Notorious for its red-light culture, delicious brownies and good beer, we headed to Amsterdam in search of what else this epic city had to offer.
Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and became a popular trading port in the 17th Century. Its name is derived from a dam on the river Amstel. The historical centre is known for its traditional houses, picturesque canals and bustling shopping streets filled with cyclists and trams.
Amsterdam – the gingerbread city
We flew from Durham Tees Valley Airport in the early hours of Friday morning, arriving at Schiphol Airport around 8am. A short 16 minutes train takes you to Amsterdam Central where I was blown away by the beauty of this place. It was my first time visiting the Netherlands and while I’ve loved the architecture of Italy and France, Amsterdam was something else. There was an uncanny resemblance to the scrumptious gingerbread houses you see at Christmas. Head to the bottom of the post for all the details and links on how to ‘Book The Trip’!
With their quaint shutters, artistic details and unusual looking hooks the size of me hanging from the very top of each building, I thought ‘what on earth are they for?’ Every building had one, so I asked my followers. Apparently, they were used for hoisting heavy items off narrow boats including lifting large pieces of furniture up and into the top floor of the building. You learn something every day, Instagram Fam!
A home from home
The Highland House situated in the Nieuwe Nieuwstraat in the heart of Amsterdam was our choice of accommodation for the weekend. Stepping into Highland House, I was almost envious of its beautiful interiors. This urban chic boutique hotel was just five-minute walk from Amsterdam Central and offered a warm welcome as soon as we walked through the door. As it was so early we couldn’t check in but they were kind enough to store our luggage to allow us to explore the city freely without been chained to all our baggage!
Our room was the known as the Laundry Room, or room four in Highland House. The interior was striking, surprising and luxurious with interior accessories which alluded to its former occupation as a laundry. The bed was massive and delightfully comfortable – perfect to sink into after a long day adventuring.
The shower was like something out of a New York apartment… black tiles and marble effect with mist proof mirrors – a dream of mine and so much more lavish than my own bathroom back home. My top tip is to use their own label toiletries which smell divine!
The room had all the mod cons from USB charging points to a TV controlled by a tablet and that allows streaming from your phone. The hotel doesn’t offer breakfast but in Amsterdam that’s what you want. There’s so many amazing cafes… which I will come on to later.
If you stay at The Highland House everything is nearby!
What to do in Amsterdam
Ann Frank Museum
A must do for anyone visiting Amsterdam for the first time is to explore Anne Frank’s hiding place. It cost just €10 per adult, which I think was fantastic value for money.
We wondered around a labyrinth of hallways, stairs and tiny rooms. Make sure you inspect the furnished rooms and listen to the tales of those who hid there, and their helpers.
It was fascinating to think that eight people were in hiding for over two years. Relying on the kindness of others to help them survive. However, in August 1944 they were eventually discovered by the Nazis and sadly Anne ended her days in Auschwitz.
The tour was very like a game of ‘follow the leader’ and I’d advise you to ‘visit the bathroom’ before entering the house as it’s one long snake of people from start to finish.
The Rijksmuseum is such a great place to visit. Since 1885 the museum has lived in this striking red brick building, designed by Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers. In 2013, €375 million was invested and the collection was entirely renovated. It’s €17.50 for an adult to visit and I’d recommend the café (although expensive) as it’s a really nice place to sit and soak up the atmosphere.
The motto of Rijksmuseum is ‘A feel for beauty, a sense of time’ and you can see how this lives throughout its 30,000m2. The entire collection, including drawings, prints and photographs, encompasses around one million pieces, including three unicorn horns! The collection includes the work by the 17th-century Dutch masters Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. It was fascinating to see Rembrandt’s drawings, swathes of people crowded around his art and you’d be lucky to see it them up close.
Just outside the Riksmuseum is ‘I am Amsterdam’ is very large lettering. We arrived at the museum at 11am and crowds were gathering already to climb, scramble and pose in front of the letters; like a true Brit, we waited our turn and managed to snap a few. When we left the museum at around 2pm ‘I am Amsterdam’ was swamped with people.
Walking around Amsterdam
My best advice is to walk around and explore this wonderful city as much as you can – and take your camera! Amsterdam is breathtakingly pretty and everywhere you go you’ll discover a new café to try or find a pretty boat to photograph. The Centrum area is the oldest part of the city where the canals are at their narrowest and the buildings look like they’ve had a few too many! Another place to wander around is the Vondel Park. It was freezing when we visited Amsterdam so we never made it to the park but I’ve heard it’s a great spot for bird watching (or for just chilling out and letting the day pass by).
