OK. I know I went to Amsterdam in January and only now am writing about it on the blog. #boooo #sorry
I posted a video at the time and I’ve been meaning to write about it on the blog with places of interest and recommendations for anyone visiting, so here it goes, ready for your Winter vacations planning!
Well, if unlike me, you’re that prepared for life in general.
The Netherlands and the Amsterdam I know
For me, Amsterdam means good vibes.
And, no, it has nothing to do with drugs and prostitutes.
Yes they’re both there, more accessible and more visible than in other places, but limiting the thought of Amsterdam (or the Netherlands) to THAT is frankly annoying.
I lived six months in the country, some years ago, without touching drugs nor have I ever resorted to prostitutes to satisfy sexual needs. None of those things are things I’m into and the country and its capital have so much more to offer. (I sound so posh! #NOT)
For me, the Netherlands is a place on Earth where (generally speaking) people try to make it work for everyone. In The Netherlands there’s more respect for everyone irrespective of gender, skin tone, sexual identity & orientation, income or personal choices than most places I’ve been to. They care for the environment, they care for the future of the planet (also because their country’s existence depends on it) and they focus in creating a better present.
It’s not perfect – especially at the moment – but that’s the vibe they transmit, that’s the people I’ve met, that’s the rules they instill.
I love The Netherlands.
I even don’t dislike their political/kingdom model where you can’t really rule alone – so you need to get to a common ground for things to move! Smart kiddos!
And Amsterdam is gorgeous with it’s canals and tilted houses (did you know that the houses are built on wooden foundation piles and they’re rotting, and that’s why a lot of houses look like they are melting?), you can bike everywhere all year long, everyone is friendly without being over friendly and very, very honest. I love it! And another fun fact: Did you know that parts of Amsterdam are 4 meters below sea level?
So, we went for 5 days (from Thursday to Monday) and stayed super close to the city centre.
We tend to have a preference for AirBnB’s so we can experience ‘living’ in the city, although, this time, we chose a lastminute.com opportunity as the rates were equivalent. As we didn’t plan to cook at home, having the option of room service and daily room cleaning for an equivalent price, ruled in its favour.
Even though it was supposed to be one of those ‘surprise’ hotels (in which you don’t know what you’re going to get until you book) we realised it was the same hotel as another offer on the website. And as it looked great, we went for it. Luckily we were right.
We stayed at Hotel Vondel and it was a great decision, as we absolutely loved it. It was super central (8 min walk to the city centre and about the same to Vondelpark), it was gorgeous (it feels like a modern art museum meets old building) and the room was big and super comfy. Staff was friendly and helpful.
I would recommend and stay again.
Get on a bike
When we got there we had no plans of getting a bike. I know, it makes no sense. But we love photography and walking gives us more photo opportunities.
Although by the end of the night, a very bizarre, uncaused and really strong pain in both my ankles made walking unbearable. #OhSuchFun
After waking up the next day still hurting to the point of crying when walking, I tried cruising on a bike, and I felt far better. So we rented a couple of bikes and I managed not to completely ruin the holidays.
Cycling is honestly a “checkbox” that you need to tick though. It’s something that makes being in The Netherlands far more authentic.
We got a bike from some awesome guys called Mike’s Bike Tours and we kept it until the very last moment in the city.
Get on a boat
Luckily, we got to Amsterdam on the last days of the Amsterdam Light Festival. It happens every year in the Winter time and it has two routes: one located on the canals, and one located on land.
The canal installations are awesome seen from land, but they’re even better seen on a boat.
The bike guys also own a boat company called Those Dam Boat Guys and we totally recommend it. We did their boat tour and the guides are there to have a conversation whilst giving you a great Amsterdam tour with interesting facts and allowing for questions and discussion of general doubts you might have about the Dutch.
But if you’re not a “cool-open-minded-person”, choose a more formal company. Smoking and drinking alcohol is allowed on board – with rules, as smoking is only allowed on the open part of the boat (so if you don’t like the smoke, don’t be deterred from it, it will not affect you if you stay inside). In the summer the boat is totally open on non-rainy days, so even better. And don’t plan to get overly drunk: it’s not the point of the whole thing.
Me and João don’t smoke, don’t do drugs and don’t get drunk that often and we loved it.
In the summer though, there’s a rumour that if you have a local Amsterdam friend, he can rent a boat and you can drive around the canals. They only need a driving license. I’m like… Is it the same to drive a boat and a car? I’m testing that out next time I come around, Hugo!
