In Amsterdam, I ate Dutch pancakes. Breakfast is one of my favorite things in the world and I am a huge fan of the pancake, but Dutch pancakes in Holland were to die for! They were paper thin and covered in whipped cream, strawberry’s and syrup. Delicious!
My overall expectations of Amsterdam were completely different than my immediate impression. I had thoughts of it being a sleazy hippie town filled with dreadlocks and tie die t-shirts. I was completely wrong. Amsterdam was outrageously beautiful. With picturesque town homes lining the waters and 17th century cobbled streets connected by small bridges, it was heaven. A thousand shades of vivacious green trees lined the canals and old wooden boats floated atop the waters in perfect rhythm. There was a pattern to the city that melted my heart and it was a destination I unexpectedly fell in love with.
While there, my husband and I did a lot of walking (what’s new…). And as we were strolling through the neighborhoods, I told him that the city of Amsterdam, in a very bizarre way, reminded me of Philadelphia’s Old City meets Nantucket’s downtown meets Copenhagen’s charm meets Venice, Italy’s sparkle – because of its canals. It was the coolest contrast of all the places I love. It wasn’t long before my husband and I to got into a pattern of walking the streets. Amsterdam wasn’t the easiest of places to navigate, but we found ourselves remembering landmarks that would help guide us in the right direction. And getting lost in Amsterdam is not the worst scenario in the world, it’s so pretty!
Before arriving in Amsterdam on Saturday afternoon, we spent a night in Hannover, Germany. The train from Copenhagen to Amsterdam is extremely long (11 hours total travel time), so we broke up the extended ride in Hannover. We didn’t do much there, to be quite honest. We were so exhausted, we sort of thought of Hannover as a rest stop. We did walk around the city and got dinner in the square, which was nice! But we were in bed watching a movie by 9pm (we watched Frozen – it’s hard to keep up with our many niece’s and nephew’s without having a clue as to what they are talking about half the time…. so we familiarized ourselves with the story so that we can now converse (in 2 year old talk) to our little munchkins!).
We arrived by train in Amsterdam mid-Saturday afternoon. Our hotel was in the Jordaan neighborhood, a very desirable area. We stayed at a boutique hotel called The Toren – renovated from a town home along the canal into a charming hotel a few years back, it was gorgeous. We got lucky with a room on the top floor overlooking the canal. With huge windows and stunning views, three nights wasn’t going to be enough! We immediately dropped our bags and set out to explore. We walked a ton to get to know the area stopping at a Cafe for lunch.
Important: In Amsterdam, Cafés and Coffee Shops are totally different things. Cafés are where you sip coffee. Coffee Shops are where you buy marijuana. Remember this. It’s very important to know as you would look quite silly ordering a cappuccino with extra foam at a Coffee Shop 🙂
Amsterdam’s restaurant scene is awesome. The gorgeous streets are filled with bite size cafés and trendy restaurants. The options are endless! We made dinner reservations for Saturday night at a place called Gartine. Highly recommended by the hotel as a trendy French/Dutch spot to eat. We dined in the restaurant’s back garden draped in trees and twinkle lights. Also, the food was great! It was a beautiful setting to start off our stay.
We started our Sunday off at an amazing pancake house that we read about in our April issue of Travel + Leisure Magazine (in the issue titled, “Eat Like a Local”) called The Pancake Bakery. Where we ordered Dutch pancakes. They were so so good!! I got sweet pancakes topped with strawberry’s and whipped cream while my husband got more savory pancakes with bacon, cheese and mushrooms cooked into them. He said they were delicious, but kind of funny to eat because every time he took a bite he was expecting eggs (like an omelette), and instead got thin pancakes with bacon and cheese!
We then walking through the flower market. Tulips… Everywhere! Which made me so very happy because tulips are one of my favorite flowers!! After observing the many different shapes, sizes and colors of the tulips at the market that sat alongside the canal, we made our way to the Red Light District. Yes, this happened. It’s something I have always wanted to see. So with anxious eyes, we walked through crowded streets, through an area that is too commercialized and crazy for me, to the District that made my jaw go limp. My poor innocent eyes saw way too much!! However, aside from the nearly naked women posing in just about every window, there were some cute cafe’s and restaurants tucked away as well! It was actually a rather pretty area! With a lot of prostitutes.
