Amsterdam is a beautiful city. Often tarred with the red-light district there’s so much more to see and do than smoke weed and gawp at prostitutes. I was fortunate enough to visit for four full days in June and felt that was the perfect amount of time to feel absorbed into city life, see the sights and experience the ambience. I didn’t plan anything in advance on this trip but let the day decide where we went, what we did and how we felt. I perhaps didn’t get as much done as those who schedule their holidays down to the minute, but that was just the way I like it, relaxed, spontaneous and filled with raw memories.
We landed in Amsterdam at 10 am leaving me a full day of exploring ahead. Ruled by my stomach the first thing on our agenda was some brunch and we decided to go to Cafe Americain in Leidsekade, just a short walk across the canal from our hotel. The food here was not only delicious but beautiful and we returned several times throughout our visit. On this occasion, I went straight in for the beef tartare, with the rest of the party ordering a burger and a club sandwich. Not your traditional brunch fare but delicious none the less.
I’m a big fan of walking as much as possible in a new city as I think that’s the best way to get to know your way around and feel truly a part of it. The first place I headed off to was the Albert Cuyp Market, a street market filled with food, ornaments, clothes and more. Running the full length between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat, in the De Pijp area of the Oud-Zuid district of the city. Here I found freshly made stroopwafels, cooked right in front of you and dipped in dark chocolate, the caramel still gooey, oozey and warm as I took my first bite. Wandering up and down the market there was so much to see and so many stands to explore, the jewellery on display was exquisite, there were clothes, furniture, fruit, veg, fish, cheese and even homeware stalls lining both sides of the cobbled street.
The weather was warm and I quickly built up a thirst. Walking a little aimlessly from the market I stumbling across Het Paardje on Gerard Douplein, 1 1073 XE, which offered the perfect outdoor location in a small, picturesque square to enjoy my first Dutch beer. I sat in the glorious sunshine enjoying a glass of cold Amstel whilst perusing my tourist’s map for my next destination. The Heineken Experience.
Perhaps it was the beer or perhaps the tourist within me but I’d heard some very good things about the Heineken Experience and wanted to have that ‘experience’ for myself. Just a short walk to the end of the road from Het Paardje I joined the short queue for the Heineken Experience. You can get better value tickets online but I hadn’t planned ahead and so purchased mine on the day. For less than €10 more you can upgrade your ticket to Rock The City which also includes the Heineken Boat Tour and a ticket to the A’DAM lookout. This seemed like a pretty good deal and with an unplanned day, I decided to go for it.
The Heineken Museum itself was far more entertaining than I expected, with guides stationed at posts along the way to give talks and demonstrations to the crowds passing through. It was a little busy and at times you found yourself trudging slowly in a crowd toward the next stop. If crowds aren’t your thing then this may not be for you. Having seen how the beer was brewed, the colossal tanks that held it and the horses that pulled the Heineken display cart we went upstairs to be brewed into a beer. Yes you heard that right. This was a 4D experience following the journey of a beer from beginning to end and ended nicely with our first taste of ice-cold Heineken.
From there we went on to a number of rooms with plenty of photo opportunities and games teaching us about Heineken in the present day, the events it sponsors and the sports its associated with. Finally, we descended into the Heineken Bar where you could exchange the two tokens that you receive with your ticket for two further half pint size glasses of Heineken. Down here you could take part in a pint-pulling contest to win yourself a Heineken pint-pro pin or simply enjoy your beer after your long walk around the museum.
Up next was my Heineken Boat tour. Arriving just outside the museum on the canal over the road the Heineken boat is hard to miss with its distinctive Heineken branding and bright green colour. With the sun still beaming down from clear skies above I sat out the very back of the boat on the small terrace area. Joined by a large group of American college graduates we had a great time cruising down the river, another cold beer in hand, just enjoying being on the water in Amsterdam.
The boat tour travelled from the Heineken Museum to the A’DAM lookout which is North of the red-light district and a short river taxi back to the centre of the city. The A’DAM lookout offers panoramic views across the whole of Amsterdam as well as a 20 storey rooftop with an overhanging swing. By now the clock had been ticking and it was fast approaching 5.30 and time for me to be heading back to meet for dinner.
Weary and hungry we headed out towards Leidseplein to find somewhere for dinner, settling on a small Italian restaurant nestled down a side street. Too hungry to take pictures we demolished three bowls of pasta before mum and I headed back to Cafe Americain for an after dinner cocktail (or three)
Day two was my museum day and I was up bright and early to get into the Van Gogh museum before the rest of Amsterdam had recovered from the night before. Arriving at the museum bang on 9am meant a brilliant view of all the paintings and the crowds following on behind me. As I looked down from the top floor of the museum the busy period had begun and the floors below were teaming with people trying to view the artworks. I’d highly recommend getting the audio guide and losing yourself to the facts and descriptions of Van Gogh’s life and his works.
Leaving the Van Gogh museum the Rijksmuseum, Diamant Museum, Stedelijk Museum and Modern Art Museum are all within a two-minute walk. Making a day of museums more than convenient and easy on your feet.
