Wheelchair Accessible Travel to Amsterdam, Netherlands
by Mark & Margaret Edwards © 2007

Mark & Margaret Edwards, of the United Kingdom. generously shared a host of European reports that detail the access that wheelchair users can expect to encounter. Mark is able-bodied and Margaret, who can walk a little with a cane, uses a traditional folding wheelchair to facilitate traveling.

Here readers can share their Amsterdam holiday. In the city of canals, they coped with cobblestones, dodged cyclists, enjoyed cozy restaurants and toured some of the city's top venues, including the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Rembrandthuis.

As the result of a day trip to Amsterdam last April, we decided to go back for a long weekend and a slightly less hurried look around. I’m the wheelchair user – it should have been a manual chair which folds into a small space and as the result of experience it’s modified with heavy duty spokes and solid tyres. However, as you will see shortly, events meant that I was in a more traditional chair which was wider – and I can walk a little. My husband does the pushing and lifting.

It is difficult to get information on disabled access in Amsterdam and it can be interesting getting around – cobbled streets, tram lines, uneven pavements, silent but deadly cyclists…. Yet, as ever with a bit of planning, you can see a great deal but you have accept that as with so many historical buildings, it is neither practical nor appropriate to dramatically reconfigure interiors for full access.

This was an early February visit – hence the emphasis on places under cover! There’s only a certain amount of time you can spend in the cold however well you wrap up so this is a good excuse to go back again. There is also a distinct emphasis on WCs. And why not?

HOTELS


We stayed at the Estherea Hotel at Singel 309. This was chosen because of users reports on TripAdvisor together with its location. In order to get into the hotel, you need to have some mobility because there are four steps from the street to reception. However, if you can manage this, stay there. It was warm, clean, friendly, comfortable, the staff couldn’t do enough to help us and the range and quality of the breakfast was top rate.

In fact, I can’t rate this hotel highly enough – on arrival at Schipol Airport, we discovered that my wheelchair had been damaged to the extent that it couldn’t be used. First time this has ever happened. KLM phoned the Estherea for help – the hotel had a wheelchair which we could use and there was nothing to worry about. And they lifted it out into the street whenever we needed so my husband could concentrate on getting me down the steps. On future visits to Amsterdam, we will stay at the Estherea.

VAN GOGH MUSEUM

Book in advance on their website http://vangoghmuseum3.cyso.net/vgm/ – we’ve done this on both occasions and on the first visit managed to avoid a queue of several hundred people.

Disabled access is next to the main entrance – there is a self operated lift which takes you u pto the entrance by ticket office, you pass through the door by the side of the ticket booth and then turn right towards the shop. Your ticket will be scanned by staff to let you through.

There are toilets leading off the shop as you pass into the main building. They tend to get busy with long queues (being the first ones on the premises) and so the best bet is to rely on others in the building!

If you are visiting an exhibition in the rear extension to the museum (when we visited it was Van Gogh and the Expressionists) , access is by a glass lift by the café – the “traditional” lift which you will pass on your right to get to it serves the front section of the building with its permanent displays only. The glass lift delivers you to a wide corridor with glass along one side looking across a water feature and turning right will take you to the lower floor of the exhibition area. Next to the entry to this area is another lift which takes you to the upper floor of the exhibition area. This sounds complicated, but on the ground, it’s much clearer.

If when leaving the glass lift, you turn to the left – where there is a sales counter – there are toilets including a disabled unit just behind it.

The café comes strongly recommended – but get there early (before 12) to get a view out over the park. Some pretty serious eating goes on here. The food is good – we enjoyed a smoked salmon salad – and the wine is keenly priced at a couple of euros for a small bottle of very drinkable white wine.

RIJKSMUSEUM

This raised the issue of the advantages of booking in advance. It’s not clear as to whether there are concessions for disabled visitors. We booked in advance on their website http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/index.jsp?lang=en However, only one ticket was scanned on arrival and were cheerfully provided with another one (free) so that the visitor books balanced. All I can say, is try your luck. The museum was not that busy at 10.00 on a wet February Saturday morning and we would only have to had queued for a couple of minutes.

Very easy to get round. At the moment, sections of only two floors are open (but what sections!) and a lift takes you between the two. There are disabled toilets on the ground floor by the lift.

Café Cobra – between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh is accessible ( turn to the left out of the Rijksmuseum and the café is straight ahead beyond the freestanding museum shop) but the toilets are in the basement down stairs. Another view over the park (people were skating) and pleasant food in a slightly smoky atmosphere.

