Green Traveller's Guide to Amsterdam
Rhiannon Batten provides a few tips for how to have an eco escape in Amsterdam.
There’s a lot more to Amsterdam than coffee shops, canals and cyclists. Home to some of Europe’s most creative citizens, though they may be stereotyped by a laid-back approach to life the Dutch capital’s inhabitants are also known for their progressive ideology, a characteristic they have put to good use over recent years in attempting to make the city one of Europe’s most sustainable metropolises.
Amsterdam Energy Transition 2040, a statement of intent from Amsterdam City Council, includes many environmental goals. By 2025, for instance, the city aims to have reduced its carbon emissions by 40%, using wind turbines for clean energy production and developing carbon capture and storage technology for reducing its carbon footprint.
It isn’t just the locals who will benefit from this approach. The attractions of exploring a city that is investing so deeply in the quality of life of its inhabitants will be just as appealing for visitors, too. Many of those features are out there to be enjoyed already. From Centraal Station, most of the city’s sights are easily reached by foot or bike, for example, as are its famously historic architecture and leafy green spaces.
Getting to Amsterdam: see our guide to How to travel by train from London to Amsterdam
Getting around the city: At Amsterdam Central station, there’s an excellent network of trams, metro and buses, though Amsterdam is one of the world’s most cycle-friendly cities, so cycling is usually the quickest, cheapest and easiest ways to get around. Nearly all the cycling lanes are separate from the road (with traffic lights especially for bikes), so for a city, it’s a safe place to cycle, though you’re advised to always lock your bike wherever you leave it. At central station you can hire a bike with Mac Bike, one of Amsterdam’s largest bike rental agencies that also provides details for bike tours around the city (open 7 days a week 9am-5.45pm; www.macbike.nl; +31 (0)206 200 985).
Where to stay
One of the most luxurious hotels in Amsterdam, Hotel Pulitzer is also one of the greenest, having been awarded Gold by the international eco label Green Key for its waste and water reduction and CO2 minimising initiatives (these include low energy lighting, low flow shower heads, a wine bar that stocks exclusively Terra Vinis sustainable wines and a restaurant that focuses on local, seasonal produce). It also has oodles of charm, with a structure pieced together from 25 adjacent 17th and 18th century canal houses, elegant guest rooms overlooking the city’s distinctive canals or the hotel gardens, an in-house art gallery and a vintage boat waiting to whisk guests off for water-based sightseeing. Prinsengracht 315-331 (+31 20 523 5235; www.pulitzeramsterdam.com).
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Amsterdam Centraal Station
This 553-room business hotel is part of Amsterdam’s Eastern Docks regeneration project. Created by architects Bennetts Associates it is both cool and environmentally conscious, rising crane-like beside Centraal Station. Below the hotel’s green roof, guests can enjoy dramatic waterside and old town views through windows designed to minimize heat loss and glare, relax in temperatures controlled by below-ground heat pumps and aquifers and make use of both bike- and book-hire schemes. Oosterdokstraat 4 (+31 20 530 0800; www.doubletree1.hilton.com).
Conscious Hotel Vondelpark
The second of two “eco design” hotels in the city, this one describes itself as “more hip than hippy” with 81 bright, contemporary bedrooms, 100% organic breakfasts and easy access to the wide green spaces, ponds, bike paths and jogging routes of the city’s popular Vondelpark. Eco innovations include a charging point for electric vehicles, fittings made from recycled coffee cup holders and yoghurt pots, electricity sourced exclusively from renewables, the use of green cleaning products and a living plant wall. Overtoom 519 (+31 20 820 3333; www.conscioushotels.com).
Hotel V Frederiksplein
Only four years old, this relative newcomer on Amsterdam’s hotel scene has a suitably youthful feel. A circular fire hangs from the ceiling in the mellow lounge, there’s free wifi, 48 smart but cosy bedrooms and a breezy, open-plan restaurant. Much of the food and drink served is organic and/ or Fair Trade (cocktail lovers note there’s a choice of two organic vodkas behind the bar), cleaning products are environmentally friendly, organic bedlinen is supplied by local brand Yumeko, energy comes from a green supplier and the basic energy, water and waste-saving measures you’d expect of a hotel that has the Gold rating from the Green Key eco label. Weteringschans 136 (+31 20 662 3233; www.hotelv.nl).
If you’re looking for period charm it doesn’t get more tangible than at this central 38-room hotel, once the home of Prime Minister Abraham Kuiper (and, later, of the university he founded). Based in a 17th century canal house, the hotel’s plum, gold and scarlet colour scheme, rich furnishings and soft lighting set off the traditional surroundings in theatrical style. Owned and run as a hotel by the Toren family since the 1960s, the hotel sources its electricity from green suppliers and provides breakfasts packed with Fair Trade and organic produce.
