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Hidden Heaven (updated): How to find the secret 1st Class Lounge at Amsterdam Centraal station

(Editor’s note: It’s spring, and Amsterdam is about to be invaded by the tourist hordes. We’re updating this post on a little piece of paradise in Amsterdam Centraal train station. Also, you might want to consult their website to see what’s going up at this incredibly busy station. )

I’m sitting in the 1st Class Lounge in Amsterdam Centraal, the main Amsterdam train station, feeling a little like Harry Potter after Hagrid tapped his wand on the bricks and revealed the portal to Diagon Alley.

Where did this come from? Who even knew there IS a 1st Class lounge at Amsterdam Centraal?

I’ve been through Amsterdam more times than I can count. That includes trips where I paid a few extra bucks for 1st class to make sure I had someplace to sit on an Inter-City Express, or ICE, trains, which are crammed during the summer. But this is the thing about being an expat … the longer you live in Europe, the more that’s revealed.

IMG_0574Let me tell you about this: In the middle of the tourist madness that’s Amsterdam is this incredible little oasis. You have to know it’s here, and the only way to do that is to show the nice people in the Amsterdam Centraal ticket office area your 1st Class tickets.

Then they reveal to you that if you go up the escalator to Platform 2 where the international trains depart, you’ll see a door at 2a on the far northwest side of the platform. Look at it carefully, and you’ll see that it’s marked “NS International Lounge.”

Open the door and there’s a reception desk with two charming attendants who verify your 1st Class ticket, then tell you about all the perks now that you’ve escaped the madding crowds.

Here’s what you get:

4eedb25f-abd9-40bb-bf43-da5c1d22f022• Two Think Pods where you can work in privacy.

• Free high-speed internet access including wi-fi, as well as a computer if you didn’t bring one.

• Soft seating around big flat-screen TVs.

• Coffee and cold drinks.

• Your own private train schedule screen and bathroom facilities.

• Meeting space, which seems silly. But I do think about the times I’ve met up with people in Amsterdam, and we had to pack into noisy hotel lobbies. The lounge has dedicated meeting space. Also, if you’re traveling with someone in 2nd Class, they can hang with your in style if you have a 1st class NS subscription or an OV-jaarkaart. (You’re supposed to pay an additional € 12.50 for 2 hours, but the crew I met wasn’t too rigid about the rules.)

Yes, I’m an elitist traveler. When I’m traveling, I love quiet, cocktails and a place to plug in my iPhone and MacBook Pro. In that order. I think I paid an extra 20 euros for first class for this trip, on my way to Stockholm via Dusseldorf Airport.

I know I’m going to get a rash of grief from frugal readers (and Dispatches investors) for paying extra. But hey, I paid my dues long ago, flying in on C-130s to every hell hole from Kosovo to Baghdad to Afghanistan.

Is it worth paying for 1st Class on ICE trains? For me it is because I used the time at the lounge to catch up on stuff I need to do for Dispatches Europe. And on the Deutsche Bahn trains, the wi-fi seems to work better in 1st Class … when it works at all.

And let me tell you, with a digital business, anywhere you are is your office. Why not pay a few bucks for a nicer – and more efficient – place to work? Am I rationalizing? Oh, yeah. But life is short.

Make a note … the only 1st Class train lounges in the Netherlands are at Schipohl Airport and at the Rotterdam train station. And Amsterdam. They beat the hell out of Starbucks!

AJOL20150524_DSC2449-17A bonus tip:

Speaking of which, there is a Starbucks on the ground floor of Amsterdam Centraal. Well, there’s a sign for it. I’ve never actually been in it, because it’s crammed with backpackers. There is a second, much larger – and nearly empty – Starbucks up on Platform 2, just down from the 1st Class Lounge.

Also, if you’re not going 1st Class, you can still have the experience just a few steps away down Platform 2 at Grand Café Restaurant 1e Klas. This incredibly Grand Epoque restaurant and bar is like nothing you’ve experienced unless you were hanging out with Toulouse-Lautrec in brasseries of 19th Century Paris. It has meetings and events space for up to 200 people.

(Be aware there’s constant construction at Amsterdam Centraal, and facilities are often closed or temporarily relocated. There is currently construction around the Grand Café Restaurant 1e Klas, but it is open.)

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