If you’ve ever seen Amsterdam in pictures, either online or in a big coffee-table book or on a picture postcard and thought; ‘I hope it actually looks like that for real’….you need to go, it’s even prettier!
Even in the depths of November, in drizzle and the cold and grey skies, Amsterdam was charming. It’s really easy to get around, the food is excellent and despite it’s reputation for seedy (yet endlessly entertaining) tourism, you can escape the crowds down the cute side streets and in the beautiful parks.
Don’t worry about your airport transfer. Trains run from Shiphol Airport around 7 times a day from about 5 euros and Amsterdam central station is well connected to the trams and sits right at the top of the canal ring which encircles the city centre.
Work started on the infamous Canal Ring 400 years ago to help expand Amsterdam. It created the present-day framework for the city, which is basically a collection of islands divided by a ripple of concentric canals and united by bridges. The ideal way to get around ‘like a local’ is to keep count of the number of canals you cross! I never managed this, I was always looking up at the beautiful buildings or distracted by he nearest shop selling chocolates or pancakes. Counting is especially useful on a bike when you can’t get your pocket map out all the time but be careful when following the rings round, you never end up in the direction you’re expecting!
Cycling was easily the most fun way to see the city! Bikes are EVERYWHERE, there’s plenty of bike routes with dedicated lanes and light systems – it’s great, more of an experience than a mode of transport. However, in the rain it can be a bit grim and cold and well, you can’t see for the rain in your face so the trams are the better option. From these we got a great view, learned the route to our hotel and warmed up. It was 7.50 euro for 24 hours which was a great deal but single fares were only 2.90.
What to do?
I loooooved the cycling! Although sometimes a little hairy, it’s a relaxing way to take in the city at your own pace and explore to your heart’s content. The bikes are cheap to hire especially if you look out for online deals in the off-peak season and generally in very good condition with safe locks. We explored the inner city, saved money getting to places we wanted to see and worked off our frequent hot chocolates. But don’t be put off by the effort – Holland is flat as a Pannekoeken!
Just walking around Amsterdam is fantastic. Take a map and you can walk around all the central districts. The Red Light is, of course, absolutely hilarious. Surprisingly small, but surrounded by bars, restaurants and many small museums. Just to the west are the main shopping streets, dotted with traditional shops, high street chains, Coffeeshops and souvenir stops. If you’re staying in the very central ring you’ll also find Chinatown and the station to the north. For even more shopping try the Negen Straatjes, or Nine Streets – a district full of quirky independent enterprises.
If museums are you’re thing now is the time to visit Amsterdam with ‘The Big Three’ museums at last fully renovated and reopened. The Rijksmuseum ouses some of the world’s classics while the Stedelijk with bring visitors right up to date with the very latest in international art and design. Finally head to the Van Gogh Museum for full immersion in the work of the infamous tragic artist. Not to forget the Modern Moco Museum and Anne Frank Huis, a sobering exhibition about the persecution of the Jews during the war, as well as discrimination in general.
If I were to visit again though, I would stop by the Bloemenmarkt, pick up some tulip bulbs and take a cruise on one of the many tourist boat tours to see the city from the water.
Of course, where to eat?
Amsterdam is undergoing a foodie revolution. From Dutch classics and French pastries to Indonesian delicacies, Amsterdam has a bit of everything. The hot chocolates were my favourite and the baker in me fell in love with Melly’s Cookie Bar. Right in the centrum we went back twice for hot choccies and cakes that are made right there in the second room, adding to that perfect kitch cuteness.
FoodHallen is also foodie heaven. Lined with an eclectic mixture of eateries, showcasing food from around the globe, Foodhallen is housed within an old tram hall in Oud-West district. From mini cakes, Korean doughnuts, Gin cocktails and Dutch croquettes, to Vietnamese spring rolls, burgers, vegan falafels and dim sum, this place really had it all.The hardest part was choosing (and sharing!).
Finally, Coffee and Coconuts. Housed in a converted 1920’s cinema the restaurant is set over 4 different open-plan levels, scattered with plants and quirky dutch design. Tables hand from the rafters and espressos and juices are drunk on beanbags.
While munching on delicious coconut flour pancakes with berries and bacon I couldn’t help but eye up avocado toast served with poached eggs, acai bowls and NY deli sandwiches bursting with pastrami. I would have to visit again if I were ever in Amsterdam!