TRAVEL: Visting Holland? Then why not spend a night on the SS Rotterdam

MPMC SS Rotterdam
MPMC SS Rotterdam

With Christmas fast approaching, there’s an abundance of winter-themed events taking place in The Netherlands including festive markets, fun fairs and decorated caves together with a special Charles Dickens festival. Travel writer Alan Wooding takes a look at what’s on offer and where to stay.

Whether you are travelling on a budget or in search of a luxury hotel, Holland seems to have it all and ahead of the coming festive season, hopefully we can introduce you to some of the most unique hotels in some of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

>Spend the night onboard a ship

Dry land is so yesterday so why not stay onboard the steamship ‘Rotterdam’. It’s now permanently docked in Rotterdam Harbour and has been beautifully renovated as a 1950s style hotel. It overlooks the beautiful River Maas and the skyline of the dynamic city.

> For the best views stay in a crane!

The unique Faralda NDSM Crane Hotel in Amsterdam is located at the top of a former industrial monumental crane. It is also in one of the city’s most creative neighbourhoods which is a popular area for festivals and events. High above the city, the crane slowly turns in the wind. At the top it has three luxury, contemporary suites. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can bungee jump from the crane with a swing of 90 metres. To recover, chill out in the open-air jacuzzi with a splendid view of the city and the IJ river.

> Step back in time in Utrecht

Grand Hotel Karel V is one of the most famous hotels in Utrecht. The former monastery and military hospital is a monument dating back hundreds of years. The splendid complex of buildings and magnificent courtyard gardens date back to the 14th century. Dine where the knights once ate in silence, meet in the old granary, or visit the monks’ former dormitory.

> Check into an old monastery

The Kruisherenhotel in Maastricht, formerly a 15th century monastery is one of the most beautiful designed hotels in the country. Venture through time as you step into the now transformed church. The Kruisherenhotel combines the medieval with a wide range of spectacular designer furnishings. It also has a mezzanine level restaurant in the stunning central church hall.

> Become neighbours with the Dutch Royal Family

The Paleis Hotel in The Hague is located in a building with a rich history, going back to the 17th century. Ancient underground escape routes (now closed to the public), still lead to the Old Catholic Monastic Church and to the nearby nunnery! You’ll have great next-door neighbours – the hotel is situated right next to the Royal Palace Noordeinde, the work-place of the Dutch Royal Family.

> And for your Christmas entertainment!

In Amsterdam you can enjoy ice skating outside at the Museumplein with the spectacular backdrop of the Rijksmuseum between November 22 to February 1, 2015. Known as ICE Amsterdam, you can also take ice skating lessons and enjoy Dutch treats being served at the wooden chalet Brasserie Winters.

The Amsterdam Light Festival (27 November to 18 January 2015) is a winter festival for all ages. The historical centre of Amsterdam will present a unique backdrop for this international light and water festival. The city will be decorated with light sculptures, projections and installations by leading contemporary international and Dutch artists with this year’s theme being ‘A Bright City’.

In The Hague you can also enjoy ice skating outside at the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel in Scheveningen between 16th November to 12 January 2015. The ice rink will be open from 10am to 10pm daily and on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day until 7pm only.

The largest dive is held at the beach of Scheveningen right in front of the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel on New Year’s Day where over 10,000 people plunge into the sea each year.

From 10.30am you are able to buy your ticket for the dive and warm up with music and gymnastics. At midday the starting shot is given and it is time to launch yourself into the sea!

At Middachten, the castle’s salons and hallways will be richly decorated with flowers and foliage. From twilight the castle will be lit with hundreds of candles placed in all of the windows.

The atmospheric lighting also continues in the castle grounds and gardens. The outbuildings will hold a Christmas market offering handmade presents and decorations for sale. The Christmas event runs from midday to 8pm from December 9-14.

At 2.5 kilometres long the Christmas market in the historical city centre of Dordrecht is one of the largest and atmospheric markets in Holland.

The Christmas market has over 250 stands in the festively lit city centre. Additionally there are choirs, bands, a Santa orchestra and an ice-skating rink. It runs for just three days between December 12 and 14.

During the period between November 15 and New Year’s Day, the streets of Valkenburg will be beautifully lit and decorated.

Choirs and orchestras will also take be present on a stage to entertain visitors. A Christmas parade will also feature with floats, dancers and will pass through the town every Wednesday at 7pm and every Saturday at 7.30pm during the festive period. The Christmas Market in the Velvet Cave will run between November 15 and December 23.

The Velvet cave will be decorated richly with Christmas trees, lights and festive decorations. The cave has mural paintings, sculptures and an 18th Century chapel. The cave will be filled with presents, market stalls and festive food.

The Christmas market will also take place at the municipal caves of Valkenburg aan de Geul and are considered to be the largest and oldest underground Christmas markets in Europe. The market stalls will be bursting with Christmas gifts and decorations along with luxury goods.

The old centre of Gouda will be lit by candlelight on December 12. The event originally began when the Gouda candle factory celebrated its 100th birthday by donating candles to the city hall.

During the evening, from 7pm 1,500 candles will be lit inside the city hall and surrounding buildings. Visitor will gather around the Christmas tree which will be lit with over 6,000 candles and sing Christmas carols together from 7pm till 9.30 pm.

Each year a variety of musicians and DJ’s perform at the ‘Night of Light’ at Utrecht while light, art, videos and graphics are beamed onto the walls of Utrecht’s iconic Dom Tower. It runs between November 15 to December 20.

Over 220 exhibitors will be present at the annual Country and Christmas Fair at Utrecht’s Castle de Haar between 26 and 30 November. The event provides the opportunity to buy gifts and items for the home. The castle will have lit fires adding to the festive atmosphere. Local food products will also be on sale.

Each year, during the Christmas holidays, the Railway Museum is transformed into a winter wonderland between 20 December and 4 January 2015.

A great ice-skating ring is established between the trains, hundreds of Christmas trees, thousands of lights and an antique carousel ensure a great Christmas and winter atmosphere. There are activities for everyone such as musical performances and acrobatic acts.

Disney on Ice presents Magical Ice Festival at Jaarbeurs between December 23 and 26 and will be performed at Amsterdam RAI.

In the show the characters of Elsa and Anna from Frozen will be present along with Olaf the snowman. There will also be performances by other popular Disney characters such as Ariel, Rapunzel and Belle.

The Spirit of Winter fair will be held at the Royal Paleis Het Loo for the sixth time, with around 120 exhibitors offering a wide range of products.

Festively laid tables, beautifully crafted Christmas decorations and culinary delights are the ingredients for a winter celebration full of atmosphere.

Diverse fashion shows, creative make-up workshops and colour counselling will also be part of the event. A new feature this year is Taste Court, a central sitting room with a variety of tasty treats, freshly made, just right for winter.

In the Taste Parade visitors will be able to help with cooking and tasting while picking up tips on etiquette and guest seating plans.

Visitors with an admission ticket for Spirit of Winter are free to visit Paleis Het Loo. Spirit of Winter will be held from 11 to 17 November on the forecourt of Paleis Het Loo in Apeldoorn.

The event is open daily from 10am to 6pm while the palace closes at 5pm. There will be an extra late night opening on Friday, 15 November until 10pm.