A Whirlwind Tour of Amsterdam
Sometimes when you see a cheap flight to Europe and you've had a few beers, you just say "screw it" and throw caution to the wind. that's exactly what happened when we decided to see Amsterdam in November of 2018. We were crazy enough to leave Seattle/Nashville Wednesday afternoon and come home Sunday morning giving us just 3 full days . It was a whirlwind and it was a crapshoot on weather, but it ended up being perfection. Amsterdam is definitely in my top 5 favorite cities in Europe now.
Flights: SEA-AMS direct on Delta (Ariel flew United with a couple of layovers from Nashville)
Hotel: Dikker & Thijs Hotel
The location was right off of the canal and made everything walking distance or you can take the above-ground train that’s right there.
The staff at the hotel was super friendly.
The Triple room was huge and comfortable. May have stayed somewhere else there if we knew it was going to be just two people. As always, triples are expensive.
When Ariel decided to join us, we asked the hotel to change our reservation from a triple room to two double rooms. They outright refused because we had paid in advance through Expedia. I cannot stress enough to go use Expedia to find deals, and then contact the hotels directly to see if they’ll match it. Booking through travel websites can seriously backfire.
Ask for a room on the canal side, not off the main road. This road is busy all night long with people coming from the bars down the street to the 24-hour McDonalds even on weeknights.
Transportation: Took an uber to/from the airport (scheduled it the night before from our hotel) because there aren't many cabs or Ubers on the canal streets - they're a pain to drive on. Otherwise, we walked and took the above-ground train the entire time. It’s a super walkable city.
What we loved:
The area we stayed in was perfect – we were right on the canals between the museum district and the main square.
Tours – we did three of them and they were all great:
Sandemans Free Walking Tour – check their website for times. This was a 3 hour tour, so definitely plan for it but it’s completely worth it. I’d say do this early in your time in town because they give you great advice for things to see while you’re around
Sandemans Red Light District Tour – absolutely worth the money. If you don’t do a tour, you’ll just end up wandering around the red light district for 20 minutes and I promise you’ll miss out
Canal Boat Tour – we picked up the boat right outside the Rijksmuseum. It was super informative and we loved our boat skipper.
Rijksmuseum – this was definitely a must-see, especially if you enjoy museums. It is huge though so plan for a couple of hours.
Brouwer’t IJ – this is a local brewery inside a windmill. It’s cooler than any of the windmills north of the city and it’s a favorite of the locals. They also have outdoor seating if you’re there in the summer. You can easily take the above-ground train out to it. Would absolutely recommend checking this out.
Anne Frank House – obviously a must-do in Amsterdam. Buy your tickets in advance for sure, especially in high tourist season. Also remember to respect where you are. Don’t be loud and laughing - it’s incredibly inappropriate. I’m also not sure I’d bring young kids or anyone that struggles with stairs – they’re quite steep. Claustrophobic people might have some issue as well.
What went wrong:
While our hotel was in a great location, it was also across the street from the all-night McDonalds that was about 2 blocks from a bar area. It was loud. All night. Every night. Until 7am.
We scheduled a bike tour with Sandemans but the tickets we bought online told us to go to the wrong pick-up spot. We weren’t alone there either, another couple also thought that was the location. Luckily Sandemans refunded us and apologized.
What we may have done differently:
Probably would have been a bit better to go in the spring or summer when the tulips were in bloom. We got super lucky with the warm sunny weather in November.
Buy the tickets for Anne Frank ahead of time – they sell out way in advance, but they do release more every morning last minute. We checked it at 9:30am and there were about 75 left for different times during the day
If we had one more day, we probably would have done a day trip out to The Hague or to the country. There were some cool tours available to see dutch shoe-making and smaller towns.
What we chose to skip:
The Rembrandt museum
Renting a bike – we were actually pretty nervous about it in the city and we were so centrally located we didn’t need one
The windmills in the north of the city – the locals said it wasn’t worth it
Nothing actually stood out as being amazing food-wise on this trip. We tried a few local food places that we just strolled into and a couple of other places that we made reservations for.
De Burgerfabriek – this is just a casual Burger place in the Red Light District. Our tour guide recommended it and said it’s a cheap place the locals eat. It’s obviously not Dutch food, but the burgers were great and they had local beer on tap.
A friend of mine that lives in Amsterdam recommended eating in De Pipe or Tweede Van der Helstraat. One specific restaurant he suggested that we didn’t get a chance to go to was Foodhallen.
Bar-wise, we kind of did the cliché spots in town including Ledseplein. There’s a bunch of bars there with outdoor seating. The one place we did like outside that area was called Hoppe. It’s in the city center, and it was packed with locals until about midnight. It seems like most people go to bars around 10/11 and stay until 12 or 1 before going to clubs until 4 or 5am.
My friend also recommended Bar Bukowki and any bar in the areas of De Pipe and Oosterpark
General Tips and Tricks
You’re in Amsterdam – don’t be judgey - embrace all that makes it unique. Try a coffee shop (not actually for coffee – if you want that go to a café), check out the red light district around 11pm, rent a bike. Don’t be one of those tourists that snubs the things that make it special because you’re worried about what people will think of you.
Watch out for bikers. They will not hesitate to run you over. They will ding their bells once if you’re sort of in the way and twice if they’re definitely going to hit you.
We did hear from some locals that the “IAmsterdam” sign outside of the Rijksmuseum was being taken down for good, so don’t be surprised if you can’t find it anymore.