Get ready for a few of our top Amsterdam travel trips! We had the opportunity to tag a weekend in a European city along to our annual trips home. With Noel-John being from Ireland and me having extended family in England, we both would go to visit every year, and when we got together and realized the trip would now become a 2-week-long sojourn each year (a week in Ireland, a week in England), we thought "why go all this way and spend all this money to see the same places year on year?"
Now the most important part of this trans-Atlantic trip to us will always be to spend time with our loved ones but adding 2-3 days on the end and seeing a different city each time makes sense. So our first stop was Amsterdam! A city we've both wanted to try but neither has been to, we decided to fly to Amsterdam from Heathrow on Thursday and fly home to Cayman on the Sunday, giving us two and a half days in the city.
While our experience was quick and poorly researched, consider this blog post the newbie's guide to Amsterdam travel trips. I'm sure locals or those who have visited frequently could offer a more thorough review but there honestly wasn't one thing we did that we didn't enjoy!
Amsterdam Travel Tips #1: Accommodation.
The real estate developer I work for had recently built and opened Cayman's first new hotel in over a decade, the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. Having become familiar with the Kimpton brand through this project, I was excited to find out they were opening an Amsterdam location - its first European outpost - just a couple of weeks before we'd be arriving in the city (the Kimpton De Witt Hotel). We took advantage of the hotel's opening offer and booked to stay there for the weekend.
The location was perfect. A 5-minute walk from the Amsterdam Centraal station meant we were able to save on airport transfers, and its city-centre location also meant walking around Amsterdam was a breeze from here. The Kimpton is known for offering free wi-fi to its guests so we downloaded our Google Maps routes while connected and used the app offline while roaming around to ensure we could find our way.
A word on the airport - and all of Amsterdam's travel infrastructure, for that matter. It's a truly modern city with impressive public transport. The airport is directly connected to the train station so it's easy to just walk out of baggage claim and straight into the train departures area. While I don't speak or read a lick of Dutch, it was easy to work out which trains were going where from the screens. We hopped on their double-decker speed trains and within 20 minutes we were at Amsterdam Centraal. That train station was like a shopping mall! Lined with modern shops and restaurants, it was a destination in and of itself.
We walked from there out through the cobbled streets and five minutes down the road to the Kimpton de Witt hotel.
Tip in a nutshell: Location is key in the walkable city of Amsterdam, so choose a central hotel.
Amsterdam Travel Tips #2: The food.
So I had all the excitement in the world - being the cliched hipster vegetarian avocado lover I am - to try out The Avocado Show, an all-avocado restaurant, which opened in Amsterdam in February 2017. I had read about it on Eater and even shared it with Noel-John for our 'travel bucket list' before we even had the idea to go to Amsterdam.
Of course, here is a great example of how we didn't plan this trip at all - I got there and immediately asked the hotel concierge to book us a table, only to find out there were over 1,600 people ahead of us on a waitlist. So that wasn't going to happen this trip! (I recently found out that Avocaderia, an all-avocado restaurant, opened in Brooklyn, New York - a much more reasonable 4-hour flight away from us - so that may replace The Avocado Show on the bucket list!).
Still, in spite of this initial disappointment, we were not disappointed with the food we did eat at all. We ate breakfast at the hotel's restaurant, Wyers Bar & Restaurant, each day - something we often avoid doing due to expense and lack of variety - but we were very pleasantly surprised with both the value and the food quality. We also trusted the Kimpton de Witt's very knowledgeable concierge, who made great recommendations to us based on how we like to eat - largely vegetarian, not ridiculously priced, and with a good variety of options.
Thus we followed our concierge's recommendation to try out Choux, a 'vegetable-forward' restaurant with several tasting menu options. It offers you the choice to pick between two options of courses with no more information than a listing of the four main ingredients. We tried to pick opposite courses and tried each other's dishes and were just amazed with the flavour profiles of the food. Such complex flavours!
I think this was probably our favourite meal of the trip. (Apologies for the poor photo quality; the lighting in the restaurant was not great for photos.)
Other great stops:
- Directly opposite our hotel was a restaurant we liked so much, Van Speyk, we went back twice (for its prices and convenient location, it was an easy pick).
- On our way to The Heineken Experience, we stopped into the adorable cafe (see table shot below), De Taart Van M'n Tante, for some coffee and cake. It had a huge menu and was so unique in its decor.
- We were also pleasantly surprised with the healthy and delicious lunch options at the The Van Gogh Museum cafe, Le Tambourin, where we ate lunch.
