Amsterdam City Guide
Well I have to say, Amsterdam did not disappoint. What a fun place to go for a loooong weekend. We left Chicago after work on Thursday and came back the following Tuesday. I know that doesn’t seem like much time, but we did a lot of damage in a short amount of time. As Anthony Bourdain says “there is a high tolerance for bad behavior in this town” and boy is he right! This post highlights the things we enjoyed the most while in Amsterdam.
MUST DO’S WHILE IN AMSTERDAM:
We planned on taking a stroll through the park when we found ‘T Blauwe Theehuis. ‘T Blauwe Theehuis is a great cafe smack dab in the middle of the park. It offers coffee or beer (everyone was drinking beer when we went) as well as lunch options. It wasn’t very sunny overall while we were in Amsterdam, but when we were sitting outside at that cafe, it was sunny and amazing.
Even if you walk to ‘T Blauwe Theehuis to grab a pint and walk back out, it’s worth a visit. We had a couple of Jupiler beers in the sun and it was perfect.
THE VAN GOGH MUSEUM
Oh my gosh was this museum crowded – I told Andy I couldn’t remember a time I have seen crowds in such a small space. I guess I should have anticipated this but I didn’t at ALL – so it was overwhelming. I purposely booked our tickets online months in advance for a Monday visit, thinking that we would miss the weekend crowds (I can only imagine the horror of Saturday and Sunday).
NTGR Tip: Make it a priority to book tickets in advance – the line to purchase tickets at the gate was extremely long and moving really slow. We had our tickets on our phone and walked past hundreds of people to get in, in true Rick Steves fashion 🙂
With that said, I don’t want to scare you away from going to the Van Gogh museum. If you are a fan of Van Gogh, it’s a must see while in Amsterdam. We booked our tickets for a 1pm reservation – in hindsight we probably should have booked them for the morning when it’s less busy. If you are a morning person (I am not!) – take advantage of the early morning to see this place! We saw hundreds of Van Gogh’s works and even got our picture with Vincent himself 🙂 (you can do this for free btw!)
Each floor of the museum has a specific theme, going up a total of three stories. The top ends with Van Gogh’s last works. It is pretty incredible to see how much his style changed over the course of ten years. And yeah – did you know he only painted for ten years!? Hundreds of paintings in such a short amount of time, it’s incredible. It is a can’t miss in my opinion.
ALBERT CUYP MARKET
This street market is A-W-E-S-O-M-E! We were lucky, our hotel was less than two blocks away from the Albert Cuyp Market in the De Pijp neighborhood. It’s open Monday – Saturday, 9am – 5pm. Every day it was open, we were there! They have anything and everything you want when you visit Amsterdam. The food alone is worth a stop, check out all of these goodies:
The market also has flowers (there are flowers EVERYWHERE in Amsterdam), clothing, sunglasses, touristy knick-knacks, etc. It’s a one stop shop for a visitor. We stopped here on our first full day and ate a day’s worth of food in a couple of hours (everything pictured above – whoops!), it was delicious!
TRY THE DUTCH JENEVER
If you are a gin lover, this is right up your alley! Dutch jenever is very similar to gin, and rather than mixing it with tonic or juice, the dutch prefer to drink jenever straight.
It comes in many fruity flavor varieties as well, but since we both like regular gin, we decided to suck it up and try the original jenever. We went with the “oude jenever” which is an older, aged jenever. Our bartender let us try the young jenever and it was much more harsh, so we were glad we chose the aged jenever. It comes in these clever little glasses, similar to a sherry glass.
We went to a great authentic jenever place called Wynand Fockink. It’s a tiny little tasting room that dates back from 1679, so it’s the real deal. If interested, they even do tours on the weekends.
