With Eurostar now going directly to Amsterdam from St Pancras, The Netherlands have never been so accessible. When planning what to do in Amsterdam, prep an empty stomach, pick a canal and get walking.
Earlier this year, I had the realisation that even though travel = new, it doesn’t always have to be in new places. There’s a good handful of places, especially in Europe, that I have visited when I was younger that I’ve wanted to head back to and get a better appreciation for. Amsterdam, with its free-thinking way of life and chilled out reputation, is a city I previously visited at 19 years old. I was in my second term of university and the fresh pain of my first taste of heartbreak meant that I fully embraced some of the more rebellious activities The Netherlands government allows (that is, I smoked a lot of weed and danced until very early in the morning with a few potentially unsavoury types!).
But oh my, that is so NOT me now. I was headed to Amsterdam with one of my best friends, to see our favourite band. That, as it was, ended up being a huge disappointment, but the remaining 36 hours we had in the city were full of the sort of giggles you can only have with someone you’ve known for nearly 16 years and the sort of food you can only have if you give zero shits about calories.
Here’s how to see Amsterdam in 36 hours:
10am: Breakfast at PANCAKES
My instincts told me to avoid a chain restaurant that’s clearly popular with tourists, but arriving for a morning of wandering around the Jordaan area of Amsterdam, PANCAKES (it’s always spelt in capital letters so I’m sorry if you keep reading this as though I’m SHOUTING AT YOU) is obviously working hard to keep its small cafe vibe. We sat outside in the sunshine and ordered traditional Dutch pancakes (because the American variety is so much more accessible in London than these babies) but if you think your once-a-year Nutella and banana combo is adventurous, the menu here will blow your mind.
My giant pancake was served with crispy bacon, spinach, a sprinkling of pine nuts and a literal WHEEL of goat’s cheese in the middle, soft, gooey and ready for me to spread everywhere. It’s a mix of ingredients I would’ve thought too lavish for a pancake, but clearly, I’m not thinking big enough. This pancake lovers, is the future.
Find it at: PANCAKES, Berenstraat 38, 1016 GH Amsterdam
11am: Walk around Jordaan
After you’ve eaten your weight in pancakes, walking it off is the sensible option and we took to exploring the narrow canals and wonky townhouses of Jordaan – so-called Amsterdam’s ‘hippest’ neighbourhood. Like all the areas of cities that find themselves awash with boutique stores selling designer denim and obscenely expensive vegan candles, Jordaan was once the working class, poor area of Amsterdam.
On a Thursday morning, it was a calm but lively neighbourhood where people actually knew each other and cycled home with a basket full of fresh produce from the local greengrocers and the wares of the incredible De Kaaskamer cheesemongers.
1pm: Stroopwafels at van Wonderen
Heading back to the area we’d had breakfast, we headed into the more tourist-focused area of Amsterdam, past the flower market (which I’m sure we must have caught on a bad day because it was pretty crap compared to the rave reviews I’d seen online) and into van Wonderen for a fresh, hot stroopwafel. They are verging on obnoxious in size and mine came dipped in chocolate and topped with peanut brittle. Near on impossible to eat neatly (and probably not my best idea to wear white jeans!), but worth the effort for a side-plate serving of gooey caramel. It counts as lunch, right?!
Find it at: van Wonderen, Kalverstraat 190, 1012 XH Amsterdam
1.30pm: Explore tranquil Begijnhof
Everything you read on Amsterdam will tell you to hunt down the secret entrance to peaceful Begijnhof, but really you can just follow the other tourists as it’s really not that mysterious. It is, however, super quiet and calm, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby brand-heavy shopping streets, an immediate understanding from anyone who visits that they need to lower their voices. Originally home to the Begijntjes, a group of Catholic women who lived like nuns but took no monastic vows, the courtyards of Begijnhof are still home to older ladies who live their best single lives, reading the paper in the after sunshine and tending to their gardens. It looks like a pretty sweet life, to be honest, and I’m sure there are a damn few others who would be willing to trade in sins of the flesh for a central Amsterdam townhouse too!
