Amsterdam Getaway
by Diarmuid Corry © 2001  

AmsterdamDiarmuid Corry and his wife, Orna, of Dublin, Ireland visited Amsterdam in July 2001. Diarmuid is a T4 paraplegic and uses a compact, narrow manual wheelchair (65.5cm/26.2” wide with a very tight turning circle).

Getting There and Airport Service:

We flew with Aer Lingus direct from Dublin. Amsterdam Airport (Schipol) is fully wheelchair accessible but badly laid out. This means that there could be a very long walk from the plane gate to the baggage arrival. There are “travelators” but it is still quite a way. If you are a slow mover, talk to the staff about getting assistance. Give yourself plenty of time when leaving to make your gate. There are plenty of toilets. US travellers should note that the usual European standard is to provide a unisex disabled toilet with a separate door, rather than the more usual US approach of providing an accessible cubicle in the “standard” toilets. The officials in Schipol were well trained, and all transfers and loading on and off the plane were done well.

The train runs right to the airport form Central Station Amsterdam. To my surprise, I was informed by the lady at the train ticket office that if I wanted to use the train, I would need to give 24-hours notice for assistance to be available. I took her at her word, but I’m not convinced this is true. Editor's note: Baggage handlers at Central Station will usually help a wheelchair passenger board  (given a half hour or so notice), but this necessitates going directly to their department and requesting assistance.

So we got a taxi. It was 75NLG from the airport to city centre. Taxis are generally Mercedes (or other large) saloon cars. I did not notice any wheelchair accessible taxis – which is not to say that they don’t exist.

Getting Around:

The frustrating thing in Amsterdam was trying to get information! The tourist office opposite the train station is not accessible. Neither is the newly refurbished transport information centre. There is an accessible tourist office in the train station itself on the first floor. But the morning I went looking, there were hordes of people and it was just too much hassle to try to get there. So my information is based on experience and, therefore, is liable to be incomplete.

 

Most public transport is not accessible. However, the tram routes 5 and 1 seemed to be operating new trams that are accessible. I did not see a single number 5 or number 1 that was not accessible. And I did not see a single other tram that was accessible! The 5 is useful as it runs close to the Museumplein, which has a host of interesting sights.

 

We took the 5 a few times. Not all stops have level access from the street to the tram. A free map I got at the hotel lists the following stops as being “officially” accessible: Spui (1 & 5), Koningsplein (1 & 5), Hobbemastraat (1 & 5), v. Baerlestraat (5), and all stops on the 5 route from Apollolaan to Oranjebaan. However, many other stops are accessible (maybe the map is out of date). Central Station is. The only one I came across that wasn’t was Leidseplein where the step in or out of the tram was about 250mm. Getting out is possible but getting in would require assistance.

 

The map also cryptically states that the Metro 50, 51, 53 and 54 also “have wheelchair accessibility”. I don’t know what this means.

 

Luckily Amsterdam is a city made for walking (or rolling). It is flat and full of fascinating canal walks and alleyways. There are cycle lanes everywhere, which are useful for negotiating junctions and the like. But beware, the cyclists take no prisoners and are not inclined to avoid you if you are on “their” path! If you hear a bell, get out of the way! Almost everything of interest is within a half hour walk of Central Station. I strongly recommend just wheeling around and forget about the transport. Keep a weather eye on the pavement though. Many of the pavements are cobbled and in poor condition. I was almost flung out of the chair several times when the front castors caught in holes or uplifted cobbles.  Editor's note: We have had reports of visitors breaking wheelchair hubs on this type of terrain. Using air filled inner tubes rather than hard inserts, will minimize chances of  breaking your wheels.

 

If you must use public transport, then taxis seem to be the best bet.

Hotels

Amsterdam is an old city and many of its building are tall and narrow, with several steps in. This does not bode well for finding accommodation. An Internet search will turn up fifteen or twenty accessible hotels but none are cheap. This is not surprising, as it tends to be the up-market hotels that have renovated and installed access.

We stayed at The Golden Tulip Barbizon Palace. It is located just across from the main railway station. It's a 5-star hotel, so expect 5-star prices.

