The UK is very well connected to mainland Europe by plane, ferry, train and car. In fact, continental Europe is closer to London than Birmingham and it’s often quicker to get there.
The well-established Eurostar train service from London to Paris now accounts for 70% of travellers between these two cities; few people now bother to fly because it’s cheaper, quicker and more comfortable by train. The relatively new direct London to Amsterdam rail connection now runs three times a day and is rapidly following suit, for just the same reasons.
Taking the train to Amsterdam generates 80% less carbon than the equivalent flight, so as well as being infinitely more enjoyable, it’s also better for the planet. The current rail service carries the same number of passengers as 12 flights per day, that’s over 4,000 per year. Rail travellers also get to enjoy the green rolling English countryside, which is surprisingly similar to the French and Belgian landscapes. The low-lying countryside of the Netherlands however is noticeably different; the Dutch landscape is less hilly and to control the risk of flooding from the North Sea there are numerous lakes, canals, rivers and traditional windmills. All this travel scenery and without having to leave your seat.
After a swift 30-minute check-in and passport control at St Pancras station, Amsterdam trains follow the same high speed Paris bound route across Kent and through the Channel tunnel to Calais. Here it veers north to Lillie and on to Brussels in Belgium where it makes a brief stop. It then continues north to Rotterdam and finally on to Amsterdam Central station. Passport control has all been completed in London and with no waiting for baggage collection, passengers walk straight off the train into the heart of Amsterdam. The city’s reputation as an unsavory place of sex and drugs is mostly sensationalist media hype, unless you seek these things out, you’re unlikely to come across them.
Standard class Eurostar tickets cost from £35 each way and it takes less than four hours from city centre to city centre. The enjoyable sightseeing journey has comfortable seating, WiFi and a couple of cafeterias for drinks and light snacks. More expensive Standard Premier and Business Premier options have larger seats, fewer family groups and complimentary food and drinks are served at your seat. Of course, like airlines prices jump up at peak times and the cheapest seats are usually early and late in the day. Another perk of the train over the plane is that travellers can bring their own food and drink, if you do, it’s better to book a seat with a full-sized table although all seat backs have airline style fold down trays.
Amsterdam’s canals, bridges, cobbled streets and seventeenth century gabled buildings are just the backdrop to one of Europe’s most vibrant city. As well as its world class museums, canal boats, famous cafes and easy-going lifestyle, there are a host of street markets and there’s no better city for exploring on a bicycle. The streets and canal sides are great for walking plus the trams and metro make it easy to get around the city. A traditional canal cruise in a glass topped boat is a more leisurely option for exploring the city but if this seems dull there are gin, cheese and wine and even pancake specialist cruises.
If you’re more adventurous, some worthwhile trips beyond the city centre include the famous Dutch flower auction (Royal Flora Holland) near Schiphol airport. It’s open all morning and it’s best to get their early, around 7am, to see all the action; optional guided tours do provide a good insight to what’s happening. Depending on the season, trips to the stunning bulb fields or the historic cheese markets at Edam and Gouda make excellent day trips and are just 30-40 minutes from the city centre.
As of autumn 2019 the return Amsterdam to London route is not quite so quick or straight forward as the outgoing journey. All UK bound passengers must change at Brussels-Midi station to complete security and UK immigration procedures. When Dutch and UK governments complete arrangements for immigration control in Amsterdam (possibly by 2020, Brexit permitting) this will speed up the return journey considerably. The train change is quite straight-forward but it does add about an hour onto the return journey.
However, Brussels is also a wonderful and under-rated European city, it’s the capital of the EU and home to much more than its famously powerful beer and exquisite chocolate. There’s Tin Tin street art everywhere, he even has his own museum as do Rubens, Brueghel and Magritte. The Grand Place is one of the world’s most beautiful Baroque squares and you’ll find the selection of waffles is beyond your wildest imagining. So, it’s well worth thinking about turning a potential inconvenience into a great stopover.
For rail holidays and tours Silver Travel Advisor recommends Railbookers.