Keizersgracht 164 (+31 20 622 6033; www.thetoren.nl).
Where to eat
There can’t be many restaurants that follow the local produce ethos quite as closely as De Kas. Set in a converted greenhouse on the outskirts of the city, in what was once a municipal nursery, almost all the fresh produce served up as part of its daily three-course fixed price menu is grown in adjacent greenhouses or in the field the restaurant owns outside the city; meat is supplied by local organic farmers and fish comes straight from the North Sea. Don’t expect rustic cooking, though. A meal here will be one of the most inventive dining experiences you’re ever likely to enjoy. Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3 (+31 20 462 4562; www.restaurantdekas.nl).
De Vliegende Schotel
Its name may mean “the flying saucer” but, for fans of old-school wholefood dining, there’s nothing alien about this vegetarian restaurant. Cheerfully and cosily decorated, it’s installed in an unassuming position in the centre of the old Jordaan district and is just the place to turn to if you’re looking for hearty portions of organic cooking at no-nonsense prices (think lentil pies, lasagnes, tajines and organic ice creams). Nieuwe Leliestraat 162 (+31 20 625 2041; www.vliegendeschotel.com).
De Culinaire Werkplaats
This “eating initiative and experience” is part design studio, part workshop, part art gallery, part bakery and part restaurant. Designed to help visitors take a fresh look at the way they eat, you can dine in, buy a take away meal or join one of its regular cookery events. The options range from coffee and cake to a daily “menu” of five small dishes and its kitchen takes animal welfare, organic farming, Fair Trade, seasonality, food miles and all-round goodness seriously. Fannius Scholtenstraat 10 (+31 65 464 6576; www.deculinairewerkplaats.nl). Customers pay what they feel is a fair price.
Set near the city’s Westerpark, this shipshape restaurant puts its heart and soul into what it serves. Not only are dishes made with local, seasonal, organic ingredients (try the confit of duck with pumpkin mousse, cabbage and red wine or the Portobello mushrooms with gorgonzola and pistachio) but it’s socially responsible too. As the name suggests, it was set up as a reintegration project for people with psychiatric issues and has successfully continued that mission in its employment policy. Spaarndammerstraat 424 (+31 20 688 5548; www.restaurantfreud.nl).
This restaurant has become a place of pilgrimage for visiting foodies, despite its out-of-the-way location in the south of the city. Set in a former church, its “rustic contemporary” décor extends both inside and out, providing a relaxed setting whatever the weather. Daily menus are pulled together with fresh, seasonal and organic ingredients, and classic local dishes - such as oven-roasted pork with parsnips and beans - are given a thoroughly modern spin. Wash it all down with a glass of organic beer from Dutch brewery Budels. Prinses Irenestraat 19 (+31 20 644 0100; www.restaurantas.nl).
Where to visit
Hit the shops
Whether it’s ethical fashion, food or design souvenirs you’re after, Amsterdam caters for all. For fair clothing brands, from local label Kuyichi to substainable style superstar Edun, head to Nukuhiva or Charlie + Mary. For jewellery, gifts and bags there’s Restored and for homewares there’s Droog’s flagship store; though not all Droog’s products are sustainably crafted it wins green points for promoting upcoming young local designers. For food, head to Marqt, where 90% of the stock is organic. Nukuhiva, Haarlemmerstraat 36 (+31 20 420 9483); Charlie + Mary, Gerard Doustraat 84 (+31 20 662 8281; www.charliemary.com); Restored, Haarlemmerdijk 39 (+31 20 337 6473; www.restored.nl); Droog, Staalstraat 7b (+31 20 523 5059; www.droog.com); Marqt, Overtoom 21–25 (+31 20 422 6311; www.marqt.nl).
The Chocolate Club
Clubbing for the health conscious, you won’t find drugs, drink or debauched behaviour at the Chocolate Club. Instead the first Saturday of every month offers locals and visitors a chance to bust some moves on a natural high induced by nothing more than the skills of Club Lite’s house, trance, electronica and world music Djs, and raw chocolate concoctions provided by the event’s organisers, healthfood suppliers Mastercare. Recent tipples have included an “extra spicy chocolate elixir” spiked with “hot Amazonian jungle herbs to make you glow and flow on the dancefloor.” Club Lite Amsterdam, Jan van Galenstraat 24 (+31 20 436 0230; www.chocolateclub.nl).
