A Visitor’s Guide to Amsterdam

Sometimes when visiting a new city, people like getting advice from a local. Not from TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet or even the New York Times, like everyone else. A local. That’s a badge I now wear with honor in Amsterdam. I’ve been asked many times to provide tips for visitors and I’m really happy to do so. Having lived in Amsterdam for fourteen months and hosting dozens of guests, we have done and seen a LOT. Rather than continue sending individual emails, I thought it would be smart to make one giant list, so going forward, I can just send someone this link. It was impossible to cut this down; there are so many things we love about this city. I did my best to explain everything and hopefully this will be useful to someone! So here we go, my massive list of suggestions on what to do, see, eat and drink.

Sights There is a lot to do in Amsterdam despite its small size. This mighty mini-city packs a punch. These are my top picks and how long you need:

  • Van Gogh Museum A sizable collection of this artist’s works, curated by his family. Doesn’t have several of his masterpieces, like Starry Night, but it does have others you’ll recognize such as The Bedroom and Sunflowers. Ton of other stuff like works of artists that influenced him, etc. 2 hours
  • Anne Frank Huis While a sobering experience, it’s something worth seeing. Read or re-read the book before the visit, it makes a much bigger impact when her story is fresh in your head. Buy ahead, the queue can easily be over an hour alone. 1 hour
  • Stedelijk Museum Newly reopened modern art museum. The building itself is an interesting hybrid of old and new architecture. 2-3 hours
  • Olde Kerk & Tower Oldest surviving building in Amsterdam, dates back to 1300-ish. Climb the tower (extra fee) for really nice city views. 1 hour
  • Canal Bus Tour I have done this three times with different guests. We like to bring beer on it and, rather than constantly hopping off, we sit there for the whole loop and then switch to the next route. Ticket is good for the entire day though. Half a day
  • Bike Rental This is the best way to see the city. While I haven’t rented a bike myself, I know having one allows you to get around quickly. (See my pros and cons on the subject) All day
  • Heineken Experience When we went, I thought it was lame. I was so not into being a tourist; I mean I live here. But maybe it is a good rainy afternoon diversion for a beer-loving tourist. It’s not exactly cheap (I think €17 a person), but a teeny beer during the tour and two beers in the bar at the end are included. 3 hours
  • Boat Rental This is the BEST thing to do on a nice, sunny day. Get your own boat, fill it with friends, food and booze and you’ll have the perfect afternoon.
  • Ajax Game Although the stadium is outside the city center, it’s worth the short metro ride if you are in town for a game day. The Dutch take football very seriously and going to a game is a unique way to experience the culture.

Markets Market culture is huge in Amsterdam and an essential experience as a visitor. From souvenirs to antiques to food to household supplies, the markets have it all.

  • De Pijp: Albert Cuyp Markt This is the market in my neighborhood so I know it best. It’s also the most famous and if you take the tram to it, you’ll hear “Albert Cuyp Market, Amsterdam Famous Street Market” over the intercom. It’s also the most diverse and some of the home furnishing stores along the way are worth peeking in. When we first moved here, we “ate our way” through the market (more than once), stopping for cheese, waffles, stroopwaffel, loempia, frites and more.
  • Jordaan: Noordermarkt (Saturdays only) We love this one. There are a ton of food stalls; you can pick up fresh pasta and organic olive oil for dinner. There’s also produce, meat, cheese, oysters (which I showed you here) and bread galore. Tons of non-edibles too. Like pretty, pretty flower bouquets.
  • Jordaan: Lindengrachtmarkt (Saturdays only) This is a long, narrow market around the corner from Noorderkerk. One of our favorite lunches is the “hot meat” stand (which I gushed about here). We have eaten there probably 15 times. Love it.
  • Old Center: Bloemenmarkt The flower market. Le sigh. Not much else to say about this one, it speaks for itself. It is always jam-packed with tourists. Bonus: The Henri Willig basement cheese shop is very, very generous with the samples. Try the herb gouda with balsamic mustard. Or young gouda with dill mustard. Do it.
  • Old Center: Waterlooplein Markt The junk antique market. You know what they say, one man’s trash is another’s treasure. There is a ton of random old stuff here that is fun to rifle through. You never know…
  • Old Center: Westergasfabriek Markt (first Sunday of the month) We only found out about this one recently, but I wish we had known it sooner! It rarely makes an appearance (once a month), so you have to go; it’s a special one. There are a lot of interesting crafts and pretty jewelry from local artists. Also, there are a ton of food cats in the back with everything from falafel to gyros to cupcakes. It’s great for lunch.