The Red Light District
Strolling down De wallen – or the Red Light District as it’s more commonly known – was a very enlightening experience. Now, if you know me you’d know I’m not a prudish person in the slightest, however I found myself overcome with a mix of emotions as we walked down the illuminated streets as I looked into the windows. There was one point in particular which stuck in my mind when a very attractive lady in the window jiggled (yes jiggled) her boobs at me. At first I wanted to giggle but I was overcome with sadness followed by guilt; I shouldn’t be sad as this is a chosen career and is a safe way for them to trade; but something inside me just didn’t feel happy about it. I’ll let you form your own thoughts on the Red Light District but for the experience I’m glad we went for a peak!
The A’DAM Lookout
Another recommendation of mine is to catch the free ferry (just near the train station) to ‘Buiksloterweg’ and head over to the A’DAM Lookout. It costs €12,50 for an adult to visit the look-out and €5 if you are brave enough to try ‘Over the Edge.’ Europe’s highest swing at 100 meters above the ground! Eeeek!
The lift whizzes you up the 100 meter tower in 22 seconds, and all to a very technical light display. Once you’ve found your feet and your onset of vertigo hasn’t yet started you can enjoy the 360-degree sky deck views across the whole of Amsterdam and beyond. I must say it was stunning but I did have to hold on to Niki a few times. On the floor below is a fantastic Sky bar and Restaurant. I’d recommend a long cool beer to sup as you take in the view. Make sure you walk around this floor too as there’s a giant map of the city and model of the look-out building.
Did I mention it was cold? Well at 100 meters high it was Baltic! The ‘Over the Edge’ swing had a 1 hour 20 minute wait for a 3 minute swing so we decided not to do it and gave our tickets to a lady in the queue.
The Best Shopping
Now we’re talking! If you visit the Rijksmuseum, just a short walk from there is the most exclusive shopping street in Amsterdam; P.C. Hooftstraat; featuring brands like Luis Vuitton, Mulberry and Ralph Lauren. My purse strings were too tight to shop on this street but it was incredible to just have a wander, especially Chanel’s flagship store built out of beautifully clear glass bricks – a sight to behold!
Plus, if you’re a petrol head (or your partner is) and like fast cars, we saw every type of splosh cars like the new BMW 5 series and the gorgeous AMG Mercedes in matte green! At the end of the street there’s a Tesla shop so you must go and have a play!
Amsterdam’s Flower Market
We were just too early for the tulips, narcissus, geraniums and many other types of flowers so if it’s flowers you’re after don’t visit before mid-April until mid-May. Much like in the old days, when goods were transported on the canals, the gorgeous blooms are still displayed on floating barges. However, the flower market was still open with small bunches of early bloomers and a mix of wooden flowers and dried – so there’s always something to take home as a memento! The market is open from Monday to Saturday from 09:00 to 17:30 and Sunday from 11:30 to 17:30.
And this concludes what to do and see in Amsterdam, apart from one thing… food, and it’s so good in Amsterdam. Take a look…
Eating out in Amsterdam
The most moreish American-style pancakes and an Instagramer’s dream. In fact, it was a fellow Instagramer that told me about this place so it was on the top of my list to try out. No sooner had we dropped our cases off at the Highland House were we making our way to Mook. As I’ve already recommended, we walked there (it was a little further than we’d thought so I’d suggest getting the tram but definitely walk back (you’ll find out why soon).
With it’s cool white interior and lush green house plants the café has a mellow urban vibe, and my heaven. Sitting down we had the most beautiful fresh pick rose on each table. MOOK is short for ‘Mokum’, which is slang for Amsterdam.
Like most things Niki and I share our food, so we ordered the ‘Infamous’ (€10) which is topped with deliciously melted peanut butter, blackberries, bananas, strawberries, cinnamon, and homemade chocolate sauce! We also ordered the ‘Paid in Full’ (€11.50). When our pancakes arrived, our eyes must have popped out as they looked finger licking delicious. Within 3 minutes they were gone, and we were ready to take on the sights of Amsterdam.
Now, I mentioned walking back, if you take the main street back into the centre there is a shop on the right-hand side called RAW Materials. If you’re like me and love your interiors then you need to visit this exciting and very stylish shop.
I would never I have chosen a restaurant inside a hotel (The Marriott), but this is where Niki had booked for our Friday night so off we went to Midtown Grill. Little did I know it would be the most extravagant and tasty steak I’ve ever eaten.
