2 Days In Amsterdam, Netherlands!
"What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?" These words were written by Vincent Van Gogh, who was born and raised in the Netherlands, and they encapsulate my cultural journey through Europe. For me, much like Van Gogh, I have an adventurous soul that yearns to travel, and visiting Europe was always a dream of mine. My motto now is "If you dream it, make it a reality."
Amsterdam was our first stop on a two week exploration throughout Northwestern Europe and is a place brimming with a unique culture that was so intriguing and bursting with charm. With over 800 years of history running through its veins, much like the serpentine canals that run throughout the city, vibrant Amsterdam will leave you amazed. I initially perceived Amsterdam as a risqué type of place with its Red Light District and leniency on marijuana, however, I found it to be quite unforgettable with its unassuming culture, remarkable food scene, and vibrant art.
Visiting for only three nights in Amsterdam gave us enough time to see some of the many highlights that are home to this exciting city, however, a few more nights would have been ideal. Let's begin our journey as I guide you through Amsterdam and Northern Holland.
Our Two-week Itinerary:
Amsterdam (3 nights)
Zaanse Schans (daytrip)
Belgium (2 nights)
Bruges (2 nights)
Luxembourg City (1 night)
Heidelburg (1 night)
Rothenburg ob der tauber (1 night)
Munich (3 nights)
Füssen (Neuschwanstein Castle daytrip)
Copenhagen (2 nights)
Flying to Europe can be affordable and highly doable if you know how to plan it right. My lightbulb moment, realizing that I could travel to Europe, happened while watching Rick Steves' Europe on PBS many years ago. Now, Rick Steves has his own website with in-depth information, videos, guidebooks, tours and much more. His information has been a wealth of knowledge for me when planning my trips. Not to mention, his inspiring videos and books summarize every aspect of each individual country and its top cities or sites to visit. Also, since the advent of the World Wide Web, we can now google information about certain places and read a plethora of reviews from people around the world about a particular restaurant or hotel in order to choose the perfect place to eat or sleep. I combine the best of these resources to create an itinerary that will lay the foundation for a perfect trip.
We flew into Schiphol Airport which is a 20 minute taxi ride from Amsterdam Central. Schiphol Airport was a breeze to go through and the taxi stands are clearly marked throughout the airport in English. As a matter of fact, English is spoken almost everywhere in the Netherlands, so getting around is super easy. We entered the first taxi in the queue and were on our way to the bustling city of Amsterdam. A taxi ride from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Central will cost about €15, which is worth the money considering the alternative, which is taking a train and then walking to your hotel with your luggage. After a long flight, I prefer getting to my destination in the easiest way possible, which would be a taxi ride.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Motel One Amsterdam-Waterloopein, which is located in the Jewish quarter. Although not too centrally located, I loved the modern feel of this hotel and the price was very reasonable. In addition, it was no more than a 25 minute walk to most of the famous sites in Amsterdam. Another plus is that it has central air conditioning. Air conditioning is not very common in Europe, therefore, having this luxury during a hot day in September was thoroughly enjoyed.
Staying at this hotel was genuinely enjoyable. The aesthetic was very relaxing and de-stressing. And, as an artist, I appreciated the artistic display of famous Dutch art with a modern twist.
Breakfast cost €17 per person, which is a little pricey, therefore we only indulged in this stupendous breakfast buffet on one of our two mornings here. Everything you can imagine was on this buffet, from meats and cheeses, to breads and pastries. There is certainly something you will love to eat at this smorgasbord. Not to mention, they have a self-service cappuccino machine, which was a delight very early in the morning.
Dinner at Café de Sluyswacht
We didn't arrive in Amsterdam until late in the evening, so we decided to go nearby to a local eatery for dinner. Located just steps away from Rembrandt's house, and only a five minute walk from our hotel, is an iconic eatery called Cafe de Sluyswacht. An institution since 1695, this welcoming restaurant and bar will make you feel like you've traveled in time to a bygone era.
With canal-side views, enjoy a locally brewed Hertog Jan beer with some of Netherlands finest snack foods, such as bitterballen (a Dutch meat snack with a thick gravy, breaded and deep fried) and goat cheese croquettes (goat cheese stuffed inside mashed potatoes, breaded and deep fried).
Cafe de Sluyswacht is a charming and historical pub, originally it was a home for the lock guard. Locals mingle here, which makes you feel immersed in their culture. While we were here, we witnessed a birthday party among several locals where they sang happy birthday in their native Dutch language, which was such a great experience. A visit here is a treat and the ambiance will make you feel like you are right in the heart of Amsterdam.
Visit the Red Light District
Amsterdam's oldest neighborhood, known as De Wallen, is a centuries old and eccentric area. Home to the oldest profession, prostitution, this area is also known as The Red Light District. Unlike the United States, the Netherlands has legalized prostitution as well as a limited amount of marijuana use.
It's helpful to know about these areas before you go wandering with your family and happen upon them. Firstly, marijuana is sold at coffee shops, which can be quite deceiving. In the Netherlands you buy coffee at a cafe, not a coffeeshop. In the Red Light District, prostitutes stand in windows dressed in lingerie, right off the alley, for you to view them. You know you've entered this quarter when you see red lights everywhere, after all, they don't call it the Red Light District for nothing! In addition, there are many S-E-X shops and, believe it or not, a sex museum. We took a quick paced walk through this district just to witness it, after all, it's sterotypical Amsterdam. On a Saturday night at 8 pm, I was somewhat surprised to see just how crowded it was this early in the night. It certainly was a place to experience!
