Amsterdam as a Wheelchair Accessible Holiday Destination

I visited Amsterdam in Holland in November of 2000 with my girlfriend Sally.

The specialist disability travel agents offering Amsterdam as a destination had no vacancies on the date we wished to travel. So I decided to book our trip through 'Thomson Holiday's' City Breaks brochure.

The reservations staff at Thomson were most hopeful finding a hotel that would be accessible for my powered wheelchair. This was the Hotel Intel. However I was told that the £13 per person Limousine transfer from Schipol Airport to Amsterdam would not be suitable for me as a wheelchair user. And that a special taxi would cost a staggering £160 for my girlfriend and I.

However, a rail transfer was already included in the price and I was told that the whole journey would be accessible in my wheelchair. Additionally the train station is located within the airport complex. Amsterdam central station is located in the heart of Amsterdam itself, only a few minutes walk/wheel from some of the most popular hotels including the Hotel Intel.

I have flown before taking my powered chair, the Airlines always require confirmation that the chairs batteries are of the dry cell variety. I had already found the local phone numbers of wheelchair accessible taxi services in Amsterdam through a link on the SIA website, to a charity called 'Tripscope' (0345 585641)

Reunited with my wheelchair, we found the Railway Station which was clearly signposted. We saw some railway staff and asked them how to get to Amsterdam. They escorted us into a lift which takes you down to the station platforms. One man waited with us while another collected the portable ramps.

Within 5 minutes a train had arrived and I was up the ramp and into the carriage without a hitch. The Dutch railway staff radioed on ahead to Amsterdam Central Station so we could be met on arrival. About 20 minutes later we were at our destination. We were met as arranged and off the train via ramps in no time. Once outside the station we had a short walk and wheel to our Hotel. The Hotel was excellent. Plenty of door access space and completely level from the Street. We were given a larger room at no extra cost because of the wheelchair. The room had a huge bathroom with plenty of space around the WC and an easily accessible sink.

There was enough space to spin my chair completely around. With a couple of beers and a good nights rest behind us we were ready to explore the city. I had heard that Amsterdam was full of cobbled streets and not very wheelchair friendly. A lot of the buildings date back a few hundred years and don't seem to have changed much over time. In fact most streets aren't cobbled and yes a few shops, cafes etc have steps but we were always able to find sufficient without, for it not to be a problem. The beauty of Amsterdam is that it is all within reach, on foot or by chair. The majority of people travel by tram around the city but these aren't all suitable for wheelchairs, particularly the older ones.

There's lots to do in Amsterdam. There are canals everywhere. I wanted to take a trip by canal boat as it was meant to be the only way to see the city. After making enquiries I found that only one firm had a canal boat with a wheelchair lift installed on it. This was owned and run by a firm called 'Lovers' on one of the main canals. The staff were very helpful and we were soon on an hour long tour of the City's canals. This was excellent.

There are lots of shops here too and the favourable exchange rate made shopping cheaper here than in the UK. Amsterdam is famous for its 'brown' cafes/coffee shops a lot of which have remained unchanged in years. Of course, most people are aware that smoking and possessing marijuana is perfectly legal in Amsterdam. The premises must sell coffee to be also allowed to sell cannabis. There are menus available for all types of coffee and all sorts of hash and marijuana. One cafe was even selling a super strong joint called 'THE WIDDICOMBE' which made us laugh.

As a Police officer before my accident I had a fair bit of experience in the drugs world. I had only tried cannabis one occasion as a teenager and that just made me feel very sick. I was keen to try it legally to see what effect it would have on my spasms and muscle tone. We were in one of the cafes on our first night and the guy serving was very knowledgeable about everything to do with cannabis. He suggested we both share one of the mildest ready made joints. This cost about £1.50. I was amazed at just how relaxed it made me. Normally the paralysis and spasms in my left arm get very bad at that time of day. They virtually stopped. I was even able to straighten my fingers out more than usual too. I can now see why it helps so many people with SCI.

We also visited the infamous red light area and a diamond factory seeing the diamonds being polished and set.
We found Amsterdam to be a brilliant place to visit. We were there for a five-day break which gave us ample time to see a lot of the city. Holland is renowned for its beauty in May because of all the tulip fields so we are hoping to go back soon at that time of year.

If you have not flown since your injury then the short flight times to Schipol Airport also make this a good destination for your first attempt. If I can be of any further assistance to anyone thinking of going to Holland please get in touch with me through my website .

Reproduced with kind permission of Andy Lee (C4)