Well, all I can say is wow! Sign me up for a bicycle, a houseboat, life around the canals and the cafe culture, tout suite!
Following my recent first trip to Amsterdam, it has swiftly became one of my favourite European cities. I expected to like it of course, and was keen to visit, but I didn’t really think I’d love it and feel like I could live there.
Here’s a little more about why I loved Amsterdam and what I suggest you check out if you’re visiting.
The Nine Streets
There’s so much to love. First up (you know me and I know what you really want to read about!), the shopping! No visit to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to The Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes). I didn’t even know about them so I’m glad I stumbled upon them and would hate anyone to miss them.
This delightful area of nine side streets connecting the main canals is full of fashion and homewares boutiques, cool cafes, bars and delis. It is an absolute pleasure to explore, even if you don’t buy anything. A good proportion of these stores sell homewares, which will please the true interiors addict, but there’s something for everyone. Think Melbourne laneway shopping but so much better! The atmosphere is upmarket but not intimidating.
We stopped for pancakes at Pancakes! Amsterdam, which is allegedly one of the best places to try the traditional Dutch crepes. They were delicious. Expect to queue, but not for too long. Make sure you sit a while and watch the world go by inside or outside one of the cafes (they all have the cutest interiors).
The canals and architecture
There’s just something about cities that sit right on the water, don’t you think? And there’s a reason Amsterdam’s canal district is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. If you love design and architecture like me, you could gaze at all the amazing houses for days and weeks. They’re unlike anywhere else and I love how different they all are, which makes for a unique and beautiful skyline. These truly impressive and huge buildings were stately homes in the Golden Age but are now largely offices and museums (I daren’t imagine how much a whole one would set you back!).
We went on a canal boat tour (everything touristy in Amsterdam seems to cost 15 euros!) where I mostly tried to look through windows and imagine living in one of these fine structures in a bygone age. Dreamy. You really must take a canal boat trip as you get a unique view of the city this way. But make sure you wander around by the canals on foot too.
Amsterdam is a museum lover’s dream! We went to the Van Gogh Museum (we queued for an hour despite having the ‘fast lane’ tickets) and the Stedelijk (no queues at all) and neither disappointed (15 euros each per ticket). Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers are currently on loan to The National Gallery in London.
As we didn’t have time to do ALL the museums, we spent ages deciding between the newly renovated Rijksmuseum (where everyone tells you you have to go!) and the Stedelijk, deciding the latter might be a better contrast to the Van Goghs. I’m really glad we made this choice as we loved this museum (commonly referred to as the bathtub because of the way the building looks a bit like one from outside), which housed not just modern art but furniture, graphic design and every kind of design really. There’s also a brilliant shop at the end (you can go in without visiting the museum) full of great design books, gifts, art posters and things for the home. The highlight of our visit would have to be the Marcel Wanders exhibition, on until 15 June 2014.
I strongly recommend you do go to the Rijksmuseum if you have time. The building alone, built in 1885, is stunning and impressive. The national museum reopened last year following a 10-year multi-million dollar renovation. It houses an amazing collection of art by the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer. It’s certainly something for the Dutch to be very proud of. There are many more museums in Amsterdam, from those housed in the impressive old canal houses to the seedier sex and prostitution “museums”.
The Dutch are very friendly and helpful, plus pretty much everyone speaks English and doesn’t mind doing so. This makes for a very easy and pleasant experience when shopping and eating out.
We weren’t brave enough to hire our own bikes, although kept threatening to. Everyone cycles in Amsterdam; all ages, from kids to pensioners, mums and dads with kids in their ‘bakfiets’.
Cycling is a way of life in Amsterdam, as the bike rack with room for 7,000 at Central Station proves. You’ll see bikes everywhere, chained to every possible railing (even when signs read ‘no bikes’!)! They look so pretty and the women manage to look so stylish while cycling. It helps, of course, that Amsterdam is flat and the bicycle paths are everywhere, making it really easy and safe. We regret not hiring bikes so if you’re visiting soon, please make sure you do, for us!
The system is easy and the trams are frequent. We really enjoyed travelling this way. It’s great watching the world go by as you go between attractions or to and from your hotel. We bought a 72-hour ticket but, in hindsight, may have been better off with a 72-hour I amsterdam City Card, which also gives you free entry to and discounts on various tourist attractions.
The Red Light District
Yes, it’s seedy and kind of gross, but when in Amsterdam, you really have to see it! And you’ll see tourists of every age having a peek too. The women in their underwear in the windows just seemed really surreal to me and we couldn’t help having an embarrassed giggle. It’s a very safe place to visit in fact, with plenty of police, just don’t take any photos or you’ll find yourself in trouble. As red light districts go, with a canal down the middle, Amsterdam’s has to be one of the more quaint (not that I make a habit of frequenting these places!).
We didn’t have a bad meal while we were there. We suggest you go for Indonesian at least once as this is one of the best cuisines you can try here. We had a traditional ‘rice table’ (rijsttafel) one night and it was really enjoyable. It consists of many small dishes served with rice. Dating back to colonial times, during their presence in Indonesia, the Dutch introduced the rice table concept to impress visitors with the exotic abundance of their colony. You must try Dutch pancakes too, of course (see above).
We ran out of time to visit the immense Keukenhof Tulip Gardens. Luckily, they’re everywhere in the city anyway when in season. Some of the best can be found in the beautiful Vondelpark.
It’s not all about the red light district and pot
It really isn’t, so leave those preconceptions behind. Yes, Amsterdam is known for these naughty pursuits, but it’s such a small part of what is a beautiful and very chic city. It’s a real pleasure to visit, just make sure you don’t stay or hang out too much in the area immediately around Central station or the red light district (you won’t stumble upon it, you have to go looking for it!) and bear in mind that coffee shops are for smoking, not getting your caffeine fix! I’d recommend you stay a little further out (we stayed at The College Hotel, about 15 minutes from the hustle and bustle by tram, and highly recommend it).
Jen Bishop is a blogger at Interiors Addict, Australia’s leading online publication dedicated to the interiors, of homes, hotels and more! She is currently spending 6 months traveling with her new husband, Damian.