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An Epic Train Journey: Amsterdam, Hamburg and Copenhagen


As those of you who follow me on Instagram will know, I spent Christmas and New Year 2017-2018 travelling from Amsterdam to Copenhagen via Hamburg. We had a total of ten nights there, which was plenty of time even when we fell ill just before New Year. I had visited Amsterdam once before but it was almost ten years ago when I was utterly impoverished and had about £80 to spend for the weekend, so it was nice to go and have money to spend, which of course gives you access to many more sights and attractions in the city. I had never before been to Denmark and only to Berlin in Germany, though I did have an insider's knowledge of Hamburg given that my husband was born there. It was partly for this reason that we decided to stop off there for a couple of nights, though it also made sense geographically given that Hamburg is equidistant between Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Hamburg isn't exactly known as a cultural hotspot, many people (myself included) preferring to head to Berlin, but it does have its merits and seems to be going through a kind of mini renaissance, which means that new and interesting things are happening there. It is, therefore, well worth spending one or two nights there.  
The Dylan Hotel Isabelle Fox Amsterdam
The perfect place to have a drink by the bar at the Dylan
Practicalities:
1. We booked the trains via GoEuro, which seems to be a subsidiary of the Germanic, Danish and Dutch equivalents of National Rail. Even over the festive period we only booked these one or two days before travelling, which worked well. There were a few trains that were fully booked but we managed to get a suitable time for both journeys. That being said, the train journey from Hamburg to Copenhagen (which involves a short ferry ride) was absolutely packed with many people who hadn't booked seats having to sit in the aisles and vestibules. When you're booking, there is a misleading box giving you option to book seats when buying your ticket: be sure to tick it, otherwise you will not get a seat (it seems obvious now that I write it here but when you're on the page it really isn't so clear). The tickets were relatively inexpensive with each leg of the journey costing around 180€ for two people. Each journey lasted around 4-5 hours, but it was very comfortable and you get great views of the landscape;
2. We booked flights with EasyJet, they were very cheap and went into convenient airports;
3. We stayed in hotels in Amsterdam and Hamburg, and then an Air BnB in Copenhagen (more on that below);
4. When we were in each of the cities we walked everywhere. We did try and get an Uber on New Year's Eve in Copenhagen but, as you can imagine, that was a lost cause. Copenhagen is also not so set up for taxi travelling, and there weren't that many hanging around at other times. Everything is walkable though so it's not something to worry about unless you have difficulty getting about, in which case I would do a little bit more research about how to get around. 
    Amsterdam: 23rd-27th December
    Amsterdam the second time round was totally magical, not least because we were there over Christmas. I know a lot of people baulk at the idea of doing anything other than going home for Christmas, but my schedule is so busy that it's one of the few times of the year that I can take an extended period off work so I like to go away every couple of years.
    Where to stay: we stayed at the Dylan Hotel, which is honestly up there in my top five hotels I've ever stayed in (in fact, probably second only to the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok). The service was outstanding, the rooms were beautiful and the food was delectable. I really couldn't recommend it any more. It isn't cheap but if you're looking for someone special to stay, don't opt for one of the bigger hotels, stay here instead where they only have 40 rooms and you will be treated like royalty. It also has a fascinating history with Vivaldi himself conducting an orchestra there in 1737.
    Isabelle Fox The Dylan Hotel Amsterdam Guide
    Our room in The Dylan
