Amsterdam was a big surprise to me. I had a lot of preconceptions about Amsterdam as I’m sure most people do and maybe because of this, it went above and beyond my expectations and now sits firmly in my top 5 places visited in Europe. Amsterdam isn’t all that you think it will be (or I thought it would be), red lights, seedy alleyways etc. Although there is some of that, there is so much more. Amsterdam city itself is beautiful and I could have ambled along the streets and canals for days on end. We also travelled with friends including my best, Claire Carson which always makes a trip fun and memorable.
I think our hotel impacted on the great impression as well. Boutique View Hotel’s location was perfect, set in a typical Dutch style house right on the canals and walking distance from the buzzing Leidseplein and easy access to public transport and the Dam Square. We didn’t initially book breakfast with the hotel but we ate breakfast there every morning bar one as we couldn’t get enough of the pancakes and delicious spread. Read my Trip Advisor review here.
April is a wonderful time to visit Amsterdam as it is Tulip season. I’m a big fan of Tulips and flowers in general so I was pretty much in my element. We visited Keukenhof gardens and spent the day exploring at our leisure. Our ticket included transport which I would highly recommend for convenience sake. If I were to go back, I’d try and plan a bicycle hire to go through the Tulip fields as the gardens can get a bit overcrowded and commercial.
Of course, we had to try all the typical ‘things to do’ in Amsterdam but what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam… Did someone say Pink Elephant? From what I’ve heard, you should avoid the front rowsJ Our guide also recommended a popular micro-brewery, Brouwerij de Prael where we sampled local beer. A trendy spot for drinks or dinner with a vibey atmosphere.
It is worth giving some time to exploring the streets of Old Town. The most stylish shopping area is located within 9 little streets ‘de 9 Straatjes’. They are surrounded by Prinsegracht canal and Singel canal and are full of clothes stores, coffee and wine bars, restaurants and design stores. A beautiful area to spend time and go where the locals go. We had a wonderful meal with friends at restaurant van Puffelen and a quick lunch on the go at stylish Brix and sampled traditional Bitterballen – both places I would highly recommend. Relatively close by is the flower market, a floating marvel.
After walking, we decided to take to the water. You can either hop on board a cruise of the canals or for the more energetic, do as we did and hire a paddle boat. This is not only fun but also a different way to see Amsterdam giving a unique perspective to life in this vibrant city.
Museums aren’t always my thing however, Amsterdam does offer some of the best. My one advice for museum-goers is to book in advance. All the major attractions and sights in Amsterdam are available to book online so that you skip the queues on the day particularly for the Anne Frank house. I would recommend the ticket for Anne Frank that includes a quick introductory talk to give you some background. Although sobering, this was a highlight of my trip having studied Anne Frank in my school days.
Van Gogh is a wonderful, spacious and modern gallery and I can imagine, any art lovers dream. Even though I’m not a fanatic, I’ve always loved van Gogh’s iconic art and this is a must. The Rijksmuseum is another of Amsterdam’s monumental museums. Recently refurbished, the building alone is impressive. There is quite a lot to get through so it would be a good idea to choose 1 or 2 categories of interest and start there. The Gin museum or House of Bols, although not as educational as the others, was a lot of fun and sits right next to the Rijksmuseum. You delve through the history of gin, tantalising and using all your senses and conclude by building your own gin cocktail or 2. We also visited the Heineken museum and although touristy, it is entertaining and for someone with a background in advertising, it is an exemplary story of an iconic brand.
You know you are travelling well when you have time to picnic in a park. We had an afternoon to spare so with the sun out, we grabbed some delicious snacks from markt and found a spot under the oaks in Vondel Park. After lazing about we came across Vondel Park/3 kitchen and bar, a beautiful building on it’s own, we spent the rest of the afternoon sipping on G&Ts on the balcony.
Other things to enjoy while in Amsterdam are the delicious edibles and traditional bites, from the famous cheese to stroop-wafels and poffetjies which are the best things since sliced bread and probably equally as unhealthy.
You also have to leave time for the iconic Amsterdam sign. There is one at the airport and outside the Rijksmuseum. I would recommend going early to get great, uncrowded pics but it is a must, if for nothing else than to see the other cheesy pictures happening around you.
Amsterdam was definitely unexpected, it is a beautiful, trendy, vibrant, friendly city. I loved every bit of our weekend and count myself lucky for all the moments and gems we came across, some planned or recommended and some completely by chance. My advice when visiting Amsterdam is to keep an open mind, it has so much to offer.
‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover’ – Mark Twain