Two consecutive boughts of the flu, bad weather and unlucky timing, redeemed by pretty canals and delicious Dutch gouda cheese tasting. Please learn from our mistakes, Amsterdam is really a wonderful city, and despite the angle I’ve taken in this post we did have a great time!
Where to go
The Anne Frank House
Everytime we went past the Anne Frank House in a tram, the queue was absolutely mad, winding around and around the nearby square and church. We decided to go as soon as it opened first thing in the morning, but still didn’t get there early enough. We queued for two hours in the freezing rain. By the time we got to the door, nothing could have been worth the wait.
Granted, inside the house is pretty amazing, with posters and notes still scratched into the walls from when the Frank family inhabited the annex. My favourite bit was the presentation at the end with testimonies from famous visitors about what the house meant to them.
Do it better: Book your tickets online up to two months in advance, and don’t eat in the cafe – there are plenty of nicer places nearby to have a break and a pick-me-up.
The world’s only floating flower market, Bloemenmarkt lines Singel canal in the south of the city. It’s made up of 15 florists and garden shops, and a whole bunch of souvenir gift shops.
Worth a visit to see the rainbow of tulips on offer, but perhaps not worth investing the time to walk along the whole thing. After the first few shops, most of the premises were full of the same tourist souvenirs.
Do it better: If you have hay fever, be prepared with allergy medication!
Waterlooplein flea market
The Waterlooplein flea market in the south east of the city is the oldest market in the Netherlands. We had a great time wandering through the streets and canals to get there, but arrived too late and it was all packed away.
Do it better: Go in the morning when it’s lively and bustling.
The square in front of the Central Station is framed by the water of the open Havenfront. The station itself was built in the 1880s, designed by PJH Cuypers (who also designed the Rijksmuseum) with a tower on each side of the hood to symbolise the station as the gate to the city.
The Open Havenfront is framed by an eclectic range of architecture, including the dark stone of the Church of Saint Nicholas, and to its left the modern Hilton hotel.
On Damrak road leading up to Stationplein is the Amsterdam Sex Museum. I was personally hoping for some education on sex through the ages, with some gender politics throw in for good measure, but this is not the point of the Sex Museum. Come expecting clockwork mannequins, antique porn and for some reason a section dedicated to Marilyn Monroe.
Do it better: Prepare yourself mentally, this “museum” is for visitors with a sense of humour. Or if this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, give it a miss.
9 streets (De 9 straatjes)
This photogenic cluster of streets is packed with vintage shops, designer boutiques and cosy cafes, and is a great way to spend an afternoon whatever the weather.
The nine streets in the name straddle four canals – Singel, Herengracht, Keirgracht and Prinsengracht – in the World Heritage canal belt of Amsterdam south of the Anne Frank House.
Meandering around this beautiful district was possibly my favourite part of our trip (apart from the cheese). Admittedly, some of the boutiques were almost intimidatingly trendy, but they were balanced out by the dorky jewellery and artsy craft shops.
Matt loves himself some history, so we made a beeline to the Amsterdam Museum. And I’m so glad we did! We learned a lot about the history of the city and the role it has played in Europe throughout different periods. I’d definitely put this in the recommendations list!
How much can you really enjoy a park in winter? Granted, we were there over Easter, so it was technically spring, but the grey skies, bare trees and chilly winds definitely felt more wintery. I’m sure Vondelpark is beautiful at all other seasons.
Do it better: Time your visit for nice weather, and see more of the park on a bike!
If we’d been in Amsterdam for longer I would have loved to go to the Van Gogh museum. The square itself is very impressive, vast and open, and I’m sure a great place for a picnic in the sunshine.
I was starting to come down with the flu at this point on our trip, so let’s say I didn’t give the Rijksmuseum all the attention it deserves. It was really interesting though, not least because the building itself is a work of art!
Little fact about me, when I’m viewing art, one thing that is guaranteed to draw me in is extreme use of light. That’s what attracted me to this painting at the Rijksmuseum, and once I started looking I couldn’t stop. I think it’s something to do with the look on Pharoah’s face, and how these characters look so relatable and just… human. So I snapped a cheeky photo.
Do it better: Book your tickets online and visit before 11am or after 2pm. To get a photo with the I Amsterdam sign, arrive at crazy hours of the morning before any sane person is awake.
What to do
Reypenaer Cheese Tasting
Oh my gosh this was the coolest thing ever! Underneath Reypenaer cheese shop lies this cute little mock classroom, with desks and everything. After a short presentation about how the cheese is made, we were all poured some wine and guided to use a tiny guillotine to slice up the first cheese.
Of the five cheeses we tried, each one had its wine pairing, and went from the mildest gouda paired with white wine, to the most mature paired with port. The mature was my favourite, with a creamy but crumbly texture and crystals of flavour bursting on my tongue. TAKE ME BACK!
Are you going to Amsterdam soon? Book this tasting class right now!
Open Boat Tour
After the Amsterdam Museum, the Open Boat Tour was where we learnt the most about Amsterdam. From the stories behind the crooked buildings, to anecdotes around the different canals and landmarks – this may seem like a cliche tourist trap, but it’s definitely worthwhile.
House of Bols, the Cocktail & Genever Experience
This “Cocktail Experience” from House of Bols came as part of the package with our cheese tasting, and since it was right next to the Rijksmuseum we thought why the hell not! The experience is basically a series of rooms with interactive displays about the history of the brand and the gin distillation process. They try to engage all your senses, even getting you to smell the scents of different gin flavours, so that your palate is properly primed for the drinks at the end of the journey.
The bar itself is pretty cool. You order your drinks through a machine that gives you recommendations based on your flavour preferences. You then take your receipt up to the bar where they create your choice for you from the eclectic selection of flavoured gins on display.
Where to eat
The Pancake Bakery
The Pancake Bakery is right up the street from the Anne Frank House, and is the perfect cosy spot to enjoy lunch on a cold or rainy day. The pancakes are thick like pizzas and there’s no shortage of topping choices!
De Pijp is a great district to go for drinks or dinner, with tons of really cool bars and restaurants. We managed to squeeze ourselves onto a table at Fa. Pekelhaaring on our first night in Amsterdam, and (I at least) had great fun ordering from the blackboard of daily specials (Matt was in the full throws of the flu).
On our last day I was the one suffering from the flu, so we retreated into Luden on Keizersgracht canal for some classic pub food.
We got exactly what we hoped for, lots of tasty and comforting fried food, at a very decent price.
Things we wish we’d done
With Matt being in bed for the first half day of our trip, the weather being less than ideal, and me being struck down on our last night, there were a lot of things we didn’t get round to doing. Here are some of them:
- The Van Gogh Museum
- Hortus Botanicus – one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe.
- Pllek – a very trendy reclaimed industrial area north of the river.
- Skybar – an award-winning rooftop lounge bar.
- NDSM – a former ship warf, now a live music venue.
Amsterdam is a really pretty city with loads to see and do, delicious cheese to taste and friendly people to meet. We just had bad luck on this trip.