All About Amsterdam: Canals, Museums, Cafes, and Coffee-shops

Holla back to the last few days of my life, which I spent walking thousands upon thousands of steps a day through the cobbled streets and beautiful walkways of Amsterdam. What have you heard about this city? That it’s really hyped? It’s relaxing? It’s beautiful? It’s historical? Well I’m here to tell you it’s all of the above. I’m here to tell you all about Amsterdam, and how to get your first taste, because it definitely won’t be your last!

As this was a birthday surprise, I was a bit lacking on the pre-planning and I only had a day to really get somewhat of an itinerary together! Thankfully Lonely Planet was also gifted to me so I read through that goldmine and soaked up everything I could about this European dream.

*Last year my boyfriend took me to Barcelona! Read all about it here, and let your boyfriend know which one you’re dying to go to! Then leave open this browser 😉

All About Amsterdam

Day 1 – The Travel Day

The first day of a trip I’m either absolutely exhausted or I’m delirious with adrenaline. The past week had been a whirlwind, so I was really straddling which one I would be. Fortunately this day had some fun packed in as well as some zzz’s.

Hotel Arena

We stayed at Hotel Arena, where the rooms had the tallest ceilings with windows that looked out onto a beautiful greenery adorned courtyard. Honestly, this hotel was so cool, the beds were comfortable, and it was super modern. I would totally recommend it! Especially since it basically spills out into Oosterpark, so you’re greeted by gorgeous trees, a pond, and a walking bridge every morning.

 

We checked in and walked right into town to arrive at about 5 PM. So half the day was gone, but if you’re a night owl – this city does NOT sleep. The bars stay open until 3, 4, or 5! We chose to mooch around and walk up and down the Red Light District, because if you’re in Amsterdam you would be cheating your curiosity not to!

The Red Light District

Some girls did open their doors to try to beckon you in, some stayed behind their doors, and some chose to text by their windows or sit on their couch and talk to another girl. One door we saw a guy just hanging out with them, and another we saw a Deliveroo delivery guy at – girl has gotta eat! The only two times I saw any interaction with anyone was early evening and mid-morning. I’m talking like 6:30 PM and 10:20 AM, maybe I was there at random times or maybe that’s when the regulars know when to go – no judging here, just some observation!

Also – don’t take any pictures here, hence why I have no pictures… They’ll confiscate your phone and may toss them into the canal.

Sex Museum

If you’re intrigued by this make sure you hit up the Sex Museum across the street from the Red Light District, which shows you a funny history of the evolution of sex in society – special features by Miss Marilyn Monroe and other noted personalities that held the torch for this.

Thaise Snackbar Bird

If you’re into Thai food this place is a MUST. Don’t let the little restaurant and small dining area stop you from having some of the best Thai you’ll ever eat. This place seats about 20 people, and they literally pack you in but I haven’t had Pad Thai this good since Spain!

Try to get in early enough to avoid the queue, because people will queue and I would say the wait could be anywhere from 30-45 minutes. The catch 22 is that they don’t serve alcohol, so you can’t get a glass of wine or a beer but this also helps people to eat and get out which means if you do have to queue you won’t have to wait for people just wanting to hang around for a drink. It also means you can get back out and keep exploring the city!

Coffee shops vs Cafes

A post about Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to the coffee shops. First things first, make sure you know the difference between a coffee shop and a cafe. In a coffee shop you should expect there to be marijuana for sale, as well as some food and drink vs a cafe is normally just coffee, drinks, and food. 

You wouldn’t be doing yourself justice if you didn’t peek in some of these shops to see what people are up to, and they aren’t hard to miss – they are literally everywhere. Inside these shops there are experts on cannabis, and they’ll explain anything weed-related.

We didn’t get to go to a lot of these places, but these were the ones that were recommended to us! Most of these places will also sell brownies, which usually carry a high level of THC so be careful if you’re a beginner.

  • Rookies
  • Abraxas
  • Dampkring
  • Kadinsky

Day 2 – First Full Adventure Day

Kick off your first day with a traditional ‘Damish dish – mini pancakes! If you were trying to avoid carbs, don’t do it this trip. Do a hardcore detox when you’re back home, because you can’t not have these amazing drops of heaven.

De Carrousel Pannenkoeken

Make your way over to De Carrousel Pannenkoeken for a heap of mini pancakes smothered in powdered sugar, or if you’re too accustomed to big pancakes – get a mega large one that could be mistaken for a pizza. The fun thing about this place is that there’s an actual carousel in the restaurant which makes it unique. 

