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Spring evening by the canals in Amsterdam


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Picture Postcard… from the canals of Amsterdam

Spring evening by the canals in Amsterdam

A spring evening by the canals in Amsterdam

Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, the canals of Amsterdam are amongst the most famous in the world. Photo credit: Shutterstock | PisaPhotography

Seventeenth-Century Canal Ring Area of Amsterdam, inside the Singelgracht

Built at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries, the historic urban canal network of Amsterdam lies to the west and south of the historic old town and the medieval port. The city was in fact extended by draining swampland, building the canals and filling in the intermediate spaces where many gabled house and monuments now stand. It was the largest and most homogeneous urban development of its time and was used as a model of large-scale town planning up until the 19th century.

Today they are a delight to wander around, whether by foot, bicycle or boat, although it would take a while to see them all, with over one hundred kilometres of canals, around 90 islands and some 1,500 bridges.

This lovely shot of the canals a glow on a warm spring evening, in the dimming light with reflections shimmering in the water, really sets the scene for a night of romance. And the spring is great time to visit if you prefer to avoid the crowds of the summer. Find your spring Amsterdam escape today with GreatEscapes.com.

Amsterdam Tulip Festival - Great Escapes


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Amsterdam Tulip Festival

Tulips are an integral part of Holland, and the month of April brings a celebration of these beautiful flowers to Amsterdam, where you can see hundreds of different varieties illuminating parts of the city in colour. Sometimes being referred to as ‘tulip mania’, tulips have been popular in Holland since as far back as 1593, and competitions quickly arose amongst growers to try and create the most colourful and unique varieties.

Today, April sees the celebration of the tulip, and you’ll find that all over Amsterdam, pockets of vibrant colour can be found as effort is made to ensure the tulips bloom. The ultimate aim of this festival is to eventually have one tulip for every citizen of Amsterdam, amounting to a staggering 800,000.

So if you’re heading to Amsterdam before the month is up, here we’ll tell you exactly where you can find the most beautiful displays of this popular and historic flower.

Amsterdam’s Tulip Festival…

Amsterdam Tulip Festival - Great Escapes

Image credit: Rob Young, Flickr 

Amsterdam Tulip Museum

Located in the Jordaan district, you can visit this museum to learn all about tulips and their position in Amsterdam’s history. Open Monday – Sunday 10am – 6pm. AmsterdamTulipMuseum.com/en/

The Keukenhof

Keukenhof gardens are the world’s largest flower gardens, and for a short period during the spring months you’ll be able to find an abundance of tulips in all manner of shapes of patterns. With 9 different gardens to explore which house 7 million bulbs including 800 varieties of tulip, it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, wandering around and taking in the beautiful sights and smells of the different gardens. The theme for 2016 at the Keukenhof is ‘The Golden Age’, and you’ll be able to watch individual flower demonstrations and experience themed exhibitions when visiting this garden. There are also activities for children available here, such as a treasure hunt, petting zoo, playground and hedge maze.

Amsterdam Tulip Festival - Great Escapes

Image credit: Olga, Flickr

Amsterdam Tulip Festival - Great Escapes

Image credit: Viator.com, Flickr

Tulip Festival & Locations

With over 500,000 tulips to be found during the celebrations this year, here’s a selection of the places you can find them:

  • Hermitage Amsterdam
  • Hortus Botanicus
  • Museum Van Loon
  • Multiple public areas across the city
  • EYE Filmmuseum

For a full list of locations plus a map, visit TulpFestival.com/

You can also visit the famous flower strip which is one hour outside of the city, where you’ll be surrounded by all manner of colours and varieties of tulips. Find out more about how to get there.

If you’re now looking for a last minute break to Amsterdam, visit GreatEscapes.co.uk to book your trip to see the fabulous tulips.

Amsterdam Tulip Festival - Great Escapes

Keukenhof gardens, image credit: Paul Haahr, Flickr


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Cycling in Holland

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Following on from my experience cycling in Belgium, Holland is arguably even more rewarding to explore on two wheels, such is the magnitude of the country’s cycling infrastructure. Whether you find yourself pedaling through remote countryside or amid the hustle and bustle of a major city, bikes commonly outnumber cars (and even people in Amsterdam), ensuring that cycling is a safe and speedy way to get from point to point, or attraction to attraction. My summer cycling tour took me through Holland and saw me pass through the likes of Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Nijmegen, and I firmly believe that exploring the country by bicycle is one of the best ways to spend a holiday in Holland.

