When it came to choosing a gift for my boyfriend’s 27th birthday, I couldn’t think of a better way than to whisk him away on the Eurostar to a relatively new destination on their roster: Amsterdam. I think it comes part and parcel of growing up, but experiential presents often feel greater than tangible gifts as you get older and this was the ideal way for me to surprise him and treat myself to a cheeky trip away too!
Amsterdam came highly recommended from pretty much all of my friends. It’s notorious for being a relaxed destination, full of winding canals (the city is founded upon three main canals that were dug in the 17th century), adorable cafes and coffeeshops (ahem), quaint little boutiques, SO many vegan food joints, and plenty of weird and wonderful museums to try out.
As I hoped for the trip to be a little more relaxed and less ‘learn 50 facts about the city’, we primarily soaked up the surrounding neighbourhoods, only ventured into the popular Jordaan area one or two times, and managed to generate quite the list of hotspots outside the main hub to recommend. And I can certainly vouch for the city being one of the most chilled spots to visit, it’s nothing like any of the cities that I’m used to!
With five days to fill with activities, our first port of call was picking up our Iamsterdam City Cards from Central Station. Available for either 24 (€57), 48 (€67), 72 (€77) or 96 hours (€87), this card was our lifeline whilst in the city, so a huge thank you must go to the Iamsterdam team for providing us with these.
The card is made up of two elements: a chip that provides free access to public transport, and another that allows entrance to museums, a canal cruise and several attractions across Amsterdam. You can then use the card once per museum/attraction upon first use. On top of that, you’re entitled to a little book of bonus giveaways and discounts that can be redeemed around the city. It’s absolutely worth the price (although ours were kindly provided to us to feature) and I’d absolutely pick one up the next time I visit.
Here are my recommendations for your next visit to the City of Freedom/Sin…
Located in the Museum Quarter, the grassy stretch that is home to three main museums, a fountain, ski rink in the winter and the iconic Iamsterdam sign, Rijksmuseum is one of Europe’s most-loved museums. The museum is home to some of the Netherlands’ most beloved artists’ work and I was particularly interested to see the Old Library – genuinely stunning – and the dolls’ houses that inspired Jessie Burton’s ‘The Miniaturist’. The building itself is beautiful and is so roomy, an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
Museumstraat 1. Open daily, 9am-5pm. Adults: €17.50 (not included in the Iamsterdam City Card.)
The Anne Frank House
Ever since studying The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank in primary school, I’ve been enamoured by her story and devastated at the reality of historic events.
I booked our tickets to The Anne Frank House online (you have to book them online with a time slot in advance). Queues are notoriously long, so try to arrive 15 minutes before the time on your ticket to avoid any confusion or missed slots! The ticket then allows you to view a comprehensive museum section of the building, guided by an audio guide, before entering the Secret Annexe, where Anne Frank, her family and a few others hid during the war. The experience is eerie and haunting and I found myself quite upset at parts.
It’s a thorough ‘tour’ and I can’t even put into words how it felt to see the bookcase itself, to look at the postcards and magazine clippings Anne lovingly pasted on the walls, to look at and walk into the living room and kitchen area she’d described and documented so many years ago. You can view the diary itself and the manuscript that she’d attempted a revision of, too.
Prinsengracht 263-267. Open daily, hours vary. Adults: €9 (not included in the Iamsterdam City Card.)
Legendary Trunks The Exhibition
Perhaps it’s because I didn’t really research and plan this trip thoroughly, but I didn’t even know this exhibition was on until we wandered through the Oud-Zuid neighbourhood and saw a poster. We instantly saved it to our phone notes and made a note to look into it later.
One for the fashion enthusiast and shown at the Beurs van Berlage, Legendary Trunks The Exhibition runs until 18th February 2018. It’s a journey through five generations of Louis Vuitton’s iconic trunks, highlighting Vuitton’s unparalleled craftsmanship and vision, and documenting the often extraordinary adventures that they made possible. The exhibition plays host to more than 300 authentic trunks that date as far back as the 1850’s and allows you to see the entire mirage of uses for the trunks. It took us around an hour to go around with an audio guide (available in English or Dutch). My personal highlight was seeing Ernest Hemingway’s use of library trunks!
PS. There’s an adorable New York Film Academy Cafe in the building too. Head there for a taste of the Roaring Twenties, NYC style.
Damrak 243, 1012 ZJ Amsterdam. Open daily. Adults: €11.75 (not included in the Iamsterdam City Card.)
