by Telegraph Travel, The Telegraph, June 12, 2018
Amsterdam is full. That is the opinion of locals, who claim the city is buckling under the weight of tourists.
Rodney Bolt, Telegraph Travel’s expert and a resident for more than 20 years, is among those raising concerns. “The sedate charm of the city has been engulfed,” he wrote last month. “Parts of Amsterdam are now so crowded – day in day out, in all seasons – it is like we are constantly in the grip of an enormous festival. An explosion of holiday lets is changing the feel and fabric of whole neighbourhoods. Local stores have given way to fast-food joints. I wonder if Amsterdam is not heading the same way as Venice: a city that exists for its tourists, with all but a few locals having fled.”
Authorities have announced new measures to tackle the problem. It is seeking to ban short-term property rentals in busy areas, as well as cut down on disruptive activities such as Segway tours and beer bicycles.
But that’s only half a solution. Almost 18 million foreign travellers visited the Netherlands last year, most of them spending at least one night in Amsterdam. That’s the biggest year-on-year increase this decade, up from 15.8m in 2016, 15m in 2015 and 13.9m in 2014. That figure looks certain to increase again this year, with the arrival of a direct Eurostar service from London making the city even more accessible to Britons.
But unless something is done to stem the tide of tourists, the streets will only get more crowded and the city will continue to lose its charm.
The simplest way you can help? Consider going elsewhere. Amsterdam might be the “bucket list” option, but you’ll find equally rewarding city break options - minus the queues - elsewhere in the Netherlands, or just beyond its borders.
Five options in The Netherlands
That Eurostar service stops in Rotterdam before it reaches the Dutch capital. Consider ending your journey there, advises Chris Leadbeater.
He adds: “The country’s second city has long been something of a backwater in terms of European tourism - lumbered with a grimy image which casts it in the mind's eye as a grey industrial port where nothing but oil tankers and shipping containers are likely to crop up in your camera lens. This is a hugely outdated notion.”
The city’s highlights include the dramatic Erasmus Bridge, the impressive Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Parkheuvel - a temple of cuisine with two Michelin stars, and the spectacular Markthal, a hive of humanity at weekends, when its fruits, vegetables, olive oils, cheeses and other delicacies are in wide demand.
Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2018 is this rather offbeat Dutch city - a little bit like Amsterdam used to be. Highlights include the Fries Museum, which this year is hosting exhibitions dedicated to two of the city’s most famous children - Escher, the graphic artist; and Mata Hari, whose dance shows seduced Europe in the early 1900s - and the annual Psy-Fi Festival (Aug 15-19), where revellers drop acid and immerse themselves in art and music.
Look out for men walking rabbits, too. No, really. That’s what Gavin Haines saw on a visit for Telegraph Travel. He added: “A man walks his rabbit – yes, rabbit – in the town square, puffing on what definitely isn’t a cigarette as the floppy-eared bunny hops along the cobbles on the end of a leash. Welcome to Leeuwarden: a European Capital of Culture for 2018.” Read his full report here.
A 25-minute rail trip from the Dutch capital, Utrecht shares many characteristics with its bigger sibling – quaint canals, world-class cultural attractions, a thriving nightlife – but without the crowds. And as the De Stijl art movement celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, it is a pertinent time to visit. Head to Utrecht’s Centraal Museum, which boasts the world’s largest collection of work by Gerrit Rietveld, who was a principal member of the movement.
Lee Marshall writes: "In contrast with funky Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands is associated with institutions such as the International Court of Justice rather than with art; with politics and Queen Beatrix rather than sex shops and over-the-counter marijuana. But I found myself warming to The Hague precisely because it’s the sort of place where you feel under little pressure to tick off sights on a checklist. Which is not to say that this city of half a million inhabitants does not have its must-sees – such as the swathes of Mondrians in the Gemeentemuseum, an intimate, rhythmic building that broke new ground in museum design when it opened in the Thirties. There’s time, even on a day trip, to lunch in good-value bistros and browse the quirky fashion shops or designer antique emporiums of the old Hofkwartier. Or, if you come for the weekend, to hire a bike and cycle along a network of dedicated cycle lanes to the genteel seaside suburb of Scheveningen – a sort of small-scale Dutch Brighton – for Sunday brunch in a revamped beach pavilion.”
The Dutch narrative rarely touches on the country’s fifth biggest city – but Eindhoven is more than a name from the football fixture list. It delivers striking architecture in the Evoluon, a UFO-esque landmark which, though built in 1966, still talks of the future. De Bergen, a district of cafes and fashion stores, does urban flair. The Stadswandelpark, south of the centre, is alive with walking trails and sculptures.
And two beyond
If the appeal of Amsterdam is its watery vistas and accessibility by rail, look no further than Strasbourg. It is just over five hours by train from London and full of medieval churches and half-timbered houses overlooking canals and rivers.
Chris Leadbeater adds: “France’s most easterly major dot on the map revels in both Gallic and German influences (it was German between 1871 and 1918) – a merry combination that was pivotal in the Neustadt district (built under German rule) being added to the city’s Unesco World Heritage inscription in 2017. The very core of town if, of course, very French indeed – and the cathedral, Notre Dame, is one of the country’s most dramatic.”
The heart of this unsung Polish city could also be mistaken for Amsterdam, with its waterways and gabled buildings.
It also has royal approval. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited last summer. Despite being integral to modern history (it was where the first shots of the Second World War were fired, and is the birthplace of the Solidarnosc movement), few Britons know much about it, and even fewer visit.
Those that do (and you can get there non-stop from London with both Wizz Air and Ryanair) can admire an astounding mixture of medieval, Renaissance and Gothic architecture, including St. Mary's Church, one of the largest brick churches in Europe, and visit a clutch of engaging maritime and military museums. Unesco-listed Malbork Castle, meanwhile, is an easy day trip.