I’ll be the first to admit that I had pre-judged Amsterdam. I’d been before about 5 or so years ago with a group of friends, on our way to Groezrock (a festival in Belgium), and during that particular trip my friends wanted to center most of it around ‘coffeeshops’ and the like, as most group trips to Amsterdam do. I got a brief glimpse of the canals and a couple of bars. I was also less of a savvy traveler, not doing as much research as I do now ahead of a trip. When my girlfriend mentioned that she wanted to visit the city, I wasn’t instantly as enthused as I was about some of our other options, but after the 48 hours we spent there this August, I’d happily go back at the drop of a hat. It’s a city rich in culture, with a vibrant atmosphere, pride in its own traditions & history and an absolutely thriving food scene.
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Amsterdam – Day One
Our trip started, as ever, with an early morning in Stansted. Being the peak of summer, this could easily have been hell on earth, but it was fortunately merely ‘busy’. It’s also made that little bit more bearable when you know that the flight you’re about to undertake is only about 35 minutes long. It’s a little mad, when you think about it. That’s as long as I sit on the tube in the morning, crammed in with a hundred sweaty commuters on their way in to central London. In that 35 minutes you’ve hardly even got time to pop to the toilet before the seatbelt sign is flashing once again and you’re excitedly looking out of the window (admittedly, at a grey wall of clouds) trying to spot the city you’re coming down into. Similarly, the train from Amsterdam airport takes a wonderfully quick 17 minutes, and will set you back around €10 euros return (I’d recommend booking ahead online and printing a ticket), which continues to put the London airport connections to absolute shame. This meant that by about 10.30 we were already in Amsterdam, trying to work out how to buy a ticket for the tram. We weren’t going to be able to check in to our Airbnb until early afternoon, so our first port of call was to get some coffee. Amsterdam’s coffee scene, like the rest of the world’s, has improved ten fold in recent years. For a city where they’ve likely had to work against the stigma of what a ‘coffeeshop’ is, that’s even more impressive. Sheltering from some rain in Lot Sixty One and nursing an excellent flat white, we planned out the rest of the day. It was to start with a late brunch, before checking whether we could get tattooed at the famous Salon Serpent tattoo studio, checking in to freshen up and then make more plans from there.
By the time we’d found somewhere actually open for food at that time, as sadly the foodhallen didn’t start serving until much later in the day, despite being open, it was about 11.30 and we lucked out by getting a free table at Staring At Jacob, an American style brunch bar/Japanese food bar combo, next to a canal in the Oud-West area, near-ish the Vondelpark. After polishing off a large plate of thick, fluffy waffles, fried chicken & scrambled eggs (14,50) plus a side of home fries, we went to check how busy the walk in Saturdays were at Salon Serpent. Sadly, after looking at the flash books available, we decided there wasn’t anything either of us wanted, so we headed over to our AirBnB in De Pijp, about a 15 minute journey by tram and foot. The AirBnB itself was a loft flat at the top of one of Amsterdam’s many terraced buildings. Split across two floors it had a large living room & kitchen space, which giant windows allowing the light to pour in, and a second floored bedroom, complete with beams.
After a quick freshen up, we headed into Amsterdam proper, to have a quick potter around the canals and visit the FoMO Photography Museum (€11). The photography museum changes its exhibits regularly and is a fantastic source of photograph based art. Following an hour sauntering around looking at pictures, we walked back to the airbnb, grabbing a couple of doughnuts from PeeJays. After being up since 4am, a coffee & creme brulee doughnut and a nap were exactly what we needed before the evening’s plans. While we were tucked up eating our doughnuts, the heavens opened, worrying us about the predominantly outdoor plans we had for the evening ahead. Fortunately, it cleared up, stopping us from having to trudge through the rain to the boat trip we had booked.
