The Dutch capital has long been a hotspot for Brits seeking a short burst of urban exploration. Hopping on a bargainous flight bound for Schiphol for the weekend all seemed so easy, carefree and Euro-cool. Yet as we slide into the 2020s, the cultural barometer has shifted – in all kind of ways. It’s perhaps a more poignant time than ever to go and soak up the friendly otherness of our geographic neighbours. Short-haul flying though? Terminally uncool. Flygskam – the Swedish-coined concept of flight shame – is being predicted to cut projected growth in air traffic by as much as half. Previously, going there by rail was the oft-overlooked option (except by those savvy souls who’d clocked how much nicer the experience than a schlep to Gatwick), but the opening up of direct Eurostar trains from St Pancras has coincided with society’s eco epiphany. Culture vultures and dope smokers alike, rejoice! The cherished Amsterdam city break need not be cast into the recycling bin of shame. The city is, as you’d probably expect, already way ahead of the curve in the sustainability stakes itself. With more annual rainfall than Manchester and lying behind a complex system of protective dykes, Amsterdammers need no reminding of the threat posed by rising water levels. They’ve built the world’s largest waste-to-energy plant, meaning three-quarters of the city’s households are powered by energy produced by converting and recycling rubbish. Meanwhile, visitors can encounter all manner of inspiring eco-aware businesses alongside the more traditional tourist attractions. Here are a few to add to the list.
Green getting around
International travel by train emits up to four times less greenhouse gasses per traveller than a car and a whopping seven times less than taking a flight. At three hours 41 mins, taking the Eurostar to Amsterdam is also a win in the speed stakes too. Emerging at Centraal Station, you’ll see it has over 10,000 bike parking spaces alone, highlighting the fact that there are actually more bikes than people in this town. An impressive 60% of all trips in the inner city are taken on two wheels, so go with the flow and hire your own cycle at nearby yellowbike.nl. They organise guided tours if being led is your thing, or simply push off by yourself. If you’ve invested in the city’s famous iamsterdam card it includes 24-hours free Yellow Bike hire, too. Keen to cruise along the famous canals on your trip? Plastic Whale run two-hours boat tours with an eco-twist, as passengers go fishing for plastic waste along the way. All items collected are then turned into new boats and a stylish range of office furniture and lampshades – who knew a spot of sightseeing could be quite so productive?
Sustainable sights and shops
Plastic waste in the canals is also being tackled by the Great Bubble Barrier, an innovative wall of rising air strategically placed across the waters of the Westerdok. It acts like a fine comb, allowing boats and wildlife to pass, but intercepting bottles and other plastic detritus, guiding it away from the open seas. Hardcore sustainability buffs might want to forgo the crowds at the Anne Frank house and instead delve into the events run by Amsterdam Smart City where innovative tech, traditional permaculture and circular economy start-ups are mapping out experiments for our urban futures. The world’s first interactive museum for sustainable fashion innovation offers an eye-opening education on where your clothes come from and how to make better consumer choices. Then the likes of Studio JUX puts it all into practice, with its low-footprint range that’s also big on positive social impact too. The Nine Streets is the Unesco World Heritage neighbourhood of lanes packed with vintage and upcycled boutiques; look out for branches of Episode who mend preloved clothes for a whole new lease of life. The monthly IJ-Hallen is Europe’s largest flea market, as good for snaffling a bargain as it is for promoting reuse. Or if you simply want to borrow a beautiful piece of designer clothing for the night, visit the Lena Fashion Library, where garments can be returned once you’ve secured a few glam holiday snaps.
Guilt-free dining and dancing
Sustainable eating is easy in Amsterdam. Book a table at InStock where all the dishes are made from rescued blemished food otherwise destined for the bin. Choose from the extensive veggie selection in a room bursting with plants at Bar Botanique or visit Restaurant de Waaghals, one of the city’s longest-standing vegetarian joints. The hotels below all feature suitably ethical eateries, but for the original trailblazers, go for De Kas, which was one of the world’s first farm-to-plate establishments, with menus changing every week, and dining taking place in a former municipal greenhouse. Amsterdam is big on repurposing, rather than demolishing, many such spaces; head to the café at De Ceuvel, another zero impact community offering workspace in upcycled boats. Food is organic and local, with regular workshops to entertain and even a floating bed and breakfast. Or try Bret, conceived by the same designer; a bar inside shipping containers with its own garden and urban vineyard, the venue is also known to throw the odd party. For further dancing exploits, travel to Thuishaven, a festival playground in the midst of scrap metal yards. The dance arenas – both indoors and out – are surrounded by raw, post-industrial sculptures and the DJ line-ups are world-class.
Hot new eco-option, Boat&Co bristles with solar panels and bird nesting boxes on its roof, organic food in its restaurant and currently offers free bikes with bookings its waterfront apartments. It was built producing zero waste and sits at the heart of Amsterdam’s former timber harbour, Houthaven, now transforming into its first completely climate natural district. The plush QO boasts impeccable environmental credentials to go with its luxe finish, including a rooftop greenhouse growing produce – even farming some fish – to be served in the restaurant downstairs. As with many of the city’s green hotels, shower water is recycled through the loos and a thermal aquifer stores hot water below ground. Look out for the 22-story tower’s gleaming special panels that adjust the indoor temperature in line with the weather conditions outside, too. Conscious Hotels have four locations across town and have been doing their ‘eco-sexy’ thing for over a decade, including running on 100% renewable energy sources and avoiding all chemicals in cleaning. Ecomama offers affordable ethical accommodation, from basic dorms to private rooms, plus lots of communal space. Meanwhile, Hotel Jakarta stakes a claim to be the most sustainable hotel in the Netherlands by virtue of its modular wooden construction and vast atrium featuring rainwater-fed indoor subtropical gardens of plants from the island of Java.
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This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine. Read more about the people and stories that make King’s Cross, or find out where you can pick up the latest copy of King’s Cross Quarterly below.