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Essen and Nordrhein-Westfalen

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I am looking for some advice. Next month I will be visiting a friend in Essen. This will be my first time on mainland Europe (went to London about 8 years ago). I will only be there for 7 days because that was all I could take off of work. I am 26 years old so night time I will be doing a lot of partying but during the day I want to be able to do some of the touristy things within the regions. For 2 days I will also take a trip to Amsterdam. I am not really a "Museum & Art" type of person but more of a "History/Castles/Cathedral" type of person. So I was wondering if anyone can answer some questions:

1). How many hours will it take by train to get to Amsterdam Centraal from Essen Hbf?

2). Is there anything to do in the surrounding area? Dusseldorf? Dortmund? Any good beer gardens?

3). I would like to get the small town feel, are there any such places within the area? Any nice castles to visit? I heard that Rheinland-Pfalz was a good area to check out and it isn't very far from the metro area.

Any advice at all would be helpful

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