Amsterdam’s canal’s have numerous options when it comes to exploring them. There are a myriad of companies, offering every kind of boat tour that you can imagine. We went for one operated by Boat Amsterdam, which was an hour long cruise around the canals, with unlimited alcohol (€15). Essentially, you get to see Amsterdam from the water, while drinking as much cheap wine as you feel comfortable with. It’s worth it, especially if the weather’s good in the early evening. Leaving the boat with a spring (sway) in our step it was time to find something to eat. Having heard rave reviews of the Butcher, Amsterdam’s famous burger joint, we decided to give it a try. However, they’d already run out of all of their veggie options (it was 8.30 on a Saturday, the place was open until 2am) so as Maddie couldn’t eat there, we just grabbed one from a fast food place opposite, needing something to mop up the alcohol sooner rather than later. The rest of the night was spent bar hopping around the red light district, battling the crowds and drinking strong beer, before missing the last tram and walking all the way back to our AirBnB, which suddenly didn’t feel as close at 2am.
Amsterdam – Day Two
The Sunday started as all Sundays should, with brunch. Amazingly, a lot of places in Amsterdam open up early on a Sunday morning, which is a stark contrast to large chunks of Europe, who just shut up shop completely. We went to Bakers & Roasters a couple of streets over from our AirBnB in De Pijp. Even turning up just before 9am on a Sunday morning, we had to have a short wait for a our table. It boasts an extensive New Zealand brunch inspired menu and an array of baked goods. I ate Navajo Eggs (pulled bbq pork, avocado, mango salsa & chipotle cream served with two poached organic free-range eggs and hot buttered toast 15.50) and Maddie got the Huevos Rancheros (12.50).
After banishing the edges of the hangover that was threatening to creep in, we got a tram to Amsterdam Centraal, for a ferry. In recent years they’ve spent a lot of money developing the old ship yards across the water from the main bustle of Amsterdam, in IJ-Hallen. Across here now are hotels, cafes, small businesses and, every now and then, the largest fleamarket in Europe. The market is only on a few times a year, but well worth a visit. It sprawls over a large area, and every time you think you’ve finished exploring you’ll find another stall. You’ll find everything, and I mean everything. Fancy a vintage denim jacket? How about a dining table, or a single drawer from an apothecary table? Some stalls were nothing but piles of nuts and bolts. If you’ve got the time, then there are definitely some amazing bargains to be found here. Unfortunately, the heavens decided to open, so we dashed for the ferry back to Amsterdam proper. Still full from breakfast, but wanting a snack, we went to Scandinavian Embassy, a small and particularly chic coffee shop around the corner from our AirBnB in De Pijp. Grabbing a flat white and a cinnamon bun soft and fresh out of the oven we sheltered in a park and warmed ourselves back up.
The rain was fairly heavy when we got back to Amsterdam, but we knew it was going to brighten up a little later. Taking the chance, we headed back to our apartment for a nap, the effects of the night before threatening to come back. Refreshed, and still pretty full from breakfast and the cinnamon buns, we set back out in the middle of the afternoon. The sun had finally come back out, so we ventured out for ice cream. Discovering there was somewhere particularly good on the way to Vondelpark, which we’d wanted to amble around that afternoon, was ideal. We walked from De Pijp to IJsBoutique, an icecream shop and fry-house. I tried the maple & walnut, a soft and lightly balanced scoop. Munching on ice cream we started walking around Vondelpark, which would appear to be the dog capital of the city. I’ve not seen so many dogs in one place outside of crufts. Once we’d spent some time walking, and sitting, around the park in the sun it was time for dinner. Before coming to Amsterdam I’d asked around a number of friends (and fellow bloggers) for some recommendations. One of the ones that kept on coming up was Vegan Junk Food Project. Not far from where we’d eaten on the first morning, and just a block over from Vondelpark, it’s a small fast food shop nestled in the corner of a small residential square. So we could try as much of the menu as possible we split a VJFB Burger, Parmesan & Truffle Fries, ‘Chicken’ Nuggets and a portion of vegan Bitterballen. The mock chicken was a little thin, but otherwise chewy and satisfyingly meaty, the burger was one of the better vegan burgers I’ve had, with a great texture and earthiness, but the star of the show was the bitterballen, which were essential balls of deep fried white veggie gravy.
