London & Amsterdam European summer vacation

This was the 19th entry I received for my summer vacation plan travel writing contest. Winners will be announced May 31.

This London & Amsterdam vacation itinerary works best when day 5 falls on a Thursday.

Day 1: Go to Buckingham Palace as early as possible to beat the crowds. The tour is worth the 15 British Pounds and after that, you can have a picnic in St. James Park right in front of Buckingham Palace.

After lunch, go to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Spend a few minutes walking around and taking it all in. Right across from Big Ben is Westminster Abbey.

At 6 British Pounds for adults, it is the second biggest bargain in London (the biggest bargain is saved for Day 2). Westminster Abbey is beautiful inside and out. See the tombs of many of the kings and queens, famous poets, composers, and nobility. The ancient coronation chair is on display there, in use for all the coronations since the 11th century (full of woodworm, covered in scratches and graffiti). Walk up the aisles, and marvel that you’re standing in such a magnificent place, a place where Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson married, and where Princess Diana’s funeral was held. The self-directed day tour is great and Evensong is wonderful. Don’t miss Evensong.

A good place to eat Indian food near Westminster Abbey is Cinnamon Club. Dinner will set you back about 30 British Pounds, but don’t get cheap and skip the excellent appetizers. I liked the scallops personally. The service was only OK, but the food and the bar made up for it. The bar had good cocktails and was playing Bollywood movies. It was an interesting atmosphere. Reservations would be smart – 0845 166 4253. Go to the Old Westminster Library, Great Smith Street.

Day 2: The biggest bargain in London is the free British Museum, which opens at 10:00. If free just doesn’t seem right, you can always go for the highlight tour for 8 British Pounds. You’ll be forced to think about the controversy regarding who should own works like The Pantheon Marbles (or Elgin Marbles) and the Rosetta Stone. You’ll never see everything here, so choose a few things that you have to see and do those first.

After that, go to Leicester Square and Piccadilly in the West End. You could just do some shopping but ideally, you’d like to go to the theater or theatre. We saw the Lion King at the Lyceum on Wellington Street. Of course, there are shows to suit just about anyone who likes musical theater. While in the area, check out Piccadilly Circus, which is cooler than Times Square.

For dinner in the West End, we liked Chinese Experience, one of the few restaurants in London’s Chinatown that has good service. It will cost you about 25 British Pounds. I liked the strawberry spare ribs. It’s not a large meal by American standards but save room for dessert, especially the mango pancakes. Go to 118 Shaftesbury Ave. Reservations didn’t seem necessary and there are plenty of other places nearby, but if you want to play it safe call 0871 0752 840.

If you’re looking for a good bar after dinner, The Intrepid Fox at 97-99 Wardour Street is just awesome. Very hip atmosphere and the drinks are not overpriced.

Day 3: For a nice day trip, go to King Cross Station and platform 9 and 3/4. Take the Hogwarts’ Express to Goathland Station (Hogsmeade Station) in the Yorkshire Moors. The landscapes are dramatic and don’t miss Mallyan Spout, a 70 foot high waterfall.

Hotel in London: Crowne Plaza London St James, 45 Buckingham Gate, Westminster. You can walk to Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, and St. James subway (tube) station. The service was as good as the location, but it was a little expensive. If you’re looking to travel cheap though, London probably isn’t the best choice. It’s a good place to go when you want to splurge. Staying here will save you a little time and money in the morning because the breakfast buffet was really excellent.

Day 4: There’s much more to see and do in London, but to really experience London would take at least 10 years. To get from London to Amstrerdam, you can take an inexpensive train and a ferry. At 25 British Pounds one-way, this is the cheapest way to go. It’s not as fast as a Eurostar, but it’s a nice trip.

You can also take a Eurostar high-speed train from London to Brussels via the Channel Tunnel, then either an InterCity train or a Thalys train train from Brussels to Amsterdam. This is costs from 69 – 149 British Pounds round trip, but it’s faster, avoids a sea crossing, and has a more departure times.

After checking into your hotel in Amsterdam, it’ll probably be time for dinner. Since you had Chinese and Indian food in London, let’s go with French/ Mediterranean food at Restaurant November (Spuistraat 266). Dinner starts at 5:00 and you can eat outside on the terrace. The set menu has an appetizer, main dish, and dessert for 24 Euro. I had a great meal of grilled vegetables, Dutch beefsteak fried in butter (not sure how healthy it was), and tiramisu. A lot of choices for fish lovers as well.