Cycling around Rotterdam

The first stop of my cycling adventure through Holland was Rotterdam and its surrounding area. The flat landscapes are ideal cycling conditions, ensuring that making up large distances in short times are easy for even inexperienced cyclists. The countryside to the south of Rotterdam is sparse and isolated but beautiful, dotted with windmills, farms and canals leading up to the city itself.

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Rotterdam is an interesting city, presenting a lot of modern architecture and intriguing art galleries. For those spending their holidays in Amsterdam, Rotterdam is just a short train journey away and it is easy to transport your bikes on board if you fancy cycling around the city. One of my favourite destinations in easy cycling distance of Rotterdam is Kinderdijk, and specifically the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinderdijk Windmills. In 1740 19 windmills were built around the area for drainage purposes, and today these mills comprise the largest concentration of old windmills in the country. Shame it was raining so much when I was there!

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Cycling in Amsterdam

There are more bicycles than inhabitants in the city of Amsterdam, so it comes as no surprise that the city is practically built for cyclists. Holidays in Amsterdam are best enjoyed on two wheels as it allows you the ease of travelling from attraction to attraction safely and quickly. Cycle lanes are found throughout the city and bike rental is readily available and very reasonably priced.

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There’s no better way to spend a mild morning or warm evening than cycling alongside the pretty canals of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Canal Ring and the beautiful old architecture of the Old Centre – one of the largest in Europe. The Jordaan neighbourhood is another pleasant place to cycle, filled with lots of hip bars and aromatic eateries that will inevitably lure you into their charms.

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Cycling in Utrecht

A pretty little city set just to the south-east of the capital Amsterdam, Utrecht is predominantly a student city, home to one of the country’s most prominent universities. This lends to Utrecht’s vibrant and artistic identity, enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. Many people leave Utrecht feeling even more charmed than they did when they left Amsterdam, perhaps due to the fact there are less tourists and more of an authentic vibe around the city.

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While Utrecht may have less iconic sites than Amsterdam, there are still a number of impressive landmarks to encounter while languidly pedaling around the cobbled streets. Dom Church is among the most memorable, towering above the city and the Oudegracht canal below, while the City Hall is another unique building worth a spot or two on your camera.

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Cycling in Nijmegen

The final stop on my cycling tour in the Netherlands was the city of Nijmegen, located in the south-east of the country and just a short ride from the border with Germany where my European trip continued. The cycle from Utrecht to Nijmegen is the perfect reminder of how efficient the Netherlands’ cycling infrastructure is. I spent much of the day’s ride about 30 metres from a busy motorway on my own cycling path – often moving faster than the gridlocked traffic!

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The compact centre of Nijmegen is another great place to explore by bike, with striking squares and eye-catching landmarks, such as the buildings bordering the Grote Markt, well worth a visit. Nijmegen is also known for its WWII history and its marvellous bridge, famous for the Operation Market Garden offensive.

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If cycling isn’t really your thing, you can still visit the wonderful Netherlands with Great Escapes, in addition to many other fascinating European destinations.

If you’d like to learn more about my cycling adventures around Europe, you can read more on my blog.


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Amsterdam’s Canals

At just over 400 years old and collectively over 100km in length, Amsterdam’s 165 canals are certainly a breath-taking sight. With the canal ring listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, they’ve been recognised as having outstanding universal value. But perhaps better yet, they’re a fabulous way of exploring the city when on a short break in Amsterdam.

History of the canals

Built during the 17th century, the first four (and main) canals were implemented as a way to improve defence and water management, along with residential development. Named Singelgracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, these are the four original and more notable canals in Amsterdam, which encircle the city centre in the shape of a half moon.

Amsterdam's canal and bicycles

Image credit: Dennis van de Water | Shutterstock

The dancing houses

We’re sure if you’ve ever visited Amsterdam, or even just seen a few images, you’ll have noticed the charming canal houses which form a beautiful silhouette in all their shapes and sizes. These houses are known as the ‘dancing houses’, as over time they’ve sunk, moved or tilted in the swampy soil along the canal bank, creating a rather unique and colourful view.

