Amsterdam is one of the world’s top tourist hubs for one good reason – there is something for everyone. We devoted 1.5 days of our 4 day Netherlands trip to Amsterdam and took in nightlife by the canals (Red Light District, cafes), some incredible museums (Rijkmuseum, Van Gogh), delicious Dutch food & Belgian beer (checkout The Pantry) and even a touch of nature & windmills at Zaanse Schans. What a beautiful & vibrant city to visit, seeing it felt like a dream!!
Top tip: If you’re even partially a museum buff, get a Museumkaart (60 EUR). Netherlands has some of the best museums we’ve ever seen & the card easily pays for itself in 3-4 museums.
We’ll try to break our writeup into 3 parts
- The vibe & nightlife
- The museums
- The food & drink
- Bonus: The daytrips (Zaanse Schans & Utrecht)
The vibe & nightlife
We’ve never been to Venice but we like to think the Amsterdam’s canals might give it a run for it’s money. The canals are the USP of the city and we got to see both the quiet side during the daytime (the Keizersgracht area) and the lively side during the nighttime (De Wallen). We also saw the quirky tilted houses pretty much everywhere. You’ll see contrasts in the city the whole time – the Old Church is in the centre of the Red Light District and very close to a Buddhist temple, talk about an eclectic mix. Spend a few hours just walking about, we found it pretty rewarding.
Tip: When you’re visiting Den Wallen don’t take pictures of the girls. Generally frowned upon. Also be prepared to walk among many tourists in narrow lanes.
Tip: Cafes in NL are generally a place to get beer or in the case of The Greenhouse Effect, space cakes.
Rijkmuseum – The final boss
We found Rijkmuseum to be very similar to The Louvre in terms of size. If you have time to visit only 1 museum during your stay, make it the Rijkmuseum. One of the cool things there was that you could find large information cards in front of their most famous pieces that not only described the painting but also zoomed in on some of the details. Speaking of their famous pieces, it was a pleasure to see Vermeer’s Milkmaid, Rembrandt’s Night Watch & other masterpieces with our own eyes.
Tip: Do not miss out on the Ground floor exhibits that cover the 1100-1400 time span, its exhibits were so different from the Golden Age ones. Also checkout the Delftware room.
Others to consider
The Van Gogh museum felt a bit crowded (especially on the lower floors) compared to the others we visited in NL. Nonetheless, we had a good time seeing Van Gogh’s work (we’ve previously made a jigsaw at home from one of his paintings). There is a microscope in one section that lets you see the textures in his paint work which was interesting.
There are so many other museums across the city to explore, the Museumkaart website has a handy list. We tried visiting the Anne Frank museum but the snaking line put us off.
Tip: Book a timeslot to visit the Anne Frank museum a few days ahead of time.
The food & drink
We really had just one sit-down meal in Amsterdam but what a meal it was. The Pantry is a Dutch restaurant a short walk from the Rijkmuseum and it served some traditional dishes we’d read up on before our visit. The cuisine is quite hearty & comforting and this was best exemplified by the Snert – a pea soup (served with delicious pieces of rye bread & ham). For the mains, Yoda had the Stamppot – the Dutch version of bangers & mash (pictured) and Dalek had the cauliflower & beef bake. The interiors were very pretty and the service was great, we highly recommend a visit.
Nearby Utrecht (which was our base) has some of the most legit Indonesian food we’ve ever had. We did a take out from Selamat Makan and that lasted us 2 meals! Utrecht also has excellent coffee at Village Coffee & even a Scotch whisky bar with an excellent selection (found Octomore, the world’s most peated whisky, in Utrecht!).
Bonus: The daytrips
We kinda cheated a little bit by introducing Utrecht’s happening food & drink scene above but do try to make the short 30 minute train ride to this happening college town. To be honest, it worked wonderfully as a base too. Our AirBnb (£30 off your 1st AirBnb booking) was decked out with a working record player, many classic LPs, an NES & delicious chocolate sprinkles which we polished off. The showpiece of this town is Netherland’s largest church tower, it is massive! There are fewer canals than AMS but as beautiful.
Finally, if you’re short on time and want to see windmills, take the 45 min long bus ride to the windmill village of Zaanse Schans. It is pretty touristy but if you head there “after-hours” you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself. And we got to see a sunset that was just spectacular.
We’re going to make Dutch public transport a separate blogpost but know that the 7.50 EUR GVB day ticket is great value and valid on trams and GVB buses. Here is a parting canal pic from the Emperors’ canal.
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