I arrived in Amsterdam on a Sunday night, excited to see my friend Tiffany, but more than a little bummed about leaving my Spanish adventures behind for cold and rainy Amsterdam. However, though I started out not knowing anything about what to do in Amsterdam, I ended up really enjoying the city despite my somewhat low initial expectations.
After settling into my hotel in De Pijp, I met Tiffany and Kimani (Tiffany’s corgi) outside my hotel and we walked to dinner at Pekel Haaring. In my struggles to navigate in the rain and my excitement to catch up with Tiff, I took zero photos of dinner. Oops. Just take my word for it that it was a delicious four-course meal of calamari, steak, gnocchi and panna cotta. It was nice to sit down for a hearty stick-to-the-bones meal after my tapa/pintxo binge in Spain the week before.
On our walk back, Tiff kindly agreed to bring my wimpy self a winter coat to use for the next two days (lifesaver!).
Although I got back to my hotel at a reasonable hour, I was totally guilty of still being on a Spanish schedule and went to bed late. My bad!
On Monday, I had to wake up early since I was meeting Tiffany and a couple of her visiting friends for Dutch pancakes and a boat ride. I sleepily made my way over to the tram, meeting Tiffany and Kimani aboard. Twenty minutes later, we were chatting with Peter and Lena, eagerly awaiting our table at Pancakes!
Dutch pancakes are in no way similar to American pancakes, except for the name. Served either savory or sweet, they’re giant and thin and reminded me more of a crêpe than a pancake. But they were delicious. Mine was filled with pure goats cheese and pine nutty goodness.
At this point, it was a little before 11, so we hurried over to our boat pick-up spot. None of us had driven a boat before, but the man in charge at Mokumboot seemed unconcerned, assuring us that it wasn’t too hard. After some instructions on operation and navigation, we grabbed the map and away we went!
Lena bravely volunteered to “drive” first, while Tiff and Peter navigated. I was about as useful as Kimani on the boat, although I did take lots of fun candid photos of the group!
Lena was an impressively skilled navigator, deftly avoiding accidents with larger boats. I, for one, refused to take part in guiding the group. Despite having taken a sailing class in college, the only information I retained was that I have a tendency to veer off course. No driving for me! (Is it correct to say driving if it’s a motorboat? Google wasn’t much help on this front)
I quickly learned that Amsterdam in the fall allows you to experience all four seasons in the space of a few hours. The weather alternated between wind, sun, cold, and rain all throughout the journey. The umbrella I bought in London was officially worth its weight in gold.
Tiffany led us to a café near the science museum in the center of town, where we were able to dock our boat and get a snack. How cool is that? Just before we made it to the café, our map (which had been slowly disintegrating due to the rain) flew away! Uh oh. We figured we would worry about it when we got back on the boat.
At the café, we ordered a few items to share: Dutch bitterballen (fried meatballs), croquettes, and nachos. I also ordered mint tea and was more than amused to find that mint tea in Amsterdam is just hot water with mint in it. No tea leaves. Just water and mint. Weird. Ordering mint tea isn’t top of my list of what to do in Amsterdam.
By the time we finished our meal, we realized that we had about half an hour to get back to the boat rental place. We had only rented the boat for 3 hours, and we no longer had a map. Now it was time for the real fun! Lena had left for the airport, so Tiffany ended up as captain with Peter attempting to navigate via Google Maps. Clearly there is no “canal” option on the map, and with several wrong turns and near crashes, it ended up taking us an hour to get back to the shore. Luckily, the boat rental guys were super chill and just thanked us and we went on our way. If you’re wondering what to do in Amsterdam, renting a boat is a really fun option as long as you’re brave!
Peter went off to do his own thing, so Tiff and I spent most of the afternoon walking around and shopping on the Negen Straatjes (nine streets) of Jordaan. The area has a ton of cute cafes and boutiques. Most importantly, Jordaan is home to Tiffany’s favorite friet shop, Vers Gesneden Friet. We agreed to share a giant cone and it was heavenly. Fries are my food weakness, and are high on my list of what to do in Amsterdam, and I definitely ate them every single day I was there. Sorry not sorry.
We continued to wander through the streets for another hour or so, then opted for a tea and cake break at a random café. Initially, we wanted to go to the Hoxton Hotel, but they are apparently the only place in Amsterdam that doesn’t allow dogs. At least we got some good photo booth pics out of it (which I accidentally left at Tiffany’s…)!
Tiffany had recommended that I purchase my Anne Frank House tickets ahead of time, and while at the café I managed to score the last online ticket available for the next afternoon. How lucky is that?