We decided to sit at the kitchen bar, where you could see everything being freshly cooked and as well as having a jolly conversation with the chefs. We shared the Sea Scallops topped with a light sesame oil and served with a beautiful fennel salad (€19) to start. For main I chose the Filet Mignon (€40) and Niki chose the Dry Aged Rib Eye (€37) and we both opted for Surf & Turf which meant the steak came topped with half a lobster on top (€18). Boy was our food eye catching!
The steak was divine, perfectly cooked and just how I like it (medium-rare). The lobster was a tough one to crack but once I’d got the hang of it there was not a morsel left in the shell. The restaurant had a great atmosphere and we sat a while just enjoying each other’s company and a marshmallow or two before walking back through Rembrandt Square and home to our lovely hotel.
The very next day, before we went into the Rijksmuseum we wanted to have some brunch so we asked the Uber driver where was best. He recommended a bagel café and so off we went to the Bagel & Bean (which we later found out is a chain in Amsterdam). Although it didn’t look up to much on the outside (nor on the inside) it made the most wonderful bagels. Dare I say the best I’ve ever tasted? I went for the Wild Salmon (€8.15) and Niki chose the Smoked Chicken with avocado, basil dressing, pine nuts & lettuce (€6.95).
My gosh, where to start. Firstly, it will be covered in a separate blog post very soon (otherwise this blog post would be far too long). Just a short walk from our hotel was the second-best restaurant in Amsterdam, apparently beaten only by a lady who cooks for people in her own home. De Silveren Spiegel (translates as the Silver Mirror) dates from the Dutch Golden Age, the 17th Century, where the floors are uneven and the doors no longer fit their frames.
So, for those who’ve not experienced a tasting menu before. It’s usually more than five small dishes ranging from seasonal veggies, fish, and meat and ending with a dessert or two!
We opted for the seven courses with wine pairing (yes, seven glasses of wine!) and by the last two courses we were so drunk and giddy it was laughable. Each course will be on the blog shortly but here’s a taste…
Overall, we had a blast. The thing I love most about a tasting menu is the experience of trying new and different foods. Some foods I may eat regularly but pairing it with a different herb or sauce completely changes the flavour profile.
As an aside from this, has anyone been to Noma in Copenhagen? I really want to go – the ultimate tasting restaurant.Read more of my tasting menu and food experiences here.
After a heavy night (for us) we wanted some comfort food. Just a stone’s throw from our hotel was the Cocotte. A cute, corner café which specialises in traditional French crêpes. Obviously, we weren’t full from the previous night’s gluttony as we ordered three pancakes each; the A’dam (€11.50), which was my favourite, was filled with Emmenthal cheese, crème fraiche, potatoes and smoked herring. The Savoie (€11.50) had Emmenthal cheese, grilled bacon and crème fraiche, and the Brunch (€12.50) was with Smoked salmon, Emmenthal cheese, scrambled eggs and crème fraiche. All absolutely scrummy.
We didn’t get to go to Lucy’s Cheesecake shop but it looked delicious, cool and very pretty. We’ve vowed the next time we visit we’d pay a call.
Book the trip
Flights to Schiphol Airport:
We found our flights through Skyscanner which start at £180pp to fly with Ryanair from Durham Tees Valley Airport to Schiphol Airport.
Accommodation close to Amsterdam Central:
Since visiting Highland House seem to have put up it’s prices somewhat. Currently it’s showing at £400+ for three nights and it’s looking fairly booked up in 2018 so advanced booking is a must!
Transport in Amsterdam:
If you’re using public transport in Amsterdam I’d suggest buying a public transport chip card (OV-chipkaart) which allows you access on trams, buses and metros. The most convenient option would be to buy a disposable day card (valid for one to seven days). You can purchase on the tram or in advance. Day cards cannot be bought from the bus driver. Tickets are valid across the whole network from the time of purchase, allowing you to take as many journeys as you choose within your chosen time-frame.
We also used Uber which worked very well when we wanted to get from A to B quickly and we weren’t on a main public transport route.
Ticket office for Amsterdam Attractions:
Eating out in Amsterdam
The Netherlands has a similar climate to us but the winters can get very nippy and I can certainly would say it was freezing when we visited in February.
Coolest month in Amsterdam: January
Driest month in Amsterdam: April
Warmest month in Amsterdam: August
Wettest month in Amsterdam: November
This trip was one of my favourites with Niki but there’s so many other’s which I hope to share on the blog over the coming year. I have however shared our trip to the Feversham Arms, did you read it? If not its a gem of a hotel, in the heart of the Yorkshire Moors. Go check it out here.