We just got back from our first trip to Amsterdam, and I feel like I ate my way through the city. I had such a great time trying all the delicious foods (and beers) and getting acquainted with Amsterdam.
We really like major metropolitan cities, and Amsterdam didn't disappoint. Given the number of immigrants to the city, the population (and food) was much more diverse than Stuttgart. The city is also huge, and rather than having a single downtown area (though it does have an Old Town), there are several neighborhoods or boroughs, each with its own atmosphere.
Most of the Dutch people we met spoke English, so we never had a problem with the language, and we even understood a bit of the Dutch thanks to our knowledge of both English and German.
Luckily, the weather was beautiful for the first couple of days, so we packed in a lot. Over the weekend it was a bit cloudier and we had a couple of brief showers, but it was nothing a good umbrella or a café awning couldn't protect us from.
Below I've made a list of all the great things we saw and ate, in addition to including sections on getting around and my recommendation on where to stay.
The city is flat and very easy to walk, and you see quite a bit that way. I took a good old-fashioned paper map from our hotel, which I used to navigate the city, although my husband bought some data on his phone (a convenience of living in Europe and having a European cell carrier) for Google Maps emergencies. Most places within the inner ring could be reached within 20-30 minutes, though some of our farther destinations took 40-50 minutes.
For longer excursions, we used the tram system. The trams were fast, reliable, and clean. It cost just 2,80€ for a 1-hour ticket, and tickets could be conveniently purchased from the GVB desk in the middle section of each tram.
We did not rent bikes this time around. While I wanted to before arriving, we just never seemed to need them, and after having almost been run over by a bike or two on our first day, I just wasn't sure if I could keep up with the more experienced cyclists. Maybe next time.
Where to Stay
I first saw Hotel Not Hotel as a recommendation on the Amazing Amsterdam blog, both of which I recommend. Amazing Amsterdam is a great resource for finding recommendations on food and things to do in Amsterdam, and several of my recommendations were based off of theirs.
From what I can tell, Hotel Not Hotel opened this year. It's just outside the city center between the De Baarsjes and Oud-West areas of the city. The hotel itself is more of a giant warehouse inside of which are several designer "rooms" where you can stay, including a "printed" house, a tram car room, and a room that resembles the gingerbread house in "Hansel and Gretel", but with more skulls.
We chose to stay in one of the secret bookcase rooms, which was super cool! We opened a section of the hotel's massive bookcase to reveal a double bed. Our room was tiny - there was only room for the bed - but we chose it to save on cost and because really, how much time do you actually spend in your hotel? For being so small, the room was well designed with several corner shelves, dimming lights, a discreet window out to the landing, and hidden storage area for our luggage. My only complaint was that the room could get a little hot in the evenings, though it was ventilated and came with a plug-in fan/heater. We often propped the door open in the mornings or evenings as we were getting ready, and that helped. When we needed more space, we used the nice set of leather chairs outside of our door on the landing for sitting and reading. The hotel had quite an impressive selection of books, as well!
This was also our first time staying in a hostel. While some of the rooms have showers, we chose one without and opted instead to use the communal bathroom. Though the bathroom was mixed sex, it ended up being fine as each bathroom contained its own shower and sink and could be locked for privacy, so it was more like you had your own bathroom in a common area.
The hotel has several larger rooms with bathrooms for families or groups of people, which I imagine are quite nice. There was also a rather nice bar attached to the hotel that served paninis, cheese, and sausage plates, in addition to several nice beers and wine.
We also just happened to be in the city during the World Cup game between the Netherlands and Costa Rica, and the hotel had a stadium of Heineken crates and a projector set up for patrons. It was a really fun atmosphere!
The hotel was located in a quiet, residential neighborhood. It was a bit far from the city center, but for the price and experience, we found it to be worth it. If you're staying with older family members or have a bigger budget, I would suggest you look for a hotel in the Jordaan area. It seems very central to many of the tourist attractions and was a cute area with lots of great food.
What to See
Jordaan Area - We spent a lot of time in this neighborhood, both because it was the location of our food tour and because it was so close to many of the shops and sights that we wanted to visit. The Anne Frank House, Tulip Museum, and Cheese Museum are all located here, for example, though I suggest you wander around and explore. I found a lovely shop called Unicorn Boutique with great clothes, jewelry, and other trinkets from local artists.
