October half-term coincided with a milestone birthday for me and, therefore, we decided that a cheap city break was called for. After much research we plumped for Amsterdam.
Amsterdam offered us the best value for money when it came to flights and it sounded a very family friendly city. Some people seemed rather bemused by the fact we were taking our family to Amsterdam – a city known for its space cakes and red light district. However, there is so much more to Amsterdam than its dubious smelling coffee shops and infamous call houses. Believe it or not, this is a city that is ideal for families.
We stumbled out of Grand Centraal Station Amsterdam late Sunday afternoon, to be greeted by a sea of bikes that were bathed in the golden rays of the autumnal sunshine. We had left Jersey just after 7am Sunday morning, changed at Gatwick airport, where we had grabbed breakfast at Jamie’s Diner, before we hopped onto our connecting flight to Amsterdam. The flight from Gatwick to Amsterdam is very short at roughly 50 minutes. Just enough time to down a coffee and munch on a KitKat.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is seriously impressive. A cavernous building that just seems to keep on going. It is full to the brim with stylish shops, restaurants, wine bars, a library and a children’s park, to name just a few of its offerings. However, we were on a mission to get into Amsterdam, so we made straight for the train.
Getting into Amsterdam
Once you have cleared customs you can walk straight into the train station and onto your train for central Amsterdam. Trains come about every 15 minutes and it’s only a short train ride into the centre. Train ticket prices cost us about €5 each. As the train flies through the flat countryside and suburbs, you start to appreciate just how special this little corner of the world is. Stunning buildings, with huge glass windows tower over the train tracks, quickly followed by canals and fields. In between modern buildings you will spy huge art installations. I noticed a ginormous bear that seemed to be almost as tall as the flats he was guarding, it was a surreal but a beautiful sight. As our train drew closer to the city, we spied circus tents on what looked like a wasteland and I half expected to see elephants wandering about. In Amsterdam anything can happen.
First impressions of Amsterdam
Our first impressions of Amsterdam as we stood outside the station – breathing in the crisp cold Amsterdam air – was that this is a breathtaking city. We were greeted by rows upon rows of bikes, patiently waiting for their owners’ return. Then there were the trams trundling along. The trams and the double decker trains blew the children’s mind. It was the first time they had seen either. On Jersey we don’t even have a train. There isn’t much call for a train when you live on an island that is on only 9 miles by 5 miles. Our hotel, the DoubleTree Amsterdam, was just a short 5 minute stroll from the train station and we made our way towards it. On the way to the hotel we did get our first whiff of a rather pungent smell. There is no escaping that smell. I braced myself for questions from the children about the strange smell, but none were forthcoming. They were either too tired from the travelling or their sense of smell is severely lacking.
Where we stayed
We had booked ourselves into the Doubletree Amsterdam Centraal Station for 3 nights. The reason we chose the hotel was that it was centrally located, so we knew that we would be able to get straight from the station to the hotel easily. Plus, it seemed like a good hotel for families. The hotel is in a striking building and is located on the central waterfront. You might have been in the city centre but you almost felt like you were on your own little island with this hotel. As you step through the doors and into the foyer, you are greeted by a vast reception space where there are at least 3 members of staff manning the busy reception desk. With lofty ceilings, a modern and huge chandelier, and a curtain of twinkly lights behind the reception desk, this was a space that felt impressive but also welcoming. It made a statement – this is one seriously stylish hotel.
Our check-in was smooth and efficient. We were handed the famous warm cookie and the children were also given a rubber duck each, which was a cute touch that was much appreciated by the children. We met my brother in reception who was also staying at the hotel, as he had decided to fly over from Norway to help me celebrate my birthday. The children were very excited to see their Uncle Jon, and after they had stopped squealing their greetings at him, we made our way to the lifts to check out our room.
We had managed to get a really good price on a suite that worked out significantly cheaper than booking two rooms for us and the children. The room was extremely impressive. As soon as we walked into the living room area our attention was drawn to the floor to ceiling windows that showcased the incredible view of the waterfront and the city beyond. We had arrived at just the right time because now we were treated to an awe-inspiring view of the sun making its slow and steady descent. The sun hung low over the city, bathing the beautiful buildings in a burnt orange and red hue, before it finally dipped behind the narrow canal-side houses on the horizon. This room was all about the view. There was a cool armchair by the window, where you could sit with a coffee in your hand and watch the boats going up and down, as people rode their bikes to work.
The living room area had been fitted with two single beds. The settee transforms into a bed and they added another bed. Despite the beds, it still felt like there was ample room in the living area for us all to sit. The living room also had a large television, fridge and coffee machine.
Our bedroom was small but perfectly laid out. Again, floor to ceiling windows offered incredible views. There was also an apple iMac, dressing table and wardrobe. The bathroom was very spacious with a separate bath and shower. You are also supplied with high-end toiletries.
After we hurriedly unpacked we decided to go and check out the SkyLounge. It might have been a Sunday but the bar was heaving. This is clearly the place to be seen. There was a live band on, and the bar was teaming with hip and trendy young things. There were also some families there and we were made to feel very welcome. Despite its cool urban vibe, we didn’t feel out of place. We enjoyed the laidback vibe and the panoramic views as we sipped on our drinks. Be warned, it is very expensive and a round of drinks cost us close to £50. That was for two beers, one glass of wine and two apple juices.
The eye-watering prices meant that we only stayed for one and we decided to go and check out the Executive Lounge instead.
Anyone that stays in an Executive Room or a Suite has 24/7 access to the Executive Lounge. Here you will find nibbles, sweets and tea and coffee and soft drinks. Between 6 and 8pm you can also help yourself to beer and wine. This is all included in the price of your stay and is a nice little perk.
The hotel restaurant
As the children were feeling tired after travelling all day, we decided to grab dinner in the hotel restaurant – Eastwood Beer & Grill, before getting an early night. The hotel restaurant caters well for meat eaters and my husband and brother were both very happy with this. The restaurant offers a good selection of steaks and burgers. However, I’m not a big meat eater and I can’t eat red meat so I found my choices were rather limited. In the end I went for crispy polenta with fennel salad and despite my reservations about what the polenta would be like, it was delicious. The children were also happy with their meal and I may have swiped a few chips off their plate. I can confirm that the chips were crunchy and fluffy. A perfect chip.
A good night’s sleep?
We retired to bed and we were all fast asleep by 9pm. I found the bed to be a little too firm for my liking and the room was also a tad on the cold side. However, it felt like a real luxury to not all be squeezed into one tiny hotel room and the children were very happy sleeping in their beds in the living room area. It meant that we didn’t have to do the usual and hide in the bathroom, waiting for the children to fall asleep. Although, we were so tired that we fell asleep not long after the children.
Read my next post to find out what we did on day 2 of Amsterdam. There might have been champagne, museums, Banksy, street food, birthday tea in a water tower and miles and miles of walking.