Amsterdam continues to be in my top 5 European city destinations. I returned one year after my first trip in November 2017 because I missed the city so much! Mary and I checked all the touristy sights off our list during our trip in 2016, so this time was all about doing local activities. When you put aside the Red Light District and "Coffee Shops," this city is truly one of the most vibrant, artistic, and cultural cities I've ever seen. Did you know The Netherlands was the trading capital of the world? They had an immense amount of ships because of the way the country is structured near the water. While we don't think of The Netherlands as being a very vital force in the way our world developed, it actually was incredibly instrumental. I've learned so much about the culture of The Netherlands during my second trip and I'm so excited to share all the fun activities I did with you! If you already read my first travel itinerary, pay special attention because I've added more "must do" activities below!
The Fall is still the best time to visit Amsterdam in my opinion, because the canals are lined with colorful trees and the weather is just perfect. The pictures don't even do Amsterdam justice. Although, visiting The Netherlands in the Spring time when the tulips are in full bloom is definitely on my bucket list. I came a bit later this year (November) and it's much, much colder. We jumped full force into cold, rainy Winter weather which isn't my favorite. I filled up my itinerary with cultural and local activities, so I'm not doing as much wandering as Mary and I did during the Fall of 2016.
The first thing most people think of when Amsterdam is brought up is the prostitution industry. Yes, the Red Light District exists, but no it's not the primary focus of the city. Amsterdam is beaming with art, culture, history, and delicious eateries. So before you completely cross off Amsterdam from your travel wish list, give me a chance to convince you why this city is one of the best in the world...
I've now stayed in two Amsterdam AirBnBs. Housing is difficult to find in Amsterdam because either you spend a lot more to be in the central city or you pay less but stay in a less ideal place outside of the city. Not signed up for AirBnB yet? Sign up here for a free $40 credit. Depending on your price range, here are two viable options:
Central Amsterdam: You're in luck because if you mention my name, the host of this stunningly beautiful Vondel Park AirBnB will give you a special price! Aren't you glad you decided to read this post? ;) This room is way more than a typical AirBnB, it's on par with a hotel. I was speechless as I entered this traditionally designed room with the Dutch blue and white tiles, fabrics, and wood work. The host owns the entire building in a very nice, residential neighborhood. The bathroom is by far the nicest I've ever seen in any AirBnB property. I officially had the nicest shower I've ever had during my two semesters abroad. Not to mention, the neighborhood is filled with local restaurants that serve the most delicious food. Tram 1 is across the street and will take you directly into Center City Amsterdam in 10-15 minutes. You could not stay in a more ideal and perfect place. Yes, I spent a bit more than I usually would, but it was so worth it! Book Petra's incredible home here.
Outside of Amsterdam: We opted for the AirBNB and while it wasn't our favorite one of all our adventures, we rarely spent any time in the apartment. If you're heading to Amsterdam, I recommend booking your AirBNB before anything else. Often times it's slim pickings, so you'll have to choose one that's a train ride outside the city (which isn't a big deal...the train is very safe, clean, and affordable), or splurge on an okay accommodation in the center city. This is the AirBNB we stayed in...our host was an angel and ended up driving us to a more convenient train station so we could catch our flight. She did everything she could to make our stay more enjoyable.
Omelegg: I instantly fell in love and admittedly ate here two times during a three day long trip. It's a short walk from the Central Station and down a narrow alley way. They only have a few tables so it's common for people to wait outside...yes, it's that good! Omelegg has these cute wooden menus, picnic style decorations, and delicious plates. If you're a breakfast/eggs person, you can't miss Omelegg.
Blushing: This is my second favorite spot in Amsterdam; a trendy lunch spot located by the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum. We stumbled upon this restaurant, but also fell in love with the delicious and healthy options. And just because we're creatures of habit, we went there twice as well. Blushing also had beautiful decor, including hand painted tiles that decorated the walls and floors.
CAU: Amsterdam is really big on their Brazilian inspired restaurants. Apparently it was a trend that went wild in the 1980's and just stuck around. CAU is located right off the central square of Amsterdam. They have delicious food (try the truffle mac and cheese and their sticky chicken salad) and a two level trendy vibe.
Stoop en Stoop: This is a cozy, local cuisine restaurant tucked in a side street of the canals.
Fijnkost: If you stay at the Vondel Park AirBnB that I recommend above, it's just across the street from the apartment. It's a very local Dutch restaurant and there's no English menu, but the staff are lovely and were happy to translate. I recommend getting the sausage dish. They specialize in small dishes for around 5 euro a piece. I had two dishes and that was plenty. It's a great retreat from the busy atmosphere of central Amsterdam.
The Happy Pig Pancake Shop: As much as I love my Mom's pancakes on a Sunday morning, these pancakes were absolutely delicious. I opted for a traditional style with chocolate sauce.
SIGHTS & EXPERIENCES
Rijksmuseum is the Museum of Netherlands and one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city primarily because of the notable I AMSTERDAM sign in front. Tickets are 17.50 euros and free for those under 18. The sign is free to the public. The Rijksmuseum has some of the most notable artists in Europe and you could easily spend a whole day there. If you're not into admiring at art all day, I would recommend you pass on the visit.
Vincent Van Gogh Museum: This was my favorite museum in Amsterdam because it was a manageable size and gave a true appreciation for Van Gogh's career and work. Tickets are 17 euros and gives you a direct look into the famous artist's life. Many know him as the artist that cut his ear off, but after walking through dozens of his paintings, it's apparent he is one of the most innovative and creative artists of his time. Van Gogh created 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings, though he only sold one painting during his lifetime. I learned to appreciate his work in a whole new way being physically there. If you have to pick one museum, I'd say go for the Van Gogh museum. They're practically across the street from each other and separated by a beautiful field where locals with hangout on a sunny day.
