72 Hours in Amsterdam

I’ve wanted to go to Amsterdam for as long as I can remember. Somehow I’d made it to Schiphol airport twelve times before but never managed to leave the departure gates. So when it came time to plan my own 30th birthday trip- Amsterdam was the perfect choice. I ended up doing a lot of research pre-trip and wanted to share my weekend itinerary & personal recommendations. I hope you enjoy.

-Aheli

OVERVIEW

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Amsterdam is a city of canals. Prepare to walk, eat and repeat. Spend your time digesting at one of the many museums or taking a (romantic) stroll through the canal.

Best for: Couples, Solo Travelers, First Time Euro-travelers, LGBTQ friendly

Avoid If: Craving a Non-English experience, Hate Water

Travel Hacks:
  • Keep some cash. Credit Cards without “PIN numbers” aren’t always accepted.
  • Book your museum tickets (well) in advance.
  • Bring walking shoes
  • Research & reserve favorite spots in advance
  • Keep a bottle of water with you
Can’t Miss:
  • Dutch pancakes & cheese (Old Amsterdam is a classic)
  • Indonesian Rijsttafel
  • A Sunset Canal Tour
  • At least one museum (see below)

GETTING THERE

Amsterdam is a relatively quick trip from the US East Coast. G found an amazing deal so we ended up with a quickly layover in London. Thanks to our priority pass, we lounge-hopped and basically tried every type of bread, cheese and wine combo possible. Cheap Trips to Europe are all the rage right now (Summer 2017).

GETTING AROUND

Upon ArrivalOnce you land, take a train/tram combination to your destination (5-10). Walk towards the train signs after customs, and the ticket vendors are on the right in the main hall. Traveling by train is very simple. There are clearly marked Dutch & English signs, trains are typically on-time, there are elevator/escalator access in all the stations and there are a lot of helpful attendants to guide you to the right spot.

After: We used a combination of wanderlust, Citymapper and Google Maps to get around the city proper. Since it was summer, it was easy to walk 20-40 minutes between every spot and discover new canals. In the winter months, you can buy unlimited tram passes (1 to 7 day tickets range between €7.50 to €34). Uber is also available if you are in a rush because you walked 20 minutes in the opposite direction and are trying to make a strict reservation…not that that happened to us.

WHERE TO SLEEP

We rented a houseboat  dream in Amsterdam Oud-West, which was truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Every morning I’d wake up, make a cup of tea and step out onto a floating terrace to watch the neighborhood ducklings swim by. Our houseboat was parked in quiet residential neighborhood so it felt like we were coming home after a long day of walking. Hots can be very expensive in Amsterdam so try searching Airbnb before you commit.

Stay in: Jordaan, Amsterdam Oud-West, Everywhere on the “crescent shaped” canals is nice (Lijnbaansgracht, Prinsengracht, Heerengracht, Singel).

Avoid: Any place more center than the Singel River (so de dam, Redlight District, Damrak, Rookin, Rembrandtplein etc) because it will be too touristy.

*******

WEEKEND GUIDE: 72 HOURS IN AMSTERDAM

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Friday

12PM: Check into your hotel or Airbnb

6:30PM: Take a canal tour at sunset. 

This is a wonderful way to orient yourself to a city. G & I found this great tour company- KINBoat– while walking through the Jordaan. They specialize in “like a local” tours where you can take a small boat (8-10) people through the less traveled canals. Our captains- Frank and Floris- were a dream, giving us the inside scoop on boat parking, government bribes and the best bar snacks- bitterballen.

Pro Tip: Aim for a sunset tour. There is nothing more romantic/relaxing than sipping on some rosé while cruising through the many canals and bridges.

9PM: Grab a drink & food at Cafe De Klepel

This beautiful little cafe is tucked away in the uber trendy Jordaan district. Run by a young sommelier duo, you can pop in (before 7pm or after 11pm) for a glass of wine or charcuterie. It’s tiny and filled with locals. If you want to eat a full dinner, book in advance. It’s definitely worth it. Check our the charming De 9 Straatjes –9 streets with lots of shops and bars– before or after the cafe stop.

10:30PM: Take a walk on the wild side

My impression of Amsterdam is about 95% picturesque canals and idyllic long walks. 5% is the super touristy take on Amsterdam’s liberal laws. Should you choose, take a quick (and definitely awkward) stroll through the Red Light district. Remember: Don’t be that person. There are absolutely no pictures of the women.

Alternative: Keep drinking and enjoy a late number wander through the canals.
******

Saturday

10AM: Grab a coffee and head to Bloemenmarkt Flower Market

So in all honesty, Bloemenmarkt-  the world’s only floating flower market- was a bit of a let down for me. I’m not sure if it was because of the time of year or because it has become so famous- that it felt like a huge tourist trap. That said, the walk to Bloemenmarkt along the Singel canal is gorgeous.

11:30AM: Brunch at Bakers & Roasters

This Brazilian & New Zealand brunch place is the perfect combo of healthy & sinful. They serve everything from freshly made juices to homemade granola to pancakes. G & I did a 50/50% split on the Instagram worthy Acai bowl and crispy Huevos Rancheros. You can’t make reservations but you can grab a drink (boozy or otherwise) while you wait.