Eats While you’re here, be sure to try the following Dutch snacks: Cheese (!!), raw herring (with pickles and onions), bitterballen (deep-fried meat paste), frites (with mayo, don’t be a wuss), poffertjes (mini-pancakes) and stroopwaffel (waffle sandwich glued together with caramel). Regarding dining: Dutch food itself is rather boring and plain, IMO. It’s a lot of meat and potatoes. It took us awhile to discover the full scope of the dining scene in Amsterdam. Once we did, we realized there is no shortage of excellent restaurants. I can’t narrow this down, sorry. Grouped by neighborhood.

  • De Pijp: Bazar [North African/Turkish] This is our favorite place for both its crazy fun ambiance and good food. We have been here with almost every guest. Favorite dishes include Irfan & Abdul starters, Tavuk Sis (chicken skewers), Adana Yogurtlu (lamb) and the couscous with fish. You can’t go wrong. Portions are enormous so come hungry.
  • De Pijp: De Duvel [International] Our other favorite. I love this cozy spot for the tuna melt at lunch, but dinner is great too. It’s the perfect neighborhood cafe.
  • De Pijp: Spang Makandra [Surinamese] Cheap, delicious and cash only. Try the sampler platters to taste much of the menu on one plate. Have a ginger beer as well. Also, I heard Anthony Bourdain approved.
  • De Pijp: Simpel [International] Modern and like the name implies, simple, food. Really good for a quiet date.
  • De Pijp: White Elephant [Thai] Our favorite Thai place in the city. The combination appetizer is so, so good and I love their Tom Ka Kai.
  • De Pijp: Suvi [Sushi/Vietnamese] My go-to sushi place. I ordered from here about once a week. It’s really fresh.
  • De Pijp: Mamouche [North African/French] Pricier, but worth it. Love the mirrored walls and candlelight. Great date night.
  • De Pijp: Taj Mahal [Indian] It looks like a cheap take out place from the street, but give it a chance. This place lacks in charisma, but the food is really good. I love the presentation; everything comes in little silver pots with candles to keep it warm.
  • De Pijp: The Butcher [Burgers] Closest thing to American burgers we have tried. And they are good. Really good. My fave is the truffle burger cause I’m fancy like that.
  • Canal Belt South: Pata Negra [Spanish] Our favorite tapas place in the city. Want to feel like you are really in Spain? Cram yourself into this dark, loud, graffiti-ed hole in the wall and you will. Sangria goes down a little too easy.
  • Canal Belt South: Tempo Doeloe [Indonesian] Very pricey, so watch yourself. This bill adds up quick if you let the server order for you. Food was incredibly delicious. Interior is a bit dated, but still worth a visit.
  • Canal Belt South: Pont Acari [Italian] Scenic spot on a quiet, pretty canal. I believe the owner and staff are really Italian, so they get it.
  • Canal Belt South: Lion Noir [International] Fancy food just south of old center, one street over from the Bloemenmarkt. Trendy, posh decor and delicious food. Not sure if the menu rotates, but try the Earl Grey ice cream dessert. Heavenly.
  • Jordaan: Balthazar’s Keuken [International] Another all-around favorite. Limiting your choices to either meat or fish, a €30 prix fixe gets you a 3-course, amazing meal. The best food in the city, IMO. House wine is surprisingly good too.
  • Jordaan: Mazzo [Italian] Great sandwiches and pizzas, but pass on the soggy pastas. We like it for lunch. Good place for a morning coffee or afternoon beer too.
  • Jordaan: Cafe Winkel [Dessert] Go here for the apple tart. Wait in the enormous queue that wraps around the block. I’m telling you right now: It’s worth it.
  • Canal Belt West: Envy [International] Best oysters I’ve had in Amsterdam. Small plate menu is inventive and the decor is swanky.
  • Canal Belt West: De Belhamel [French] If you want to impress someone, you go here. It’s the epitome of Amsterdam romance, as it sits on the intersection of two very pretty canals. Food is lick-your-plate delicious, but don’t do that. This place is classy.
  • Old Center: Cafe de Jaren [International] An easy, classic choice. The bright, airy cafe is great to have beers with friends as we’ve often done, or full meals like spaghetti and meatballs and game pie. I like the waterfront patio in back.
  • Old Center: Nevy [Seafood] Another great spot for a date, right on the Ij. Lots of creative fish dishes on the menu and everything is delicious.

