I never thought I would have visited Amsterdam as soon as I did last May. Now, after spending a weekend there I would love to go back and see the things I didn’t have time to do, and also explore more of the Netherlands. Today, I’m sharing with you a few of my favorite things from the trip.
Cloudy and a little rainy during our weekend away, but still a delightful trip!
The initial idea of going to Amsterdam was brought up by my good friends, Marcela and Kurtis. Last year, they took their first Eurotrip together, spending 2 weeks country hopping from Paris to Spain to Germany, with Amsterdam in between. My love and I met them in Paris where we spent our first part of the trip walking around, showing them all the major sites The City of Lights has to offer, then took a quick flight venturing north to the Netherlands. This was the first time for all of us to explore this part of Europe, and it was Marcela’s first time in Europe. I had researched a few things to see and do beforehand because my stereotypical images of smoking marijuana and the Red Light District were hard for me to believe were the only true highlights of the city. Thankfully my initial ideas were wrong.
We arrived in the early morning at the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, bought bus tickets from the information desk and went outside, in the rain, to wait for the bus to take us to the city center. The airport itself is connected to a good-sized modern shopping mall filled with international and local brands and different types of restaurants, perfect for window shopping and to pass the time away if you arrive early for your flight.
The view just as you exit the airport. The bus station is to the right of this welcoming sign. I thought only one of these signs existed, but there are actually two city icons. If you want good photos of the “I amsterdam” sign, I suggest taking them at the airport because the more popular sign most definitely will be crowded with people in the Museumplein area. Photobomb: Be like this guy leaning on the “I” and chillax in your new surroundings.
One good thing about the Netherlands is that everyone speaks English. The country is home to over a hundred different nationalities and backgrounds, so it makes sense that English is widely used. I was super impressed by everyone’s language skills and it made our stay here much easier knowing a common language with the locals.
On the bus, however, I got a different impression. The automated announcements giving each next stop were in Dutch, including what showed on the TV monitors inside the bus, all written in Dutch. Being the language lover that I am, I listened carefully to the voice over the speaker to see if I could find some kind of relation or similarity with any other language I’ve heard or have been exposed to before – I couldn’t. The language was very strange to my ears in the beginning moments but after a few stops I got a grasp of the equivalent to “stop”which was something similar to “halt”.
Street view of the buildings, bikes and more bikes.
We’d booked an apartment to share via AirBnB, but it was too early to check in, so after we got off at our bus stop, we decided to get something to eat, and particularly at a place with a WIFI connection so we could communicate with our host via Whatsapp. As I had previously read on multiple sources while doing my research on Amsterdam, the Netherlands in general is not well-known for its food, so instead of eating out and exploring the restaurants, we went shopping at a grocery store and cooked for ourselves – another reason for doing this was to save money and budget since the month of May was filled with lots of trips.
You can learn a lot about a country’s culture through its food. We settled on eating at a diner-type restaurant featuring a popular Dutch food: pancakes. My love ordered a Hawaiian style pancake with pineapple, peppers, ham and cheese, which looks in between a US pancake and a French crepe, only much bigger. And you can have it with either savory or sweet toppings. I had a bit and it tasted just as I described, so not a bad combination at all. I opted for an English breakfast dish that always reminds me of my home and family in the UK – comfort food. My friends had ordered and shared a bowl of soup and a sandwich.
A Dutch pancake – Yes, it was enormous!
I love people-watching, especially in new surroundings, and I noticed a mix of locals and out-of-towners, so the place wasn’t a bad choice to start off our stay. We stuck around at the restaurant going over my suggestions for sightseeing, until it was a good time to go check-in at the apartment. While looking for the perfect AirBnB and location, we had initially tried to stay on a houseboat (how cool would that be?!), but the two we had found were already booked. I really want to try and make this option happen out the next time we take another trip here.
How cool would it be to live or even just stay a weekend on a houseboat?! We'll be doing this next time!
After checking in, we went on a walk around the city center and major plazas to explore and see what was around. Our first stop was Museumplein, shown in the photo below with the famous Rijksmuseum peaking out in the background. The Van Gogh Museum is also located here, with the largest collection of the artist’s work. Book your entrance tickets in advance for all museums in order for guaranteed entrance.
As I mentioned earlier, the “I amsterdam” signs are located in two places. The first being at the airport and the second is pictured here at Museumplein. Perfect place for people-wathcing. If you want to avoid the crowds, I would opt for the sign at the airport.
We did wait our turn to get a few snaps in, and then made our way to walk around the exteriors of the museums and take in the architecture.
We found a third “I amsterdam” on a bench as we were walking away from Museumplein!