We did not stop anywhere in the Red Light District, we just explored the neighborhood and (happily) walked back towards the Jordaan. Where we ate lunch, stopped at a few places for a few beers, shopped around, and had a lovely Sunday afternoon! Sunday night we dined at a really cool Thai restaurant called Kinnaree. Our hotel concierge was telling us that Amsterdam is known for having really good Thai food, interestingly enough! The rumor is true, our meal was great! And my craving for some salt and pepper chicken with vegetables was fulfilled that night. I was very happy.
Monday was a crazy busy day. So much fun! Just with a lot on the agenda. We woke up and got breakfast at a really lovely tea room that sat alongside the canal called Greenwoods. We sat outside and planned our day over eggs benedict and cappuccinos. I love how important breakfast is as a meal to the Dutch people! They understand me. And most of them are blonde haired and blue eyed, so I fit in perfectly. After having our caffeine fix, we headed straight toward the area of the city where all of the museums live. Starting our informative day at the Rijksmuseum. A very well known museum holding important works like Rembrandt’s Night Watch. It was amazing seeing this piece in particular up close. It was huge! And really amazing. We also saw some famous Vermeers amongst other major collections valued in the billions.
After getting a taste of history at the Rijksmuseum, we headed to the Van Gogh Museum, where we spent countless hours taking in contemporaries not only done by Van Gogh, but also by Gauguin, Monet and Bernard. It was truly remarkable. The museum houses the world’s largest Van Gogh collection, from his Japanese phase to his dark phase. I would go back a hundred times to see these works again. If you are ever in Amsterdam, this museum is a must! And the Red Light District. You have to walk through the Red Light District.
After inundating ourselves with timeless art, we needed a drink. So we thought, why not kill two birds with one stone and drink beer while at a museum! Amsterdam is home to Heineken, so we spent the remainder of our afternoon at the Heineken Museum, also known as The Heineken Experience. We immersed ourselves by touring through the beer making process amongst multimedia displays, rides, games, more games and plenty of beers. It was quite the experience. It kind of felt like a really serious brainwashing marketing ad, luring tourists into believing Heineken is the best beer in the world. They didn’t fool me, I’d still take a Miller Lite, Leinenkugel’s or Stella Artois over a Heineken any day.
Monday night, before scurrying to get to our late dinner reservation, we stood in an hour long line to walk through the well known Anne Frank House. It was one of the coolest “museums” I have ever stepped foot in. We got to tour the quarters Anne Frank and her family hid during the war. Climbing up tiny, narrow staircases up to small rooms where she would write her stories. On top of physically standing where Anne Frank once stood, we got to see her actual diary on display, handwriting and all. It was a really cool, yet eerie experience. I am so happy we had the chance to see it. My advice would be… if ever visiting Amsterdam, you have to see the Anne Frank House. Hands down one of the neatest sights. They tell you to either get there early in the morning or later on in the evening, before the house closes. We tried going early in the morning and the line had at least a three hour long wait. Walking past multiple times mid-day, it didn’t seem to get any better. So we went around 7pm before our 9pm dinner reservation with all fingers and toes crossed and it was perfect. Sure, we waited an hour, some of that hour being in the rain, but it was well worth it. And we had just enough time to make it to dinner!
Our final night in Amsterdam we dined at a really cool Dutch tapas restaurant called Envy. Also recommended by the hotel as a trendy place to eat with a young and vibrant scene. We sat at a high top table surrounded by really cool refrigerators filled with local fruits and vegetables and wines. We shared a number of small plates that included local fare and seafood. We shared an amazing desert paired with desert wines and then stopped at a bar on our way back to the hotel. It was really a fun last night out in Holland!
Tuesday afternoon we boarded the fast train to Brussels, where we would be spending two nights indulging in Belgium chocolates, waffles and I can’t forget… BEER! Stay tuned for tales on Belgium! Until then, Bon voyage!
Planning a trip to The Netherlands? For more information on to all things Amsterdam visit this amazing travel guide. It will give you tips and tricks on hotels, restaurants, transportation, neighborhoods, activities and even history! My favorite part about this guide is the links to all the gardens and markets (the flower market is a must!!). Visit: http://www.netherlands-tourism.com/amsterdam/