Find it at: Begijnhof, 1012 AB Amsterdam
2.30pm: Visit the Sex Museum
Half an hour with almost-nuns and a short walk down the road takes you to Amsterdam’s Sex Museum. Only 5 euros to get in, it is god damn hilarious. The entire place rattles with the hysterical giggles of stags dos, buses of Japanese tourists and two Londoners in their late-20s who are THRILLED to be able to sit on an 8ft tall penis. This isn’t just porn for porn’s sake, there are genuine examples of how sex has been portrayed through the ages, from ancient China to the ‘I’ve seen everything’ internet generation. It’s kitsch and doesn’t take itself too seriously, it certainly leaves an impression, and if you’re a little faint-hearted, maybe stay out of the S&M room…
Find it at: Sexmuseum, Damrak 18, 1012 LH Amsterdam
3.30pm: Beers at Brouwerij de Prael
Keeping with the theme of hopping-on-the-good-foot-and-doing-the-bad-thing, the walk from the Sex Museum to de Prael brewery goes through the heart of the Red Light District. It’s quite a sight, to see a half-naked woman in a full-length window, a pane of glass and a curtain the only things separating you from her…workplace. I understand the legalities of the system in The Netherlands, but men paying for sex in whatever capacity still makes me feel uncomfortable and a little sad, so we didn’t dwell and made it to the pub quickly instead. There are some amazing microbreweries dotted around Amsterdam (I recommend this low down from Dave at Man vs Globe for some of the best!), so you don’t have to resort to drinking Heineken despite the fact it is EVERYWHERE. I had a delightful pint of blonde ale, which I was able to pop into the shop next door and buy a few bottles to take home as well (hooray for Eurostar!).
Find it at: Brouwerij de Prael, Oudezijds Armsteeg 13, 1012 GP Amsterdam
5pm: Fries at Wil Graansta Friteshuis
You’ll find you’ve done a little circle around the centre of Amsterdam and as you head back into Jordaan after a couple of pints of delicious local brews, I’m sure you’ll need something more than another stroopwafel (although lord knows, I wouldn’t judge you for buying another one! Heading past where we had breakfast, we looped past the Anne Frank House (which we couldn’t go into as we hadn’t booked tickets in months in advance) and headed to an insignificant looking stall propped up next to Westerkerk – a church that is the final resting place of Rembrandt. Wil Graansta Friteshuis has been serving the locals of Amsterdam since 1956. I ordered a cone of thin, crisp fries with a big dollop of mayo on top (which is apparently what the locals like), and the salty, oily goodness set me RIGHT up for another beer in the near future.
Find it at: Wil Graansta Friteshuis, Westermarkt 11, 1016 DH Amsterdam
6pm: Tower over Amsterdam from the A’DAM Lookout swing
Jump on the free ferry from Amsterdam Centraal station over to Amsterdam Noord and experience a more sparse, spread-out, pretty undisturbed area of the city. The main point of call for visitors is the A’DAM Lookout which does indeed provide beautiful 360-degree views of the whole city – we arrived just before sunset which was pretty spectacular to see. Take it one step further though and you can get strapped into the Over the Edge swing, which, as you may have guessed, swings you 100m away from the building and over the tiny ant people below. It isn’t massively scary (and nothing like the time I did the world’s biggest swing in Queenstown!), but it does offer a unique view over Amsterdam and is only 5 euros extra on top of your Lookout ticket.
Find it at: A’DAM Lookout, Overhoeksplein, 5, 1031 KS Amsterdam
7pm: Watch the sunset at one of Amsterdam’s man-made beaches
The NDSM neighbourhood in Amsterdam Noord is essentially an industrial shipyard that’s been taken over by artists and creatives to turn something ugly into an area full of colour. Pllek is a bar and restaurant made from shipping containers and built on edge of the water separating the two main areas of the city. A man-made beach takes up the majority of the space, meaning it’s a summer people trap, but it’s spread out enough with hammocks, bean bags and picnic tables that you’re likely to be able to find a space to perch and sip a beer or two. We had a couple of the sharing plates too, with some Padron peppers, manchego cheese and samosas – not the most obvious mix of flavours, but good to nibble on, regardless.