One thing I haven’t brought up yet is important to take note of before you get injured – or just embarrassed like I did. The Dutch are very avid bike-riders and take it just as seriously, if not more, as driving. Amsterdam is a pretty green city and more people use bikes than cars. There is a special culture with riding a bike and you will learn quickly that you cannot accidentally walk along the bike lane – I learned the hard way, no injury involved.
A bike and scooter parking lot. You can find these types of lots all around the city. There is even a bike parking garage close to the train station and port – great innovative ideas for a cleaner and safer environment. Other cities should use this as an example.
After our Museumplein exploration, we walked around the area by our apartment. We stumbled upon the Heineken Brewery, called the Heineken Experience. The red brick building is massive, providing daily tours of the brewery with tastings included at the end. You can also make reservations for special events that includes a boat tour along the canals. I would definitely like to take a tour the next time I’m back.
These types of signs should be placed throughout the city for tourists to be aware…or just for me to stop walking on the red bike lanes.
After looking at a map, we thought the Heinekin Experience building was further out of the city, but it was literally around the corner from our apartment and near the grocery store we stopped at to buy food for the weekend. The one thing I can distinctly remember about the grocery store is that there was a large walk-in refrigerator filled with all diary products from milk to yogurt and cheese. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those before and specifically for customers.
The meeting spot for our tour group, in front of what use to be the gate of the city. The castle-looking structure is now a restaurant and cafe called De Waag.
During our second day, we started off with a guided walking tour. These are the best kind of tours because it’s by donation only and given by a local, taking us to places we might miss, including where exactly the hidden church is inside the Begijnhof courtyard, which building is claimed to be the oldest and one of the smallest in the city, and a little history on the Red Light District. It was an excellent tour, and below you will find some highlights from the tour.
Before Napoleon III changed the rules about having last names, the Dutch used to have these crests or emblems in front of their homes to distinguish one family from another, usually by what trade they worked in.
Beautiful architecture with hidden gems, like the painting at the top of this building.
I was so happy the sun made an appearance during our tour and the rest of the day!
Our tour group of about 20 people from all over the world. We were either entering or leaving the area where a book market is located.
Outside a hidden church located in a small residential courtyard that used to house nuns. Today the tradition continues and only single, unmarried women can live in this cute area.
This photo is more than just of a cafe. It’s written in French to say “Prostitute Quarter” since it’s located in the Red Light District. To the left of it is an alleyway of windows and doors in the “Big Mamma’s Alley” portion of the district, as well as a Kindergarten and the Old Church just across. Super eclectic and open-minded city.
One of the smallest and narrowest, and most likely the oldest building in all of Amsterdam.
After the tour I asked our friendly guide where is a good place to eat. She suggested going to the Chinatown area and stop at a Thai restaurant – the best decision ever!
The restaurant is called “Bird” Holland…we were not disappointed
We sat at the window with perfect views for people-watching outside, and those coming in and out to sit at a table or take-out – or even just take your food and eat it on small benches outside! Either way, this restaurant was the perfect decision!
Following our amazing lunch, we toured around the Prinsengracht area, stopping to have a look at the Anne Frank house. It was a somber moment for me and I didn’t want to stay long. I read her diary in middle school, saw the play and movie, and now to actually stand in front of the house was a little too much. I couldn’t have gone inside.
Anne Frank Memorial Statue. So so sad to know she was just a young girl and died 2 months before the war ended. If only she hung on, would we still know her story today?
The last thing we did was explore the port of Amsterdam and took a free ferry across to a little island to have a quick look. We also walked around the central station for trains and the tram. It was a nice end to our day and stay.
Dusk settles in an the nightlife begins on our last night in Amsterdam – photo is a little blurry but still shows a good capture of how the ambiance changes from day to night, and just how eclectic the city actually is and is probably my favorite aspect of the city.
Overall, our Amsterdam trip was fun. I learned a lot about the city’s history and how it has transformed throughout the centuries. I have this destination on my return list and I would love to explore the windmills and tulip fields!
Are you ready for your trip to Amsterdam?
Useful websites when planning your trip:
- http://www.airbnb.com – stay with a local or rent an entire place for yourself
- http://www.verychic.com – feeling fancy? Book a premium room at a discounted price, plus enjoy exclusive amenities/upgrades included in each package
- https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en – official site of the Rijksmuseum to pre-book tickets and see what special programs and exhibitions are going on.
- http://cityfreetour.com/amsterdam/ – book a free city tour around Amsterdam, from a general city tour to more specifically around one particular area. Highly recommended! Book in advance!
Until next time: Go.Get.Inspired!!!
Inspired by…Quote: “Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen” ~Sir Albert
Disclaimer: ALL pictures are taken by myself and are not to be reproduced without my knowledge and permission.