Slow travel from London to Amsterdam and Rotterdam

Slow travel to Amsterdam
Slow travel to Amsterdam | Photo by Javier M. on Unsplash

Editorial Manager

Rail travel has gone from a niche trend to a mainstream alternative in recent years. Europe’s expanding network of trains and tracks have made destinations only previously accessible by air a lot closer by land. Here’s how you can enjoy a trip to the Netherlands in the comfort and convenience of a rail carriage from the centre of London.

Where to stay in Amsterdam

When you arrive in Amsterdam by train, you’ll find yourself on the very edge of the city centre. De Wallen, the medieval mishmash of tight alleys, slender buildings and canals is only 5 minutes away. A little further you’ll find the famous Red Light District, on the sides of two cobbled pathways, and then the city opens up to beautiful residential streets, bright boulevards full of cyclists, and carefree tourists. Its all aspects of the city rolled into one small area and you’ll want to stay somewhere close by.

A view of Amsterdam from the DoubleTree by Hilton

I was especially glad I was booked into the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station as it was pouring with rain when I arrived from London and the covered walkway to the nearby hotel gave me all the shelter I needed. The train arrived on time but it was already 11pm when I got in, thankfully everything was ready in my room and I even got a freshly baked cookie with my keycard that all guests can expect upon checking in.

There’s plenty to explore in the city and you can do most of it by foot. The trams are a novelty, but to really get around you just need a pair of sensible shoes. You can of course opt for a bicycle too, but if you’re stopping for photographs and planning on eating and drinking in the centre just do it all by foot. Inevitably you will want to either avoid – or head directly to – the Red Light District. De Wallen is the main district of three in Amsterdam, with adult clubs and shops alongside the red windows offering other attractions. You can’t really miss it, but equally its difficult to accidentally stumble into the area too, so its entirely your choice. This is the most touristy part of town, however, and this comes with the same pitfalls you can expect elsewhere.

Amsterdam

I was keen to spend my first evening enjoying the view from LuminAir, the indoor/outdoor bar and restaurant at my hotel. As Amsterdam doesn’t have many high-rise buildings, trendy rooftops like this one are rare here. To make the most of this, the cocktail menu has been curated around light and air, whilst the entire experience is elevated thanks to clever decorations and unbeatable views. The food and drink menu is exceptional with highlights being the printed ‘meat’ sliders and a range of cocktails on the ‘Menu of Lumen’ going from refreshing to boozy. Opt for the Moon Light for a personal favourite and perfect way to start the night.

DoubleTree Hilton LuminAir

The rooms at the hotel are modern and refined. There are elegant touches from cosy seating to hidden spotlights, which were all ideal for a quiet night in while the party (and more rain) continued outside.

Where to stay in Rotterdam

I’d been to Amsterdam before, so I felt like I could afford to spend time huddled up inside and not miss anything as a casual visitor, but the same could not be said for my first visit to Rotterdam. The harbour city is only 40 minutes away on the quick train from the capital and I boarded one of the regular departures for a whistle stop visit.

Hilton Rotterdam

Rotterdam Hilton is a convenient and well-appointed hotel off the main route from the station. The higher rooms on either side give you excellent views and the deliberately retro feel inspires memories of 1970s office buildings. The ambience is a little more business-orientated than the Hilton in Amsterdam, but that’s because Rotterdam is a more business-focussed city. There are a greater number of tall buildings and office blocks above 10 storeys, with a more expansive feel. Away from the harbour, Rotterdam feels like a big European city, but its charm is merely better hidden than its more famous counterpart.

One constant between the two cities is the best mode of travel. Bring your map and head out towards The Markthal (Market Hall) for international cuisine, local snacks and an awe-inspiring building. This is the best way to get to an even more spectacular array of buildings that you are probably already familiar with. A favourite in architecture forums, popular with forward-thinking urban planners and a picture editors dream when working on travel stories, the Cube houses (kubuswoningen) actually started in Helmond, but the 40 yellow ‘cubes’ in Rotterdam with their distinctive yellow livery are the more famous. If you do visit, just remember that these are homes that people actually live in so be respectful and move through the area quietly. You get the best views from further away, so there’s no need to actually step inside at all.

Cube Houses in Rotterdam

Back at the hotel, I finally figured out which area I was staying in. The delicious menu at Jaq, the onsite restaurant, has a ‘pre-theatre’ option, and looking across the road the bustling theatre was readying itself for the final performance on Mama Mia!

Getting there

I’ve previously used what was the Eurostar service (now rebranded as eurostar) to get from London to Paris and back again. That journey takes about that 2 hours 15 minutes and is always more preferable than the hassle of airports and air travel. Amsterdam, the final stop on the service through Lille, Brussels and Rotterdam, is just over 4 hours away, and I did wonder if that extra time on the train would ultimately be worth the trade off from hopping on a plane.

Anyone who has used the service before will know that getting through security is a breeze from Kings’ Cross International terminal and you can be in the waiting lounge within a few minutes of arriving at the station. Once you’re on the train all you have to do is sit back and relax until you arrive. You will notice the extra time on the train, almost 2 hours in total, but its easy enough to entertain yourself. There’s the obvious benefit of being good to the planet, trains are significantly better for the environment than planes, but there are selfish reasons too. Free onboard wifi will keep you connected for the majority of your journey and delays are far less frequent on this service. Trains tend to go on time, or on very rare occasions, not go at all.

Travel within mainland Europe is even easier. Its cheap to get around by train, with many budget flights failing to beat regular train prices.

With the comfort of the places I chose to stay in, and the unrivalled convenience of rail travel, short trips to Europe like my long weekend in Amsterdam and Rotterdam really are best experienced by rail.

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