    What to see: when we booked this trip I didn't give much thought to what might or might not be open over the festive period, and I must admit that when we arrived I was really worried that we we wouldn't be able to go to any of the museums or attractions. I was completely wrong. Absolutely everything was open as normal; what a novelty going to the Van Gogh museum on Christmas Day! We also visited the Rijksmuseum and the Hermitage (yes, owned by the Russian Hermitage). The former was a total joy, very busy but very spacious: an absolute must-see. The latter was also very good but the tickets were punitively expensive. I'm not sure exactly how much it cost, but it was around 60€ for two people to go and see one exhibition (if you wanted to see more, it was more again). The exhibition was excellent (we saw the Dutch Masters, a temporary exhibition), very well-curated and informative, too. But don't bother if you're on a budget, the Rijskmuseum is just as good and half the price. We also visited Anne Frank's house, which I did manage to visit on my last trip, but which didn't fail to move me just as much the second time round. It's certainly a sombre experience but a very important one in my view. The curation is excellently and tastefully done, and seeing how the families lived on a day-to-day basis really brings home the atrocities waged by the Nazis. Definitely book in advance for this one as we almost didn't get tickets it was so booked up. 
    Vermeer Rijksmuseum Isabelle Fox Amsterdam
    Vermeer's Little Street, Rijksmuseum
    Where to eat: one of the best things I ate was a takeaway wrap from the Lebanese Sajeria by the hotel. The food is really fresh, tasty and there are loads of vegetarian options. We did eat at the Michelin starred restaurant at the Dylan Hotel, Vinkeles (they also have another restaurant in the hotel which is not formal dining and the food is great there too). Now, don't get me wrong, the food, wine and service were all outstanding. We had the eight-course tasting menu (I obviously had the vegetarian option) and each dish was excellent, some were outstanding, but if I did this trip again I would skip the Vinkeles experience and go to another Michelin-starred restaurant in Copenhagen (see more below) because I think the quality there is so exceptional that it actually puts really excellent restaurants like Vinkeles in the shade somewhat. Having said that, if you are only going to Amsterdam and you want an haute cuisine experience, that is by far the best place to do it. For the best sweet baked goods head to Van Stapele Koekmakerij
    Other than the above we just spent a lot of time walking around and admiring the city. I would personally avoid the Red Light District, but that's for my own reasons (equality, female objectification, an intense dislike for tourist cr*p). We used the Porter & Sail 'concierge app' that came as part of our stay at the Dylan. We did use it a couple of times but I can't say it revolutionised our stay in the city. If you're looking for a guide then Luxe do great guides (get the hard copy because I find the app incomprehensible). 
    Jean Cape Amsterdam Guide Isabelle Fox Rijksmuseum
    Wearing the Jean cape in the Rijksmuseum
    Hamburg: 27th-29th December
    As I mentioned earlier, Hamburg isn't exactly the place to see and be seen, unlike Copenhagen and Amsterdam. However, I found it a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable place to stay for a couple of days. Large parts of the city do feel very commercial but there are certainly pockets that are worth exploring. The city was largely destroyed by air raids conducted by the Allied Forces, which means that most of the buildings post-date the Second World War. 
    Where to stay: we stayed at the Kempinski, which I wouldn't recommend (too corporate and it smells of cigarette smoke), but if I went again I would stay at the Sir Nikolai.
    St Nikolai Church Hamburg
    The view from the tower of the Church of St. Nikolai
    What to do: Hamburg is home to one of the best art galleries I have ever visited, the Hamburger Kunsthalle. The gallery, unlike many galleries in large cities, is a manageable size but with an exquisite collection. You'll find everything from Klee to Munch with a topping of Monet in between. It's not crowded and you can do the whole thing in about two hours, which I really enjoyed as some collections can be quite over-facing. In particular they have a beautiful Romantic collection. I also enjoyed ascending the tower of the semi-destroyed Church of St. Nikolai, which gives you a panoramic view of the city. It has a museum with some insightful narratives about air raids on Hamburg and the Second World War in general, plus it has a very reasonable entrance fee. A great thing to do during the day or evening is stroll around St. Pauli, the hip and trendy neighbourhood with some lovely boutiques, bars and cafés. Don't forget to have a couple of cocktails at Clocker's.
    Edvard Munch Girls on the Shore Isabelle Fox Hamburg Guide
    Munch's Girls on the Shore, Hamburger Kunsthalle
    Where to eat: we only stayed two nights, the first of which we ended up in one of those bizarre restaurants that seems to 37 different food types. On the second night we ate at Mexiko Strasse Taqueria, which had really good tacos and lots of vegetarian options.
    General note: avoid the commercial centre of Hamburg. There really is nothing interesting to see there unless you want to shop and eat at all the same places as the UK.