Drinks There are pubs on every corner where you can get Dutch & Belgian beers like Heineken or La Chouffe. Flinck, Groene Vlinder and Chocolate Bar, since they were a 2 minute walk from our place. Here are others we found worth the extra time:

  • De Pijp: Cafe de Pijp (Cafe/Bar) Hip, large bar and cafe in our ‘hood. We liked the classic music and mid-century modern interior.
  • De Pijp: Barça (Cafe/Bar) Right on Heinekenplein, this is a great place for a drink in the summer when they have the huge patio seating area. Good sangria and mixed drinks.
  • Canal Belt South: Njoy (Cocktail bar) A narrow two-level cocktail lounge with incredible drinks and loud music. Try the spicy thai chili Blazing Mule or the refreshing Grape Dreamer Collins.
  • Canal Belt South: Suzy Wong (Cocktail bar) Great for a girls night. Or date. Or anything. It’s cool. Mojitos are a dangerous €5 on Wednesdays.
  • Canal Belt South: Bar Moustache (Cafe/Bar) Quirky bar on lively Utrechtsestraat with photographs of people in, you guessed it, all variations of facial hair. Great for drinks or dinner. I love the window seats.
  • Canal Belt West: Vyne (Wine bar) This is a classy wine bar on the beautiful Prinsengracht. I love their wine flights and the sexy decor. Yeah I said it. The sommeliers are friendly and knowledgeable too.
  • Museum Quarter: Momo (Cocktail bar) This is about as pretentious as Amsterdam gets, where many people go to see and be seen. Don’t turn to the dark side and become a stiff, but do go there for the surprisingly good cocktail menu and seriously delish snacks (like crispy duck). It’s also a posh restaurant.
  • Museum Quarter: Tunes (Cocktail bar) I like this lounge for the dark, moody interior and the lengthy cocktail menu, but it does get packed on weekends. It’s inside the newly renovated Conservatorium Hotel.

Shops The shopping here in Amsterdam pales in comparison to cities like London, Paris and Stockholm. But it does have some great shops that are worth seeking out, other than heavy hitters Zara, H&M and Mango. The 9 Straatjes, in whole, are just fun to cruise through to poke into all the little unique boutiques. Here is my short list:

  • De Pijp: Streetclothes (women’s streetwear)
  • De Pijp: Cottoncake (women’s streetwear)
  • De Pijp: Raak (women’s streetwear)
  • Utrechtsestraat: Labels (women’s streetwear) *also in the 9 Straatjes
  • Utrechtsestraat: Bendorff (men’s streetwear) *also in the 9 Straatjes
  • Utrechtsestraat: Rams (home decor)
  • Old Center: Maison de Bonneterie (department store)
  • Old Center: Bijenkorf (department store)
  • 9 Straatjes: Denham (men’s & women’s streetwear)
  • 9 Straatjes: Leifde (loungewear & home decor)
  • Throughout city: Hema (Target-like for you Americans)

And finally some random advice:

  • You do not have to tip in the Netherlands, but servers now expect it from tourists. A few euro is enough, even for a dinner. 10% max for truly great service.
  • Avoid taxis. They are very expensive and the city is too small to warrant them.
  • Watch out for bicyclists.
  • Always carry an umbrella.
  • Don’t freak out when you smell marijuana or see a red light (yes, they exist outside of the district).

There you have it. My top picks for Amsterdam. Please, I urge you, pass this along to travelers headed this way. I hope they find it helpful and enjoy this incredible city as much as we have! One last tip: Make sure to go for an evening stroll along the canals…

If you have other faves, please share with a comment!

xxx

P.S.  Check out my guide for living in Amsterdam.

Advertisements

Amsterdam: 5 Things I’ve Learned

After living in Holland for over a year, I’ve learned a lot. These things in particular:

  1. Patience. Customer service? Forget it. Whether it’s inexplicably waiting 6 months for a residency permit or 45 minutes for a prescription pick up at the pharmacy, you better not be in a hurry. Both (and many other similar scenarios) happened to me. The Dutch certainly are not going to speed up their pace to accomodate you, impatient American. Slow your roll. However, Ikea will deliver to your door within 2 hours. Guess that’s a Swedish thing. 
  2. Perseverance. The market doesn’t have all the ingredients for dinner tonight? Head to the grocery store. They don’t have it all either? Go to the other grocery store. Still? Try the more expensive international food store. That process can often be a half day affair. Stick it out. The fantastic black bean burgers that result? Worth it.
  3. Trust. Do not trust the weatherman. Whenever they say it’s not going to rain, it will. Layered dressing and preferably something waterproof is the way to go. Always be prepared. On the other hand, always trust the cheese man. Somehow he always knows exactly what you want (i.e. any of them). 
  4. Bikers have the right of way. Always.
  5. Have fun. Every day. Despite waiting, despite running around for food, despite almost getting run over, despite the weather. Remind yourself that you are fortunate to be living in Holland. Because you are.

xxx

Amsterdam: 5 Things I Won’t Miss

Gasp! There is actually something Julie won’t miss about living in Amsterdam? She’s always singing its praises. 

