Ty and I decided to spend the last weekend of our recent trip in Amsterdam.
We still have a laundry list of places we want to visit in Europe. We chose Amsterdam for this particular long weekend because it was a city that we had both never been to before.
We considered doing a mini-road trip through the South of France or southern Switzerland, but it just made more sense to pick one city in which we could spend all our time. We liked the idea of not having to rent a car or worry about booking multiple hotels for the weekend. Our time was limited, and the work week leading up to it was crazy busy.
With round trip flights from Paris costing less than 100€, it’s a no-brainer, right?
But to be honest, I tried not to get too excited for Amsterdam. Everyone seems to be just RAVING about it lately, but I have to admit that I had some hesitations (a.k.a. was a little judgy) about its slightly seedy reputation.
First of all, weed is legal, très popular, and easily accessible in Amsterdam. Call me Straitlaced Stacey, but I just had this horrible vision of us trying to be normal and order a bran muffin at a coffee shop and accidentally ending up high as kites, confused and trying to find our way back to our hotel. Just not ideal.
Also, I had read a lot about the Red Light District and that tainted my expectations quite a bit.
HOWEVER, I think we all know how this story ends. The good in Amsterdam so profoundly outweighed the sketchy that by the time we left, I was wishing we had more time to explore.
We had so much fun experiencing the fusion of classic Dutch culture and the hipster, cosmopolitan side of Amsterdam. Within one block, we passed a flower cart bursting with fresh Dutch tulips from a local field and then stumbled into an Edison-bulb-lit bar serving Moscow Mules on marble tables. The stark dichotomy between the past and the present influence in Amsterdam made this city all the more fascinating to uncover.
One of the most unique aspects of Amsterdam is how many people get around on bikes. And I’m not talking about passing an accountant swerving on a flimsy bike every other block like in cities in the U.S. The bike lanes in Amsterdam take up almost as much room as the lanes for cars, and they are completely full of SPEEDRACING commuters. I almost got crushed at least 12 times.
We went out on a Monday morning at 9am, and it was straight-up rush hour for bikes. Don’t even ask me if they were wearing helmets–they were zooming by so fast I couldn’t catch a glimpse. It was wild.
Though the people in Amsterdam all seem to be aspiring Tour de France champions, they are actually all really friendly. And not only are the Dutch super nice, but they are also very to-the-point– kind of everything you want when you’re in a new place?
The great thing about Amsterdam is that there are SO many fun spots to check out. It was difficult for us to narrow down our itinerary and decide how we wanted to spend our time. Ultimately, we decided to choose just a handful of activities and then spend the rest of our time doing what we do best: getting lost and finding great things to eat and drink.
We have put together our best recommendations for where to stay, what to do, and of course, where to eat.
Sir Albert Amsterdam: We can’t recommend the Sir Albert enough. This hip hotel is located in the De Pijp neighborhood of Amsterdam. De Pijp ended up being our favorite neighborhood. It was much quieter than the main parts of the city, and we felt like we really got the “local” experience. We even said we could totally see ourselves living in a flat there.
The check-in experience at Sir Albert was incredible. First off, they greeted us with champagne, so I was sold from the get-go. They made us feel completely at home and took the time to help us map out our time and get acquainted with the area.
Best of all, our room was probably one of the nicest we’ve ever experienced in Europe. A few personal highlights: a HUGE rain shower (rain showers are a clear weakness of mine), an amazingly comfortable bed (truly a rarity over there), and decor that I will now be basing my entire next home’s theme on (cowhide rug, leather headboard, etc).
De 9 Straatjes: Also known as “The Nine Streets,” the most picturesque neighborhood of Amsterdam is divided by three major canals and full of vintage shops and charming cafes. This quaint area is exactly like what I have always pictured when I would think of the Amsterdam canals. We suggest getting lost in the cozy walkways and searching for a souvenir to bring back home.
Rijksmuseum: Let’s face the facts here. We are a One Museum Per City type of couple, even though I wish I could say I was classy enough to survive days of pondering modern art in a pair of heeled booties. Amsterdam’s Museum Square is a playground for an art enthusiast. The Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, and the Van Gogh Museum are just steps away from one another.
However, for just adequately educated appreciators like ourselves, you might want to just pick one to explore for a morning. We chose the Rijksmuseum which most notably houses a collection of works by Dutch artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer. We also loved the rotating summer exhibition focused on photography in the 19th century.
Albert Cuyp Street Market: This market was originally opened in 1905. Vendors sell flowers, food, clothes, and home goods from 9:30am-5pm, Monday through Saturday. Every time we go to a market like this I think to myself, “At what point in life will I buy flowers when I’m traveling to brighten up my hotel room?” It seems like such a frivolous purchase, but they are so fun to look at.
The only thing more fun than flower window-shopping is doing so with a caramel-filled stroopwafel in hand. Make it a priority to try one of these babies if you find yourself in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Cheese Museum: Do I even need a description here? In reality, Tyler and I didn’t even make it to the museum downstairs. But that’s only because we got distracted by the gift shop in which there are samples upon samples of every type of Dutch cheese you can think of. We were in dairy heaven.
