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Amsterdam Central Station: The Fun Beneath The City

Amsterdam Central Station

A group of chatting and photographing Japanese tourists walk toward the ornate entrance of Amsterdam Centraal Station. “Is this the place to take a tour of the canals?”, they ask a guard on duty. A smartly dressed businessman passes them in a hurry. He’s on his way to the IJ side of the building to catch the ferry to his office in the north of Amsterdam. In the background passengers are called to board their train to Berlin. People rush to the platform. Amsterdam Centraal is one of the busiest stations in the country with over 300,000 travellers passing through every day (which makes for a staggering 100 million a year). That said, the grand building is much more than just an important train station.

It’s the city’s transportation hub with several dozens of trains, buses, trams and ferries departing every hour. In addition, what is known as Station Island, erected a few hundred meters from the city centre, has also become a thriving shopping centre. Here you’ll find many shops, bars, restaurants and take-away joints in the original and newly built hallways. Above all, especially to newcomers, the imposing edifice is one of the most attractive monuments in town, a model of the nineteenth-century development in Amsterdam. Therefore it’s a popular destination for both Dutch and foreign tourists on a daytrip to the city.

INAPPROPRIATE – The station area has always been a busy thoroughfare. Before the first of the 8,687 piles on which the building has been erected were hammered into the ground, the harbour front on ‘t IJ was the main entrance to Amsterdam. Hundreds of ships were anchored here in the seventeenth century, offering their merchandise at the markets of Amsterdam. It was at this very place that VOC ships (the Dutch East India Company) arrived and said their goodbyes on their mission to develop new trade routes around the globe.

Willemspoort, 1889

It’s no surprise that most tradesmen protested the original building plans, fearing Amsterdam would lose its economic position with the blockage of the port and the canals. Moreover, the design for the station, which replaced the first train stop Willemspoort and a temporary station on Westerdok, was met with considerable criticism. The sketches of architect Pierre Cuypers looked like a Catholic monastery, people said. It didn’t fit in the largely Protestant city. The initiators of the project (the municipality and contractors), however, persisted; in 1881 the construction of three linked islands in t ’IJ began. Just four years later, the city centre could be reached by train. Finally, in 1889 the station was officially opened with the unveiling of the first huge metal cap.

MUSEUM – “Amsterdam’s main museum looks like a train station. And its station resembles a palace,” former BBC presenter Jeremy Clarkson joked a few years ago on a travel show in which he travelled to the Netherlands. You can’t really blame the popular Brit; Amsterdam Centraal is indeed one of the most beautiful terminals in Europe. For this reason, the building was placed on the national monument list almost 50 years ago. Built as the biggest example of Dutch Renaissance (an artistic movement in the late nineteenth century focussing on the Dutch Middle Ages), you can still recognize a castle gate in the building’s main facade. As a tribute to the Netherlands and Amsterdam’s economic position in earlier centuries, architect Cuypers (who also made the design for the Rijksmuseum) even added a large gold weapon shield of the Netherlands just above the entrance. Around it a number of sculptures depict ‘modem’ industrialization and trade.

Architect Pierre Cuypers
Architect Pierre Cuypers

RED CARPET – Since its construction, the area around the station and the building itself have been renovated several times. In the twenties, for example, a second cap was built to protect travellers from the rain while waiting for their train; later a third shield was constructed. The main designer’s son Joseph Cuypers added the eastern facade (Het Oosten) as the main office of the national postal service. Tram stops were added on the square in front of the building as well as a bus platform and a complete underground station for the newly developed subway in the 80s.

Because of the many changes in recent decades, the whole area became increasingly chaotic. In 1997, aldermen decided to use the construction of a new fast train connection with Belgium (the HSL-Zuid) and plans for a new subway line (Noord/Zuidlijn) as a chance to redevelop the entire area, making it suitable for a growing number of passengers and allowing the area to attract a greater variety of shops. In addition, officials made plans to address the surrounding area and main roads running well into the city, in order to give Amsterdam a grand entrance (the so-called Red Carpet Project).

ARTWORK – The first major renovations have been finished over the last several years; first a new bus stop at the rear of the station was opened in a newly constructed hall. Under the bus platforms a new, futuristically designed shopping mall has been opened: IJ-Hal. Here you will not only find the main travellers centre but also many restaurants and shops. At the front of the station, a new entrance to the subway has been built: an underground labyrinth called ‘Cathedral’. On the w est side of the station, cyclists as well as pedestrians can now find their way from the city centre to t’ IJ through a newly developed tunnel. Tegelfabriek Tichelaar produced over 46,000 Delft Blue tiles as part of the decoration of the pass through. The rich masterpiece represents the maritime history of the city. In the coming years, traffic around the station and the sales offices of the cruise boats will be renovated.