The Dutch Resistance Museum
Not only is this one of the most rewarding cultural experiences available in town, relating the experiences and stories of the Dutch people during WWII, but it is attempting to do so in a low impact way. In association with a local cultural coalition, The Plantage, the museum has signed up to a sustainable tourism strategy and has made a commitment to reducing its carbon emissions by 3% each year through measures such as low-energy lighting, recycling and green office management policies. Visitors can also book a three-hour WWII-themed bike tour that stops off at the museum, in association with local, family-owned company Joy Ride Tours. Dutch Resistance Museum, Plantage Kerklaan 61 (+31 20 620 2535; www.verzetsmuseum.org). WWII bike tours: +31 64 361 1798; www.joyridetours.nl.
A surefire way to soothe hunger pangs while also getting an insight into local customs, visiting a market and buying direct from local producers is also one of the most ethical ways to shop. Some of the best hunting grounds in Amsterdam include the Pure Markt, which operates on Sundays at various locations around the city, and the 25 year-old Noordermarkt, an organic farmers’ market that sets up stall every Saturday selling everything from vegetables and cheese to bread, crepes, honey and herbs. Pure Markt (www.puremarkt.nl); Noordermarkt, Jordaan (open on Saturdays from 9am to 3pm).
Treat your lungs to a hike or a bike ride around one of Amsterdam’s 30-plus wide green parks. The Vondelpark is the largest, covering 120 acres, but the Frankendael with its art gallery and restaurant, the opposing Ooster- and Westerparks and Sarphatipark, in the hip de Pijp district, are all popular. Dedicated plant lovers should also stop off at the diminutive De Hortus Botanical Garden. Founded in 1638, it is now home to over 4,000 plant species and an organic café, the Orangery. Plantage Middenlaan 2a (+31 20 625 9021; www.dehortus.nl). Entrance €7.50pp.
Things to do
Amsterdam Beer Tour
Not, perhaps, the most high brow way to get to grips with local culture but certainly one of the most fun, on an Amsterdam Beer Tour you’ll soon discover that there’s more to local brewing than Heineken, Grolsch and Amstel. On this three to four-hour walking tour not only will you get to try out three of the best local ales but you’ll pick up plenty of hop-laced trivia along the way (who knew that Amsterdam’s nuns used to brew their own back in the 16th century?).
Tours run most days at 3pm (+31 29 941 1111; www.amsterdamcitytours.com).
On your bike
The local passion for cycling is infamous. Get in on the act while you’re there by hiring a traditional Dutch ‘black bike’ from rental outfit StarBikes and you’ll certainly look the part. Don’t want to go it alone? Join one of the company’s two-hour culinary bike tours and you can pedal your way around town while keeping energy levels up by sampling herring, ossenwurst, cheese, pickles and jenever along the way. De Ruyterkade 127 (+31 20 620 3215; www.starbikesrental.com).
A wetlands safari
Who needs the Amazon when you’ve got the reed-scattered landscape north of Amsterdam to explore by kayak? On a 5.5 hour “wetlands safari” you can paddle through the landscapes that inspired some of Holland’s greatest painters, enjoying birds, aquatic plants and villages that appear to be built between land and water along the way. And, with a guide on hand to interpret the local waterscape and wildlife for you – and steer you towards a picnic lunch packed with local produce - there’s no chance of losing your way. Tours run daily except Saturdays, from May to September. (+31 65 355 2669; www.wetlandssafari.nl).
These days most of us are pretty careful when it comes to what we put into our bodies (the occasional pizza or apple crumble lapse aside) but, according to the founder’s of Amsterdam’s C. spa, we should be equally cautious about what we put on it. All the beauty products the company use contain only natural ingredients. This includes aromatherapy oils by Spanish company Alqvimia, which the spa uses for its relaxing, revitalising, de-stressing or detoxing massage treatments. Herenstraat 30a (+31 20 627 6732; www.cosmeticsandcare.com).
The classic way to see the sights of Amsterdam is from the water. The city is home to more canals than Venice but, fortunately for the capital of the Netherlands, its waterways aren’t struggling quite as much with pollution as their Italian counterpart’s. Credit for this, at least in some part, should go to those boating operators who have switched to electric vessels, making waterborne sightseeing trips both quieter and cleaner. (+31 20 422 7007; www.canalmotorboats.com).
Written by Rhiannon Batten
Photo credits: Smalltown Harbours, Edam: Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board (ATCB); Restaurant De Kas, Copyright: Ronald Hoeben; Restaurant De Kas, Copyright: Ronald Hoeben; Canoe Safari; Conscious Hotel Vondelpark; Conscious Hotel Vondelpark; Cycling in Amsterdam. Copyright: Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board (ATCB).