36 Hours in Amsterdam

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During our around the world celebration for my husband’s 40th birthday we met up with a few friends in Amsterdam for a 36 hour celebration.  We met up with a couple we flew in for the event using LifeMiles (oh boy was that process fun) and another friend who was already in Europe for the week.  All things considered, I think we made pretty good use of our limited time in Amsterdam.  While we didn’t actually go in any museums or historical sites on this trip, we did get a decent feel for the city and had a great time in the process.

Here are other posts from this around-the-world-birthday trip:

Introduction to an Around the World Trip on Points

Highlights from Business Class Flights Around the World on Miles (Part 1)

Review of Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht

Things to Do With 36 Hours in Amsterdam

Overview of the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa

Which Park Hyatt Maldives Villa is the Best

Food and Activities at the Park Hyatt Maldives on a Budget

Are the Maldives Worth It?

Review of Singapore and EVA Business Class Flights Home

This post is certainly not a guide to all things Amsterdam, but I thought I would share the things we did and saw during our brief time there in case they can help someone who has a similar trip on their agenda.

Eating in Amsterdam:

I love to experience the world with my taste buds, and Amsterdam did not disappoint in that category.  Some of the food wasn’t quite up my alley (crispy hotdog?), but lots of it was very fresh, local, and delicious.

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For an inexpensive meal enjoyed outside by the canal, we loved Cora as it offered great sandwiches and good juices.  I would smile a little bigger if we had something like this where we are from instead of just Subway!

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For my husband’s actual birthday dinner night out with friends we went to Restaurant De Kas (make reservations in advance).  This restaurant is set in its own greenhouse where they grow their own vegetables and herbs.  They have one set menu per day based on the daily harvest, supplemented with the best additional ingredients from local suppliers.  The three course fixed price menu is €49.50 at dinner, or a two course menu for €39.00 at lunch, so not inexpensive, but really fantastic.

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I ended up not remembering to really take photos of the meal (too much celebrating?), but I remember thinking it was outstanding. However, if you are a pickier eater I would not recommend this place since the menu for the day, is the menu for the day.  I wish I could provide more details than that on the food, but you know, birthday celebration in Amsterdam…

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Cheese plate from De Kas

Visiting “Coffeeshops” in Amsterdam:

I could pretend I don’t know what you mean by “coffeeshops” in Amsterdam, but that would not be entirely the case.  While I am far from an expert on the topic, as you likely know, coffeeshops in Amsterdam aren’t like Starbucks here, but instead are the equivalent of bars for pot (though coffeeshops do not sell alcohol, so don’t get confused).  They are everywhere, and you can’t hardly miss them for the smell when you walk by on the street.  Here is a post with 15 of the most “famous” ones, and that will give you far more info that I could on the different shops.  From that list I do remember visiting Dampkring Coffeeshop, where a scene in Ocean’s 12 was filmed, but there are literally hundreds in the city.

Now I won’t say whether this was from personal experience in our group or not, but if you decide to partake in some of the coffeeshop fares, and you aren’t someone who typically does so back home, go slowly.  Very slowly.  Don’t try to look like a pro if you need some help/advice, and don’t eat the whole brownie (or spacecake as it may be).  I repeat, do not eat the whole brownie, or whatever edible item you prefer.   If you do, you might end up feeling more whacked than after taking 15 shots from a “shot girl” in Cancun.  You may feel fine for a while, but an hour or so later may be a totally different thing…and your legs may stop working, you may not be able to say the words you are thinking, and you might think elevators are evil and all winking at you.  Just sayin’.  I’ve read recently that some of the similar shops in Colorado have started issuing some advice/warnings about edibles there, and probably for good reason.   Here is another good article to read if you want to visit coffeeshops in Amsterdam, but are a novice with such things.

Red Light District in Amsterdam:

I’m sure many visitors to Amsterdam will at least walk through the Red Light District, even if you would never consider making a “purchase” there.  I know our group took a stroll through the area out of curiosity, and it was not what I expected.  I thought it would be a street or two with lots of adult oriented businesses, but what it really is are streets with little glass windows with girls (and probably guys) who are selling themselves.  Right behind their little windows are their beds.  Some of them will yell and tap on the glass to get your attention, some even ran after us in the street.  I was expected seedy, but in a Vegas sort of way.  This is seedy with an extra side of seedy.  Certainly don’t take kids there, but I don’t even need to go back there myself.  Once was more than enough for me.

Exploring Amsterdam:

Other than the food, my favorite thing we did in Amsterdam was just walking around and looking in some shops.  We were blessed with amazing weather in late April, and the city is so walkable and bike-friendly.  As you can see, cars aren’t even permitted on many of the streets.

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Had I not been recovering from an ACL injury, we likely would have done a bike tour, as there are several that sounded like a good way to experience the city, but for this trip we just walked around and explored for hours.

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Anne Frank House – get tickets in advance!

 

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I loved being in Amsterdam, and while I don’t personally need all of the seedier elements the city has to offer, I loved the food, the shops, the flowers, the people, and the pedestrian friendly design.  We got a taste of Amsterdam (literally) during our 36 hour visit, but I very much want to return and explore much more…or at least go eat another sandwich from Cora!

