Travel Guide // Amsterdam, Netherlands

june 19, 2017

Amsterdam is inviting, eccentric, and quaint all at once. The myriad of brick townhouses, cobblestone streets, and climbing ivy remind me of Boston, while the Red Light District and legal drug-scene allude to the laid back and indulgent nature of the town. All together, the city felt unexpectedly American to me - everyone speaks English almost perfectly and expats seem to outnumber locals. Because of this, it was an ideal weekend away from my *new home* in Portugal, to get a small taste of the American life I left behind a month and half ago. In addition to this personally gratifying factor, Amsterdam is enjoyable in so many lovely ways - the elevated food and beverage scene, classical arts, boutique shopping, and famous canals were amongst my favorite charms. Read my guide for the highlights...

Amsterdam is inviting, eccentric, and quaint all at once. The myriad of brick townhouses, cobblestone streets, and climbing ivy remind me of Boston, while the Red Light District and legal drug-scene allude to the laid back and indulgent nature of the town. All together, the city felt unexpectedly American to me - everyone speaks English almost perfectly and expats seem to outnumber locals. Because of this, it was an ideal weekend away from my *new home* in Portugal, to get a small taste of the American life I left behind a month and half ago. In addition to this personally gratifying factor, Amsterdam is enjoyable in so many lovely ways - the elevated food and beverage scene, classical arts, boutique shopping, and famous canals were amongst my favorite charms. Read my guide for the highlights...

See // do

  • The canal boat tours are uber fun and a great way to see the city from a unique angle. I took the Blue Boat Tour with a couple of friends. The boat tours are usually 1-1.5 hours and cost about €20. Pro tip: Bring along some snacks and wine, cuz it’s fun and fancy.

  • Rijksmuseum is a must for art and history aficionados and appreciators. You could easily spend a day here. There are works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and countless masters. My favorites were by Vermeer. If you’d like to get your literature on before visiting, I highly recommend The Forger’s Spell, by Edward Dolnick. This work of non-fiction tells the tale of one of the most famous art-forgers of all time, and includes a bit of history in regards to the paintings in this museum. It truly made me look at all of the art at the Rijks with a new eye.

  • The infamous Red Light District is a necessary stop. It’s truly unique, but also small (and slightly overrated?) you can get the jist with a 15 minute walk around the area.

  • Bloemenmarkt Flower Market is nice to peruse as you stroll through the center of Amsterdam. It includes a series of floating shops sitting on the canals, all of which sell flowers, and most notably tulip bulbs.

  • Vondelpark is a lovely space to loose a day in a book or picnic with friends. I indulged in some people-watching, and most importantly, I made some dog friends, as there are many running around off leash.

  • Visiting the Anne Frank Huis is a humbling cultural experience, not to be missed. I had read Anne’s diary and a couple of other books about her life over the years, which gave a lot of context when visiting. But if you haven't read her diary, the tour is quite thorough, and they sell the book in just about any language in the gift shop. Pro tip: buy your tickets online ahead of time to curtail the lines.

  • Hortus Botanicus is a splendid place to spend an afternoon, as one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. Unfortunately, I only had time to peak in, but from the little I saw, I enjoyed. Someone please go and let me know what I missed!

  • Albert Cuypmarket, located in the famous and trendy De Pipj neighborhood, is an interesting little street market selling local foods, souvenirs, and a bunch of other random shit (I swear, this is the most accurate description, albeit inarticulate). Grab a couple of stroopwafels to munch on as you wander around the rest of De Pipj.

Eat // Drink

  • De Plantage was my favorite restaurant in Amsterdam. Their crayfish ravioli is everything. Also, the super high ceilings, marble table tops, gold finishings, and oversized plants made me feel extra elegant. I went for lunch and it seemed to be great quality for the price. It is located adjacent to the zoo and not far from Hortus Botanicus.

  • Blue is lovely for brunch (when I went), but I imagine the 360 degree, panoramic view is lovely anytime of day. It is located on the top floor of a mall in the center of town.

  • Bij Paul was recommend by a friend as a traditional, Dutch cafe, with quality ingredients. Settled on the corner in a garden unit, the restaurant felt extremely cozy -  very much like a family living room. They sell all the normal cafe stuff, like pastries, coffee, and sandwiches, in addition to bottles of wine, beer, and other goods to take home.