At this point, we were pooped, so we agreed to go back to our respective homes until it was time for dinner. I knew an hour wasn’t much time for relaxing, so I decided to check out the local supermarket chain, Albert Heijn. One thing I love to do when I travel is to go to the grocery store. It’s always fun to see what sort of foods and snacks people eat in different countries. I ended up with some Stroop wafels and fancy flavored water.
After dropping off my snacks, I walked over to the restaurant (Nieuw Albina), which was thankfully located in my neighborhood. It was a smaller local mom-and-pop shop without an English menu, so I left the ordering to Tiffany. I was again too hungry to take pictures (I know, clearly I was slacking in Amsterdam), but the food was mouth-watering. We had roti, crispy noodles, a beef dish, and egg rolls. For those of you who have never had Surinamese food before, it’s a spicy blend of Indonesian, Caribbean and Dutch cuisine. Sounds strange, but it works, and trying it is a must on the list of what to do in Amsterdam!
The three of us spent a good few hours eating, talking, and walking around De Pijp. After a while, the rain decided to make an appearance, which was our cue to head back to our respective homes.
On Tuesday morning, I went to the local pastry shop Kwekkeboom for breakfast and blogging. I spent a relaxing morning writing with a hearty plate of bitterballen and an underwhelming apple pie to keep me company. The Dutch are known for their apple pie, but sadly this was the only one I tried. Though mine wasn’t great, I would still say that trying Dutch apple pie should be on your list of what to do in Amsterdam, just in case yours is amazing.
After dropping off my laptop, I wandered through De Pijp for a while before meeting Tiffany at Sir Hummus. The shop specializes in a meal of hummus with pulled beef, bread, and salad. Simple but overall spectacular flavors. It felt like a little taste of home for me!
Kimani was more than eager for a walk, so Tiffany and I grabbed some coffees from Scandinavian Embassy and strolled to Sarphati Park so Kimani could get some of his puppy energy out. Side note – Scandinavian Embassy is a super trendy café and it served the best coffee I had on this trip to Europe.
We spent a good hour or so chatting at the park, watching as Kimani chased other dogs, sticks, and people. I had a reservation at the Anne Frank House at 5, so I left Tiffany and started the hour-long walk to the center. I wanted to see more of the city, and what better way than walking, right? Never mind what to do in Amsterdam, walking is a great way to get to know any city. On my way, I stopped at Museumplein so I could get a picture with the famous and touristy Iamsterdam sign. I had a stranger take my picture, and was impressed that she managed to get a photo of just me sans the tourists. Go girl!
I continued my slow wander over to Anne Frank’s house, stopping for fries (told you I ate them every day!) along the way. I made it the house just in time for my booking, and, after seeing the 2-hour line out the door, I was even more thankful that I’d booked the ticket online. Word to the wise: whatever is on your list of what to do in Amsterdam, book your tickets online ahead of time for any and every popular museum you plan on visiting! Unless you have a deep love of standing in line or something.
How does one begin to describe what it’s like to visit the Anne Frank house? Somber, sobering, and heavy are just a few of the words that come to mind. How, as humans, we could do something so tragic to our fellow humans is incomprehensible. At the end of the tour, there was an exhibit about Anne Frank’s character, and it included video snippets from visitors from all around the world. A visitor said something along these lines: this has happened before and it can happen again. We have to remember this moment in history and learn from it, so as not to ever allow such atrocities to happen to people just because they’re different. An important lesson that we forget, I think. While concentration camps no longer exist as a blatant form of destroying a race, we have not yet eradicated racism in its violent and non-violent forms. I hope that it’s something that changes over time.
Anyway, I don’t want to get too heavy, but I’m really glad I was able to visit the house and see the space for myself – if you’re wondering what to do in Amsterdam, then this is a must.
I had plenty of time until the dinner reservation, so I meandered back to Tiffany’s place so we could walk to the restaurant together. I knew that Amsterdam had a huge Indonesian population, but I didn’t expect my meal at Blauw to be one of the best Indonesian meals I’ve ever had. I say this as somewhat of an expert, since I lived in Indonesia during the summer of 2012. The food was mouth-watering spicy heaven, and I recommend it to anyone deciding what to do in Amsterdam. We ordered a sampler platter and beef rendang, and had plenty of leftovers for the next day. This was actually my favorite meal in Amsterdam – I highly recommend dinner at Blauw to anyone and everyone!
Our last stop of the day was the Red Light District. I had been really curious to see it, and Tiffany had never been either. I guess there’s no reason to go if you live in the city. We took the tram back to the center of the city and, after some detective work, eventually found it.