2PM: Head over to the Van Gogh Museum

Amsterdam is a city of museums. You have the Louvre-sized Rijksmuseum  the Museum het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt House), The Hermitage, a lovely photo museum Foam. Simply put you could spend a month in Amsterdam and not do justice to there museum scene. My recommendation for a weekend trip is to pick: 2 museums only. Anything else you’ll be guaranteed museum fatigue. Before this trip, I looked through the list of major museums and narrowed it down to the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House.
My advice:

Book your tickets 2-3 months in advance…or risk waiting in the bitter cold/heat for hours.

The Van Gogh Museum was one of my personal favorites. I’d never been to a museum dedicated to a single artist. The museum examines Van Gogh’s life in the context of his multiple homes, peers, and his letters to his family. On the fifth floor, you can actually x-ray a piece he did in the beaches of Provence and see the grains of sand that were embedded into the paint.

4:30PM: Take a selfie in front of the IAMSTERDAM sign 

Or just play on the lawn in front of the Rijksmuseum. This is a wonderful people watching place and a perfect place to rest in between your afternoon and evening plans.

5PM: Drinks at the Conservatorium Hotel’s Brasserie and Lounge

This is hands-down the most impressive lobby-cum-dining spaces in Amsterdam. It’s super close to the museums. Simply walk through the front stairs and cross into the small atrium. It is a completely Instagram worthy spot and perfect place to refresh with afternoon tea or a whiskey.

7PM: Take the long walk over to Guts & Glory

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Dish 4 of 10
For my all important birthday dinner, I spent about two months researching, bookmarking and pestering my dutch friends for recommendations. I finally landed on Guts & Glory- this super cool concept restaurant that changes its menu every couple of months to feature a specific protein or cuisine style (what they call “Chapters”). In June, they features Japanese food with special “glories” like Otoro Sashmi and Waygu. Diners can chose 5/6/7 courses and the chefs will custom prepare a menu. Should you go, and you definitely should, I’d recommend the 6 course meal with a wine pairing (you tell them how many courses you’d like to pair so you don’t end up rolling out the restaurant).
The food was simply divine and the restaurant space was high quality but unpretentious. G& I savored our meal over five glorious hours.

12AM: Roll home because you’ve literally been out all day

Sunday 

11AM: Have a late start and head to de Foodhallen

Treat yourself to a nice lie in and then when the stomach dictates head over to de Foodhallen. This super trendy food hall was formerly a tram depot. It’s an excellent place to get a taste of dutch street food- grilled cheese sandwiches, bitterbals, poke.

2PM: Bike around Vondelpark

This was actually one thing G & I didn’t do in Amsterdam– a surprise given G’s love of biking. Amsterdam is a biker’s paradise. There are clear biker lanes & signals and bike rental places on every corner. I’d recommend heading to Vondelpark and biking around Oud-West.

6PM: Try an Indonesian Rijsttafel at Restaurant Blauw

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There is a huge Indonesian influence in Amsterdam. One of my “must-dos” is to try a traditional Indonesian Rijsttafel. This is a table-filling feast of small dishes, rice, and condiments, a hybrid Dutch-Indonesian tradition that originated during the Dutch colonial era. There’s a vegetarian rijsttafel option, and you can also order more traditional Indonesian dishes from the a la carte menu. Arrive hungry!

9PM: Relax

Monday 

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Canal Photo Shoots

8:30AM: Pack up, grab a juice or coffee and head to the Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank house is a really interesting museum.  As a guest, you see where the Franks (and four other people) hid in the Secret Annex in a Canal House as the Nazi slowly implemented a series of racist and discriminatory laws (registry lists, travel bans) targeting a marginalized group. Given the current political climate, I was disturbed to see the similarities between then and today.

10:30AM: Grab a pancake at the Dutch pancake House

Dutch pancakes are wonderful. I’m deeply sad that we waited until our last day to have them. Try a savory Ham & Cheese pancake and have your taste buds explode with happiness.

12:00PM: Head Out & Starting planning your next trip back.

RESTAURANT LIST:

Eat with: Partner, Best Friend
Eat When: You want to feel like a local and munch on really lovely cheese and meats.
Avoid When: You are in a rush and hangry

Eat with: 1+ persons (so you can share)
Eat When: You can’t decide healthy or guilty-pleasure
Avoid When: You are in a rush and hangry, You will have to wait.
Conservatorium Hotel‘s Brasserie & Lounge
Eat with: Partner, Best Friend
Eat When: You’re feeling fancy
Avoid When: If you are in a rush
Guts & Glory 
Eat with: Partner, Best Friend
Eat When: Eat when you want good quality and unpretentious food
Avoid When: You want a cheap meal
de Foodhallen
Eat with: Small Groups
Eat When: None of you can decide what to eat
Avoid When: You want a fancy sit down meal
Restaurant Blauw
Eat with: Small Groups
Eat When: None of you can decide what to eat
Avoid When: You want a fancy sit down meal
ACTIVITY LIST:
Do with: Small Groups
Do when:  You want to avoid super touristy hop/on boats, want to see the sites while drinking nice rose.
Avoid When: You want the super touristy/large crowd canal experience

Bloemenmarkt Flower Market 

Best for: Green thumbs, Touristy Goods
Alternative:  Near Schiphol Airport is the Aalsmeer Market. Monday – Friday 7-9AM, you can watch the flower auctions. Just make sure to get there super early.
Do with: HArt Lovers, Novices, Families, Solo travelers
Do when: You want a comprehensive look at single artist
Avoid when:  You hate museums, you want to see the old world dutch masters
Do with: Families, By Your self
Do when you: Read Anne Frank’s Diary, Historical Appreciation
Avoid when:  You haven’t bought your tickets 3 months in advance

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