There are certain cities that have an addictive, mysterious joie de vivre to them. Amsterdam sits firmly on that shortlist.
Please excuse the somewhat clickbait style post title, but I was at a bit of a loss how to describe our most recent city break there. A good friend of ours (he and his family live in Japan) found himself in Europe, and really fancied finally exploring Amsterdam.
It was just the excuse we needed to hop over and spend a few days exploring new streets, revisiting old haunts and spend some quality time laughing with our mate.
We have other friends who return to Amsterdam time and time again because as a city it has the trifecta of tourist to-dos: culture & history, entertainment and delicious food. All with a side of mischief that is uniquely Amsterdam.
Explore the floating flower markets – Holland is synonymous with tulips, and outside of the blooming season where acres of blossoms wave gently in the breeze, the best place to get all green-fingered is in the aisles of the floating flower markets. We’ve bought bulbs as souvenirs before, and years later they are still blooming in my in-laws garden.
Tilt at windmills. Or, rather drink at them – there are eight dotted around the city to look at, and our favourite one is also a brewery. Brouwerij ‘t IJ produces organic blonde & dark beers, and runs short tours.
Admire the beautiful canal houses. What makes Amsterdam canal houses so special is their combination of skinny profile, grand gables, and architectural quirkiness that you just simply aren’t going to see anywhere else in the world. Many of the houses also hide little alleyways and gardens behind them that add to the romance as well.
Eat poffertjes. Tiny pancakes doused in your favourite topping and served piping hot – a favourite combination is maple syrup, icing sugar and vanilla ice cream. Are you booking your flight/train/ferry yet?
Cruise along the canals. There are a variety of boat tours – from full-on gourmet feasts floating along the canal, to paddle-your-own adventures that hopefully don’t end up in the calm waters…
Wander. If you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll have the impression that I adore exploring on foot – and Amsterdam is no exception. Most people will advise you to hire a bicycle, but I’m not convinced that inexperienced tourists should – especially those with hangovers… the bohemian Jordaan area is a special favourite of mine.
The Rijksmuseum is a Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam. The museum is located at the Museum Square in the borough Amsterdam South, close to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the Concertgebouw. Want to learn about Holland through the ages? This is the place to spend a few hours.
The Anne Frank Museum is unmissable (and heartbreakingly real), to beat the queues book the tickets online (I did as soon as we booked our train) or get there as early in the morning as you can!
Dutch apple pie is something special – and they love to eat it morning, noon and night. Our favourite little spot is just around from the Anne Frank Museum, a busy little cafe called Winkel 43.
If you’re going to try *ahem* special brownies, do your research beforehand and suss where you fancy going. They are usually called coffee shops and have a green and white label in the window confirming that they are licensed. Oh, and eat afterwards – the munchies can be pretty strong, so I’m told! Just ask the staff in the coffee houses if you’re unsure about what to have. Rumour also has it that the coffee houses often have the best coffee and juice selections…
Go to the van Gogh museum. The queues were rather immense – but our first hotel had a special pass available for jumping the queues which we highly recommend – and the art is breathtakingly beautiful.
Y’all know we have our own wee moggy, and are as obsessed as most ‘fur parents’ are, but the KattenKabinet aka Cat Museum was another level entirely. The ‘museum’ consists of three or so huge rooms in a beautiful canal house covered floor to ceiling in an eccentric collection of feline flavoured art. Posters, paintings, statues – you name it, it was there.
Try a herring sandwich. Raw herring may sound a little scary to the uninitiated, but every visitor to Amsterdam should give it a go. Haringhandels (herring carts) serving up this Dutch speciality all over the city – ask for a ‘broodje haring’ to get the fish served in a small sandwich with pickles and onions. The best time to try raw herring is between May and July when the herring is said to be at its sweetest.
The Tassenmuseum, a shrine to Handbags and Purses, consists of 3 floors of handbags and purses, ranging from medieval dress pouches to iconic Chanel. All of the exhibits were fascinating, beautifully laid out and full of interesting facts you’d never think to know. There is an intriguing mix of fashion, craftsmanship and opulent luxury to keep anyone interested (except maybe Mr Kiwi who opted to “watch the canal boats” outside. His loss, honestly.
Watch the world float past. Cool beers in hand, we simply sat on the canalside in the sunshine, relaxed, chatted and soaked in our beautiful surroundings.
Escape the crowds at Amsterdam’s biggest museums by checking out some of the city’s lesser known – but no less worthy – museums, such as FOAM photography museum, the spectacular Tropenmuseum, and the Willet Holthuysen, where you can explore the perfectly preserved home of a rich Golden Age family.
Try Bitterballen. These tasty bar snacks are the perfect mid-afternoon pick me up.
You can’t explore Amsterdam without happening upon the red light district. It’s getting smaller and smaller, but the windows are still there. I have strongly mixed feelings on this – it is the world’s oldest profession, but with the trafficking and drugs that are often involved, for me it isn’t a tourist attraction.
Many visitors to Amsterdam never manage to venture north of Amsterdam Central Station- which is a shame, considering the vibrant food, drink and cultural scene that’s burgeoned across the water, along the banks of the IJ. A short (free) ferry trip will take you to a number of drop off points including cultural hotspot NDSM, where you can enjoy a host of hip waterside hangouts, frequent festivals and events.
And, I guess you can pose in front of the I Amsterdam sign along with the rest of the tourist world, outside the Rijksmuseum.
It’s a compact city with a lot packed into the centre. Knowing that I don’t cycle, the best tip we had before departing was to get a 72 hour tram pass (thank you Runawaykiwi!) on arrival. Basically, leaving the main train station, hook a left out of the main entrance and head for the blue and white information centre. When we visited, the 72 hour pass includes unlimited access to GVB metros, trams, and buses. We caught the tram the whole time; you just tap the pass on the scanner coming in and out. Easy peasy.
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