HET MUZIEKTHEATER

One of the reasons for going to Amsterdam at this time was to see the new production of “Tannhauser”. The seats were charged at full price which was the equivalent of £25 each. Compared to UK prices, this was a steal…

Very accessible from a mall which runs the length of the development – on a somewhat bigger site than it appears on the map. From the mall, the entrance to the foyer is marked “kasse”. Once inside the opera house, lifts run to all levels and are on the left hand side as you enter. We had booked a seat and wheelchair space at what I’d describe as the back of the stalls (or “Zahl” per the seating plan). The disabled lavatory for this area is on the left immediately after you come out of the lift. The seating area is in a very good position indeed (although the surtitles are not visible due to overhang of the balcony and would only be of assistance to Dutch speakers). My husband commented that the seats were comfortable with more leg room in this row than he had found elsewhere.

One issue I would take is that there is a lightness of front of house staff – we had trouble finding someone to help us as to which floor we should be on and which door we should use. If your seat has an even number on it, you use the door marked “evens”.

The light refreshments looked very enticing and the champagne was welcome at €8 a glass

REMBRANDTHUIS

There is a ramp up to the entrance in the modern extension and there is a disabled lavatory in the basement which is accessed by a lift. However, to get round the house, you need to be able to walk. And those stairs are very narrow and twist. One possibility – the lift serves the 3rd floor of the extension – this was in use for an exhibition – which leads directly in to the house itself and it is possible to peer around a couple of doorways to see some part of the place. In addition, from the basement, four steps lead up to the kitchen at the rear of the house, which is worth a look if you can’t manage any further.

OUDEKERK

Easy access from the outside, but the floor inside is very uneven and contains many deeply incised stones. It is certainly worth a visit and if you can persuade your pusher to haul you up the two steps to the choir, the misericord carvings under the seats are well worth a closer look. It’s also worth downloading the guide from the website at http://www.oudekerk.nl/

NIEUWEKERK

Fully accessible to the ground floor – when we visited it was devoted to the Istanbul exhibition which was remarkable and imaginatively laid out with wall and ceiling hangings, carpets and sounds. That was a little challenging to get around because of ramps to some of the raised areas and the carpets but was well worth it. Further details at http://www.nieuwekerk.nl/nl/index.htm

The café leading off the main area and looking out over the Square is good for light refreshments but the toilets are in the basement. There is a lift but when we were there, the lift was full of catering equipment.

ALLARD PIERSON MUSEUM

A wonderful collection of well displayed Near Eastern, Egyptian and Greek artifacts blending the remarkable with the slightly odd – e.g. mummified cat head.

For access, use the main entrance and go to the right into the cloakroom. Staff will escort you to the lift which covers both first and second floors. There is a disabled lavatory near the lift on (I think) the first floor. To get out again, staff will operate the lift down to the ground floor.

AMSTERDAM HISTORICAL MUSEUM

Fascinating and accessible but it is very complex to get round and you do need to get help from the staff. The ticket desk will provide you with printed instructions for getting round 90% or so of the building and I’m not even going to attempt to reproduce them. The full tour involves leaving the main building, crossing and recrossing a courtyard, operating stairlifts and traditional lifts. Don’t be put off, it can be done and it is worth it because there are some wonderful pictures and models. It just takes a bit of thought and effort because it’s a triumph of planning. Allow more time than you would think!
Disabled lavatory next to the café across the courtyard

EATING

Luden at Spuistraat 304-306 (+31 20 6228979) (it’s the southern end) provided a very decent Caesar salad and pasta pesto with wine and coffee for €38. The toilets are on the first floor up a steep staircase. The staff were happy to open a disused door to the street to make access in and out more easy.

Haesje Claes at Spuistraat 275 (+31 30 6249998). Very happy to open up a side door to make access easier and to take reservations for the ground floor. Toilets on another floor. However, on a wet and cold night, the cosy wood panelling and soft lighting beckoned strongly. Good solid fare with some of the finest sauté potatoes I’ve tasted in a long while. So enjoyable – and with cheerful staff – that we returned on another evening. And if you get the chance to try the Zeeland Pinot Gris at €19.50 a bottle, you’ll find it to be dry, fruity and very slightly sparkling – an interesting introduction to Dutch wine.

Don't miss Mark & Margaret Edward's other journeys to these destinations:

Madrid '07

Milan '06

Venice '06

Bologna '07

Ravenna '07

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