Amsterdam for the Disabled Traveler

Our trip to the Netherlands coincided with my recovery from a very bad sciatica attack. I was still having trouble walking even a short distance when we got on the plane.

Fortunately I have become adept at traveling with my Travelscoot, so once I was out of the worst pain we quit talking about canceling. (Whew!) The flights were long and uncomfortable, but then, they are long and uncomfortable for everyone. I can use the Travelscoot in the airport and gate-check it, so the airports themselves were not bad at all.  Once we arrived in Amsterdam, I was curious to see how well I could actually get around the city on the ‘scoot.

I am not completely clear on the laws around access in the EU, but I had done enough homework online to be certain that our hotel was accessible and the museums I most wanted to visit were accessible. Beyond that, we were going to have to improvise. The first big test was the tram.

Boarding the Tram
Boarding the Tram

The Internet offered varied tales on the tram. One site said that it was wheelchair accessible but that scooters weren’t welcome. Another said that half of the trams were accessible, half not. On our first day, we went down the street to the Centraal Station to check out the situation at the big Metro stop. To my delight, there were uniformed information people available around the plaza and they were happy to answer our questions. “This is like a wheelchair, yes?” the fellow said to me, waggling his eyebrows. “Yes!” I said, and he said, “OK. You can use it. Just get on the end car with the conductor.” So we did.

That was our ticket to go all over the city. It was fun riding the tram; it is above ground, so we could see the sights and people-watch, too.

I had learned from European users on the Travelscoot forum on facebook that the Rijksmuseum did not allow motorized scooters or wheelchairs. Linda and I went to talk to them, just in case the policy had changed (they just finished a major remodel, so perhaps?) but no. And it was even worse than we feared. Their plan for me was that I should leave my scooter outside the museum and hop on a wheelchair that Linda could push all over the museum. Plus, there was nowhere secure to leave my scooter! No, thanks. Linda went to the Rijks by herself, and I went off on my own adventures.

The sites in the Jewish Cultural Quarter were mostly quite accessible: The Jewish Museum (more on that soon) and the Portuguese Synagogue (ditto) were mostly quite accessible. The Hollandsche Schouwburg, the National Holocaust Memorial, was completely accessible to me. I was impressed that all three were also well equipped for visual and auditory disabilities.

I enjoyed visiting a number of other places as well: the Van Gogh Museum, the Allard Pierson Archaeological Museum,  the Public Library, and others. The main difficulty for us was access to restaurants and shops. Part of the issue is that Amsterdam is below sea level, and many of the older buildings are therefore up a few steps from the street. It was important to phone ahead and ask about access. Google street view was also helpful. I understand that Blue Boat Company offers a wheelchair accessible canal cruise, but I didn’t take one.

The Doubletree Amsterdam Centraal, our hotel, was an absolute delight. The room was very comfortable, the staff were extremely helpful, and all areas of the hotel were available to me on the scooter. There was a time when the last thing I wanted to do on a trip was stay in an American chain hotel, but it made it easy for us to check out the disability options and the location was perfect, just a couple of blocks from Centraal Station.

If any readers find this blog by searching the Web and have additional questions, I hope you will ask via the Comments.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

6 thoughts on “Amsterdam for the Disabled Traveler”

  1. That sounds like an awesome trip! Glad you were able to find so many helpful people and wheelchair accommodations. Shameful that the Rijksmuseum has absolutely no accommodations for disability.

    I remember that Haifa University in Israel, as of 20 years ago, had a ton of half-nods to those with disabilities, but they were infuriating incomplete and inept (assuming incompetence and not deliberate design). Wheelchair ramps that led to a flight of stairs or were preceded by a flight of stairs. An elevator only accessible by stairs. Stairs put where they really didn’t need to be. It was distressing.

    1. The Rijksmuseum has accomodations for disability: one is welcome to tour it in a wheelchair, as long as it is not a powered chair. The catch is that if you use a scooter or powered chair to get there, there’s nowhere safe to put it. I imagine (but do not know for sure) that it has something to do with fears of people on motorized devices crashing into things. However, I was able to tour the Van Gogh museum without trashing anything, as were several other people on powered devices that day.

      I lived in Israel 2002-3, and I remember that a number of buildings had the sort of partial accessibility you mention, and yes, it was infuriating. I think the thing that makes me the maddest are the stairs that don’t need to be there: “sunken” rooms in public buildings, etc. Very annoying. I was not yet on wheels, but was navigating with a cane and had been told by my doctors to keep stairs to a minimum. I was constantly being separated from my class by the separate arrangements for disabled persons, and it bothered me a lot.

  2. I am glad there was a firm effort to make Amsterdam wheel chair accessible. Public transportation is a major issue, especially when it is done poorly. In Chicago, Not all CTA train stations have elevators, and an attendant must be on hand to put a ramp in front of the train door to acommodate the wheel chair. Doing it right in the first place would make this unnecessary.

    1. I am amazed to hear that not all CTA stations in Chicago have elevators! You’d think that after 25 years of the ADA, those arrangements could have been made.

      I can understand when a building is very old that sometimes things can’t be as I’d like – there’s simply no way to make the Anne Frank House totally accessible without destroying its integrity, for instance. But in new structures, or structures that are intended for the public, I tend to interpret lack of accessibility as a not-too-subtle message that I’m not wanted there.

  3. The New York subway system is similar to Chicago. However, city buses are accessible because of the ADA. I really appreciate learning about accessible travel–I have the bug… By the way, the D.C. Metro is accessible–scary, but accessible! 🙂

    1. Good to hear about the DC Metro! I have had a hankering to go back there to see more of the city, but wondered about getting around.

      Thanks, Denise! Always a delight to hear from you!

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