Find it at: Pllek, T.T. Neveritaweg 59, 1033 WB Amsterdam
9am: Breakfast at Scandinavian Embassy
Head into the De Pijp area of town on your second morning for another exploration of a less-touristy neighbourhood. Filled to the brim with vintage stores and coffee shops (both the regular and Amsterdam kind), we started our second day by sitting in the window of Scandinavian Embassy; a small cafe with the sort of white walls, wooden accents and artisan coffee your Instagram account will thank you for. I had a warm-from-the-oven cinnamon roll with a strong latte which gave me enough caffeine and sugar to gear me up for our next activity…
Find it at: Scandinavian Embassy, Sarphatipark 34, 1072 PB Amsterdam
10am: Hire bikes and take on the locals!
Everyone says you should hire a bike in Amsterdam, after all, it’s one of the things the Dutch are famous for. When we were exploring on foot the day before, we marvelled at the seamless integration of bike lanes along main roads and the lack of collisions or arguments between cyclists and motorists, so it seemed like a totally sensible thing to do in order to see more of the city in a short space of time. Well, let me tell you that cycling in Amsterdam is GOD DAMN TERRIFYING. Everyone goes really fast, nobody signals, no one wears a helmet and it’s pretty much every man for themselves. On a dodgy hire bike from our hostel, we weren’t in any position to move delicately through the cycle lanes, and it was only once we made it to the enormous Vondelpark with its wide free-for-all pavements that I felt remotely safe! Chalk it up as an experience but stick to the easy-peasy tram system if you’re feeling faint-hearted.
More info on where to hire bikes in Amsterdam can be found here.
11am: Chill out in Vondelpark
After the death-defying act of cycling through Amsterdam, you’ll be in need of some downtime and Vondelpark is the perfect place for it. Like every big city, locals love the sprawling green space of their biggest park and we took full advantage of a sunny day to lie down by the water and have a little nap. On one edge of the park is the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, so it’s easy to plan a day around some of Amsterdam’s most well-known cultural sights and then escape the crowds in the peace of Vondelpark, where the noise of the city is blocked out by the trees. A little slice of bliss within the mayhem.
12pm: A quick pick-me-up at Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters
Hop across a canal or two from Vondelpark and a beauty of a coffee shop is nestled on the corner of a busy road and a side street packed with bikes chained to anything rooted to the ground. As it was still roasting hot on our trip, we grabbed a couple of iced lattes and sat on benches outside to shoot daggers at the bikes we were rapidly falling out of love with and to reapply some sun cream. As the name suggests, the guys at Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters roast their own coffee and distribute it to other coffee shops all over the city, so even if you can’t make it to the original, look out for their name whenever you buy a cup in Amsterdam.
Find it at: Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters, Kinkerstraat 112, 1053 ED Amsterdam
1pm: Lunch at Foodhallen food market
Just around the corner from Lot Sixty One is an arcade of independent stores, a cinema and various cool pieces of art dotting the pedestrianised area that makes up the cultural complex of De Hallen. It all surrounds the surprisingly well hidden Foodhallen, an indoor food market made up of enough street food stalls to make this hungry blogger a little flustered about where to begin. Time wasn’t on our side as our train back to the UK was due to leave around 3pm, so we settled on hot dogs from Bulls and Dogs. I had the Bourbon Bacon Dog; a pork sausage hot dog with a whiskey cocktail sauce and topped with bacon and parsley. The dog was a thin weiner style but juicy with a thick skin, the whiskey sauce lacking much definition aside from a standard cocktail sauce and a bit too much parsley on the top for my liking, but not bad for a quick lunch.
Find it at: Foodhallen, Bellamyplein 51, 1053 AT Amsterdam
It felt like a whistle-stop tour of a city that I could barely remember from my original visit in 2008. I actually found Amsterdam pretty hard to navigate as the canals often twist and turn, making it confusing to discern if I was still walking in the direction I wanted to be, but getting lost there wasn’t a problem as the whole place is beautiful and really does have a calm, friendly demeanour. With Eurostar going directly there from St Pancras now, it’s no doubt going to be added to my regular repertoire of weekend breaks in the near future.
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