We recently returned from a destination we never thought we would ever visit: Amsterdam.
It gets a bad rap (which we believed for years) for the Red Light District and it’s “coffee shops”, making it seem like a dirty city that runs solely on sex and drugs. However, that is not the case at all! Within mere minutes of our arrival it had already become one of our favorite places we have ever been.
The city is unlike any other, with it’s canals, bike culture, and well-preserved brick row houses. Only in Amsterdam will your hotel concierge’s directions sound like this: “You’re going to go out this door, turn right, then take your next left and cross at the second bridge. From there, you’ll cross two canals, and then make another right. The restaurant will be there on the corner.” Excuse me, what?! It’s like a maze, making it the perfect place to get lost and explore.
A bit ago I asked on Instagram if y’all prefer for me to do true Travel Guides, only on places I know very well and can provide the most insight on, or simple What We Did type posts, recapping our travels without needing to be the expert on the destination. The majority voted for the latter, so here we are: what we did in Amsterdam!
What We Did
By far my favorite thing we did was a canal cruise! We used Flagship Amsterdam which was great – very reasonable price (€16 per person), had a bar on board (drinks were also very reasonable at around €5-6 a piece), a great local tour guide, smooth ride and fantastic views! It was one hour long and could be booked for all times of day; we chose an evening ride and absolutely loved it.
Note: Smoking is allowed on Flagship cruises, but no one on our ride did, so don’t be deterred by that when booking!
We spent the majority of our time strolling the city. In just 3 days we walked over 40 miles. The city is very pedestrian-friendly, making it perfect to explore by foot!
Visited the Red Light District both during day and at night. During the day, it looked similar to any other area of the city, maybe a little less “nice” but certainly not as disgusting as we had anticipated. At night, it was pretty wild, but fun to see.
The Rijksmuseum was a great way to spend an hour or two in some air conditioning. We enjoyed the museum because it isn’t huge so you can really see everything without it being overwhelming. What makes it unique is that it only houses art by Dutch artists, so a walk through really paints the picture (pun intended) of how art evolved through the years within the country.
After the Rijksmuseum we walked all through Vondelpark. So many people out enjoying the warm weather, eating picnic dinners, playing soccer, riding bikes, swimming in the kiddie pool, playing at the playground, having a drink. If you are visiting Amsterdam with kids, Vondelpark would be a great place to let them play and get some wiggles out. The kiddie pool looked so fun and if you forget their swimsuits, no big, there were a handful of kids running around butt naked! Gotta love Europe.
The Hidden Garden – Originally built as a residential community for lay women of the Catholic Church likely in the 14th century, this secluded courtyard is now open to the public. Within the courtyard you’ll find an English Reformed Church as well as a hidden Catholic church (notice how the door is very unassuming). See my note below about “The Church in the Attic”. Notice the difference in interiors between the two churches: with the English Church being very simple and the Catholic Church very grand. Also in the courtyard you’ll find one of the only remaining wooden houses. Apparently the plan was for the city to all be wooden houses, until a fire broke out and they realized that brick was a much safer choice.
Where We Ate
The only reason we didn’t come back from Amsterdam 10 pounds heavier is because of all that walking we did. We. ate. so. much. No regrets.
Going into the trip, we didn’t expect to eat very well in Amsterdam. From what we had heard it basically all sounded like fried carbs. And while that’s not untrue, what we hadn’t anticipated is that due to it being a major city, there was actually quite the food scene! That means that even those fried carbs were done really well, and also that any type of food you could possibly imagine was available somewhere in the city.
So here’s what we ate and where:
For a meal with a view, head to Blue Amsterdam. Located high above a shopping center, you can feast on the panoramic views and a delicious meal that isn’t crazy overpriced. Typically places like this can charge absurd amounts because people are ultimately paying for the view, but the prices here were very fair. I got the beef croquettes and our cute waitress taught me “the best Dutch way” to eat them. Take the slice of sourdough bread it comes with, slather it with mustard, and then smash the croquette onto the bread. So many carbs. So flavorful. So delicious. Worth the fact that it totally scorched the roof of my mouth. Would do it again, no doubt.
One evening it was just so hot that I was craving something cold: Sushito to the rescue! We shared The Greenery poké bowl and it hit the spot.
Italian al fresco under the stars while overlooking a canal – sì grazie! Dinner at Casa di David was wonderful. We shared two pastas: the pesto pasta with green beans was refreshing but underwhelming while the truffle pasta with wild spinach and burrata was divine!
We went to Foodhallen not once, but twice. It’s a fantastic place if you aren’t feeling the same cuisine as your partner, if you want to try a bunch of foods at once, or if you are traveling with a group. We got the nachos from The Fento, steamy sui mai from Dim Sum Thing, the bitterballen sampler and the seasonal white asparagus bitterballen from De Ballenbar (the classic beef was the best), and the chicken tikka masala from Shirkhan.
One afternoon we just needed something super quick so we popped into a Wok to Walk, a fast-casual Asian spot with locations all throughout the city. We were super impressed with how tasty it was!
Quite possibly my favorite thing we ate: poffertjes! These mini pancakes are served at many little ice cream/waffle/pancake shops throughout the city. Not to be confused with American pancakes which are a breakfast food, these are more of a mid-day/late-night treat. They’re fluffier than American pancakes and still a teeny bit raw on the inside; make sure you ask for them with nutella and powdered sugar!
I mentioned above that those little shops also sold waffles. We got ours with nutella and strawberries (to make it healthy, duh). Again, not like American waffles, these are denser and more of a snack food. If you want to look less like a tourist, just get it plain and eat it on the go.