The jenever is STRONG – it will put some hair on your chest! I thought it would be smoother than regular gin but somehow it wasn’t. Still – I am glad we were able to try it, it has similar taste to gin with lots of rosemary and juniper. Because they brim the glass, it is a Dutch tradition to sip some jenever out of the glass before picking it up from the bar. In true Dutch fashion, we both followed suit. We also got a beer chaser 🙂
RED LIGHT DISTRICT
If you are in Amsterdam, you would be silly to miss out on the Red Light District (De Wallen in Dutch). How do I explain the Red Light District? Like I said before, Amsterdam has a high tolerance for bad behavior and most of it stems from the Red Light District. Andy and I enjoyed sitting in brown cafes in the Red Light District to people watch.
Oh my, is it GREAT for people watching.
If you didn’t know, prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. Women stand behind glass doors backlit with red lights (hence the name Red Light District) and try to lure in customers. We were walking down an alley full of the red backlit doors and heard a guy talking to one of the ladies and overheard she charges 50 Euros for her services. I don’t know what I expected but I was surprised – I thought it would be more… I mean right?
NTGR Tip: Don’t take pictures of the ladies behind the red-lit doors – your camera or phone could quickly find its way to the bottom of a canal. They are very strict on the ‘no photos’ policy and prohibit any photography in the thick of the Red Light District – so be smart!
On the weekends there are a lot of bachelor and bachelorette parties in this area – it is a light hearted, fun time. Overall, there is no reason to be intimidated to visit the Red Light District – it sounds like a lot to take in with the legal prostitution and the coffee shops but it’s not intimidating at all.
Andy and I camped out at a brown cafe (PS: go to a brown cafe! They are old, cozy bars that have dark brown, tobacco stained walls with a very antique feel – super relaxing) with a couple of Amstels and a great view for people watching. We noticed everyone around us had the same idea, so you won’t be the only one. We were even there late into the night and felt comfortable and very safe. If you don’t get easily offended, it’s a definite must while visiting Amsterdam.
RIDE THE TRAM
Because the trams are so iconic in Amsterdam, you have to ride them at least once. When our flight landed in Amsterdam on Friday, Andy and I took the train from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam-Zuid train station and then hopped on a tram to get to our hotel in the De Pijp neighborhood from there.
Our first tram ride was quite eventful! We were standing on the tram because it was so incredibly crowded (we got into Amsterdam on a Friday afternoon) and the tram was going about 30 mph (48 kph) and it came to a VERY abrupt halt – everyone went flying down the aisle! We looked up and saw a moped scooter about an inch away from the front of the tram – right in the middle of the tracks. They were SO close to getting plowed over!
And that is pretty typical of Amsterdam – it is full of complex roadways. There is a sidewalk for pedestrians, a bike lane, the tram tracks and then the regular road for vehicles. You could not pay me to drive a car in Amsterdam!
We really had to pay close attention when crossing the street via foot to make sure there weren’t bicycles, mopeds, cars or trams coming out way! The first day was the hardest, but we acclimated quickly. Bottom line – ride the tram, you will get an experience out of it.
TAKE A CANAL BOAT TOUR
I am so glad that we took a boat tour while we were here. It was something I really wanted to do and it was totally worth it! We went through a company called Blue Boat Company. We opted for the 75 minute open boat tour. I don’t understand why people would choose to ride in a boat with a roof unless it was raining – right!?
We had a local Amsterdam guide as our Captain and he gave us a great rundown of some cool things in Amsterdam. We even got to see the Rolling Stones headquarters!
You can purchase beer, wine and any snacks to bring on the boat with you – so naturally, Andy and I grabbed some Heinekens and boarded our tour!
Some of the bridges were incredibly low, the captain had to yell at a few ladies to sit down because they almost hit their head!
We stayed in the De Pijp neighborhood (pronounced “dee-pipe”) and it was awesome. It is where a lot of young people and families have homes. We usually opt for staying in areas where the locals live, you just get a better feel of real life in the city you are visiting.