Here you’ll be tempted with different combinations of toppings, nutella, strawberries, sugar and lemon, pineapple, bacon, everything under the sun. I stayed pretty safe and got strawberries, which I was more than satisfied with.

The Rijksmuseum

Begin to battle those glorious carbs with a brisk walk through the park and over to another one of Amsterdam’s gems: the Rijksmuseum, one of the world’s most visited museums. If you’re into something more specific, this area has bunches of museums to choose from like the Van Gogh Museum and Moco Museum, there’s even a Diamond Museum in this area!

The Rijksmuseum is also home to the shameless Iamsterdam sign, which you have to battle to get a picture in front of but it’s well worth it. However, if you’re in Amsterdam on a weekday I would try to visit this then. We went on a Saturday and a Monday and the amount of people there on Saturday was more than double than that on the Monday.

Saturday

Monday

Amsterdam Cheese Company

Did you know the Dutch eat more than 14kg of cheese a person ANNUALLY?! Use this fact to scoot you into those cheese shops that are scattered around town.

There are always samples, and you can normally try any cheese you want in the store. If you spend a bit more time there than you’d like to admit, buy a block! You’ll be happy you did and it’s usually not THAT expensive.

When you’re going about Amsterdam and the cheese stores, I would recommend that anything with truffle is an absolute must. Go out of your way to try different kinds too! Like a coconut cheese or green pesto cheese! You may never buy it, but it’s something to definitely put on, and cross off your bucket list in one swift swoop.

Torture Museum

You’ve made your way into town a bit more, because no matter how far you start off on the outskirts of Amsterdam you always find yourself pulled into the centre.

A quite reasonably priced museum, go to the medieval looking Torture Museum where you can find old torture devices and descriptions of why and how they were used. Gruesome? Kind of, but it’s more informative than violating. So if you’re interested in history, (especially if you’ve just finished watching Gun Powder!) make sure you run in here and spend 45 minutes. It’s a quicker attraction but it’s worth it!

You’ve now walked quite a ways, and it’s time for a little bubbly. If it’s not 3:30 PM yet, walk a bit further into Dam Square to look at the Nationaal Monument and the Royal Palace Amsterdam. You’ll see tons of entertainers and tourists as this serves as Amsterdam’s “Times Square” – get some pictures and if you’re feeling like spending a bit of cash peruse the shops lining the area.

You’re certainly hungry now so get on over Bubbles & Wine.

Bubbles & Wine

This cute little place has bottles of wine for as little as €20 and has some great meat and cheese boards. You can spend up to an hour and a half to two hours here if you fancy doing so. We got the combo meat and cheese board which was also paired with figs, olives, mushrooms, and salmon crackers. It was super nice, and just what we needed to continue on

As you’ve just had something to eat, you’ll want to explore the Red Light District again and the area. We really liked Sink and Drink because the Wifi was good and it was really relaxed, so we could drink and just look out the windows at everyone on the street.

The best thing about Amsterdam

…is that it’s an amazing place because you don’t have to pay for an experience, you can just be there and that’s enough.

The best way we spent time was just by walking up and down the canals and watching everything going on. You’ll see Bachelor parties, really interesting characters, and random activities going on.

Dinner at Sumo

This sushi was incredibly fresh, and everything came out quickly. If you’re a sushi fan I would definitely recommend this as a dinner spot.

Sumo has a pre-set menu, but make sure you check it out carefully. I was able to order two soups, edamame, and three sushi rolls for two and it was still less than what it would have been with the pre-set menu – so just check how hungry you are before you shell out the cash!

Day 3 – More to Explore

We didn’t get to have breakfast this day because we were in a rush to get over to the Heineken Experience. This was something we had been wanting to do but there was always a long queue, so we were advised to buy tickets the day before for the early morning slot and we were happy we did!

Heineken Experience

I don’t like beer personally, but this was too much fun to not recommend and was really interesting. We got to see the history of Heineken, and then learn about the process of how this beer is made, and why it’s different than other beers.

TIP: If you go, and you’re NOT that interested about the history of who founded Heineken skip the first part. It will bring you into the area where they start explaining HOW the beer is made, and the historical part can be painfully slow because everyone walks in a straight line one after another. This was the only bad thing I could say about the experience.