Tip in a nutshell: Ask a concierge for recommendations, and if you have something specific in mind, book in advance!
Amsterdam Travel Tips #3: Attractions.
Speaking of The Van Gogh Museum, this was definitely our favourite attraction we visited on the trip. While we both like the idea of museums, we wouldn't be likely to stay long in one - we are easily bored and like a bit more adventure! However, The Van Gogh Museum really excelled at keeping your interest, telling Van Gogh's story in an engaging manner that complemented and easily explained the visuals of his artwork.
I walked away with a copy of Masterpieces in the Van Gogh Museum book from the gift shop - a printed version of the explanations of his art we were able to see in the museum - as I just found it all fascinating. We picked up the audio guides which I would definitely recommend.
(Don't mind us being highly immature in the Van Gogh Museum photobooth...)
We wandered the canals a lot and that can fill much of your time. I wanted to do a canal boat ride but we never got around to it - I would recommend it if you have the time as they weren't badly priced and I could see them going past. However, I feel you get as good an experience wandering the canals as you would on the water.
We bought tickets to The Heineken Experience - one of my main Amsterdam travel tips is to purchase these in advance as the line-up for buying tickets was very long. I am not a big beer drinker but Noel-John is a Heineken fan so we knew we had to do it. Despite not being a big beer fan, I have to be honest - this place really knew how to engage!
Everything from taking you through a virtual reality experience of being a Heineken bottle on the production line to tasting the beer through various stages of its production to creating your own personalized bottle (we had visited on my birthday so Noel-John made me a Happy Birthday bottle that I still keep on display!), you won't be bored. You also won't be thirsty - they give you tickets to enjoy free Heineken in its rooftop bar and with all the tastings, you certainly get your fill.
En route to The Heineken Experience we passed the IAmsterdam sign. There was no way we would get close to it for a photo opp as it was just covered with people climbing on all the letters to get their best photo. While we were there though a hip hop group showed up and did a spot performance for the crowds, which was really entertaining.
The Red Light District is worth a walk-through - it's fascinating to just see women in windows in broad daylight soliciting customers. The complete comfort with legal prostitution is a culture shock for many, so it's interesting to wander through and see how Amsterdam manages to deal with it. It does seem so clean and above-board it makes you question your own thoughts on the legalization debate. The copious 'weed cafes' lining the street will do the same.
Despite the legalization and prevalence of marijuana and prostitution, I always felt very safe in Amsterdam. It is a clean and well-managed city. The biggest danger we were worried about were the cyclists! (More on that in tip #5...)
We didn't make it to many other fascinating museums Amsterdam has, which we would visit if we were there longer. I was especially disappointed not to make it to Anne Frank's house, as I have long been captured by her story, but the line-ups were just insane. Pre-booking tickets would be a must - again, we failed to check on this before leaving and it was entirely booked while we were there.
Tip in a nutshell: There is so much to see and do, don't try to pack it all in. Choose a handful of activities and then spend time wandering!
Amsterdam Travel Tips #4: The shopping.
We didn't seek out shopping, as we had shopped a fair amount already in Ireland and London, but we still got to see a bit of the shopping scene as we were there for my birthday and Noel-John took me to the shops to pick out my gift.
We wandered down the Kalverstraat, which is considered one of the two major fashion streets in Amsterdam (the other being Leidsestraat). There were some unique boutique stores, including one which was a kind of IKEA/dollar-style bargain shop yet stunning in its aesthetic:
But the main shopping centre's department store, de Bijenkorf, was very upscale. Sleek in design and high in prices, it was better for us to window shop at than actually shop at. If you have more of a shopping budget, you will love it! And I did walk away with my birthday gift, so I felt like a luxury shopper for a moment :).
Tip in a nutshell: If shopping is something you want to include on your itinerary, you will find both high and low options in the two fashion streets of the city.
Amsterdam Travel Tips #5: The cyclists.
Ahem. How you take this will depend on which side of the cycling debate you are! I would just say that it seems that cyclists have the right of way in Amsterdam. I'm sure that's not the case but I would say that's how it feels as a pedestrian unfamiliar with the city. There are also a lot of bikes - so just be careful when crossing roads!
Tip in a nutshell: Be safe - watch out for both cars and bikes when walking!
Amsterdam recommendations in a nutshell...
I'd be amazed if you were bored here. With so much to see and do, the main thing we left with was a list of more things to see and do should we go back! And note to self: reserve your spot for attractions in advance! It's a popular city with tourists so expect it to be busy. Hopefully these Amsterdam travel tips help!
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