  • The Foodhallen took all of my money, as I ate my way through this foodie-paradise. This indoor market houses dozens of stalls selling both authentic Dutch and worldly cuisines. This is especially a haven for those who have a certain extreme hunger, developed as a common side-effect to substance enhancement. Get my drift?

  • Brut de Mer is a fantastic seafood restaurant and oyster bar overlooking a quaint square in the De Pipj neighborhood. I tried a Dutch oyster, which I’ve never seen or heard of - but it’s all about eating local, and the Dutch don’t disappoint.

  • Hiding in Plain Sight was my favorite bar in Amsterdam. With honesty and shameless cheesiness, I can say this bar felt like coming home. Not only are the cocktails expertly crafted, but the staff is incredibly friendly and accommodating. Please do not pass up this gem if you are in Amsterdam.

  • Bubbles & Wine - the name reeled me in, and how could it not? Throw in knowledgeable staff, yummy apps, and warm decor, and I’m here all night.

  • Door74 was a must-see for me, as speakeasy’s happen to be my favorite type of drinking establishment (I swear I was a flapper in a past life). Door74 lived up to my expectations, complete with the unmarked entrance, dark and plush interiors, and cleverly curated cocktail list.

  • Pllek is a little ways from the city center, but it’s worth the trek. This “beach” bar and restaurant composed of old shipping containers, set on the river is complete with a sandy patio. They, focus on local, organic, and sustainable ingredients and also host events and live music.

SHOP // SPLURGE

I was very impressed by the boutique shopping in Amsterdam. The stores were creatively merchandised and unique. Here are some favorites:

  • Things I Like Things is a trendy concept store with two locations in Amsterdam. Everything about this place is carefully curated. There’s a mix of clothing from their own label and vintage pieces, alongside decor and housewares, such as glazed pottery. In their own words, “Every single item we sell has been touched by our hands, seen by our eyes and has been tried on by at least one of us.”

  • Kiloshop is the best merchandised vintage shop I’ve ever been to. Everything is organized and they have a really impressive inventory - like stuff you’ll actually wear. It’s groovy in every sense.

  • Verse is a concept store dedicated to sustainable fashion and lifestyle products. Clean and classic pieces dominate the merchandise. The brands they carry are thoughtful and each has it’s own story woven with conscious values.

  • We Are Labels has more common designers than the other boutiques mentioned, but everything is styled with a unique look that feels incredibly fresh. Their price points are also reasonable, most items fall between €40 and €80.

  • Scheltema is a huge bookstore in central Amsterdam, complete with a cafe. The wifi is free and fast, if you’re looking to get a little work done. I headed straight up to the 4th level, where they sell pre-loved books looking for a new home.

STAY // SLEEP

For this trip, I was lucky to have a friend to crash with in the De Pipj neighborhood. It was nice to see how the locals live, and for that reason, I recommend Airbnb. Use my code for $40 off your first stay.

 

I really enjoyed the De Pipj neighborhood in particular, because it’s walking distance to the main touristic areas, but it has a very local-vibe. There are tons of awesome restaurants and a nice strip of shops and boutiques.

 

Getting Around // Getting There

 

Biking is unequivocally the most common way to get around town. Never have I ever seen so many bikes. They’re very easy to rent for the day, about €5-10. The whole city is tailored for this lifestyle - but as a pedestrian, you seriously have to watch out, because the bikes rule the road and they won’t stop for you like cars will in most cities.

 

Aside from biking, it is a pretty walkable city, most things worth seeing are a 10-20 minute walk from the city center. Additionally, they have a fairly reliable tram and train network. Lastly, Uber is available, yet because of the city’s layout, it’s almost as fast to walk, and faster to bike to most places.

 

If you are flying into Amsterdam via Schipol airport, you can take a train into the city. This takes about 20-30 minutes and costs around €6. Otherwise, an Uber will take 15 minute or more, depending on traffic and will cost around €25-30. If you are taking the train from another European city, you will likely end up in Amsterdam Central Station, which is truly in the center of the city.