Amsterdam's canals, the dancing houses

Image credit: kavalenkava volha | Shutterstock

Bridges, islands and houseboats

As the city grew over time and more canals were created, you’ll find that today, Amsterdam rather spectacularly boasts no less than 1,281 bridges and 90 separate miniature islands. The most famous of these bridges is Magere Brug, or ‘skinny bridge’ (however as of 1871 it was made a lot larger and is no longer particularly skinny). Named as such due to originally being so narrow it was hard for just two people to pass each other on foot, this famous drawbridge is located on Amstel, between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht.

Houseboats are a popular way of living in Amsterdam, where there are over 2,500 floating in the meandering canals. Some being more than a century old, if you take a walk along the canal bank you’ll discover many different colours, shapes, sizes and materials; however concrete houseboats are most popular as they require fewer repairs.

Amsterdam's canals, houseboats.

Image credit: ActiveSteve, Flickr

Events on the water

Depending on when you choose to visit, you may be lucky enough to experience one or two of the festivities that happen on and around the canals each year. April sees the city turn a beautiful hue of orange in honour of King’s Day, and there’s also a canal festival in August named The Grachtenfestival, where an abundance of classical music concerts take place both on land and water. During the winter months, the whole of Amsterdam comes alive with artistic displays during the light festival. A great way to see this is from a boat ride along the canal, as some of the creations are in the water!

Amsterdam's canals - light festival art display

Image credit: Julia700702 | Shutterstock

 

If we’ve inspired you to take a short break to Amsterdam, visit the Great Escapes website for more information and to book.


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The best views in Amsterdam

The Netherlands’ capital, Amsterdam, is one of Europe’s most picturesque cities, boasting a network of fairy tale-like canals, romantic bridges and splendid architectural gems. The city is also famed for being home to the one of the most extensive historic city centres in Europe, with 7,000 buildings registered and recognised for their history. It’s safe to assume then that your camera will be busy during a holiday to Amsterdam, and to ensure you capture the finest photographs to take home with you, we’ve put together a list of the best views in Amsterdam – make sure you pack an extra memory card and battery!


The Canal Ring

Given that the city is built around and on a winding and curving network of canals, it is likely that you’ll stumble across one or two top spots for capturing that perfect view of Amsterdam’s waterways. We think one of the best views in Amsterdam can be enjoyed from one of the several bridges crossing over the Keizersgracht, especially at the junction with Leidsegracht where you can enjoy a fantastic view of several bridges, boats and canals.

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Source: Holland.com

The historic buildings

There are numerous historic buildings of interest to those on holiday in Amsterdam, from Anne Frank’s House and the Oude Kerk, to the Begijnhof and the countless traditional, medieval houses that line the canals. The best way to absorb Amsterdam’s architectural splendour is from the water on a canal boat tour. From here you’ll enjoy some of the best views in Amsterdam, as well as the opportunity to access nooks and crannies unreachable on foot.

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Photo credit: Alberto Mateo | Holland.com

Amsterdam in the snow and ice

If you find yourself on an Amsterdam holiday in the winter months, you’ll have the best chance of seeing Amsterdam in the snow. The wintery façade of the city is beautiful, providing some incredible snowy views for your camera to capture. During particularly cold winters it isn’t unusual for the canals to freeze over, triggering a bizarre scene of ice skaters whizzing along the winding canals.

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Source: Holland.com

The city skyline

One of the best ways to absorb the sprawling beauty of Amsterdam, especially the old centre, is from up high where you can enjoy a view of the city skyline. There are several places that offer an impressive view across the roofs of Amsterdam, but the most popular is Sky Lounge Amsterdam, a classy bar serving up tasty drinks and bites.

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Photo credit: INTERPIXELS | Shutterstock

Canal sunrise

The orange glow bouncing off the water and heritage buildings are a beautiful view not to be missed in Amsterdam. The sunrise is the cause of this marvel, best enjoyed from any canal bridge in a relatively open area, such as along Brouwersgracht. Just make sure you’re facing east!