“I mean, if you haven’t taken a photo posing on one of the penis statues, have you even been to Amsterdam?”
Refuelled we got a tram into central, to tick off one of the main ‘tourist’ things that it’s worth anyone coming to the city seeing. I am of course talking about the Sex Museum. It’s a lowly €5 a ticket and a wonderfully tacky way to spend 45 minutes; from a history of sex around the world and various taboos all the way through to the giant penis statues and flashing mannequins. I mean, if you haven’t taken a photo posing on one of the penis statues, have you even been to Amsterdam? Following this it was time for another walk through the canals in the sun. Sunday evening was a stark contrast to the pulsating busy streets of the Saturday. The rest of the night we spent closer to home, well, the airbnb that is. De Pijp has a thriving bar and restaurant scene, so we decided to do a mini bar crawl and sample some of the local beers. Like the UK, Amsterdam has an excellent community of microbreweries and we tried beers from Oedipus, Two Chefs and De Prael before finishing the night in a wine bar called Glou Glou. It was a significantly more relaxed evening, and a great way to round off the trip. If you’re after a quieter, and generally higher quality of drink then De Pijp is absolutely the place to do it.
Our flight wasn’t until about 2, so we weren’t going to head to the airport until around midday. This meant that we had time for a lazy breakfast/brunch. Another place just up the road from our apartment, and again one that came highly recommended, was CT Coffee & Coconuts. Taking over an old art deco theatre this multi-floored coffee shop and restaurant is bustling with people out for breakfast. Sitting at the top so we could look down across the rest of the venue we polished off some coffee while I tucked into a breakfast that just so happened to have an entire ball of Burrata on top. I had Pan Con Tomate (Oven-roasted tomatoes drizzled with beautiful olive oil, almond pesto, Dutch burrata cheese and smokehouse almonds €8,50), the slow roasted tomatoes were jammy and the burrata pleasantly creamy. Maddie had the French Toast (Brioche bread soaked in organic eggs, fried up with seasonal fruit, ricotta, almonds, lavender, honey and basil €8,5). After this we went back into Amsterdam proper for one last wander around before we had to head off.
All in all it was a relaxed trip, but as I said at the start of this now essay, the city surprised me. The streets and canals are vibrant, often beautiful and the culture rich. I’ll happily come back to find out what more the city undoubtedly has to offer.
Where to eat in Amsterdam
Vegan Junk Food Bar – Does what it says on the tin, entirely vegan junk food Try the bitterballen and a burger.
Foodhallen – We were unlucky to find a ticketed festival taking place so didn’t get to explore it properly, but from what we saw it’s well worth a visit.
Staring At Jacob – An American/Japanese breakfast and brunch menu during the day, with cocktails later on.
CT Coffee & Coconuts – Delightful brunch menu from french toast to balls of burrata on roasted tomatoes. All in an art deco theatre. Also offers evening meals and a coffee shop downstairs.
Bakers & Roasters – Trendy New Zealand themed brunch bar and coffee house with an array of baked goods. Expect a wait if you arrive later on.
Where to get coffee and bakes in Amsterdam
Lot Sixty One – Simply put, this is some of the best coffee I’ve ever drank.
Scandinavian Embassy – Great coffee in a chic Scandi-inspired setting. Get one of the cinnamon/cardamon buns while they’re fresh and warm. Also does brunch.
CT Coffee & Coconuts – As it says above, there’s a coffee shop at the bottom of the restaurant.
PeeJays Doughnuts – Excellent doughnuts. Tip; if you get a drink they throw in a free tote bag.
What to do in Amsterdam
Boat cruise (there are numerous, ours had an hour of free booze, others have someone telling you about history)
The Fleamarket at IJ-Hallen – The free ferry across alone is worth the trip
Fomo Museum of Photography
Rent a bike
Just walk around the canals
Visit the Red Light District