Amsterdam has been a bustling center of activity for nearly one-thousand years, and I have always felt the energy and the vibe that characterize my hometown (New York City) pay homage to Dutch history. Yes, you can still find that vibrancy by visiting The Netherlands during the autumn and winter. If you are young in age, or young at heart, Amsterdam is perhaps more exciting than ever. This is a great destination for friends, and also for families and couples with diverse interests. For the tourists traveling alone, you will not be lonely for very long.
Holland is a small country, compared to most tourist destinations, and that is another PLUS! With its friendly, multi-lingual residents and highly functional transportation options, The Netherlands should be near the top of your list for that perfect get-away from October through mid-March. (High Season in The Netherlands begins from March 15th through May 15th when the tulips are in full bloom.)
To prepare this article, I visited Amsterdam twice in 2019, in February and in September. During these visits, I stayed overnight at hotels in different parts of the capital city, as well as in an airport hotel at Schiphol, and in the smaller city of Delft. Additional time was spent in neighboring Belgium, visiting Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Leuven, and Brussels.
Amsterdam – Cultural Highlights for
The Hermitage Amsterdam
In October 2019, all of the major museums will host art exhibitions for every taste. If you are curious about Russian history, check out “Jewels! Glittering at the Russian Court” through March 15, 2020 at the Hermitage Amsterdam – the St. Petersburg museum’s largest satellite gallery – which opened in Holland in 2009. Though small and slightly expensive at 18 euros for adults, I recommend a visit to enjoy the classical building from 1681, formerly known as the Amstelhof, housing this museum on the banks of the Amstel River. For an additional 7 euros, the “Hermitage all-in” ticket includes both the “Jewels!” show and a visit to the “Portrait Gallery of the 17th Century”, located inside the Hermitage’s building, containing 30 huge masterpieces from the collections of the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam Museum.
From Centraal Station, the Hermitage Amsterdam can be conveniently reached using Metro lines 51, 53 or 54 to the Waterlooplein, or take Tram #14. By water, get off the “hop on hop off” Canal Bus at Museumboot. I strongly recommend taking the Metro because it is so quick and easy and suggest you visit in the morning when the museum will be the quietest. After enjoying your visit to “Jewels!”, please take some relaxing time off from the typical touristic route to find your own beauty in Amsterdam through a self-guided walking tour at your own pace in this serene and charming area. The Hermitage will be open every day from 10:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon (17:00 hours) through March 15th, with limited hours for Christmas and on January 1. Your walk might take you to the Begijnhof courtyard, near Spui, to see the oldest wooden house in Amsterdam (# 34) and the chapel where Beguines and Catholics attended services in secret until 1795.
Art lovers must head over to the Rijksmuseum to see “Rembrandt-Velázquez: Dutch & Spanish Masters” (October 11, 2019 through January 19, 2020). This exhibition, organized in collaboration with the Prado Museum in Spain, provides a rare opportunity to observe the close historical ties between Spain and The Netherlands. Having seen this exhibit in Madrid in September, I admit I found it both limited in scope (not necessarily a negative comment) and virtually monochromatic; however, you should decide for yourself. In addition to powerful works by Diego Velázquez and Rembrandt van Rijn, you will have the privilege to compare their works with two of the greatest Spanish masters – Murillo and Zurbarán – along with Vermeer and Hals! Do not miss Vermeer’s “The Geographer” (1669) from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Rembrandt’s “A Woman Bathing in a Stream” (1654) from The National Gallery, London, and the portrait of “Rembrandt’s Son Titus in a Monk’s Habit”. If you consider yourself a connoisseur of the Golden Age of Dutch and Spanish painting, and you enjoy a tightly-focused, side-by-side comparison of fine art, then you will be in heaven throughout this exhibition. A timed-ticket is a must, so plan ahead.
Van Gogh Museum
The Rijksmuseum, marking your entry into one of the great museum quarters in the world, is a mere 5-minute walk along the Museumplein from the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. Hosting the world’s largest collection of paintings by Vincent, the Van Gogh Museum is presenting an exhibition entitled “Jean-Francois Millet – Sowing the Seeds of Modern Art” from October 4, 2019 through January 12, 2020. Groups enter the Van Gogh Museum through the main building designed by Gerrit Rietveld, which opened to the public in 1973. You will enter the fantastic modern structure by Kisho Kurokawa, added in 1999, to view the original art by Millet that inspired Claude Monet, van Gogh, and modern artists. If you are unable to catch “Millet” in Amsterdam, you will still have an opportunity to see these same works in the USA in 2020, when the St. Louis Art Museum will present “Millet and Modern Art: From Van Gogh to Dalí” from February through May.
Directly next door to the Van Gogh Museum, through February 2, 2020 the Stedelijk Museum of modern and contemporary art offers “Chagall, Picasso, Mondrian, and Others: Migrant Artists in Paris”. This exhibition, telling the story of the foreigners who moved to Paris around 1900 and changed the course of modern Western art, certainly presents a special treat for Chagall fans. The Stedelijk owns art of the highest quality from the modernist oeuvre of Chagall, and the special exhibit features at least 40 pieces by this great artist, making this the largest display of the museum’s Chagall collection since 1950. All three museum may be reached via Tram # 2 and Tram # 12 from Amsterdam Centraal Station, and by Tram # 5 from the direction of the Leidseplein. Metro 52 stops at “Vijzelgracht” and Tram # 3 stops at “Museumplein”.
Art Lovers Tip: The best time to see tulip fields in bloom in 2020 will be from mid-April to early May.