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Image credit: Dennis van de Water | Shutterstock

Church of St. Nicholas

Easily one of the best views in Amsterdam, peering across to the towering turrets of the Church of St. Nicholas, with the shimmering waters of the Oudezijdsvoorburgwal canal before you, is an unforgettable moment to capture in your memory and on your camera.

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Image credit: Neirfy | Shutterstock

Amsterdam by night

The city lit up at night is one of the most breath-taking scenes from any holiday in Amsterdam. There are several spots to discover the best of the city’s illuminated character, but we think Amsterdam Centraal Station emits an extra special sense of grandeur when the sun goes down and the lights come on.

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Image credit: Neirfy | Shutterstock

 

Tempted by a holiday to Amsterdam? Whether it is a self-drive adventure or a comfortable journey by Eurostar, check out our range of holidays to the Netherlands.

Share your favourite views of Amsterdam by commenting below.


 

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2016 Culinary Events in Amsterdam

Although it’s probably safe to say we’re all completely stuffed after the Christmas and New Year festivities, with so much going on food and drink-wise in Amsterdam over the coming year, we just couldn’t ignore it. Unfortunately we couldn’t possibly include them all, so here’s a little taster of some which have caught our eye and we think sound extra appetising…

Whisky Weekend (15th – 16th January 2016)

If you’re a fan of a particular distilled alcoholic beverage, made from fermented grain mash and aged in wooden casks (whisky that is), then this event will be right up your street. In a little place called Posthoornkerk, a tasting room appears for a couple of days in January, which becomes host to every type of whisky you could possibly imagine. Creamy, malty, smoky, woody, nutty, oaky – the descriptions are endless. Find out more about the annual whisky festival and see where to book tickets here.

Food Soul Festival (29th – 31st January 2016)

Held in De Kromhouthal in Amsterdam Noord in January, you’ll find all kinds of weird and wonderful cuisine from all over the world at the Food Soul Festival. Experience this massive mobile restaurant (with free entry) and we’re certain you’ll be opening up your taste buds to some truly great foodstuffs.

Chocoa Festival (4th – 6th February 2016)

An exciting opportunity for every chocolate lover, Amsterdam holds the annual Chocoa Festival at the Beurs van Berlage, promising pure, chocolate-loving heaven. For as little as €10 per adult, you’ll have access to chocolate booths, live cooking and demonstrations just to name a few, and not forgetting the best bit – free tasting sessions. With Chocoa adopting a strong company ethos dedicated to high quality, sustainable chocolate, what you’ll find at this festival will be some of the very finest chocolate, along with top chocolatiers, and the opportunity for a great education about the cocoa chain – from tree to bar. You can book tickets here.

Amsterdam Coffee Festival (18th – 20th March 2016)

Featuring anywhere up to 100 artisan roasters, along with food stalls plus equipment makers, Amsterdam’s coffee festival is sure to help you get your caffeine fix, and pronto. Held at the Westergasfabriek events venue, you can watch various demonstrations, get involved in different workshops and immerse yourself in the coffee art project on display. But of course, the best bit by far – drinking great quality coffee until your heart’s content.

Meibock Festival (19th April 2016)

Celebrating spring beers (or Meibock), this boozy festival is a great opportunity to try a huge selection of both bottled and draught beer from a range of brewers. €7 will bid you entry, plus a festival glass, and from there you can purchase beer tokens at around €2 each. Some previous beers which have made an appearance are: Northern Night (TigerTops), Neoclassical (Butcher’s Tears), Saison (Kompaan) and Violante (Maximus). You can see a full list here.

Dutch Raw Food Festival (12th June 2016)

Take a chance to experience raw food at its very finest at this festival. With a strong focus on healthy living, you’ll find lots of stalls, tasting sessions and demonstrations to keep you busy for the day. Experts are available for any questions you may have, and you can attend workshops where you can learn how to make lots of different dishes and snacks. The festival takes place at The Colour Kitchen Langerlust in 2016.

