A few months back Jessica gave us her Chicago travelling tips. Now she is back, but this time sharing her Amsterdam adventures …
Like anything in life, when you have too much choice you can’t make up your mind. So why should travel be any different? Our world is one crazy-scary place but it’s also bursting with exotic, cultural and adventurous destinations each one more enticing than the next. It’s these places that often teach us what’s right with the world.
No matter what you’d like to think, Instagram is changing the way we travel with photogenic locations having a huge influence on where we go. So, with an influx of picture-perfect destinations how do we choose? In my experience, the destinations have to an extent found me (you’ll see what I mean in just a moment) and then led me to neighbouring cities.
In life nothing is guaranteed and what may be around tomorrow’s corner is unknown. We must say yes to adventures when they arise. If you work hard and your general circumstances afford you certain opportunities, take them! I carried this view forward when my husband told me he was attending a conference in Amsterdam this past October. Yes, we had already made plans to travel in December, but this was one adventure I wanted to be part of. So if you’re wondering why Amsterdam? My answer was, why not?
Below I share my Amsterdam experiences, and would love to hear about your own!
What I loved about this city
I loved Amsterdam’s quaint streets that are interlinked by charming canals on every corner. Each one of them looks like a painting that’s come to life. The minute we arrived I was on the hunt to spot a canal and once I set my eyes on one I had t to pinch myself to remember it was real. The century-old buildings alongside the canals are like a perfect picture frame and their exteriors aren’t allowed to be changed. I love this fact because it keeps the character and the look and feel of the city. The canals connect to one central area called Dam Square.
The city is a lot smaller than I expected which scored brownie points in terms of convenience and cost. For one, it allows you to be able to see all the hotspots and more in three days (even less if you have to) and it’s a lot easier to plan what to see when everything is located close together.
Secondly, it means you don’t have to stay right in the centre of everything (as you would other cities) because it’s all happening just a short bike or tram ride away. As a result, when you’re booking accommodation you can stay a little further afield, for instance in a residential neighbourhood which is often cheaper than staying centrally. We stayed 15 minutes from the Dam Square and it was great not being too central because we had the opportunity to discover some really cool local treasures, which means if you love something a little more authentic, you’re in for a treat!
Weather wise, October is a comfortable time of year to travel, not too cold and when it rains it’s just a light drizzle. The yellow autumn leaves are all over which adds a dash of colour to a city that was shadowed by grey skies. The majority of residents cycle, so remember to watch out for cyclists and stay out of their lanes!
Delectable delights for the foodie
When travelling, I love to try eateries that have been recommended by the locals and to discover some on my own. Some say you can’t visit Amsterdam without legally smoking marijuana in a ‘coffee’ shop. I say you can’t come to Amsterdam and not try these delectable delights I’ve shared below! Note: When I refer to coffee shops I mean real coffee shops, but in Amsterdam coffee shops are where you can legally smoke marijuana and cafes are where you order coffee.
- The best pancake house in Amsterdam has the original name of Pancakes! It is located on 38 Beren Straat, between Keizergracht and Prinsengracht Straat and has been featured on Richard Quest CNN and a number of other TV networks. You’re likely to queue for a table but it’s so worth the wait!
- Thick and crispy fries. You’ll see these all over the city with every sauce option under the sun. We tried a couple places, all delish, but the absolute best of the best is Manneken Pis.
- Poffertjies. These aremini pancakes (the melt-in-your-mouth kind) which are served with sprinkled powdered sugar and butter.
- Coffee & Coconuts. This three story café was a former cinema built in the 20’s. You’d never think! It looks brand new, has a totally fresh earthy feel and a friendly vibe with great quality coffee and delicious food. Highly recommend the Avo Toast!
- Scandinavian Embassy. This hole in the wall café makes superb coffee (served with no sugar, no spoons) and serves the most delicious home-made carrot cake I’ve ever eaten!
- Albert Cuyp Market. Located in De Pijp on one very long street, this is an authentically Dutch market that sells everything from leather jackets and bags, cosmetics and luggage to fresh fish (including herring -another Amsterdam tradition), poffertjies, freshly squeezed juice, fruit, cheese and more. Definitely head there on an empty stomach.
- Stroopwaffels. These can be bought on every corner in Amsterdam but the very best way to enjoy them is from a stall on Dam Square where they slice it in half, heat it and then pour warm caramel over and sandwich it back together. Heaven on earth.
Here’s what the tourist in you will want to experience
- The Heineken Experience. Think FUN for EVERYONE! Whether or not you’re a beer drinker (me being the latter) the tour of the Heineken brewery is a must. It’s about 2 hours, if not less, and takes you through the history of this family run business. This may sound a little boring, but it’s not. After you’ve learned about how the business started and been taken through the brewing process you are introduced to the Heineken world of coolness with interactive installations.
- A city walk. Literally just spend one day walking the city. As mentioned earlier, Amsterdam isn’t a big city, so my recommendation would be to spend your first day walking around to get a feel for your surroundings. If you start in Dam Square you’ll most likely pass most of the places mentioned in this blog by the end of the day.
- Van Gogh, Rijks Museum & the I AMSTERDAM sign. I (regrettably) passed up on these two museums but both were highly recommended. The former is home to the world’s largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh. We did however have loads of fun taking pics at the IAMSTERDAM sign. The image below was captured early one morning before the grounds filled up.
- A Royal Experience. De Haar is Europe’s largest privately owned castle. It’s located outside of the city in the Vecht area and is literally like walking into the world of Cinderella, a scene from a fairy-tale. The exterior is really impressive and quite surreal as is the interior which I’ll leave to your imagination.
- Anne Frank’s House. For me this was the most meaningful tour of my trip. It’s an absolute must to book online because no matter what time of year it is the queues are ridiculously long throughout the day. The tour is of the house that Anne Frank and her family hid in for two years during World War II. Describing the journey through her house would not do it any justice, it’s something that all individuals, both children and adults, are compelled to do when in Amsterdam and is certainly an unforgettable experience.
This was more of a sight-seeing trip than shopping trip but there is no shortage of opportunities to do some worthwhile spending.What I loved was the mix of local and main stream retailers in the same streets. In cities like New York and London, the commercial shopping streets are made up of mainly international brands. In Amsterdam you’ll find Dutch designs and brands alongside the Zara’s of the world.
Shop ‘til you drop in De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets), Kalverstraat, Dam Square shopping where you’ll also find Magna Plaza and then De Jordaan. Additional shopping areas recommended by locals include Utrechtsestraat, Oud Zuid, Spiegelkwartier and Leidsestraat.
There you have it, Jessica’s Amsterdam tips. Have you ever been to this awesome city? What was your top highlight? Let us know by leaving a comment!
Jessica Chait is from Cape Town, South Africa. She is the Marketing Communications Manager for a leading hotel group specializing in content, email and social media marketing. To work out, she swears by functional training, walks on the beach and climbing stairs. She loves to travel with her husband, watch new movies, try the latest restaurants, explore food markets, spend time with her best girl friends and is always up for some ‘me-time’ reading good non-fictional books in coffee shops.