If you decide to see the Red Light District for yourself, the area also plays home to Oude Kerk, the oldest church in Amsterdam. It’s worth blocking out a few moments to visit as the architecture is stunning and it’s a real haven away from the sheer noise of the city. Quite crowded with tourists but it was a nice respite from the cold. THE JANUARY COLD.
Oudekerksplein 23. Open daily, 10am-6pm. Adults: €10. (Free with the Iamsterdam City Card.)
After browsing Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Museum makes a brilliant port of call. Less magnificent upon first glance, the museum allows you to explore Amsterdam’s history and learn more about what made and now makes the city tick. It’s situated right in the heart of the city: visit right after breakfast and then head along the canals to find somewhere for coffee and lunch.
Kalverstraat 92. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Adults: €13.50. (Free with the Iamsterdam City Card.)
I always make a concerted effort to visit botanical gardens in cities that I visit because I find plants so beautifully fascinating and they’re an absolute joy to wander through as well as photograph. Plus, it made a perfect respite from the winter chill.
The Amsterdam iteration is small but perfectly formed, with high walkways, a cactus and succulent nursery, butterfly house and several smaller conservatories to browse. It was a joy to explore even in winter, and I can only imagine how glorious the gardens might look in the summer!
Plantage Middenlaan 2A. Open daily, 10am-5pm. Adults: €9.50. (Free with the Iamsterdam City Card.)
A highlight of our trip was certainly the canal cruise that we went on. It’s a key feature of the Iamsterdam City Card and so we thought it’d be a nice way to spend our last evening.
You can embark from any destination marked on the map that comes with your card – although they’re dotted all along the canals and are clearly marked – and it provides one round-trip with no stops. We joined from the boating dock in De Pijp (directly outside the Heineken Experience!) and watched the sun set before enjoying a cute nighttime cruise along the Singelgracht canal. The cruise itself takes around 80 minutes – take a warm drink and cosy up for a romantic date night!
Where To Eat and Drink
Where to begin with the food scene in Amsterdam?! Amsterdam is a thriving city for foodies everywhere. As I’m vegetarian and my boyfriend is making the switch over to a vegan diet, we made sure that we had a roster of restaurants and cafes to pick from across all of the neighbourhoods for when we got hungry.
Here are the foodie highlights from our trip:
Stach is located all across the city, but we went to the one near the World Trade Centre because it was nearby to our first hotel (citizenM, if you were wondering!). Their coffee menu is short but sweet and they offer a huge range of dairy-free alternatives, as well as amazing vegan-friendly, gluten-free sweet treats. And I can hand-on-heart say that my oat milk flat white from them was the greatest coffee I’ve ever had. SO good.
Lot Sixty One
Our last day saw us take a huge walk through the city and back again in search of delicious coffee, pastries and sushi to take with us on the Eurostar home and it meant we finally managed to squeeze in a visit to a Lot Sixty One. There are several dotted across the city and they provide coffee beans to even more cafes around Amsterdam. I drank a lotta coffee this week but this was one of the best, topped only by Stach’s one. Get their oat milk latte and a cake, too!
Vegan Junk Food Bar
Top of our list was Vegan Junk Food Bar, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Yes, it’s all vegan but it isn’t at all healthy in the way most people view vegan eats. Expect huge burgers, fries, loaded fries, milkshakes, side dishes and more, entirely plant-based. We ended up eating at both of their locations, but preferred the De Pijp location FYI. Go for the Notorious Sumo burger and the truffle fries, or simply get the Kapsalon loaded fries and vegan Bitterballen.
Marie Heinekenplein & Staringplein 22, 1054 VL Amsterdam. Open daily, 11am-10pm.
Recommended to us (well, me) by the wonderful Georgie, Pluk is an Instagrammer’s dream. Think white wooden interiors with splashes of brass and pink, selling homeware and an awesome menu that’s bursting with goodness.
Oh, and did I mention the Unicorn Acai Bowl?! YEP. I shared a photo of my brunch on Instagram and knew I had to include the location in this guide. Harvey opted for their smashed avocado on toast and confirmed it was delicious. The front of the store features plenty of glassware, illustrated notebooks, trinkets and brass office decor: save a little money to splurge on Girl Boss notebooks and beautiful kitchenware.
Berenstraat 19, 1016 DM Amsterdam. Open daily, 9am-6pm.
Although this cafe wasn’t on my radar before we visited, I’m SO glad we ended up dropping by. We were absolutely freezing and, in need of a break before completing our walk to the botanical gardens, we swung by for some coffee and cake and a little conversation surrounded by chintzy rugs, neon lighting, friendly service and what seemed to be a great working hub for locals.