From here I decided to get the red-light district out of the way and walked across the city, stopping at Pancakes Amsterdam to refuel on a gluten-free & vegan banana and almond crepe. The pancake was beautiful but a little pricey at €14 a pancake.
Walking into the red-light district during the day, you wouldn’t really notice if it wasn’t for the sudden saturation of Bulldog coffee shops and the distinct smell of cannabis wafting from most doorways. Swaying from the central canals down the side streets then opens up the sex scene with prostitutes leaning seductively against their windows. I never visited the red-light district at night but I’ve heard that it’s a very different ambience and a far more intense vibe. Not my scene or the reason I came to Amsterdam I considered this ticked off my list and made the long walk home to freshen up before dinner.
On night two with sore feet from all the walking, I headed to Cafe Toussaint, Bosboom Toussaintstraat 26, 1054 AS, and ordered a glass (or two, maybe three) of cold rose and some bitterballen whilst I waited for my companions. The bitterballen were sensational, a meat-filled croquet deep fried and dipped in sweet mustard they were the perfect bar snack and I could have polished off several plates had I not been saving myself for dinner. Once again a little off the beaten track the red cushion covered seats and wide red awning provided the perfect place to sit and watch the day come to an end with a book and a glass of wine.
With the rose flowing and my companions present we ordered three portions of the beef salad with copious fries and finished the evening sat outside under the setting sun.
The third day was the first day I got to spend entirely with my mum and we booked a boat tour with Those Dam Boat Guys, which was perhaps my favourite part of the whole trip. Not your usual boat tour Those Dam Boat Guys make it an experience, they’re a little alternative with an ‘almost’ anything goes approach to the cruise. The boats are a lot smaller seating up to 10 and the tour lasts around 90 minutes, Julian, our guide extended ours to two hours as we were having such a fab time. You as the passenger also have some control over your tour with Julian calling out ‘Giraffes or Prostitutes? The first answer wins’ “Giraffes!” I screamed and we set off towards the zoo. Along the way one of the larger lever bridges was about to open and we stopped to get some good pictures and watch as the road split in two and a tall houseboat passed through. Julian’s humour was brilliant and everyone on board was having a great time, it was a shame it had to end.
By now we were yet again hungry and found ourselves in a beautiful steak restaurant Black & Blue which sat on a quiet side road opposite the canal. We bagged ourselves one of the limited seats out front and enjoyed a bottle of rose alongside a beautiful flat iron steak and yet more fries. It was so nice to just enjoy the sunshine and relax with nothing more we had to do.
Having enjoyed a slow lunch by the canal we began to wander home but with the intention of diverting down any side street that looked intriguing or exciting. This was such a fun way to stumble across some hidden gems and we found ourselves in another street market filled with nick-nacks and antiques, an indoor book market and a quirky independent bar ran by the sweetest man who’d had it in the family for generations. This bar was down a side street off of one of the main high-streets in Amsterdam, yet inside it still retained all its old-fashioned charm. There were only about 6 seats and the bar, with dim lights and dark wood making the place seem even smaller. it was a very steep climb up what was practically a ladder to access the toilets and from this vantage point you could see the dust atop the top shelve’s liquor and the chandelier looked as though it had been there for centuries. There was just something about this little place that made my heart smile and I would seek it out again on my next visit.
It was our last day in Amsterdam, we had a little lay in, a leisurely breakfast and packed our bags to leave with the hotel whilst we did our final exploring. On today’s agenda was to pick up some souvenir cheese stroopwafels, see the famous flower market and kill some time before our evening flight.
If you ask people what they think of when they think of Amsterdam the chances are they’ll either say weed, bikes, cheese or flowers, specifically tulips. Which led me to believe that the flower marker would be a magical destination of fresh cut flowers and an Instagram dream. But I was wrong and sorely disappointed. The ‘floating’ flower market was instead shop after shop selling identical tourist tat and dried tulip bulbs. Seriously, each shop looked and sold the same thing. I was actually hard-pressed to find a single fresh flower. Now, I guess that makes sense from a tourist perspective. We aren’t going to take a bouquet of fresh Tulips home but still, I found myself very disappointed and we’d marched the whole length of the market in less than 15 minutes.
Demoralised by the flower market and beginning to have the end of holiday blues we decided that pancakes were in order again. We trecked across town to another Pancakes Amsterdam store. This time I ordered mine with apple and raisin, the apples had been cooked into the batter not just garnished on top which gave them a beautiful caramelisation and a taste like apple pie.
With a belly full of baked apple and raisin pancake we decided to head to De Sluyswacht, a detached and leaning lock house from 1695. Another fantastically quirky building this pub also has a brilliant view from the terrace, looking out at the uninterrupted water. We sat down and enjoyed a nice cold beer before ordering some vegan bitterballen and curly fries. If there’s one thing the Dutch seem to do really well its fried food and we could seriously learn something from their bar menus.
By now it was time to make our way back to the airport. Weary and full we were thankful for the short flight home and a night back in our own beds.