Despite all my years of travel – and having lived so close at times – Amsterdam is a city that I’d never been to. And truth be told, had no desire to ever visit.
I’m not sure what initially put me off of Amsterdam, after all it’s charms and history are visited and talked about for a reason. I think perhaps it was because it felt like the universally ‘tourist’ city. The ‘easy’ city. They ‘Disney’ of Europe to me where everyone went.
But this summer I decided to take the overnight train from Copenhagen down to Amsterdam to stay for a few days to visit a friend and to explore the city. It would be during these days I’d learn how wrong I was and why it was a fantastic city to visit.
There are all the standard things to see: Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum,Rikjsmuseum, Westerkerk (which serves as a great directional guide in the city) and the Dam. None of those I’ll go into because there are far better guides and information that I could give. Instead, I’ll give a tour of my wanderings through the city and the top 10 places I would recommend should you find yourself walking the canals of Amsterdam.
- Hotel 717: It’s worth the trip to Amsterdam alone just to stay here. One of the prettiest, cosiest, most luxurious boutique hotels on one of the prettiest canals, Hotel 717 is definitely in my top 5 hotel experiences. I had the incredible Von Goethe suite which was the perfect backdrop to one rainy evening. I watched a video from their DVD library and cosied in the couch after having a top-rated room service meal. A long dip in a hot tub whilst listening to the rain come down was really what vacations are all about. I chose to have breakfast in-room which had details including gluten-free breads. The general spaces were so well-appointed as was the location. From welcome to good-bye, the service was top notch and I’d highly recommend a stay here.
- Restaurant Keizersgracht 238: If you go to Amsterdam, sitting at a cafe overlooking the canal is a must. This cafe has a wonderful, charming and quiet location right on the canal plus great food and beer. It was the perfect lunch spot that I’d gladly go to again.
- ‘The Tourist’ Boat & Canal Trip: How do you go on a canal cruise without feeling like a tourist or being surrounded by them? You quite literally go on “The Tourist”, Hotel Pulitzer’s charming, beautiful and intimate boat. Built in 1909 for the exclusive use of its hotel guests (Winston Churchill took a ride), it’s now open to the public with a few daily departures. Captain, Bruné is by far the best guide to have for his stories, manner of speaking and gentle demeanor will live you smitten with the city and its history.
- Farmers Market: On Saturdays, this small square fills up with incredible stalls of food from cheeses to vegetables to meets to gluten free baked goods. It’s a fairly good size and covered in case it rains. You can grab a few things to picnic with or there are some ready-made items should you care to snack a little right there.
- The Jordaan: What was once a poor, ghetto area in which artists like Rembrandt, Breitner and Joost van den Vondel lived because of low-rents is now one of the most expensive and upscale areas of Amsterdam. Full of art galleries, great shopping, markets and cafe’s, it’s definitely an area to spend time in. Lindengracht street is home to many wonderful shops and also the Saturday market.
- Tichelestrat and La Oliva: this charming and skinny pedestrian street came recommended to me as a place to go for good cafes. I found La Olivia and started with a great glass of wine which lead to dinner. The food was incredible – full of flavour, local, not heavy and beautifully presented. I sat outside and felt part of the atmosphere as the street was quietly buzzing with people either also dining, walking or catching up with friends. As the sun began to set, the inside lights took on a cosy look making me wanting to escape inside to be part of it.
- Vondelpark: The largest park in the city (120 acres or 47 hectares) opened in 1865 and continues to delight all those that visit. It’s a quiet retreat within the city that makes you feel like you’re actually not in one. Lots of activities happen here and is widely used by the locals. Walk or bike through and if you can, take a moment to just sit, relax and take in all the nature.
- Proeverij 274: This restaurant came highly recommended to me and after the most delicious meal, I understand why. Local food in a cosy atmosphere equals my kind of dining experience, throw in chefs that understand gluten free and you have me. The fixed-prix dinners were a great option and my guests loved theirs. I had a fish dish that was one of the best. We lingered here for hours from wine to dessert and it wasn’t an issue at all. Best? Watching the sun go down and play off all the buildings across the canal.
- ATM: You’re going to need one and you’ll find one conveniently located in the grocery store here.
- Magere brug: Although the original bridge over the river Amstel built in 1691 no longer stands, the latest replacement is the same style and design although a little wider (the word ‘magere’ literally means ‘skinny’). There are several stories out there about its reason for construction but the one I was told by a local was that there were two sisters who ended up marrying brothers, each of whom lived on the other side of the river. For convenience to see each other, a bridge was built so the two could visit easily. That somehow translated into the myth that if you walk on this bridge with your current love, you will somehow get engaged within the year! Since I didn’t walk on this bridge, I can’t report back to you if this is actually true or not!
For more photos, please visit my Amsterdam Flickr Set.