It was still pretty early in the night, around 10:30, so there were lots of tourists out and about. Even so, the scene was more than a little jarring. I half-expected it to just be one street with a bunch of windows, but was surprised to find windows next to shops, restaurants and down narrow alleyways. Even though it was early, there was clearly a disproportionate amount of men to women in the street, and I felt a little bad for the women being constantly ogled by so many people. Even though photos weren’t allowed, plenty of tourists attempted to take pictures, leading the women to yell or close their curtains. It was a little funny to see the women themselves either texting or talking on the phone – it looked comically out of place. While the district is the perfect place to psychoanalyze sexual fetishes, Tiffany and I were already uncomfortable as it was. We stayed long enough to get a gist of the scene before taking the tram back to our homes far away from the seedy center.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up bright and early to check out of my hotel and drop off my luggage at Tiffany’s apartment before she had to head to work. Unfortunately, I showed up to find poor Tiffany sick in bed. I grabbed each of us each a delicious cheese croissant from the Dutch bakery downstairs and we each had a cup of tea. After breakfast, I left Tiffany to rest and went on my merry way to explore Vondelpark, one of the largest parks in the city and a must on the list of what to do in Amsterdam. I was lucky and it was a beautiful sunny day. The park was huge, with tons of people and dogs all about. There were also some cool art structures, fountains, and plenty of lakes. I lazily strolled through the park, taking plenty of breaks – all facing the sun of course!
I eventually found myself at Museumplein (the plaza where a lot of the popular museums are located), and I sat here and people-watched for a while. It seems to be a hotspot when the weather is nice, since it was teeming with people.
As I said, I ate bitterballen and fries every day in Amsterdam, so my next stop was for snacks at a cute little shop called Frietboutique. The café was absolutely adorable, and they serve ice cream as well. Just as delicious as Vers Gesneden Friet.
By the time I’d finished, there were only a couple of hours left until Tiff and I had to head to the airport. I wasn’t far from Tiff’s place, so I explored her neighborhood for a bit before heading back to her place. After polishing off our leftover Indonesian food, we hopped into our cab for a little Portuguese sunshine.
Impressions of Amsterdam:
Before I took this trip, I had very little desire to go to Amsterdam. It always struck me as a bit of a seedy party place (I know, I know! Prejudging a city is never a good thing), and smoking pot and finding prostitutes are obviously not on my list of what to do in Amsterdam. But, I do have to say that Amsterdam impressed me! Maybe it was because I stayed far from the center and had a local guiding me, but I went to cute cafes, ate delicious food, and saw a huge chunk of the city via boat and on foot. While I got little doses of touristy Amsterdam (especially when visiting the center), I really enjoyed my time exploring the “alternative” Amsterdam. So I guess my lesson is this – if you’re not particularly enjoying being a tourist in a city, then change it up and be a local instead. Use apps and websites and any resources you have to find the local gems – you may find that you may enjoy those experiences more.
TLDR: a short summary of where to eat and what to do in Amsterdam for those too lazy to read the whole post
What to do in Amsterdam:
- Mokumboot: The company we used to rent a private, motorized boat and explore the canals
- Negen Straatjes (nine streets) of Jordaan: located near the center of the city, this trendy area has a ton of cute cafes and boutiques
- Sarphati Park: a local park in De Pijp, perfect for strolling and walking dogs
- Museumplein: the large museum plaza home to the Iamsterdam sign, Van Gogh museum, and many more
- Anne Frank’s house: no explanation needed here. Make sure you book your tickets in advance online!
- Red Light District: again, no explanation needed. While the area is safe, it is definitely more than a little seedy. Go earlier in the night and bring a friend along
- Vondelpark: the largest park in the city, complete with several lakes, running paths, and even a café.
What I ate:
- A four course Italian meal at Pekel Haaring
- A goats cheese and pine nut Dutch pancake at Pancakes!
- French fries with white sauce and onion at Vers Gesneden Friet
- Stroop wafels and fancy water from the local grocery store, Albert Heijn
- Surinamese roti, beef, and egg rolls at Nieuw Albina
- Bitterballen (dutch meatballs) and apple pie at Kwekkeboom
- Hummus with beef and secret sauce at Sir Hummus
- Coffee and a cinnamon pastry at Scandinavian Embassy
- Selera Blauw Rijsttafels Indonesian platter at Blauw
- Fries and bitterballen at Frietboutique
Where I stayed:
- Easy Hotel Amsterdam in De Pijp: one of the least expensive hotel options in the city, but not particularly cheap. Includes the basics, but you need to pay extra for WiFi.