The end of the summer. One last adventure before going back to real-ish life. My friend and I had said for a while that we would go away together. Morocco, Copenhagen, Budapest, beach holiday, city break? We were pretty open about where to go, but eventually decided on the not-so-distant – but still quirky enough and warm enough to feel like a holiday – city of Amsterdam. And as it turns out, it’s the ideal setting for a weekend getaway. Chilled, affordable and picturesque, Amsterdam is a really fun and inviting city with plenty of culture to soak up. Here’s what we got up to.
We arrived at our Airbnb apartment in Bos en Lommer, a quiet suburb that was a 20-min tram or bike ride into the centre. We were pretty much instantly out the door again, eager to make the most of a sunny evening and get our bearings. We spent the evening wandering around the city centre, through Museumplein and over canals, stopping for pizza at Dante’s as the sun set on the facades of the quaint Grachtenpanden (canal houses). The characterful architecture of Amsterdam, these tall, narrow houses lining the canals, is instantly recognisable. Lose the map and follow your feet through the streets of the city centre to find the best hidden gems from boutiques and galleries to bars and cafes.
Of course, it is near impossible not to find yourself in the Red Light District if taking an evening stroll. It is an undoubtedly strange place to be in for the first time, a potent blend of hedonism and the tacit meeting place for tourists, locals, singles, couples, tour groups and stag dos alike. What struck me most I think, beyond the initial unease of seeing scantily clad women beckoning from behind glass doors (how do they feel about all these people seeing them in their underwear? do they feel objectified or empowered? are they happy? i’m pretty sure that drunk guy was being inappropriate. how much do they get paid?), was the feeling that you could really do anything you want to here. The sun goes down and anything goes. I wondered how locals viewed the Red Light District, and how it would feel to live nearby or to walk these streets to work each day. Regardless of the moral questions that spring to mind when you are suddenly presented with this compact carnival of vice, the atmosphere was actually a lot less seedy than could be imagined. Surreal yes, but the feeling of total freedom that permeates through the city and into the night is probably the most addictive aspect of the whole place.
Our first day started with a walking tour. We grabbed delicious fresh croissants and coffee at Dam Good Coffee, tucked away in a corner of Dam Square, before meeting our guide at the National Monument. I had already gone on a few tours with the same company, Sandemans New Europe, in different cities, and would definitely recommend them. They offer free walking tours (tip generally expected at the end) in 18 cities across Europe and other tours that focus on specific themes. Our tour lasted nearly 3 hours, with a coffee break at half-time, and was a great introduction to the general history and culture of the city.
The sun was shining, so we decided to get salads for lunch at a cafe that we stumbled upon in Jordaan, a stylish and eclectic quarter just out of the central buzz, before heading to our next stop, the Anne Frank House. Showing entries from Anne’s diary and footage of interviews with those who knew her, the museum that has been created in the very house where Anne and her family hid from Nazi arrest is poignant and thought-provoking, encouraging visitors to reflect on the past and continue to question prejudice and injustice within society today.
Next on our list was cycling. Renting bikes whilst in Amsterdam is fairly obligatory. Cheaper and faster than public transport (our Airbnb host looked kinda disgusted when we said we were taking the tram on our first evening), you will soon find that cycling is more convenient and also really enjoyable. A flat and fairly small city, it didn’t take long for us to navigate our way around and we took our bikes down to De Pijp, the urban, hipster antidote to the tourist-filled centre. We walked around markets, had a waffle for tea and then continued our bike ride further east, stopping for a drink at trendy Bar Bukowski on the corner of Oosterpark. I recommend the Pip en Lola cocktail, or a Club Mate for a non-alcoholic boost that tastes like summer in Berlin.
We cycled home again, just having enough time to get ready for our next appointment: drinks at Door 74, a speakeasy with all the allure of the prohibition years. The whole concept of speakeasy bars makes any drinking experience feel more fun anyway in my opinion, but the cocktails themselves were pretty good. It can get busy fast here, so you usually have to book a space, but that just adds to the fun.
A lazy morning. We cycled to De Hallen, a renovated tram station, and ate yummy pancakes and smoothies at The Breakfast Club before exploring the various galleries, boutiques and food hall within. Faced with the tens of tempting street food and pastry stalls, I kinda regretted that I had just eaten… but I guess I’ll just need to go back! Open late with live music on Fridays and Saturdays, it certainly seems like a cool alternative for evening drinks. The stores in De Hallen are quirky and artsy, with shops selling artisan clothing, antiques and homeware. I found a 2nd hand book for 2€ but that was my only purchase; everything was nice to look at but a little on the expensive side. Cycled down to De Pijp again to take a look in some of the equally pricey but equally very cool stores, from vintage clothes shops to parfumeries. Very Instagram friendly.
Before we knew it, it was time to hand our 24-hr loan bikes back so the rest of the day was spent on foot. Did a little more window shopping, and a trip into my personal fave, HEMA, the best of the Scandi-affordable-everything-stores. Catching the last hour of opening time in the boutiques on Nine Streets in Jordaan, we found a really nice Thai fusion restaurant to stop and recollect our thoughts. Individual recommendations about restaurants and cafes are always useful, but for the majority of our trip, we ate in places like this that we found along the way and it’s so easy to find something that will appeal to everyone. You will find that you don’t need to splurge to get good food, and if you are on a budget, the various street food stalls and markets are great for a quick meal. One more drink, a stop at the Erotic Art Museum, because when in Amsterdam (it’s actually quite overpriced for the amount of time you will spend there), and it was time to get back to the apartment and pack.
Our whirlwind weekend came to an end too soon, but I feel like it was just the right amount of time in Amsterdam. Flying home, I felt like we had made the most of our few days there and really got a feel for the city in a short time. Amsterdam is a city that perfectly fuses together old and new, culture and history, peaceful days in the park and wild nights out in raucous pubs. The atmosphere is great, the people are friendly and Dutch is great fun to try and speak. Above all, it feels very European, and I can’t quite think of a better way to describe it.