Guys, let’s keep it real. Life in Amsterdam isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. In fact, depending how you read that, it mostly isn’t. Here are some things that I definitely won’t miss about our brief Dutch life:

  1. The bike culture. But wait, I thought you said it was something you would miss? Well, there are two sides to that story. This other, evil side is the one that whizzes past you, pedaling the wrong direction in the bike lane (or not), but somehow you, pedestrian/motorist/innocent soul, are the moron and you are in the wrong for not seeing them first. I have been clipped by many a biker. And when you aren’t prepared, that bell is startling. Consider this a warning: Bicyclists always have the right of way. That includes when I’m riding, thankyouverymuch.
  2. The ignorant comments from people that never have visited Amsterdam and claim they know it’s all about prostitution and pot. Guess what? It’s not. While the Red Light District and coffeeshops do exist and are a legal boost to our economy, they have nothing to do with my life and it’s easy to forget they are even here.
  3. Actually, I take that back. The tourists that visit such places and then create scenes in otherwise peaceful places (like when I’ve been harassed by junkies in the park… at 11am). We’re just trying to live our life, so keep your dalliances to yourself. I don’t care what you do, just do it somewhere that is not in front of my face.
  4. The weather. I’ve gotten used to it, and I suppose I can make this positive by saying that now I really truly appreciate a nice, sunny day. Most of the time, it’s like this: 
  5. It’s dirty. Coming from Chicago, which I guess is very clean, this is the other end of the spectrum. Trash is left in the streets, the canal water is polluted, and no one ever picks up after their dogs. Unbelievably, it doesn’t smell! Must be all the flowers…

These lists are fun.

xxx

Amsterdam: 10 Things I’ll Miss

As we wrap up our time in Amsterdam, I’ve been reflecting like whoa on everything that I’m going to miss about our Dutch life. While there are countless things that I’ll miss, here is a short list of some more “general” things:

  1. Market shopping. Obviously. This is basically my main pastime. I love strolling through the many markets that are squeezed into tiny Amsterdam. It’s where I get most of our produce, and a lot of our poultry and cheeses. And it’s always fun to check out some of the interesting trinkets being sold. 
  2. There’s no panhandling. I’m told that Amsterdam has a lot of programs and shelters to limit this activity. I have never once been asked for money in the 14 months we have lived here. In a way, that has contributed to the safe environment this city maintains. There is low crime and little to fear as I come home alone at night, which I’ve done often.
  3. The architecture. Charming, quaint, and cute are the first three adjectives that come to mind. Amsterdam is a small city, and the building style, which is highly regulated, helps to keep the small town charm intact. There are rules on what you can do to the facade and how tall you can build.
  4. The bike culture. I occasionally moan and groan about riding my bike, but that is mostly out of laziness. I really love riding it. And with all the bike lanes and signals, not to mention how fast we can get places, it’s a wonderful convenience. 
  5. The parks, specifically Sarphatipark and Vondelpark. For its size, Amsterdam has a healthy amount of green space. We had many picnics, long walks and good ole fashion fun in ’em. 
  6. Those canals. I know we’re moving to a place with lots o’ water, but it’s different. It’s not as intimate. There is something incredibly romantic about a stroll along the Dam canals. 
  7. The abundance of flowers. Hello, we’re in the the tulip capital of the world, despite the fact that they did not originate here. Fun Fact: Tulips are really from Turkey and were imported here in 16th century. We always had fresh flowers in the house this year, which became a daily luxury rather than a once-in-awhile treat. 
  8. The street style here has really changed the way I look at everyday dressing. While the 90’s grunge look is definitely seeing a resurgence, people also just embrace their own unique style, whatever that is. While Dam Style is an homage to the younger, quirkier set, its a glimpse at some of the more eclectic fashion. Many people dress more subtly.
  9. I have definitely taken this for granted, but the centrality of Amsterdam in Europe; its magical ability to be a 1 to 2 hour flight from seemingly everywhere, is something I know I’m going to miss. Stockholm, while a major city, is at least one connection away from a lot of places we may want to visit and often will be a much longer flight.
  10. Raw herring. I don’t care what you say, I like it. Especially on a crunchy bun with onions and pickles. 

Of course, this is not a full list. These were on the very top of my head. 😀

xxx