Visit the museums and go to the park
OK. Me and João love museums, so we went to several ones.
If there’s one that needs a highlight is the RijksMuseum, the Dutch national museum. It’s the Louvre or British Museum of Amsterdam. It’s really big and you’ll find quite a few of Rembrandt’s important masterpieces.
Anne Frank House is always a really important place to go to. She was one of my biggest inspirations growing up. Reading her diary has always made me value my freedom and the opportunities that come my way. I’ve been to the house twice and every time is so intense. I think it makes you understand the powerful message it’s trying to convey. You don’t even need to watch the videos showing the Nazi camps and so on, spread around the exhibition. Just the feeling of going through the bookcase entrance and the tiny steps and imagining the number of people living in such a confined space for so long having to be silent every single day and night, not being able to leave at any time and then it not being worth it because they were found, makes you value your own freedom. If you’re visiting the house it’s most likely because you have the freedom to do so. And it makes me appreciate, even more, that I live in one of the most peaceful places in the world.
It’s one of my must go to. It’s well worth the queuing and waiting, although when bought online you can avoid some of the queuing.
Van Gogh Museum (it’s in the name really) is totally worth the visit and I also really enjoyed the Stedelijk Museum (for all the modern art lovers out there and the lovers of “weird”).
Parks-wise, don’t miss Vondelpark. It’s huge and gorgeous and in the Winter its lakes freeze and carefree kids bike on the lake. It’s amazing.
Try the food
Oh… Food… Have I ever mentioned that I love food? Maybe here?
When travelling I absolutely need to eat local food and try local dishes. From my time living in Breda (in the south) I didn’t recall many local dishes… The Dutch are not known for their cuisine. Apart from my favourite: pancakes and croquettes. So those two were part of the list and both had to be checked (again!).
For pancakes, I absolutely recommend Pancakes Amsterdam. Funny thing was that I texted my friend Hugo saying I had just stopped for lunch and he said: ‘Go to Pancakes Amsterdam’! And there, I was, sat at the table ready to order! I knew I had made a good choice! Gosh, I really want poffertjes now!!!
For croquettes, you need to find the hot vending machines. I love hot stuff in vending machines!!! I have the same excitement about the hot drinks vending machines in Japan. #ImAWeirdoAndIKnowIt
There’s a few of these snack shops around and FEBO is the biggest name I believe. They’re the MacDonald’s of Croquettes. There’s several flavours and I would add some chips with mayo (another dutch “speciality” to it). Have a look at this review at Thrillist for which options to choose from.
We also went to this Dutch food restaurant that was super lovely, with a lot of sexual innuendos – even on the food presentation. Quirky and tasty (despite not being the best culinary experience in the world, but good enough). Bistro Bij Ons is a lovely comfort food restaurant with very friendly service.
More on the international aspect the indoor Foodhallen has so many tasty options (see pictures for ideas) and we went to Gunthers, le Big Fish and DimsumThing; Restaurant MAX Amsterdam for Indonesian Rijsttafel; for brunch we chose Bakers & Roasters; and our friends took us to Bazar, a Middle Eastern Restaurant, with a great atmosphere, totally recommended too.
Positive awesomeness of Amsterdam
- Their official taxis are Teslas. I’m going to repeat that: their official city taxis are Teslas. #brainexplosion #totalawesomeness #yesplease #letsgetelectric
- You can bike everywhere, you feel reasonably safe on the bike lanes and it’s awesome. Now, beware that you’re a tourist. Don’t be annoying to the locals and don’t be frustrated when they shout at you for being in their way. It’s their city. Be nice, they’re not having as nice of a day as you are ’cause they’re not on awesome holidays like us lot
- I love decor and gosh! Dutch have decor taste! João even said “Have you noticed how we look into 80% of the houses/apartments and we’re like: I would so live there?”. Everything is awesome! Dutch can totally decorate and they have awesome big windows that you can look into. #DecorVoyers
- There’s water everywhere. I think that’s something that attracts me so much. That there’s water, nature. And there’s sea close by. As a Portuguese in London, that’s something I miss terribly.
- “It’s sunnier than London” I was told. And I agree. Yet, it’s colder in the Winter.
- Everyone speaks English. Which makes everything so easy. Despite the fact that I love the Dutch language. “Hoe gaat het? Goed?” “Dank je wel!”
- Food is tasty! And there’s a really good choice of different world foods with amazing restaurants.
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