Alkmaar Cheese Market - If you happen to be in Amsterdam on a Friday, take one of the local trains to Alkmaar, which is just 20-30 minutes north of the city. The cheese market starts at 10 am when men dressed in traditional clothing use giant wooden slings to carry big orange rounds of cheese into the main square. I got the impression that the market is primarily used for restaurants and other merchants, but you can also purchase wedges from any of the stalls around the market or from the girls in traditional dress who walk around and sell the cheese. A woman in the center with a microphone narrates the buying and weighing of the cheese at the local weigh house in English, German, French, and Dutch. You can also hear the carillon (bells) at the top of the weigh house play twice during the morning. A round-trip ticket costs just 14,40€ and can easily be purchased at the ticket desk in Amsterdam's main station.
Old Town - The Old Town is the location of the Red Light District, Oude Kerk, and China Town, among other sights. Despite its reputation, we found the Red Light District to be pretty tame during the day, though on Saturday it was filled with lots of loud tourists, especially Brits and Aussies, on stag and hen nights. We went to see what it was all about, but didn't stay long. I have really mixed feelings about prostitution and was rather saddened by the idea of women dancing in windows waiting for clients. If we return, I might check out the Prostitution Information Center to understand the situation better. I would also like to spend more time in China Town, which was pretty cool and looked like we could find some great food there.
Street Art - We saw a lot of really cool street art just from wandering around, but one street in particular, Spuistraat, was filled with some really cool murals and designs.
Anne Frank House - I remember reading Anne's diary when I was in middle school, and though I don't think I really understood it all at the time, I was touched by her story. The Anne Frank House was a very moving experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in either Anne or World War II, though the museum tended to (understandably) ignore some of controversy surrounding her diary. Definitely get tickets online ahead of time! You pay a bit more, but the introduction in English and chance to skip the massive line is well worth it.
Tip: If you want to learn more about the Dutch during World War II, I recommend the fictional novel The Assault by Harry Mulisch. Mulisch tells the story of one boy's experiences in occupied Haarlem and the devastating effects the Nazis had on his life.
Rijksmuseum - The collection of artwork in the Rijksmuseum was impressive. We saw works from Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer, as well as examples of Dutch ships, weapons, jewelry, furniture, and ceramics. You could easily spend a full day or two in the museum, so I suggest you space your visit out with lunch or over the course of a couple of mornings if you plan to take it all in.
Westerpark - The Westerpark is, of course, a park to the north-west of the Old Town. We were here on two occasions: the Pitch Festival and the Sunday Market. The Pitch Festival was an awesome, two-day festival in July with multiple stages featuring electronic bands. We went to see Massive Attack and Moderat one evening using a day ticket, though you could stay for longer and see multiple bands if you chose. The Sunday Market is held on the first Sunday of every month and features tons of stalls selling antiques, handmade clothing and jewelry, and other goods (think a giant, outdoor Etsy store). I got some fun beaded bracelets, a new linen notebook, and an antique pearl necklace (for just 8€!) while there. I highly recommend going, but note that they don't open until 12 pm, so you can have a good lie-in or late breakfast before you go (though you should save some room for the yummy food trucks).
Where to Eat
Sunday Market at Westerpark - Make sure you go to the Sunday Market hungry, because there are tons of tasty food trucks between the clothing and knickknack stalls. We sampled Amsterdam roasted coffee, Vietnamese loempias, Chilean empanadas, Peking duck pancakes, chorizo and cheddar paninis, coconut macaroons, homemade sangria, and local beer. That was just a fraction of the amazing food trucks at the market.
Eating Amsterdam Food Tour - Since the food tour that we took in Prague, I've decided to look for food tours in all the major cities we go to. Eating Amsterdam's tour of the Jordaan area didn't disappoint! We went everywhere, from cafés to butcher shops, Surinamese takeaways, and even a canal boat. Here's some of what we sampled: Dutch apple pie at Café Papeneiland, Surinamese broodje pom (bread stuffed with a spicy yam and chicken paste) and baka bana (fried bananas with peanut sauce) at Swieti Sranang, ossenworst (raw, smoked beef sausage) and grill worst (grilled sausage) at Butcher Louman, Dutch herring and fried cod at Meer Dan Vis, Dutch licorice at Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkeltje, three types of gouda from De Kaaskamer cheese shop, stroopwafels (thin waffles with caramel inside), bitterballen (fried balls filled with a kind of beef stew) and meatballs from the Holtkamp bakery, beer from Brouwerij 't IJ, and poffertjes (mini pancakes) from Café de Prins. Everything was so yummy that we ended up going back to Swieti Sranang for more Surinamese takeaway the following night, and we returned to the Jordaan area for lychee and banana ice cream from Monte Pelmo and vanilla and banana toffees from the sweet shop. Our tour guides knew a lot about the history of the city, and they gave us lots of recommendations on where to eat. The tour was well worth the price!