IJ-Hal, Amsterdam
IJ-Hal, Amsterdam

LUXURY SHOPPING The interior of the palace-like terminal has not been forgotten. First, the great Cuypershal of Central Station is being restored to its original state. Very soon two staircases will be added, giving travellers a relatively easy way to reach the charmingly decorated restaurants on the first floor. The three passages that run under the tracks are being expanded one at a time with the addition of new stores and tiling. The Western Passage and Central Passage have already been opened and in the coming years adjustment of the eastern passage will be underway. Parallel to the central passageway, two new tunnels have been dug. In 2015 the first chic IJ Passage — a warmly decorated indoor shopping area with special lamps, golden-brown floors and attractive black and white walls – was unveiled.

According to journalists who attended the opening, it is a shopping centre with the grandeur of a Parisian boulevard. The first tenants in the passage are Sissy Boy, Claudia Strater, Swarovski and Victoria’s Secret. The attractive marble bar serving lemonade is of Pinky Rose. Amstel Passage, which will open in the coming months, is focussed on offering fresh, high-quality meals. With the adjustments, the station recovers most of its former appearance, making it an advanced traffic centre with a luxurious touch, the developers say. Amsterdam Central is on its way to becoming a growing city within a city.

A ROYAL WAIT Although the Dutch royal family prefers to travel by private jet and car, Amsterdam Central Station is equipped with a private waiting room for the monarchs of the lowlands. The space, which was part of the original design by architect Pierre Cuypers, features some beautiful artwork and chandeliers as well as a garage for a carriage or car. The royal waiting room is located in the easternmost tower in the facade of Amsterdam Central Station.

COFFEE HOUSE The white wooden building in Art Nouveau style on the east side of the station is the Noord-Zuid Hollands Koffiehuis, the former starting point for the ferry to the north side of t’ IJ (and further connections to the north of North Holland). The coffee shop was founded in 1912 and demolished in 1972 to make room for the expanding traffic around the station. However, eight years later, when the capital’s population grew regretful, it was rebuilt in its original state.

Coffee House
Coffee House

Smits Coffee Shop had been the main tenant of the remarkable building for nearly 100 years. Last year, how ever, the company moved out, making room for the popular Amsterdam steak chain Loetje. In the complex you can also get information about public transportation in the city and buy day and week tickets for the tram, bus and metro at the counter of the Municipal Transport Company (CVB).

DOCKS Although Oosterdok and Westerdok on both sides of Stationseiland are not part of the station area, the two artificial islands are very well connected by several bridges to the transportation centre. At the Oosterdok, ten years ago, a series of modern buildings were constructed tor several Dutch multinationals as well as the Amsterdam Conservatory and the Amsterdam Public library (OBA). Oosterdok connects the station with the NEMO Science Museum and the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam East. On the road you will find several trendy bars and restaurants, such as the immensely popular Hanneke’s Boom. Westerdokseiland is an attractive residential area with modem apartment buildings and several marinas. You will also find the new courthouse of Amsterdam there.

FLOATING RESTAURANT One of the most remarkable buildings in the area is floating Cantonese restaurant The Sea Palace. The construction – a copy of a restaurant in Hong Kong – was built in 1984 and is one of the biggest restaurants in town with enough seating for about 650 people. Recently, the building was moved a few tens of meters, giving enough room to renovate the quay.

The Sea Palace
The Sea Palace

RED CARPET While the city’s underground is being expanded, the city’s centre above the ground is also being tackled. The so-called Red Carpet Project is focussed on redistributing traffic through the city and making the main boulevards (Damrak-Rokin-Vijzelgracht and Ferdinand Bolstraat) more attractive and representative. First, it was decided that the paving was to be coloured red like a real red carpet. Last year, how ever, the municipality decided on grey stones instead.

EXKI NATURE’S KITCHEN At Exki, we craft nature’s goodness into delicious food we love to share. Enjoy an EXKi moment at the restaurant in Amsterdam Central comfortably watching over the iconic river ’t IJ. Or takeaway within minutes if you’re in a hurry. Our recipes are prepared as gourmet treats healthy, simple, with amazing tastes. We work with ultra-fresh, seasonal, local and, whenever possible, organic produce. Come in for fair trade coffee, artisenal cakes and pastries, fresh bio-soups, sandwiches and a wide varieties of hot meals.

CHEESE & MORE BY HENRI WILLIG The Cheese & More by Henri Willig shops can be found across the historical city center of Amsterdam and in the luxurious IJ-passage of Amsterdam CS. Henri Willig is a local farmer who has been making price winning quality cheeses for over 40 years. Do you like to be surprised? Come and visit the Henri Willig shop and feel free to taste our range of traditionally made cheeses, the best syrup waffles in town and check out our specialty gifts.

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