EATING & DRINKING IN DE PIJP
There were tons of great cafes, breweries, pubs and restaurants in De Pijp, here are some that we tried and really enjoyed:
I know the name doesn’t sound like much, but this was my favorite cappuccino we had in Amsterdam. Andy and I have a thing where we exclusively drink lattes and cappuccinos while in Europe (even though we just drink regular coffee while at home in Chicago) – it just feels right. The cappuccinos at Coffee Company were extra creamy, rich and delicious!
Lavina Döner Kebab
I mean, just look at how good this looks?
I don’t think I will ever get sick of döners, they are just too delicious! If you don’t know what a döner is, it’s a Turkish sandwich that became popular in Berlin, Germany and quickly spread all over Europe. It’s made of a pita stuffed with fresh veggies and your choice of meat (typically lamb, veal, chicken or all three combined) with a delicious garlic cream sauce.
I also had a döner wrap while we were in Amsterdam (different day hah!) – same thing only in a thin pita wrap – YUM!
Have you heard of Dutch pannenkoeken? They are somewhere between a crepe and a pancake. They are very thin and VERY big. Andy and I went here for a late breakfast on a Sunday and it wasn’t crowded at all. It is called De Carrousel because there is an actual merry-go-round in the middle of the restaurant – very unique and kinda fun 🙂 We were seated right away and the food was pretty darn good!
Pannenkoeken are served both sweet and savory. Because I tend to be an adventurous eater (I like to try new things), I decided to try the savory pannenkoeken – bacon and cheese!
Just look at this thing – it is HUGE! But it was so good! I wasn’t sure how it would taste, but the sweet thin pancake with the bacon and cheese really complimented each other. I got a coffee verkeerd to go with it 🙂
Andy got a traditional English breakfast at De Carrousel, and he said that was tasty as well (minus the salad – he couldn’t do it for breakfast :)).
If you like fried food and are planning a trip to Amsterdam, make sure it’s on your list of things to try. There was a FEBO about 2 blocks away from our hotel, however, they are ALL OVER the city.
FEBO is a fried food heaven. Pommes frites met mayo (Fries with mayo) are a cult classic, along with the Kaassouffle (cheese souffle), and of course the beloved Dutch croquette (deep fried ball of gravy).
The coolest thing about it – it’s all vending machine style! You can only use Euro coins to purchase food out of the machines (don’t worry – they have a change machine to make change if you only have bills).
NTGR Tip: Use exact change! The FEBO machines do not give you change back if you overpay for your food (we learned the hard way).
This place was my favorite pub we went to in all of Amsterdam. It was nice to sit by the canals in the center of the city (and I highly recommend doing so!) but everything was so authentic and down to earth at Kingfisher Cafe. I am pretty sure we were the only ‘out of towners’ sitting in the patio area – the rest were locals that actually lived in De Pijp – and we were there past 11pm on a Sunday night! It had string lights on the patio and there was something very romantic and relaxed about it.
We had a great wheat beer from a local Amsterdam brewery called Brouwerij ‘t IJ. It was SO GOOD! I am not certain, but I am pretty sure the beer was unfiltered, and it was absolutely delicious I don’t know what it is about unfiltered beer but it just has such a wonderful fresh taste. And the staff was so friendly and welcoming – I highly recommend this place!
Troost is a local Amsterdam brewery in De Pijp. It was literally a 7 minute walk from our hotel. Andy and I both love beer and trying new craft breweries that don’t over do it on the hops is right up our alley (why do all the craft beers taste so hoppy these days? Amiright?!) Andy tried their pilsner and I had their honey wheat beer (YUM!) – take a peek at how good these looked!
We stayed at the Sir Albert Hotel in De Pijp and I have to say, the hotel was marvelous! They were so accommodating and friendly, we would stay there again hands down. It also had a really cool vibe – trendy and way too cool for us to be staying there haha. If you are willing to spend around $200 a night on a great hotel in a perfect location, I would recommend staying here.
Until next time!