Upon arrival in Amsterdam I posted a photo to Instagram of the beautiful canals and bike-lined streets. One of my well-traveled friends back in Seattle commented, “If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much!”. After 72 hours in this beautiful city, I have to agree with her. Amsterdam exceeded my expectations in every way possible. Prior to visiting, I associated Amsterdam only with the stereotypical images most Americans know about it – the Red Light District and the Anne Frank Museum. Although those are key elements of the city, they don’t represent Amsterdam in its entirety. Amsterdam is so much more!
We arrived in Amsterdam Saturday afternoon after the quick 1 hour flight from London to Schiphol Airport and the speedy 20 minute train ride into the city center from the airport. Our hotel was directly across from the Central Train Station, a perfect tourist location. Even better, outside the hotel a Christmas market was set up along the main city street. Imagine my excitement after missing out on Christmas markets in Berlin. I did a little happy dance and we dropped off our bags and hit up the food vendors at the market.
Energized by our market-induced sugar high we set off on a self-guided tour around the city. Amsterdam is so walkable, every destination on our list was within 20 minutes by foot so we didn’t purchase any metro passes. One of my favorite areas was ‘de 9 Straatjes’, translated to ‘the 9 streets’. It’s a neighborhood of 9 small streets filled with cafes, boutiques, and art galleries. In a word: adorable. We found a sushi restaurant and ate a light dinner to compensate for our sugar binge.
For our second day in the city we decided to try a free walking tour to get a better overview of the city. Basically, you pay what you think it’s worth at the end of the tour so the guides work hard for your tips. The company had great TripAdvisor reviews so we gave it a go. The 3 hour walking tour gave us a good overview of Amsterdam’s history and layout of the city. We learned about the 3 main canals in Amsterdam covered by over 1,500 bridges and that the city has over 1,000,000 bikes (100,000 of which are stolen every year and 25,000 of which end up in the canals).
After the walking tour we headed over to tour the Anne Frank Museum. The museum is so well curated and informative about the Frank family’s life during their years in hiding. It’s not the happiest experience you’ll have in Amsterdam, but it’s a worthwhile stop. I can’t do it justice with words.
We ended the second day with a canal boat ride to experience the Festival of Lights, a collection of light structures by various artists displayed during the holidays and best seen by boat.
We also wandered around the Red Light District to see what the hype was about, and I can honestly say it was depressing! According to our walking tour guide, the Red Light District and the drug culture in Amsterdam are mostly frequented by tourists as opposed to locals. The city has a culture of tolerance which is why they allow both, although technically it’s illegal in Amsterdam to smoke, sell, or purchase marijuana. Interesting tidbit!
We spent the last day wandering the streets of an area called the Jordaan and finishing our tour de food with another market stop for more donuts and pancakes with Nutella. I also visited the recently reopened Rijksmuseum and saw works by Van Gogh and Rembrandt. I’d like to return and visit the Van Gogh museum which is dedicated entirely to Van Gogh, but since I had just a few hours I couldn’t fit it in this trip. Next time, Amsterdam!
Amsterdam has several beautiful outdoor markets, one of which is the world’s largest floating flower market.
I love a good cat store…or two!
And one final quaint bike photo.
Know Before You Go:
- Amsterdam is so tourist friendly and everyone speaks perfect English, so no Dutch is required (although per good tourist code – it doesn’t hurt to learn a few phrases).
- If you’re interested in seeing several of the museums I recommend looking into one of these tourist cards: Amsterdam Museum Card or Amsterdam City Card. We borrowed a Museum Card from a friend and it saved me €15 but for a short weekend trip I doubt you’d get your money’s worth.
- Amsterdam is known for Indonesian food due to the former Dutch colonization of the country and it’s worth one of your meals. We dined at Kantjil & de Tijger, it gets two thumbs up in my book.
- Another stop on your food tour needs to be the Upstairs Pannenkoekenhuis (Upstairs Pancake House). Unfortunately it was closed during our visit but my sister remembers it from her travels years ago as a highlight and it has great reviews online.
Thanks Amsterdam for a lovely 72 hours. I can’t wait to visit again soon.