Beer Temple - This American beer bar across from the Amsterdam Museum has 30 beers on draught and another 100 or so bottled. I was thrilled to find bottled beer from Blue Mountain Brewery close to where I lived in Virginia. If you're craving any craft-brewed American beers, then definitely check this place out.
Arendsnest - This Dutch beer bar is around the corner from the Anne Frank House on Herengracht. They also have about 30 beers on draught and another 100 or so bottled. I particularly liked the Zatte from Brouwerij 't IJ which is a gold tripel with a lovely 8% ABV. We had a cheese platter as well that included a hard goat cheese, a 6-months-aged gouda, a 1-year-aged gouda, a 2-year-aged gouda, and a lavender sausage from a local sausage maker.
Dobla Chocolat & Patisserie - We stopped at this great patisserie in Alkmaar just by the weigh house. They had tons of lovely chocolates and pastries for sale in the window, so you won't miss it. Matt had a pistachio pastry, and I enjoyed a mango cake - both of which are worth a stop at this patisserie after lunch. Everything is handmade on the premises, and you can peek down into the kitchen on your way out the door.
Tip: Be sure to take a stroll through a Dutch grocery store. I always love seeing what foods are common in other cultures. In the Netherlands, we saw lots of cheese, licorice, and filet Americain in the store. We also picked up a jar of speculoos - a buttery paste made from caramelized cookies. It may just be better than Nutella!
The Fat Dog - This hot dog place in the De Pijp area serves their hot dogs with gourmet toppings. Matt had the "Gangs of New York" with sauerkraut, onion marmalade, mustard, and bacon, while I chose the "Viva La France" with fried mushrooms, onions, goose liver pâté, and truffle mayo. We also enjoyed Piper's Chorizo flavored chips. Very tasty!
Burger Meester - There are three locations for this burger place, and we tried the one in the Jordaan area. Sadly, they were all out of lamb, so we had to substitute the meat on one of them. They offer solid burgers with fun toppings, and best of all, you can get any three of their burgers as a "mini trio" and try multiple flavors. Between the two of us, we tried the "Biefburger Royal" with truffled egg and pancetta, the "Meester Biefburger" with grilled vegetables and tarragon mayo, the "Biefburger" with cheddar, jalepeños, and pancetta (since they were out of chorizo), the "Falafelburger" with grilled vegetables, yogurt, and mint, the "Manchegoburger" with manchego, cashews, and pears, and the "Tonijnburger" with tuna and a Vietnamese relish. Our favorites were, oddly enough, the tuna and manchego burgers. We also had a baked potato, but I wouldn't recommend it just because it was so-so. Matt loved his banana milkshake made with real bananas, and I wish I'd have tried the mango milkshake with lemongrass.
Blaauw - Blaauw was a great recommendation to us by our Eating Amsterdam tour guides. It was my first introduction to Indonesian food, and now I'm craving more. I ordered the "Selera Blauw" rijsttafel, which was a combination of meat, fish, and vegetables. Apparently rijsttafel is a colonial take on Indonesian, but boy was it delicious. What came out was a parade of tiny dishes, each filled with a different, delicious salad or topping for the meat and fish on the rice. Matt had the "Gulai Kambing" lamb in an Indonesian curry and coconut sauce with cinnamon, which was also delicious. Even though we were full, we also ordered the "Javaanse Panacota" for dessert (which I doubt is "traditional" Indonesian). It was a panacotta of lemon and coconut with a strawberry sauce. The service was also particularly noteworthy as our waitress was both attentive and nice. Blaauw is located on Amstelveenseweg next to the Vondelpark.
Fier - Our final meal in Amsterdam at Fier may have been our best. Close to our hotel in the Oud-West area, they offer a number of beers and snacks, making it somewhere between a bar and a café. We started with the nachos, which came out piping hot with fresh guacamole and salsa, and melted cheddar cheese. For each entrée you could choose your main, side, type of fries, and a sauce. For my main, I chose the "Filet Americain" (steak tartare), grilled eggplant, and fries with a lemon mayonnaise. Matt had a delicious bacon cheeseburger with a side salad and potato rosti with a spicy mayonnaise. If I could have eaten any more, I would have tried the bitterballen on the snack menu.
On the one hand, I feel like four days just wasn't enough. There are still so many restaurants that I would have liked to have tried and more museums and historical sites that I would have liked to have seen. On the other hand, we easily walked upwards of 20,000 steps a day (according to my Withings Pulse) and I was so tired by Sunday that we didn't do much. Still, all the more reason to go back again!
Do you have any other favorites in Amsterdam? Leave your recommendations in the comments below.