    Copenhagen: 29th December - 3rd January 
    Copenhagen was utterly gorgeous and we loved every minute there. There are so many independent shops, cafés and restaurants there that I suspect you could stay there for a month. I really loved the city's atmosphere and the people were very relaxed. We were ill for the first couple of nights but managed to get almost everything we wanted to do done in three days. 
    Copenhagen City Guide Isabelle Fox
    Street views, Copenhagen
    Where to stay: after looking at various hotel options we decided on getting a really nice Air BnB. We were there for New Year so any decent hotel was going to be astronomically expensive plus we knew we wanted to make the most of the cafés and restaurants there so it seemed the best option. We stayed here in Nyhavn and I can thoroughly recommend it. The apartment is spotless and in an amazing central spot, which is especially useful if you have never visited the city before. Even the street that the apartment is on has so many gorgeous boutiques that you'll have difficulty getting down it to explore more of the city.
    Glyptoteket Copenhagen Isabelle Fox City Guide
    Glyptoteket Museum, Copenhagen
    What to do: there are several truly excellent art galleries in Copenhagen, but the one that stood out for me was the Glyptoteket. This collection is unusual in that it spans from Ancient Greece to the 1970s. While we were there we saw the temporary exhibition of Degas' bronze ballerinas, which were simply exquisite. The real highlight, however, is the modern collection, including Picasso, Man Ray, Miró, Degas, Gauguin and Bonnard to name but a few. The curation is divine and it is worth flying to Copenhagen just to see this. We also visited the Tivoli Gardens, which are really lovely and just the right side of gimmicky. We walked around several districts including Vesterbro and Nørrebro. Highlights from these areas were organic Argentinian sparkling wine at Malbeck bar and the best chocolate brownie I have ever eaten (and I have had my fair share) at Ro Chokolade. We did also visit Freetown Christiania, Christianshavn - interesting to see and walk around but only for an hour or so. 
    We were there over New Year but to be honest we still weren't feeling great. We'd booked to have dinner at Gemyse at the Nimb Hotel in the Tivoli Gardens, which was a lovely setting but we didn't get to enjoy it so much because we ended up going home to sleep - next time!
    Degas Bronze Ballerinas Glyptoteket Isabelle Fox Copenhagen Guide
    Degas' Bronze Sculptures, Glyptoteket 
    Where to eat: we booked two tables very far in advance: Formel B and Amass. Sadly we never made it to Formel B because we were too ill to go, but we managed to revive ourselves for Amass. What can I say? This is the best meal I have ever eaten by quite a long shot. As a lifelong vegetarian it has been patently clear to me that most restauranteurs consider their vegetarian menu as an afterthought. Amass does not suffer from this narrow view of cuisine. They grow all of their own vegetables in their gardens and they use every single part of the vegetable for weird and wonderful things - yes, even the brown bits of the carrots. That being said, I was dining with a carnivore and he raved about the fish and meat dishes. The wine was absolutely exquisite - and totally natural/organic - and the service was excellent but very relaxed. The whole experience was perfect, just formal enough so that you felt like you were somewhere special but not uptight in any way. We had the tasting menu, which was pricey but not sky-high and, in my opinion, worth every single penny. 
    Other great places we ate were Toverhallerne, a great indoor food hall, Ro Chokolade (see above), Atelier September, which is also an uber-chic shop, Apollo Bar for the perfect balance between trendy, healthy and delicious and Soup'Herb, an organic cafe where you will find the best juices and herbal remedies. 
    Amass Restaurant Isabelle Fox City Guide

     Amass, Copenhagen

    One final word on Copenhagen. I will certainly be heading back here (the new Noma, anyone?) but next time I would love to head out of the centre of Copenhagen to some of its castles and stately homes that are easily-accessible by train. And even take the train over to Gothenburg for a couple of nights. Travelling by train is so relaxing. I find the hassle of checking in to an airport to be really stressful, and by the time you have added in the hours you are there before and after the flight it can actually be quicker to take the train. I couldn't recommend it more.

    Isabelle Fox Farrah Dress Copenhagen Guide

     New Year's Eve wearing the SS18 Farrah Dress 

     

    Thank you for reading! Do leave your comments and questions below.

     

    Isabelle


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