I’m sure you can just picture Tyler and I FRANTICALLY roaming through this tiny gift shop, snatching up toothpicks of fancy cheese as if we hadn’t eaten in months (I think it had been three hours since lunch, so, understandable, you know?). Honestly looking back, I am a tiny bit embarrassed. Did we purchase a block of gouda on the way out? Yes, but I refuse to reveal how quickly we devoured it. Let’s just say we didn’t need to fill out a customs form for it.
Zaanse Shans: Escape the bustling modern city for an afternoon, and take the 30-minute train out to the Zaanse Shans. Visiting this town is like teleporting back in time to 18th century Holland. These well-preserved windmills once marked the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe.
Our tip here is to walk through the neighborhood first and then take one of the tiny boats across the river to the windmills. You’ll know what we mean when you see it, but once you get off the train, follow the signs to the windmills. You will pass a chocolate factory (believe me, the decadent aroma will about knock you off your feet). Then, you can either follow the crowds to the right to the museums and windmills, OR do what we did and head straight through the neighborhood. The houses out there were absolutely adorable. Then you can hop on a tiny shuttle boat to get over the windmills. Seeing the windmills for the first time from the water as we slowly made our approach was incredible.
Walk the path through the field, and don’t miss the cute Dutch chocolate and cheese shops next to the museums. This was maybe our favorite thing on this trip, and I’ll even be as bold to say it was possibly among our favorite experiences in Europe ever.
Anne Frank House: I’m including this on the list because we wanted to go SO badly. Sadly, though, it was sold out on the day we wanted to go. We learned ex post facto that you need to buy tickets way in advance to get into the Anne Frank House. If you don’t have tickets, you’ll need to stand in line for hours (and can only do so after 3:30pm), and we just didn’t want to spend our limited time doing that. We definitely will be more prepared and make this a priority next time.
Greenwoods: We met a sweet and gorgeous Dutch couple at lunch one day. They told us that they always get a kick out of watching tourists rush into restaurants for 30 minutes and then sprint out to go onto the next item on their checklist of things to see. We laughed with them and poked each other under the table because they were literally describing us.
We can normally relax more at dinnertime after we’ve done all we wanted to do during the day, but we are so guilty of rushing through breakfast and lunch and not taking any time to sit and enjoy the culture and atmosphere. Since our conversation with the Dutch supermodels, we’ve tried to make a more conscious effort to relax and use our mealtimes to reflect and take everything in.
We wanted to practice this new concept, and Greenwoods was a great spot to do just that. We took a break from exploring one morning to have brunch out on the canal. We ordered the Eggs Greenwoods and highly suggest you do the same. Two poached eggs with avocado on their homemade soda bread–probably one of my favorite brunches ever, I have to say.
Foodhallen: Honestly, you’re welcome for this one. Packed with Dutch millennials just trying to get their post-work drink and snack on, Foodhallen is a giant warehouse full of amazing food and drink vendors.
“Overstimulated” is the word I would use to describe us as we walked through Foodhallen like two famished and wide-eyed zombies. After about 33 laps, I finally decided on the Vietnamese spring rolls and Tyler got a fancy hot dog. Lol. Oh, and we split some onion rings, naturally. Highly, highly recommend eating here at least once.
Toastable: Hit up Toastable for a menu full of what can only be described as “gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.” Grab a hearty (HEARTY) lunch while exploring the canals. Try to grab the table outside for a prime people-watching spot.
Balthazar’s Kitchen: We had an unforgettable night at Balthazar’s Kitchen. We rarely splurge on restaurants with a set menu, but we thought we’d give it a try since we had heard such amazing things (and because I had passed out–my guess is delayed jet lag–the previous night at 7pm so Tyler had an 8€ pizza by himself for dinner).
The open kitchen is part of the main floor of the restaurant. Our table right next to it gave us the perfect view to watch the chef work his magic! The chef was totally calm and really fun to watch. We loved all three courses. With wine, the meal cost around 35€ per person, so it wasn’t too crazy.
The Avocado Show: The entire menu here centers around, you guessed it, avocados! I was more than a little excited to try the “Avo Garden,” two avocado halves stuffed with hummus and spices and topped with flowers. Be warned that they don’t take reservations, and you’ll probably have to wait a while to get a table.
Bocca Coffee: Nothing grinds my gears more than a stuck-up coffee shop. Nothing. I think we all know what I’m talking about here. You walk in, stare with squinty concern at a seemingly illegible menu, sheepishly attempt to order a white mocha, and then are immediately met with a bearded blank stare and a cool “we don’t make those.” You demurely accept your high class pour-over with your eyes to the floor, swallow it in one gulp, and scurry out as quickly as you can.
When we walked into Bocca Coffee, I scoffed because I could just TELL these guys were gonna be rude. Along with the perfectly placed succulents, the writing was on the wall.
But it seems like my judginess is a little theme here, doesn’t it? Working on it, promise.
To my astonishment, the barista was totally nice and super helpful in explaining the menu. Also, what a fabulous (weed-free) bran muffin! Our coffee was great, and we would definitely go back here.
Back to Black: Another successful Amsterdam coffee stop. Back to Black is a cozy, bright little shop that exudes “stay awhile” vibes. And you’ll want to do just that after settling down at a table topped with fresh peonies. Follow your heart and order a pastry to go with your espresso.
Amsterdam showed me that I need to check myself when it comes to preconceptions about cities (and also when it comes to dairy consumption). We were completely blown away by how much we loved it and can’t wait to go back.