You’ll get taken into the brewery room where there are many interactive videos in the brew tanks to explain the process of how the beer is made, and you’ll even have an opportunity to “help”

The last tour part of the experience, you are taken through the famous horse stables that house Heineken’s famous stallions. Here you are shown how to properly drink a beer, and it’s explained why there’s a foam head on a beer – etc. I found this pretty interesting to be fair, and my partner in crime loved it because he got a beer at 11 AM.

TIP: Right after this you have an opportunity to bottle your own beer, which means you can get a beer labeled with your name, or a loved one’s name on it! We got two made, but didn’t get to pick them up because remembered last minute that we didn’t check bags to bring them back home! Keep this in mind 🙂

Finally you’re let go into an adult Heineken playland. We actually had too much fun here haha – everything is digital, flashy, and entertainment-geared. From dancing in a circular mirrored room, to taking selfies in front of electrically illuminated beer bottle walls, and kicking an interactive football we had a blast.

Right before you’re let into the final (and probably most desired room), you can record a green-screened video biking through Amsterdam and take a picture in a beer tank that is sent to your email so that you can share it all over social media. This was hysterical!

Lastly, you’re in a Heineken bar – where you are offered two beers per person! If you’re not a beer drinker you can opt for a soft drink. This bar fills with lively music, and you can enjoy the free wifi while you post your amazing experience online!

By noon, Billy had four beers (mine from the beer tasting, plus his three) so he was a happy camper. All in all, this was one of the highlights of our trip. Though this was €17 making it a bit more expensive than other attractions, I would absolutely recommend it – and make sure you buy the tickets ahead of time!

Volt for lunch

Because we were running on espresso and, some of us, beer – we ran over to another place on our Amsterdam bucket list – Volt.

This is a local favourite, that came highly recommended from a fellow travel blogger and my handy dandy Lonely Planet book. So we knew it would be good.

A small cafe, with eclectic lights strung around gave this airy and calm atmosphere the perfect balance between modern and minimalist. Here you can order either breakfast or lunch, I got an eggs benedict and he got a ham and cheese toastie which were both very nice.

I wouldn’t say Volt helps you venture out food-wise, but with its atmosphere you definitely get to see more of the everyday local life. I found the pace here similar to that of Copenhagen: relaxed, friendly, and content.

By this day we had figured out that with the cold, and our action-packed days we needed a nap to allow us to finish out our last full day strong. Since this city stays awake until the wee hours of the morning, don’t sweat having to take a little power nap. Your tired legs and eyes are forgiven.

Museum our Lord in the Attic

After our nap we scrambled out of bed since we desperately wanted to see the Museum our Lord in the Attic. This was a hidden church that was used back when the Protestant religion was taking over Amsterdam, and Catholicism was illegal. Built above a canal house, this church could not be seen by the public eye.

They recommend an hour to see both the museum and church, but we got there with just 30 minutes until close. Quickly we got our audio tour handsets and went through the house and up to the church, learning about how it was hidden along the way.

Once we got up to the church, I was astounded at how grandiose it was! This is absolutely a place you should check out if you’re interested in religious history, or if you want to see beautiful sculptures and architecture.

Sea Palace for Dinner – DIM SUM

Who doesn’t like a good dim sum!? Especially when you can eat it on the first floating restaurant ever built in Europe!

We stumbled upon this restaurant when trying to find a place we could make a reservation for, for dinner. Set across from the NEMO Science Museum, this restaurant from the outside screams Chinese.

It is traditionally built, and the inside follows suit with its decor. The entire inside was accented with reds and golds, flowers, and hanging paper lanterns.

 

This place also has a set menu, but I found that to be pretty limited to be honest.

I added up five to six different dim sum dishes for us to share, and it came in around €15 euros cheaper than it would have been to get two of the same meal. So for us, this was a better value.

I wouldn’t say this dim sum was out of this world, but it was a cool experience and relatively inexpensive dinner after all was said and done.

If we would have planned more in advance, we would have loved to go to…

Supper Club

This was recommended to us, and it’s definitely on my to-do list next time I’m there!

Supper Club is a restaurant which has performances going on while you eat, but what’s so cool about it is that you’re eating on a bed! There is a table in the middle of the bed and you can lie down, eat, and watch the performance. Who doesn’t like dining in bed?! Especially when it’s fine food and not just pizza rolls and wine – though I will say, not much beats pizza rolls.

Some places you can go out, even on a Sunday, is the Sugar Factory which on Sunday introduces a jazz-filled evening that gets quite clubby as one and two AM rolls around. We’d seen great reviews on here via Trip Advisor so would definitely say to check it out.

