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The green guide to visiting Amsterdam

The Dutch capital has plenty of appeal for conscious travellers, as James Litston discovers

Friday 09 September 2022 15:18 BST
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Plan an Amsterdam city break with a difference
Plan an Amsterdam city break with a difference (Getty Images)

Climate change and rising seas are especially bad news for the Netherlands. With around a third of its landmass lying below sea level, this forward-looking nation has a vested interest in green technologies that might slow the rate at which the world is warming. A goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 has seen huge investment and innovation in making Dutch agriculture, architecture, water management and energy production more sustainable. Meanwhile, a national tourism strategy seeks to promote Dutch cities’ green credentials.

For bike-friendly Amsterdam, that means highlighting the joys of exploring the city centre and beyond by bus, tram and train. It means choosing sustainable places in which to eat, drink and stay. And it means balancing the benefits and burdens of tourism so that everyone – visitor and local alike – can enjoy the Dutch capital. Here’s how…

Stay

Amsterdam’s (indeed the Netherlands’) most sustainable digs is Hotel Jakarta, which sits on Java Island’s redeveloped docks, a 20-minute walk from the centre. Ships once sailed from here to Holland’s colonies in Asia: a heritage that’s respected in the hotel’s Far East theme. Interiors are mostly crafted from sustainable, fast-growing bamboo; a five-story atrium is filled with tropical plantings; and the restaurant serves Indonesian cuisine. The building itself is energy neutral thanks solar panels, efficiency measures, heat-saving technologies and natural ventilation. Doubles from £170, B&B. hoteljakarta.com

Stay by one of the city’s iconic canals (James Litston)

For a more quintessential Amsterdam stay, hit Hotel Pulitzer, which was crafted from 25 interconnected, canal-facing Golden Age townhouses. Encircling a courtyard garden, the hotel blends a historic setting with up to date Dutch style that reflects each building’s original purpose or occupants (metallic details in Jansz restaurant, for example, are a nod to its former guise as a coppersmith’s). Green Globe certification and a ban on single-use plastics are among sustainability initiatives, while a prime Prinsengracht location makes it an ultra convenient base. Doubles from £295, room only. pulitzeramsterdam.com

Eat

The country’s more than 100-strong constellation of Michelin stars includes Green Stars that recognise restaurants’ commitment to sustainable gastronomy. Among these is Flore, whose “conscious fine dining” approach celebrates ingredients from small Dutch farms and seafood suppliers. With only 11 tables, it’s in high demand: book ahead.

Another high-end eatery with an eco twist is De Kas, which takes the notion of farm to table dining to the extreme. Almost everything used in the kitchens – from beetroots and melons to hydroponically grown herbs – comes from on-site plots and greenhouses just yards from diners’ tables.

Don’t miss out on a vegan cake from Pluk (James Litston)

Plant-based palates will find further options across the city centre. Green curry, rendang and Korean fried cauliflower bring an Asian bias to Veganees; or chow down on rainbow-bright delights at Flower Burger. Round it all off with a sweet treat from Pluk; their pretty as a picture vegan chocolate pie tastes as good as it looks.

Head to Malabar, on the 8th and 9th floors of Hotel Jakarta, for drinks. Cocktails here have names (Cape Town, Aruba, Sulawesi) that nod to the Netherlands’ colonial past and are best enjoyed with sunset views across the river to Amsterdam’s skyline.

Shop

It takes over 7,000 litres of water to produce a single pair of jeans, so an easy step towards greener living is to buy less brand-new stuff. The Dutch psyche, thrifty by nature, lends itself to reusing and recycling – vintage shopping is everywhere in Amsterdam. Start at Waterlooplein’s flea market; then head to picture-perfect Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets), where many independent stores have a sustainable slant. Adapt is good for previously loved jeans, shirts and varsity jackets, or browse the much wider selection at Episode. There’s also a branch of Nudie Jeans, whose fix-not-throw approach incorporates free of charge repairs and a Rebirth collection made from recycled fibres.

Even when buying new, sustainability is as crucial as style. Green Sneaker Store’s colourful footwear is made from bio-based materials such as linen, cork, grapes, maize or recycled plastic bottles, a synthetics-free approach that’s mirrored just down the street at Allbirds. At Other Circles, sunglass frames come in Dutch-made designs using biodegradable acetate or pressed-wood veneers from fast-growing species. There’s lots more conscious shopping besides; find further suggestions at cosh.eco.

Set sail on an e-boat (James Litston)

Eco attractions

Waterways are pivotal to the existence of a city that grew up around (and took its name from) a dam on the Amstel River. Explore Amsterdam’s central ring of canals on one of Stromma’s open-top e-boats (tours last just over an hour and cost €22.50pp). Glide almost silently along, admiring the elegant, 17th-century canal houses, or go one better and join a canal clean-up on a self-powered pedalo.

Beyond its grand canal houses, Amsterdam’s other architectural icons are its windmills. Find an impressive collection to the north of the city at Zaanse Schans, whose pretty mills and wooden workshops sit on the edge of open countryside. Get there by boat, bike, train or bus from Centraal Station; a 24-hour Amsterdam Region Travel Ticket for €19.50 (£16.90) covers all public transport needs.

Check out the windmills at Zaanse Schans (James Litston)

Closer to the city, just across the North Sea Canal, lies the emerging precinct of Hembrugterrein: a former munitions factory that’s being restored and redeveloped into sustainable housing and cultural attractions. Key among these is Het Hem for its mix of exhibitions (art, photography, sculpture), vegetarian fine dining at Restaurant Bois and a calendar of credible parties and events.

Back in town, get a taste of the Netherlands’ most sustainable brand: Tony’s Chocolonely, whose chocolate bars are fairly traded, slavery-free and socially impactful. Hit the superstore near Damrak docks to tailor-make your perfect bar and even design bespoke wrapping. It would make an ideal gift were it not too good to give away.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Trying to fly less?

If you’re able to travel via central London, Eurostar offers by far the greenest way to get to mainland Europe: it would take 13 Eurostar journeys to match the carbon emissions of just one flight. High-speed trains depart from St Pancras and reach Amsterdam in just under four hours; one-way fares from £39pp.

Ferries offer alternative flight-free routes to the Netherlands: try Stena Line from Harwich or DFDS from Newcastle.

Fine with flying?

British Airways, KLM, easyJet and Ryanair fly to Amsterdam from the likes of London, Manchester, Norwich, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, with train connections to Centraal Station taking around 20 minutes.

More information

For great value sightseeing, pick up an Amsterdam City Card for admission to museums, attractions and public transport within the city (from €65 for 24 hours). Visit iamsterdam.com; holland.com

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