End day 4 on a romantic note, with a canal ride. Avoid the larger, covered boats. Instead try to find a small, open boat because you’ll see much better if you sit in the open. You could also rent a small boat for yourself and cruise anywhere. If you need some herbal help relaxing before bedtime, there are plenty of coffee shops within easy walking distance of the hotel. Remember that Day 5 requires an early start!

Day 5: There are two must-see museums in Amsterdam and we’ll do both of them today so you need to get an early start. The Anne Frank Museum comes first because it gets crowded fast. If you’re not a history buff, you won’t have to stay long and you can still feel some powerful emotions. Expect to see a few people crying, maybe even you.

The Van Gogh Museum has some incredible works, including lots of sunflower paintings. This museum also gets crowded but gets better later in the day (the museum is open until 6:00).

If you’re worried that two museums in one day is too much culture for you, perhaps the Heineken Experience is more your style. This lager theme park is located at Stadhouderskade 78, and opens 10am-6pm daily except Mondays (last entrance 5pm). Admission is 7.50 Euro and includes three glasses of beer.

After a day in the museums, you should be ready to sit down. I suggest Zabar’s at Van Baerlestraat 49 (00 31 20 679 8888), close to the main museums. The menu is mostly Mediterranean seafood and vegetarian dishes. It gets pretty crowded, so reservations are a good idea.

If you managed to get Day 5 to fall on a Thursday, you’re not done sightseeing yet. On Thursdays, Nieuwe Kerk on Dam Square is open until 10:00 at night (6:00 on other nights). This is the church where Dutch monarchs are invested and it is very impressive inside. Admission is 10 Euros.

Day 6: Start with The Begijnhof, which opens at 9:00. This courtyard features gabled homes from the 16th-18th centuries. After that, why not get an overview of the city you’ve been enjoying? From the tower of the old stock exchange, the Beurs van Berlage at Beursplein 4, you can see much of Amsterdam. It opens 11am-5pm daily except Monday.

Then it’s off to the airport. Just like you did in London, you’re leaving plenty to do on your next visit.

Amsterdam Hotel: We stayed in and recommend the NH Barbizon Palace Hotel. It was almost as expensive as the Crowne Plaza London St James, but the service was even better. The location was good, very close to Central Station and the building itself is a tourist attraction. The breakfast is rather expensive, but you get what you pay for.

Filed Under: 2006 Summer vacation plan writing contest entries

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  1. Brooke says:

    I know it must be hard to skip a museum on vacation, but no trip to Amsterdam is complete without a few Heineys!

    The Heineken Experience is a Heineken Brewery for 7.50 euros, (you get three 10-ounce Heinekens and a gift at the end). You learn how they make the beer, and there’s a ride where you are the Heineken bottle. Andthere are two bars in which to enjoy your Heinekens. You can also take photos by the Heineken drums and send a video e-mail to your friends for free. The tour runs weekdays at 10:30, 11, 1 and 2:30 in june-september. In July and August they also go at at noon and 2 on Saturdays. It’s fun!

  2. Brooke's sister says:

    Maybe you could do both. I mean not to insult anyone but the Anne Frank House doesn’t have much in the way of furniture or anything so you can see the original diary and then walk around for a few minutes and leave. I mean you could watch videos of people who knew the Franks and some other people talking about the war and what they ahd to endure but if you don’t like that stuff or at least don’t want to spend your vacation on that stuff you can spend only alittle time there.

  3. Daniel says:

    No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to a coffeeshop and a few high-grade marijuana joints.

  4. nate says:

    Stayed near the Heathrow airport and it wasn’t too expensive. Catch the subway into London and get off at Picadilly Square and walk to everything. A walking trip through Harrods is fun too. We tried several pubs in London to eat and drink. They were excellent and not expensive. Take the double decker bus ride around London to get a “feel” for the city and places to go – it too is inexpensive.

    In Amsterdam the airport again was our least costly alternative – shop the net and find something to fit your budget. And, from the airport you can ride the subway into downtown Amsterdam. The shopping is great and food was good but don’t walk on the bike paths – you’ll get scolded! Every little side street is full of stores. Be adventuresome and you will find some bargains. Ha. Happy traveling.

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