Day 4 – Last Day, Best Day

How is the last day always the best day of a trip? Maybe not the best day, but you’re finally packed up to head home but you’re still so excited to spend the last hours and pack as much in as possible!

Bakers and Roasters for Breakfast

Have you ever gone in a restaurant and been like, if I could only have one of these where I live?! Then you start thinking of how you can make your own, and then get sidetracked by how delicious the food is and how nice the servers are and then you’re just dreaming of going back and ordering the same dish?

That is my internal monologue for Bakers and Roasters. Again, a recommendation from a fellow travel blogger, my handy dandy Lonely Planet, AND TripAdvisor – and now ME, so if this doesn’t make it on your MUST GO list in Amsterdam then I am thoroughly offended.

Bakers and Roasters is a feel-good cafe with an airy atmosphere, some quirky tables and table settings, fresh flowers, and quality food. There’s something about this place that just makes you think of home, but in the way you always wanted home to be like in a movie with fresh orange juice and just enough blueberries in your pancakes.

The New Zealand based restaurant prides itself on it’s Brazilian spin on it’s food. We both got the B&R breakfast with two eggs, pancakes, bacon, and of course some mimosas.

The entire meal was really nice, and the green onions were the perfect addition to our eggs. “HOW DID WE NOT THINK OF THAT!?”

We really liked everyone who worked there too, and it was the best way to start our last morning off.

Anne Frank Museum

After hitting up B&R we took an Uber over to the Anne Frank Museum – this is an extremely popular attraction so if you haven’t bought tickets ahead of time don’t just turn up. It will be sold out. Hop online before you go and be flexible about when you go, a week prior to us leaving I got tickets and the only day that was available was for the last day that we were there. If you want to go, try to grab your tickets as soon as possible just so you don’t miss out.

Some things to know is that you can’t take any pictures in the exhibition, nor can you bring any large backpacks. My purse was a smaller backpack and I had to put it in front of me the whole time, so if you find that annoying try to just bring a regular purse or nothing.

You’ll be taken through the house where Anne’s family hid, and up into the attic. This was a really amazing exhibit to go through to show how far we’ve come but also how the horrors of WW2 happened not so long ago.

I would highly recommend this for anyone in the world to go see, as this is such an important part of our history.

Canal hopping

After coming out of the Anne Frank Museum, we were in the center of the Jordaan Canals which are basically very picturesque canals that are begging to have photos taken of them. Also along this area you can take a canal tour for a number of hours, which I expect is very nice to do when it’s a bit warmer out.

Stroll along here as you make your way back into town and get ready to see some more cheese shops as you nab a block or two on your last day!

Henri Willig Cheese & More

Stop into Henri Willig and try their cheeses which are great, but also check out their stroopwafels which they’ll usually have tasters of.

You may have encountered these on the streets, but here you can find mini wafels to bring home! And damn these are a mouth-watering treat!

Stroopwafels look like a circular mini waffle but they aren’t oozing with maple syrup. Instead the syrup is kind of baked inside of them? I brought them back to my office in London, and eyes shone bright and they were devoured in less than two days by five people.

Albert Cuyp Market

Everyone loves a good market, especially on a weekday when it’s easy to walk through. Here there were tons of treats lining the sides of the streets, but there was also a lot of really trendy fashion pieces.

If you’re wanting to spend some time checking out authentic Dutch trinkets, tasty treats, and clothes – come here and spend some time as there are tons of stalls set up to give you a taste of Amsterdam.

What you need to know about Amsterdam

…is that it has a lot to offer and can satisfy almost every end of the spectrum. From being on a crazy Bachelor’s party, to a weekend getaway, or a trip to admire history and art – Amsterdam checks all boxes.

For those who like the touristy bits, they’re laid out quite plainly and are extremely accessible. Personally I like seeing the touristy stuff at first, there’s a reason it’s so hyped up! For those who like to get a more authentic vibe, just wander outside of central Amsterdam and you’ll find lots of local spots. The good thing about this city is that the centre is truly the tourist mecca so you either can be in it, or not.

Have you been to Amsterdam? I plan to go back in the warmer months and would love to know what else I can explore when I return! Let me know in the comments, or send me an email to collaborate on a future post.

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. CC | 17th Nov 17

    Enjoyed your post!

    • Rachel Houston | 18th Nov 17

      Thank you!!

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