Amsterdam was our longest leg thus far and definitely one of our favorites! The cooler weather was a bit of an adjustment at first but we quickly came to appreciate temperatures in the high 60’s and low 70’s every day. Jenn even cooked a spicy pot of chili the first night! We spent 11 days in another Airbnb apartment with a picturesque canal view. It was a 20 minute walk or 10 minute bike ride to the city center and most places that we went. Our apartment had a lot more space compared to our last with 2 floors, a washer and dryer, and 2 bikes to take us around town. We were happy the minute we stepped inside. With great recommendations from friends, family, and those we’ve met on this journey, our list of places we wanted to see was pretty lengthy so having bikes was an added bonus from our hosts!
Biking is the primary way people get around the city and it’s no joke! Bikers always have the right of way which took “look both ways before you cross” to a different level. There are more bikes than people in Amsterdam which became apparent to us by the bike bells that chimed at pedestrians day and night. Although a bit intimidated at first, we quickly got the hang of riding like a local. Our first trip was to Vondelpark which had a very chill vibe and a ton of people hanging out, playing music, running and picnicking. Another trip was to the Anne Frank House which was well worth the 2 hour wait in line. Most know the story but actually walking through the small space where 8 people lived in a secret annex, secluded from the world for 2 years, while fearing for their lives was chilling. What a humbling experience.
Through our thorough food research we found some local and budget-friendly gems including a hip hummus joint located in the quaint Jordaan neighborhood outside of the city. It served the some of the best hummus and pita we’ve ever had! We also found a doner shop that came highly recommended and certainly lived up to the hype! It’s official – we’re on the quest for the best doner throughout our travels and so far Amsterdam is leading the race! One afternoon we stumbled on a cookie shop after a run and rewarded ourselves by splitting a delicious chocolate sensation from Van Stapele – it’s literally the only thing they make and well worth the 2 euro per cookie! During a visit to the Albert Cuyp Market we got to sample another local Dutch treat – the Stroopwafel! We watched as our thin cinnamon and butter scented waffles were cooked and slathered with a warm caramel center. Heaven on earth. Another food highlight was trying the Indonesian Rijsttafel or Rice Table. Most places are pretty pricey and cost around 30-40 euro a person but we happened to find Aneka Rasa, a more affordable option and we left very satisfied! We also enjoyed a tasty Flammkuchen, a very thin flatbread, from a cute bar/restaurant called The Lobby Nesplein. One of our favorite places in Amsterdam is a beach bar called Hannekes Boom and we were fortunate to visit it on the hottest day year-to-date. At Hannekes we sat right on the water, watched boats come and go, enjoyed a few local IPA’s and tried a Dutch bar snack – Bitterballen. Think extremely thick beef gravy coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. The flavor and texture didn’t do it for either of us and although they’re a staple on every menu we saw, the experience was a one and done.
We did another Sandeman’s Free Tour tour which was great! Our guide Axel was a local and the tour was well worth the time spent walking and learning about the past and current culture of the city. We started at Dam Square which is the heart of the city center and where the Royal Palace used to be. From there, we toured the Red Light District and learned the history behind The Old Church that sits directly in the center of the district. It’s the only place on earth where you will find prostitution and religion right next to each other and the story behind it is very interesting. Sailors would come in for short stints, repent their sins the next day and be on their way. Smart marketing by the church! From there, we visited the Jewish Quarter which was commissioned to be rebuilt after the war in the 60’s by college artists. We saw the reason it is now referred to as “Legoland on acid”. We learned that marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam however it’s sold at hundreds of “coffee shops” across the city. Hence the term “plausible deniability” which is one of three things considered when determining whether something is really illegal in Amsterdam. The second is whether it’s “good for business” and the third that it “isn’t hurting anyone else”. We thank Axel for the quick Dutch legal lesson. We also learned about the Dutch East India Trading Company which is known for creating the world’s first stock market in the early 1600’s. Back then investors pooled their money and each received a “share” of the profits made from spice trading voyages. At the end of the tour we got to sample some cheese from Reypenaer Cheese Shop and ended up booking a cheese tasting at the same shop a few days later. The tasting was a treat and we actually met a couple from Richmond and a solo traveler from Arlington – what a small world indeed! The hour long tasting included a lesson, 6 cheeses, along with red, white and port wine and was well worth the 15 euro/person. One other thing to note is that several movies are currently being filmed in Amsterdam and we happened stumble onto the set of The Hitman’s Bodyguard starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. We had a front row seat to a motorcycle scene through an outdoor market!
The Van Gogh Museum was great and we highly recommend spending the extra few bucks for the self-guided audio tour. Although it was busier than we expected on a Thursday morning, the crowds moved at a decent pace and we were able to see everything, including the new exhibit that had opened only two days earlier called On The Verge of Insanity. It chronicled Van Gogh’s mental illness and displayed many paintings he created during the last few years of his young life. Experts are still trying to confirm a diagnosis by analyzing hundreds of articulate letters he wrote to family and friends. We were both surprised to learn that his career as an artist only lasted about 10 years and that he didn’t start to gain recognition until after his death. Almond Blossom, Red Cabbages and Onions, and Landscape at Twilight were among just few of our favorites.
Toward the end of our stay, Jenn’s cousin Jackie came to stay with us for 2 days which was awesome. She’s traveling solo through Europe for 6 weeks so we made plans to meet up! We had a great time on a canal cruise, checked out the famous bench from The Fault in our Stars, Museumplein and the I Amsterdam sign, and also had a beer at the Brouwerij’t IJ brewery located directly under a huge windmill. It was great to catch up with family and have another person to show our favorite sites to!
Some of our favorite places to eat & drink include:
- Hummus Bistro – fantastic hummus, pita, and chicken!
- The Lobby Nesplein – great drinks and atmosphere, and serves tasty Flammkuchen.
- Hannekes Boom – cool bar on the water with outdoor seating and a beachy vibe.
- Aneka Rasa – authentic Indonesian Rice Table experience!
- L’Angoletto – legit pizza in Amsterdam.
- Van Stapele – the cookies are so good!
- Leeman Doner – great sandwiches, and cheap!
Some of our favorite places we visited include:
- The Anne Frank House – a unique and touching experience.
- Van Gogh Museum – one of the better art museums we’ve been to with nice digital audio guides.
- Vondelpark & Museumplein – nice outdoor places to hang out, get some fresh air, and people watch.
- Friendship Amsterdam Canal Cruise – awesome open boat canal cruise that serves drinks on board!
- Sandeman’s New Amsterdam Tour – we’ve done these in all the major cities we’ve visited but this one was top-notch!
- Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Room – cheese lovers paradise!
- Brouwerij’t IJ – cool local brewery with tons of outdoor seating and a really good IPA.
- Albert Cuyp Market – you can buy almost anything at this market from food to clothes and more. We went for the fresh Stroopwafels!