When in Holland, you’ve gotta get fries, served piping hot in a cone, with mayo on top! It sounds gross but I’m telling you, go ahead and size up to the large. The best were from Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx which offered 25 sauce options, but you’ve gotta go with the classic “fritesaus”.
One more of those things you just have to do is get some haring (or “herring”), which may just win as the strangest street food. A brined fish served aside onion and pickles and cut into bite sized bits eaten with a toothpick. It sounds gross, and looks scary if I’m being honest, but it’s actually quite mild and tasty! We got ours from Jonk Volendammer Haringhandel.
We stopped in to Skylounge Amsterdam at the Hilton by the Centraal Station to check out the view but once we saw that drinks were €16 each, we decided to simply take in the sight and then head out. It is certainly a gorgeous spot to grab a drink or a snack, but be forewarned that it’s pricey!
For a local bar, hop on the free ferry across the river to Pllek. I had read about this somewhere years ago and wanted to check it out, so when our tour guide from the canal cruise mentioned that’s where him and his friends hang out, we had to check it out! It’s in a random industrial part of town that is kind of up-and-coming (meaning it’s only locals) and has a sandy beach that overlooks the city – the perfect spot to take in a sunset.
Stroopwafels are a Dutch specialty! Thin wafers with caramel sandwiched in between, dipped in chocolate and then covered in toppings, it’s a sugar rush of the best variety. We got some from van Wonderen and they did not disappoint. Matt’s favorite was the one with crushed hazelnuts while mine was the Oreo.
If you’re looking for an Instagram-able coffee shop, head to Coffee and Coconuts. It was late in the day so I grabbed a kombucha instead, but the cafe was quite cute with three floors that felt like a transport to Australia even if it wasn’t in my favorite area of town.
Don’t judge us but we ended up at Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee one morning. Turns out there are more “coffee shops” in Amsterdam than actual coffee shops – ha! And they all run on European time and don’t open until 8 or 9 am, whereas we were up with the sun.
What We Wish We Did
With only three days in the city, there are a few things we didn’t get to do that I would recommend.
Anne Frank Museum – We had heard that tickets sell out and thus need to be booked in advance. We checked three weeks prior and everything was already sold out! Do not delay, book your tickets as soon as possible.
Heineken Tour – Heard a guy coming out say – and I quote – “That was the highlight of the trip! Best thing we did!” Made us immediately regret not putting it higher on our priority list.
Ride bikes – Did you know that there are almost twice as many bikes in Amsterdam as there are people? With a population of only 800,000, there are over 1.2 MILLION bikes! We really wanted to rent bikes one day and join the mass of people cycling around as their main form of transportation, but we never got around to it.
Even if you don’t get a chance to ride bikes, take a look around at all of them. It was mindblowing! Instead of parking garages, they had bike garages, with multiple stories and thousands of bikes all chained up – I forgot to get any pictures, but check out this one for the visual. I have no idea how anyone finds theirs at the end of the day!
Van Gogh Museum – We don’t really have the best patience for museums so we chose between this and the Rijksmuseum. Since we have been to Musée d’Orsay in Paris which houses some of Van Gogh’s best work, we decided against this one. However, if we had more time or hadn’t seen his work before, we would have 100% visited – Van Gogh’s work is some of my favorite!
Church in the Attic – At one point in time, public practice of Catholicism was banned in The Netherlands. During that time, a number of “hidden churches” popped up to allow believers a place to worship in private. The top 3 floors of this 17th-century canal house were renovated and converted into a church that is now a museum called Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder.
Hortus Botanicus – The botanical gardens are supposedly beautiful and would be great if it is raining during your visit and you need activities to do inside. However, since we had perfect sunshine during our time there we skipped it.
Where We Stayed
Accomodations in Amsterdam run pretty pricey. When we looked up the hotels that were recommended to us (The Hoxton, Quentin Golden Bear, Sir Albert), each was well over $300 per night and Airbnbs weren’t that much better if we wanted the whole place. We almost let it deter us, but at the ninth hour Matt found Hotel Tulipa on booking.com – literally as our plane was taking off. It had everything we were looking for: great location, good reviews, and available during our dates. We weren’t looking for much!
When we arrived, we found that it was even better than we had anticipated! Located right on a canal, this bed and breakfast is a house that has been renovated into four large rooms – nay suites! – available for rent. Two of them were being booked long-term by American couples living in Amsterdam – that’s how big they are! Not even exaggerating, the room was bigger than our apartment.
It had a spacious bedroom area with a canopy bed and three windows that opened up over the courtyard garden as well as a sitting area complete with a bookshelf full of Amsterdam guidebooks and three massive windows that opened up over the canal. We spent each evening sitting on the windowsills with our feet dangling, watching the sky turn orange while the setting sun reflected on the canal.
The only downside is that breakfast is not included in the price. However, that worked fine for us because we preferred to check out some places in town anyways. The room did include a Nespresso though and the host was always more than happy to bring us more pods!
All in all, Hotel Tulipa was a hidden gem that we are so glad we discovered. I would highly recommend it if you are looking for somewhere to stay in Amsterdam and you don’t need the amenities of a full hotel (gym, pool, etc), but still want things like turndown service and a walkable location.
Is Amsterdam a Good Place for Kids?
Yes! I can’t count how many times we looked at each other and said “I wish Joe was here!” Since the city is made for bikes, it is very pedestrian-friendly. Think, no steps – just slightly inclined bridges over all the canals. The tram is also very easy to use, though it can get a little tight depending on the time of day so a compact travel stroller would be ideal, but not a necessity if you don’t already have one (we don’t).
We are dying to get back to Amsterdam one day, preferably in the Fall. Can you even imagine how breathtaking the city would be under the umbrella of leaves changing colors?!