Amsterdam was a great stopping point on the way to the Maldives, and the perfect city to have a birthday celebration with friends.  If you have been to Amsterdam, what are some of your favorite things to do in the city!

Comments

  1. Brought back wonderful memories. Was in Amsterdam before a river cruise with friends. My niece who was studying abroad in Copenhagen came for two nights. Visiting the red light district with my 22 year old niece and one of my older friends who is in their 70’s and walking with a cane is a memory I will never forget. Interesting but I agree no need to return.

  2. If you go back, I highly recommend a bike tour. Several years ago I was there for 2 weeks working on a project. On the weekend, I did Mike’s Bike Tour and they had a deal where you could rent a bike from them for the next day at a ridiculously cheap price…like €4 or €5. I took them up on the offer and had a splendid day doing architectural/urban sightseeing, riding all over the place in Amsterdam. Also, for good food check out an Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) restaurant or a pancake place (the Dutch have some very nice/different pancakes than the normal breakfast fare in the US).

  3. Glad you got a chance to experience Amsterdam, as we have enjoyed a couple trips there too. Our first trip was kind of a blur, as we had never been before. I remember it being extremely cold, but beautiful. The second trip we got to experience a lot more of the museums and sites around the city, and it was a lot more enjoyable. If I go back, hopefully it will be in the spring and we can get some better weather and more colorful flowers. I also recommend the fries…

  4. I also recommend the rijsttafel.
    The thing about the sandwiches is funny. The US seems to generally not get the high quality speedy food thing (that’s not to say there aren’t very occasional places that do it well). My husband always talks about the “motorway service station sandwiches” that we had in Italy. It was at one of those gas stations where you pull off the freeway, and inside they had a sandwich counter. We got delicious sandwiches there. Fresh bread, salami, fresh mozzarella. Delicious. Doesn’t have to be fancy, just some high quality ingredients and you’re good to go.
    For me, I liked a lot about Amsterdam, but the seedy parts were too seedy for me as well. It just seems a bit more rough than other European cities in the touristy areas. My brother in law told a story of watching a street performer and then having a group of basically thugs that “encouraged” everyone to leave a tip after the performance.
    Lots of great stuff in Amsterdam, I’d definitely return, but it’s a place where I would skip right past the touristy spots and go to museums or wander around ever so slightly off the beaten path (as opposed to hanging around the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or Covent Garden in London a bit, despite them also being super touristy).

  5. I’m guessing you didn’t go down many of the side streets in the red light district – that’s where the “deviant” attractions are: twins, drag queens, etc…
    My favorite parts of Amsterdam are the outskirts: Vollendam, Edam, Marken, very convenient by bus from Centraal station.
    I enjoy dutch food, but I don’t remember the food in Amsterdam being very good – mostly pizza and pasta places near the train station.

  6. Love the recommendations. I absolutely want to go back to Amsterdam and explore more of the city on a future trip to Europe.

    It is amazing how just using quality and fresh ingredients can make a “fast food” type sandwich memorable.

  7. Husband and I were in Amsterdam in late April (week starting Easter Sunday) staying 6 nights at Radisson Blu in a lovely canal view room . Loved our time there. Red Light District didn’t bother me – but then we were there late afternoon. Saw lots & did side trips to Kuekenhof gardens – awesome & main reason for going in April, Delft, Alkmaar for the Friday cheese market. Would love to return since there were still other places to go and things to see. And for another slice of appletaart from De Laatste Kruimel!!

  8. We moved to Holland last year, and really like it here. I agree with trying some Indonesian food and the Dutch pancakes! Amsterdam is actually really child-friendly too, if you go back with your daughter. We’ve had a lot of fun at the Stedelijk modern art museum (has a large Lego room where kids can build), and the NEMO science center. Also, while Amsterdam is great, there are so many other wonderful places to explore nearby. I prefer some of the smaller cities like Haarlem, Leiden (where I live), and Delft…all easily accessible by train. They are much more walkable, easier to bike around, and prettier, in my opinion. It’s also really nice to walk along the coast and the dunes, or go biking in the countryside (especially during tulip season!).

    • I also highly recommend Haarlem. It’s all the quaintness of Amsterdam without the seediness (and it doesn’t smell like a frat house like most of Amsterdam 😉 ). Delft has a great Library (DOK) and I really liked Keukenhof for the tulips.

  9. Oh, you missed out on the fries! I bought some from a stand where the man had a mountain of fresh potatoes that were being transformed into fried goodness. REALLY delicious.

    I spent 3 days solo in Amsterdam a few years ago. I did a free walking tour (have you heard of Sandemans? they do free/tip-only tours in lots of European cities, I’ve done London, Berlin, and Amsterdam) and stumbled on a cheese-tasting class that was terrific. I visited the Anne Frank museum – if you go in the late afternoon, there’s often no line – and also the Van Gogh museum. I had one of the best, freshest salads I’ve ever had at a randomly-selected restaurant, and had some really nice beer in a couple of pubs as well.

    I am sorry to say I didn’t ride a bike at all!

  10. Line-ups at the Anne Frank can be avoided. After seeing the enormous line-up there earlier in the day I had given up on the idea of experiencing one of Amsterdam’s most iconic buildings. However, by chance I happened to be there late in the day, about an hour before the building closed. No line-up and just a scattering of people inside. A wonderful experience.

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