No matter how much you try to keep your life zen, sometimes candles, cosy nights in and weekend yoga just isn’t enough to keep you sane in the big city. The only thing to do when you’re in a rut (and don’t have unlimited holidays to take) is get away for a long weekend city break with your loved one. Rather than romantic clichés (Venice, Rome, Paris – we’re looking at you), we decided to head on a rail journey to Amsterdam, the land of canals and pancakes, for a break to remember through the long winter ahead.
There’s not a more romantic way to travel than by train, watching the countries whizz by on the Eurostar, a drink in hand, reading or just chatting the journey away. London to Amsterdam is less than a 5 hour trip and any way to avoid the endless airport queues gets our seal of approval. Arriving safely into Amsterdam Centraal station on a Wednesday afternoon, we checked ourselves into the extremely conveniently located INK Hotel Amsterdam MGallery by Sofitel (a mere 5 minute walk away).
The hotel itself is located in the very building which formerly housed the national Dutch paper, De Tijd (hence the name) – with such a rich history of storytelling in the walls, it’s no surprise that the INK Hotel’s motto is ‘where stories are yet to be written’. Walking in from the busy city-centre street, the INK Hotel’s foyer is an oasis of calm where the concierge staff greeted us as though we were long lost friends and made us instantly feel at home in the luxurious surroundings. After a speedy and smooth check in, we settled into our home for the next two nights – a Superior room that felt every bit as boutique as we could have hoped, with little touches like heart shaped chocolates waiting for us in unexpected places and a personalised welcome note.
After having been tipped off about Amsterdam’s notoriously small hotel rooms, we were pleasantly surprised to find our room perfectly sized, with a giant bed and modern, luxurious bathroom suite. Already in heaven, we headed downstairs to the hotel’s much-loved bar – The Pressroom (keeping with the theme), and easily unwound from the day’s journey in the relaxing lounge / bar. With an expert cocktail maker on hand to make sure our G&T pick (of which there was a whole menu of choices) was just right, we sighed in relaxation for what felt like the hundredth time that day.
Amsterdam is truly a beautiful city; sprawling cobbled streets, intersected by grand canals and bridges that look like they’re hiding fairy-tale trolls beneath them abound – it’s the perfect walking city. From the picture postcard 9 streets and romantic Jordaan to the hipster De Pijp and world famous red light district, don’t think twice about spending your whole city break walking hand in hand from one picturesque area to the next (trying not to get hit by rogue cyclists at every turn – it’s harder than you think).
In case this is starting to sound a little bit too romance novel-like for your tastes, might we suggest that you punctuate your promenades with a little gorging – Dutch style? Without a doubt, Amsterdam is one of the most underrated food destinations we’ve ever come across, so get in there and be that annoying couple who ‘discovered this little place that’s just amazing’. Among the most ‘in the know’ spots, check out the Food Hallen (indoor food market) in Amsterdam’s hip Oud-West area for a selection of the city’s best street food and restaurant offerings in mini portions sizes (read: eat everything you possibly can). We recommend heading straight to De Pijp as soon as it gets dark for the best dining the city has to offer. Camp out in the candlelit basement Bar-beque Castell for a romantic evening for two over steak and wine – make sure you wait for a seat at the bar (unless eating on a sofa from a tray on your lap is what you fancy – it does look fun but messy), or head over to Cannibale Royale if you like your dinner date on the quirky side – think taxidermy decor straight out of a Shoreditch cocktail bar and rare breed steaks and burgers for all tastes.
For a truly special evening, don’t miss out on one of Amsterdam’s newest foodie destinations – De Japanner. A modern take on Japanese food with a small menu full of tapas style portions of classic and fusion fare. Do as we did and work your way through the entire menu, starting with rich slices of Salmon Tataki, to the tart Kimchi Gyoza and ending with the yes-yes-yes Calamari Fries (trust us on this one). With a bar boasting the biggest range of Sake we’ve ever seen as well as some truly fantastic hip-hop beats as background music, De Japanner is a must-visit destination that’s definitely hidden away enough to increase your travel kudos once you get home.
After a couple of indulgent evenings out, sleep in late in the INK Hotel’s cloud beds and head downstairs at your leisure for a full breakfast feast of whatever takes your fancy in The Pressroom (danish pastries, Full English and cereal anyone)? With frothy coffees and Dutch specialities on offer if you’ve still got room, this is one breakfast worth getting out of bed for. Give yourself enough time to pop out for one last pancake at the legendary Pancakes Amsterdam (share an Apple Crumble pancake to test your relationship sharing capabilities to the limits) before you check out and wave goodbye to one truly special hotel in a magical city. At least on the train ride home you can plan the next trip – and trust us, you’ll be counting down the days until you’re back.
Bar-beque Castell: http://www.castellamsterdam.nl/en/
Food Hallen: http://foodhallen.nl/
Cannibale Royale: http://www.cannibaleroyale.nl/menu/
De Japanner: http://www.dejapanner.com/