Gelato Festival (9th – 12th July 2016)

Actually an Italian tour which is very popular, the Gelato Festival makes a stop in Amsterdam to share their incredible authentic gelato. Beginning only in 2010, the aim of the festival is to celebrate the origins of Florence gelato, invented by the Medici family during the Italian Renaissance. The best way to enjoy this event is to go online beforehand and purchase an ice cream card, which gives you fast track access to the stalls, where you can enjoy 5 tubs of ice cream, as well as other perks. You can find out more about the festival, and about buying a gelato card here.

Het Bacchus Wijnfestival (2nd – 4th September 2016)

The Bacchus Wijnfestival, or wine festival in English, combines music, food, and most importantly great wine into one weekend event which is sure to get your taste buds tingling. With a great selection of well-known wine merchants attending each year, whether you’re a wine connoisseur, or just like wine in general, you’ll have a fabulous time at this event. Listen to the experts talk about different wines, and then take a seat at one of the restaurants to discover all kinds of wondrous culinary pairings. You can access the official website here (it’s in Dutch though).

If any of these events have whetted your appetite, take a look at the Great Escapes website, where you can find your perfect short break to Amsterdam.

Also, if you’ve been to any of the above events, it would be great to hear about your experience, so please do comment below.


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Tis the season…

Christmas has finally arrived! So we wanted to treat you all to a compilation of beautiful Christmas photos from around Europe – a mixture of food and drink, markets and lights – arguably all the best things about this wonderfully festive time of the year.

So let’s make a start with a classic Christmas in Paris, the city of love…

You can’t really beat the gorgeous Eiffel Tower, covered in a glistening layer of snow, a beautiful backdrop to a very festive looking carousel.

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As you can see, Galeries Lafayette knows exactly how to decorate for Christmas and keep up an ambience of class.

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I’m sure you’ll agree there’s nothing more magical than wandering around a Christmas market, mulled wine in hand, looking at all the trinkets and gifts on sale. And in the snow, it couldn’t be much more festive!

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As we all know, it’s not just Paris that are skilled in adding that little (or large) festive touch…

Lille, France is a dab hand at adding a touch of bling to their architecture.

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And Reims looks stunning when the markets start to pop up, coating areas of the city in lights.

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Now let’s take a stop next door to Belgium, and see the handsome buildings of Grand Place, in the central square of Brussels take your breath away…

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And definitely not forgetting one of the best activities associated with this time of year, ice-skating! Take to the ice in one of Belgium’s Flemish Christmas markets.

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Once you’ve spent the evening picking yourself up off the ice and probably feeling rather worn out, a Rakomelo is certainly well deserved. Actually a traditional Greek beverage, its warm, sweet (and alcoholic) taste will be sure to go down a treat – only for adults though, sorry kids!

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So moving along again, this time to Deutschland, we’ve found that Cologne is a trinket buyer’s paradise. With gifts galore and all sorts of wonderful bits and bobs to look at, we couldn’t not feature it in this blog.

Here’s a rather unique stall at one of the markets:

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Now here’s the bigger picture for you…

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And the ice-skating rink looks perfect for a family friendly race (if you can stay on your feet of course).

Blick auf die große Eisbahn auf dem Weihnachtsmarkt "Heimat der Heinzel" auf dem Heumarkt in der Altstadt Köln, im Vordergrund das Reiterdenkmal, im Hintergrund Dom und Groß St. Martin.

Our final stop on this festive tour takes us to a little place called Amsterdam, which embraces the Christmas spirit in a delightfully cultural way.

The most impressive perhaps, is this Christmas tree made of bicycles:

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Image credit: Xavier Vergés, Flickr

We then have performances from the ‘World Christmas Circus’, which is a festive tradition in Amsterdam.

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Image credit: DirkJan Ranzijn, Flickr

And finally, I can’t think of a better way to round up these images than with a drink, and better yet – a Christmas drink! Delirium Christmas, a festive Belgian beer will send your taste buds tingling with hints of fruit, spices, caramel malt and candied orange. You can buy a bottle or two here.

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Image credit: Hideyuki Kamon, Flickr

We hope you’ve enjoyed our mini festive tour around Europe, and are now well and truly in the Christmas spirit!

So now’s the time to go and get your favourite festive drink, a mince pie or two, put your feet up and await tomorrow’s fun and food filled day.

From everyone at Great Escapes, we’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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