Maybe it’s the faux Londoner in me, but food halls and street food markets always steal the show for me. And it proved the same for Amsterdam’s version!
Foodhallen is the food market in De Hallen, over in the Oud West district, with vendors ranging from hot dogs to sushi, Vietnamese food to falafel wraps. Whilst not strictly vegetarian or vegan, there’s something for everybody here and we actually ended up coming here twice! Get the tofu banh mi and then pop to the bar right at the back (it used to be a swimming pool!) for a gin and tonic or three.
Bellamyplein 51, 1053 AT Amsterdam. Open daily, 11am-1am.
Staring at Jacob
My final foodie recommendation is Staring at Jacob, an oh so trendy brunch place by day and sushi joint by night. The location is a little further out but ideal if you’ve been hanging out in Vondelpark: their wine list is great, sake list greater AND the sushi is second to none.
Jacob Van Lennepkade 215, 1054 ZP Amsterdam. Open daily, 10am-11pm.
Dubbed the Central Park of Amsterdam, we visited Vondelpark every day because it was the easiest route back to our second hotel. The park is huge and so leafy, interspersed with beautiful lakes, an open-air theatre and a few coffee bikes (I really wish they had these in England!), plus countless opportunities to pet good boys. In the summer, I can imagine it’d be an amazing spot to pick up some food and eat outdoors, but it’s equally as lovely and rather romantic in the winter.
Spui Secondhand Book Market
For the fellow book lover, or perhaps you collect treasures from each of your travel destinations, there’s an adorable book market on the Spui square on Fridays. Lost, we wandered down the street in search of breakfast and got to see people of all walks of life searching for the perfect read ahead of the weekend. For more than 20 years, this book market has attracted readers from all over the Netherlands as well as abroad. We loved leafing through the offerings, seeing sweet old couples sharing homemade baked goods on foldaway chairs and playing chess – old, old sets that were probably retained from childhood.
Spui, 1012 Amsterdam.
Whilst we didn’t manage to ‘visit’ the floating tulip market in its’ full glory, we did manage to catch the late afternoon remnants of the famous Bloemenmarkt. Situated on a canal (duh), the market bustles with fresh fleurs every morning and if you’re able to take them home, there are bulbs and seeds aplenty to pick up too. Totally worth stopping by in the morning for a ‘gram and to see the everyday joy of people picking up their fresh flowers for the week ahead.
Love Stories Intimates
Captivated by the neon signage out front, I popped into Love Stories for a hot minute to be similarly enchanted by their delicate, romantic and sophisticated lingerie selection. It’s grown-up without being too risqué, and their pieces make for a very special addition to the essentials drawer.
Herengracht 296. Open daily, 11am/12pm-6pm.
The Avocado Shop
One of the top Instagrammable destinations in the city is by far The Avocado Shop, a cute cafe that sells food completely based on an avocado menu. Harvey isn’t 100% keen on the humble avo so we didn’t manage to eat there, but a short walk down to the next road along will bring you to their merch store. Nope, I’m not kidding. It’s another spot in the De Pijp neighbourhood and is styled by MADE.COM(!!), with plenty of avocado-related goods to peruse.
Daniël Stalpertstraat 61, 1072 XB Amsterdam. Open daily, 9am-5pm.
Anna + Nina
Just around the corner from The Avocado Shop(s) is Anna + Nina, one of those awesome ‘has everything’ shops with a very blogger-lenient aesthetic. The stores’ wares are curated as a result of the owners’ travels and comprises everything from jewellery to homeware, clothing to trinkets. They have an online store too, but the boutique is just a dream to wander through and admire.
Gerard Doustraat 94.
Things I Like, Things I Love
Another concept store, Things I Like, Things I Love is full of the things you’ll love. It’s primarily full of clothing and interiors bits, each handpicked with love and merchandised in such a way that you’ll want to somehow transport all of it into your suitcase and then home as is. The vibes are a little more cool-girl than those of Anna + Nina (which feels decidedly bohemian and earthy), but both are certainly worth a visit.
Jan Evertsenstraat 106.
Last but certainly not least, Wildernis is a sweet nook to visit before or after a trip to Food Hallen. Situated in the Oud West district, Wildernis is for the plant lovers. It’s stocked from top to toe with beautiful foliage, stunning planters, candles, pins and more. Here you can enjoy a coffee at the round table or simply gawp at the huge array of plants available!
Have you been to Amsterdam? Let me know where your favourite haunts are, or, if you decided to visit any of these hotspots on my recommendation!