Anne Frank House: Mary and I worked on a project together about Anne so we felt is was only appropriate that we visit her home together. People wait in several hour-long lines just to see this small room filled with history and secrets. You must book tickets in advance if you don't want to stand in the cold and rain. If you think to book too late, make sure to check to site periodically because you never know if a spot will open up! We were truly humbled by the experience. It's hard to believe a little girl could remain so happy during those dark and long weeks hiding in the attic of her father's factory building. Her journal is a true testament to how grateful we should be for our lives regardless of the hardships we may face. She died at age 15, though her sophisticated and profound journal entries make her seem well beyond her years. Anne reminded me to be grateful for every little piece of happiness that comes my way.
Amsterdam Canal Cruises: Amsterdam is known for its canals that create an onion shape. Don't miss out on a canal tour because it gives you an entirely different perspective of the city. It was a relaxing hour-long ride with an audio guide included that gave little snippets of information--things you'd never know unless you went on a tour. A feature of Amsterdam is that the canals are lined with bicycles. There are more bicycles in Amsterdam than there are people! It's an incredibly walkable city and once you're in the center city, everything is close. There are also fun trams that run in the center of the street throughout the city.
AirBnB Local Restaurant Tasting Experience: Okay, so you've done all the typical touristy sights in Amsterdam. Now what? Get a chance to try the true, local Dutch cuisine through this one-of-a-kind experience. Jasper owns Frederique, a local restaurant a tram stop away from the Heineken Experience and one street from Albert Cuyp Market. I had a personal tasting of all the country's famous drinks, desserts, snacks, and food. The food was not only amazing, but getting to know a local was even better. We chatted for an hour while he explained some of the history. Jasper is so passionate about his restaurant and business. For $30, you really can't beat this opportunity. If you sign up, be sure to tell him I said hello! Sign up here! Not signed up for AirBnB yet? Sign up here for a free $40 credit.
Day Trip to Dutch Windmills, Volendam, Marken & Free 1-Hour Canal Cruise: There is so much more to The Netherlands than Amsterdam. If you have a half-a-day to spare, you absolutely must sign up for this experience. The windmills were such an instrumental part of the country's international success. There are only roughly 1,000 windmills left in existence. Next, the group takes you to Volendam, a famous, quaint fishing village. Here you get a free cheese making demonstration and have the chance to taste several varieties. There's lots of shopping and great photo ops here as well. Ditch the coach bus and take the ferry across to Marken, an island where a man makes traditional Dutch wooden shoes. He'll give you a demonstration on how the shoe is made and it's actually one of the coolest things I've seen! The coach bus will be there to pick the group back up and will drive you back to Central Amsterdam. The tour runs from 9:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. It's the perfect amount of the time and takes the stress off of you. I was going to try to plan this on my own, but for the price, it was definitely worth getting the tour guide and local knowledge. Plus, your ticket includes a free canal cruise tour through Lovers Canal Cruise. You really can't find another company that offers as much as they do! I booked this experience by downloading an app called GetYourGuide. Click here to sign up for the trip!
Red Light District Tour: There's so much behind the prostitution industry and if you're looking for a reputable source to get all your burning questions answered, you must sign up for this tour through GetYourGuide. For less than $20, you get a two-hour walking tour throughout the city with a guide that is incredibly knowledgeable of the ins-and-outs. The best part is that no one is ashamed of the awkward questions you might want to ask, so ask away! Some of the most interesting facts I learned on the tour were:
- You have to interview with the city council if you want to work as a Red Light District prostitute
- It costs 150 euros every time you rent a room for an 8-hour shift
- You must be 21 years or older to be a prostitute and must keep your passport with you each shift so you have the ability to walk out at any time. You also must be an EU citizen in order to work.
- There's a panic button in each room that calls the police. The police are actually on their side since this is a legal profession.
The tour gets into how much it costs, the history of the industry, and so much more. I couldn't recommend this experience more. Even though it was freezing and rainy during the entire two-hour tour, I was engaged the entire time and really enjoyed learning about the history. My guide's name was David and he was amazing! Sign up for the tour here!
1971 Fiat Chocolate Tour: AirBnB experiences are so on point in Amsterdam. Emma, a local 20-something year old Dutch woman gives tours from her 1971 cream color Fiat. Not only does she have a dream car, but she also has the coolest job: a chocolatier! Emma is super passionate about chocolate and sharing her home city with visitors. You can see Amsterdam by boat and bike, but not many can say they've seen it by car...and a 1971 Fiat nonetheless. This was such an amazing experience and I had a blast getting to know Emma and another solo traveler. I ended up spending the day with Kelsey who was traveling around Europe as well. It's sporadic moments like these that I will never forget. Sign up here! Not signed up for AirBnB yet? Sign up here for a free $40 credit.
Episode: This is by far the most extensive vintage/thrift store I've ever found! I actually visited Episode for the first time in Brussels, Belgium, and was thrilled to find they have several locations in Amsterdam. You can find everything from vintage ski jackets, high waisted jeans, colorful berets, Converse sneakers, and so much more. I left with a hot pink beret that I'd been eyeing for a while!
Wini: This small, but affordable vintage store is located on Haarlemmerstraat -- a street that is filled with quaint shops. If you're looking for shops that sell one-of-a-kind items, you must visit this street! I picked up a vintage blue and pink scarf that I can't wait to wear in the spring!
Amsterdam is my #2 favorite city in Europe (Dublin being #1). I've done all the touristy museums and walked each street in the city. Now my dream & goal is to make it to The Netherlands during tulip season, so I'm sure a trip back will be in my near future!