There is level access from the street. The hotel room was on the second floor and had a standard non-adapted ensuite bathroom and an adapted bathroom off through another door. It was fully adapted with grab-rails and a roll-in shower with wall-mounted shower seat. The washbasin was fully accessible. The only down side was that all the towels and bathroom items were placed in the AB’s room – more discrimination!

The room was a generous size so circulation was easy. The usual mod cons and remote control television. They offer a room service breakfast.

Be aware that there are no accessible toilets on the ground floor. If you want to enjoy a few beers in their "brown" bar (and I suggest you do), then you will have to use the bedroom toilet.

Restaurants, etc.

De Portugees, Zeedijk 39a, 1012 AR Amsterdam, (Tel: 020–42-72-005). Good Portuguese food, though a bit pricey. Low step from street (50mm) through wide door. No access to toilets.

Chao Phraya, Nieuwmarkt 8-10 (Tel 020-427-6334). Reasonably priced Thai food. Level access from street. Toilets are on the level with standard width doors, but there is a sharp turn just inside the door. I could use them but not all chairs would make it.

Aneka Rasa, Warmoesstraat 25-29, 1012 HV Amsterdam (Tel: 020-6261560). Reasonably priced Indonesian food. Single step (150mm) from street. Wide doors. The food was not very good – it seemed to be all pre-prepared then heated to order.

Café Kaptein Zeppos, Sorry, I lost the address but you can find them in the phone book! This is a lively and nice place to eat. There is level access off the street and the toilet is "accidentally accessible". This means that it has level access and the doors are wide enough for my chair to get through. The cubicle is small though.

The Sights

The waterbuses or barges are inaccessible in general. There is, however, one accessible tourist boat that does a trip around the city called the Rederij Lovers or just "Lovers". It is located a few bridges down from the station. The barge is ramped and comfortable and the trip is well worth it.

The Museumplein is a lovely square near the main museums. The Rijksmuseum is accessible although I did not personally visit it. So also is the Van Gogh Museum via an external lift. I did visit this, and for anyone interested in Van Gogh’s work, or 19th century art in general, it is well worth it. All parts of the museum are accessible via an elevator. Nearer to the centre of town, the Amsterdam Historical Museum (off Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal) is also accessible. The café just off the courtyard has the only publicly accessible disabled toilets that I found. They are a little awkward as there are four steps up to the toilet area. There is a lift that the toilet attendant will operate for you.

The red-light district is famous, of course, and you can walk through it and “window shop” along with all the other tourists! It seems that almost all the establishments are inaccessible, although I am reliably informed that a few are not. On the "sex strip," one of the floor show places claims to be accessible (I don’t know the name, but any door man will point you in the right direction). - in practice this means they will carry you up the three or four steps in. Once in, you are on a level floor in the cinema like arena, but the toilets are not accessible.

Bars & Coffee Shops

Most bars and coffee shops are located in old buildings, which makes access very difficult. However, careful hunting will find some with level access (or low steps). However, it is very unlikely that the toilets will be accessible. I found none with accessible toilets. Many bars also have tables outside, which means you can enjoy a beer (or whatever) without having to struggle with doors or steps.

The nature of bars means that I do not have clear notes of where I visited! But I can recall the following:

Alto, located on Korte Leidsedwarsstraat near the junction with Leidsekruisstraat, is a small smokey jazz bar. They claim to have live jazz every day, and certainly they had some excellent performers when I was there. Access is very awkward. There is a low (100mm) step down from street level into a very tight “porch.” The door into the bar is at a 70 degree angle and also has a small downward step. Getting in involved a bit of pushing, shoving and a hop! The toilets are upstairs.

Maxim’s Piano Bar, on Leidsekruisstraat near Alto, has a low step (100mm) in through wide doors. Although the access was easy, the live music was truly awful the night we visited, so we did not stay long!

Casablanca, on Zeedijk, is another jazz bar. The bar area occasionally has live music and has level access off the street through double doors. It is very tight and moving through the bar in a wheelchair will cause chaos! The jazz performance arena is up two steep steps. The doormen said they would be happy to lift me in. In the event I did not go in, so I cannot comment further.

Resources

Golden Tulip Barbizon Palace

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