Popular hotels in Amsterdam
Hotels have grown increasingly expensive in major Dutch cities, especially in Amsterdam. In 2019, I stayed in 3 properties found on the Marriott.com website. Those of you arriving at Schiphol Airport for a brief stay may choose the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel. Recommended by 89% of its guests, this uniquely-situated Sheraton is not as fancy as downtown hotels, but it is certainly convenient. With its central location right inside the airport, a 5-minute walk from your plane (or train) leads you directly into the Sheraton’s lobby, passing a supermarket, shops, buses, and trains along your route. The hotel’s Club Lounge is adequate, though not special. Centraal Station is 20 to 25 minutes away by train.
The Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel at Kattengat 1 is the most convenient if you are arriving by train at Amsterdam Centraal and wish to walk directly to your hotel in less than 15 minutes. 90% of guests recommend the Renaissance, with its fitness center and efficient Concierge services. For example, one may buy a public transportation card from the Concierge at no extra charge. The hotel is large, offering many styles of rooms, but the surrounding area is quite cozy – only a 10-minute walk to the Anne Frank House and the beautiful, quiet Jordaan neighborhood. If you want to be close to the center, but not in the midst of the action, the Renaissance is a perfect choice, especially if you enjoy quiet evening walks on the canals.
Across from the Leidseplein, a prime option for museum lovers is the Amsterdam Marriott Hotel, at Stadhouderskade 12. If you want to be near the best dining choices and major museums, this is the place to stay! An easy 10-minute stroll from the Marriott takes you to the Rijksmuseum, high-end shopping, Vondelpark and the Van Gogh Museum. If you choose a rate with “M Club Lounge” access (or as a free amenity for Bonvoy Platinum-level members), you will definitely enjoy the Marriott even more. The lobby itself and standard rooms are not the major attraction, but the friendly staff and “Location, Location, Location” will WOW you! Schiphol Airport is less than 14 km. (8.3 miles) from the hotel, with an estimated taxi fare of 50 euros. 94% of guests recommend this hotel, which may be reached by Trams # 2 & # 12 from Centraal Station. I recommend you take Bus # 397 to and from the Airport – at a cost of less than 7 euros each way, the 40-minute bus ride will leave you outside the Marriott’s door.
The Amsterdam Hilton was a pleasant surprise. I stayed in at least a dozen different Hilton hotels in the past year and this one provided the classiest experience, with lovely renovated rooms, nice views, and a relaxing ambiance. Though farther from the Jordaan and tourist attractions, and a 20-minute walk from the museums, the Hilton is located in a more residential, leafy and authentic part of Amsterdam. Minutes away on foot one finds The Royal Concertgebouw (considered among the world’s finest concert halls, along with Symphony Hall in Boston and Musikverein in Vienna) and, if you cross the canal on the way to the Museumplein, the Cornelis Schuytstraat will charm you with its amazing beauty and fine dining. Also check out the Beethovenstraat to look for books, antiques or a cozy cafe. This is the hotel made famous in 1969 by the Lennon-Ono “Bed-In” for peace, an experimental non-violent protest against war mentioned in the Number 1 Hit “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. Hotel guests are entitled to use an excellent gym for free. You should definitely take in the spectacular views from the Executive Lounge. Though the Hilton looks like a behemoth from the street, do not allow that to dissuade you; the interior proportions and your room’s large glass windows will delight. If you choose the superior buffet breakfast on the main level, take a table to the left of the bar for a better (quieter) experience. Tram # 24 to Gerrit van der Veenstraat from Centraal Station will leave you within a pleasant walk to the Hilton.
If the hotels mentioned above are outside your price range, do not be discouraged. The Bilderberg Hotel Jan Luyken for example, at Jan Luijkenstraat 58, offers simple accommodations at reasonable prices on a lovely street a very short distance from the Museumplein. Also, the family-run Hotel Asterisk, Den Texstraat 16, may be reached using Tram # 24 or Metro 52 from Centraal Station and is a pleasant 10 to 15-minute walk to the museums. You may also consider hotels outside the major cities.
If you plan to spend one week (or more) in The Netherlands, why not explore the smaller cities? I purchased a train ticket from Amsterdam Centraal to Schiphol Airport for about 5 euros and then used the Airport as a base to explore other destinations. A round-trip train fare from Schiphol to Delft, the birthplace of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), costs 21 euros. The canals in Delft are just as charming as any Dutch city’s, and you will find the peacefulness a refreshing change from the overly touristed parts of Amsterdam. Explore the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church, completed in 1496) located in the Delft Markt (Market Square) and, if the famous Blue Delft (expensive!) china inspired your visit here, head over to the Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles, open daily. History buffs should undoubtedly go to the Museum Het Prinsenhof, a palace from the Middle Ages (near the Oude Kerk, founded in 1246), before enjoying a simple meal of fantastic Indonesian food at “Toko Idola” located on Brabantse Turfmarkt 32a (the Prinsenhof and restaurant are closed on Mondays). Perhaps you will choose to skip the porcelain factory (that is what I would do) and take photos instead! In addition to picturesque Delft, other small cities deserving your time include Breda and Den Bosch. Each of these 3 cities has a population between 100,000 and 150,000 residents and offers a charming window into Holland’s past and present.
Gemeentemuseum & Mauritshuis
While Amsterdam can become chaotic with hordes of tourists and densely-populated quarters, The Hague exudes a special dignity and deserves a few days in your itinerary. From October 12, 2019 through February 2, 2020, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is presenting a highly-anticipated show, “Monet – The Garden Paintings”. Before you say goodbye to The Netherlands, take time to visit the famous Mauritshuis with its amazing collection of paintings by Rembrandt, Hans Holbein the Younger, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Vermeer’s “View of Delft” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”
Please let us know about your experiences touring The Netherlands, and if you have favorite museums or hotels you would like to share with our readers. Tell us the cities you most want to visit in the future in Europe and in the USA. In which months of the year are you free to travel?
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