A Wheelchair User’s Guide to Amsterdam

I had wanted to visit Amsterdam for quite some time, but was hesitant to plan a trip because I had read in many places that it was doable for wheelchair users, but difficult. However, the decision to visit was made for me when it became a sort of transient stop between two vacations only three days apart. I finished a week-long stay in Dublin and was due to take a fully wheelchair accessible river cruise out of Utrecht three days later, so it made sense to spend some time in Amsterdam however I could swing it. Fortunately, I was able to use Accessible Travel Netherlands for my all my transfers and tours, which made everything so much easier.

Once I arrived in Schipol Airport, an employee there was able to assist me in getting my suitcase and escorting me the very long ways to the STA (transport assistance) office, where I was to meet with my wheelchair taxi driver. We had a nice drive to my hotel in the city center, the Radisson Blu. After dropping off my bags, a local friend and I walked/rolled 20 minutes or so to Amsterdam Centraal station to take a Sprinter train to Utrecht for the evening. Getting ramp assistance for the train in Amsterdam is a headache and a half, and I’m so glad I had a Dutch speaking friend to help me. You have to request the ramp at least an hour ahead of time at all stations, and the automated system when you call the wheelchair assistance numbers for the stations are only in Dutch. My best recommendation is to arrive at the station at least one hour prior to your train’s departure, request the ramp in person, and just relax with a coffee while you wait.

Amsterdam is relatively compact, and I didn’t need to resort to using public transport or an Uber to get around. The metro is very wheelchair friendly, although the trams—while billed as accessible—can still have sizeable gaps between the cars and the platform at some stops. The city has concentric rings of closely spaced canals, which means there are a LOT of small bridges everywhere. Fortunately, of the dozens of bridges I saw and personally went over, only one had steps. Most of the roads and sidewalks have stones or pavers, but the good news is that they’re flat and easy to traverse. There are curb drops at virtually every intersection, and while some are steeper than others, you will always find a way to cross the street.

I was in Amsterdam in mid-April, and the city was packed with tourists despite the chilly and cloudy weather. Especially at night, be prepared to deal with very crowded sidewalks. Amsterdam is also a city of cyclists, so pay close attention to the traffic on the bike paths. Both bicyclists and moped/scooter users won’t hesitate to use the sidewalks in addition to the road and designated paths, so be prepared to be overwhelmed by all the human traffic! You will also occasionally run into parked bicycles blocking your path on sidewalks. That being said, the locals are very polite and considerate, and are happy to make way for you or help you if you get stuck. Before you head out for the day, make sure you have a full battery because the trips between sights combined with all the bridge crossings will wear down your battery pretty quickly. I would recommend bringing your charger and outlet converter with you so you can top off if necessary during the day.

I was only able to spend one full day in Amsterdam, so I wasn’t able to personally experience the accessibility (or lack thereof) of many of the museums and sites. I did take a wheelchair accessible canal tour with the Blue Boat Company, and it was fantastic! I also spent a good amount of time at the Van Gogh Museum, which I chose over the enormous Rijksmuseum due to time constraints. It’s actually a good thing I did; while the Rijksmuseum is accessible, for some reason they don’t allow electric scooters so I would have been out of luck anyway. The Anne Frank house is not accessible, but I’m told they have a great virtual reality option for wheelchair users that might be worth a peek. I would recommend deciding what museums and sights you want to see, then visiting their website for more detailed information about access.

I would say that about 30 percent of the restaurants, cafes, and shops have a flat entry. There are also many outdoor food stands and souvenir shops, so you shouldn’t have trouble eating or shopping. However, even though a restaurant has a flat entrance, you will have more difficulty finding accessible bathrooms on the main level. I would recommend scoping out larger hotels along your route, as they are more likely to have separate accessible bathrooms in their lobbies.

Bottom line, before I went to Amsterdam, I was intimidated by the bridges, cyclists, and mixed reviews of accessibility of various sites. However, it was so much easier than I anticipated, and I was able to navigate the city with no problems by myself in my scooter. I would highly recommend exploring this beautiful Dutch gem!

Would you like to visit Amsterdam? Please visit my accessible travel agency’s website, Spin the Globe / Travel, and I can help you get there!

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