as we went around. My favourite bit was when we went past a big old sailing ship that was moored in the harbour. The cruise boat turned around behind this ship so we got a great view of it’s backside!
A great way to see Amsterdam is just by walking around and taking it all in. Most of streets in Amsterdam are accessible (see next section), so to see the architecture and just sample the atmosphere it is nice to walk. One thing you do need to be careful of when walking around are the bicycles. Cyclists seem to be the rulers of the roads in Amsterdam. If you step into the bike lanes then you run the risk of being knocked over. So make sure you keep out of their way!
However, if you are going somewhere specific, like a museum, it’s probably easier and quicker to take a tram. There are lots tram stops around the city and a lot of them have raised platforms. This means that the platform is level with the tram, and there is a very small gap. There are wheelchair spaces on the trams and there is a member of staff inside the doorway that can help with any problems.
Many of the bridges over canals are without steps, and you get a very pretty view of the canals from them. Most of the streets are relatively level with a few bumps. But I did find it a bit bumpy going up and down the curbs. There are a decent number of dropped curbs but they are not always as smooth as I would like.
Some alleyways are too narrow, particularly around the red light district. But it is possible to get around most of this area and see the scantily clad ladies in the windows. Although many of the windows didn’t seem to be very accessible unfortunately.
Some areas have cobblestones – particularly in dam square which is one of the main squares in Amsterdam. But as far as cobbles go I’ve experienced much worse.
I do have to say that finding a disabled toilet was extremely difficult. I don’t think I saw a single one in a restaurant the whole time I was there. So I had to resort to going in quiet side streets and dark corners, and hoping no one saw me (I wasn’t the only one.)
So Amsterdam definitely needs more disabled toilets. Or if they do have them they need to signpost them a lot better, because they are almost invisible.
A lot of the buildings in Amsterdam are pretty old and therefore not very accessible. At one point I was trying to find a traditional Dutch restaurant. I found one on trip advisor that I liked the look of and we tried to find it using the map. We walked for about 20 minutes round the streets, and over a building site only to discover that I couldn’t get in. The door was too narrow.
So it’s best to make sure that a place is accessible before you actually go there. There’s no guarantee that it will be.
Overall, I thought Amsterdam was a very cool city. The canals and architecture are beautiful, and the people were very friendly. Access to the buildings could be improved, and there definitely needs to be more disabled toilets around the city. The trams are good for getting around and quite accessible for wheelchairs. It’s definitely a place worth visiting. It’s possible to go from London to Amsterdam on the Eurostar now, which may be easier than flying. But the catch is you can’t get a direct train back yet. But hopefully soon you will, because I would love to go back again.