First Day in Amsterdam/ Museum Day
Anne Frank House
Van Gogh Museum
The Pantry for dinner
Breakfast at Tony's NY City Bagels
On our first morning in Amsterdam we stopped by Tony's NY City Bagels, which was located around the corner from our hotel and on the way to our first destination. For half the price of our hotel's breakfast buffet, we were able to get two bagel sandwiches and a coffee each. Either sit and eat at the bagel shop or take your food to go and nibble on your bagel while roaming the streets of Amsterdam.
Anne Frank House & Museum
I first read Anne Frank's Diary when I was 12 years old. I loved reading biographies and needed to do a book report for school, so I chose this book. If you have not read this diary, I will provide a brief synopsis. Anne received a blank diary on her 13th birthday and began a journal about her daily life. Shortly after this, she and her familly, who were Jews hiding from the Nazi occupation, went into hiding in a secret annex. Anne began writing about her experience in this hidden annex and the life she and her family endured.
From that day forward my outlook on our world was changed. As a child, reading her diary, I could not imagine anything more horrific than what was happening to her and others during WWII. My curiosity was piqued after reading her journal and I searched for more books at our local library about the Holocost. To my shock, I stumbled upon atrocious images and more details about WWII and the horrors of war. Reading something very personal, such as Anne's diary, made me feel connected to her, and while reading her diary I would imagine her life playing out before me. It was always a desire of mine to see this Secret Annex and going there was very sobering and at the same time, made me feel even closer to this young lady who never got to live her life completely. If you have not read Anne Frank's Diary, I highly recommend you do before visiting. In doing so, it will help put all that you see into a better perspective.
Firstly, a reservation is a must. Find the website to obtain a reservation here! When you plan to visit Amsterdam, mark your calendar two months prior to reserve a date and time to visit the Anne Frank House and museum. Reservations fill up quickly and will sell out with very few reservations available the day of your visit. I booked our time slot for 10:30 in the morning and planned to stay about an hour. They ask that you arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your arrival to get in line outside.
The Secret Annex is located in an area where Anne's father, Otto Frank, worked. He owned a company called Opekta, which made products used for making jams. While living in the Netherlands, Otto Frank realized that the Nazi's would come eventually and he wanted to create a hiding place for his family when the need should arise. Because his office space required testing and cooking products, he had a kitchen, bathroom, and plenty of storage space in which to make a secret area for them to live. For months he stored dried food, money, and clothes for all of them in this area. This is the area to become the Secret Annex and what you will tour. The tour is very informative and includes an audio headset that provides detailed information about the Holocost, the Frank family going into hiding, the time they spent there and after. View the annex just as it was when the Frank family lived here for two years. While it is a heartbreaking experience, you will walk away with an increased awareness of what life was like for Anne and her family.
No pictures are allowed inside the building to protect the original items in the annex and museum, therefore, the only photos I have are of the front of the building that the secret annex is located in.
Visit the Rijksmuseum
This iconic museum contains several centuries of notable and historical artworks. Pronounced (rye-ks-museum), this wondrous museum is filled with over 8,000 works of art by famous Dutch artists, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer & Van Gogh, just to name a few.
On occasion, I will purchase a guided tour through a company to get a more in depth experience. Therefore, for our visit to the Rijksmuseum, I purchased a small group tour with Headout. We met our tour guide across the street from the museum at the Cobra Cafe, where we were able to sit a short while and get a refreshment before our tour began. I had reserved a tour that began at 1:00 pm, therefore, we had ample time from leaving the Anne Frank House and walking 20 minutes to the Rijksmuseum.
Our local guide was very knowledgeable of Dutch art, and its history, and gave us a two-hour tour highlighting some of the most famous artworks in the museum, including the not-to-be missed, The Night Watch, painting by Rembrandt. There is so much to see at this museum! Two hours was definitely not enough time to see even a portion of the artistic heritage in this museum, so plan your day accordingly. There is also a lovely cafe located near the entrance of the museum if you need a snack or meal before or after your visit.
Visit the Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is just a five minute walk from the Rijksmuseum, therefore, it only makes sense that you combine these two museums in the same day. In just a little over an hour you can witness the world's largest collection of artwork by Vincent Van Gogh in one building.
Van Gogh was born in the Netherlands and began his life as an artist very close by to Amsterdam. The Dutch landscape and lifestyle inspired Van Gogh with many of his artworks such as The Potato Eaters.
View his famous Sunflowers, Almond Blossom, and The Bedroom paintings, which are part of the permanent collection here. In addition, you can see his letters to his brother and many of his sketches from his early childhood and during his time in France. One of my favorites was the self-portrait gallery, where I could see the different subtleties in his painting style through the years.
I highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance online. Check out the website here for guided tours and to buy tickets. Taking an in-depth look into Van Gogh's world through his letters to family members and interesting facts about his life gives you a unique perspective about his art and why he created it.
Dinner at The Pantry
Amsterdam's food scene is much like America's food scene, very diverse and multi-cultural. Whatever type of food you like, you will find it here. Additionally, Indonesian food is quite popular here, which stems from the Dutch East India Company colonizing the land that is now Indonesia.
Nevertheless, I wanted to try some traditional Danish food while in the Netherlands. The Pantry specializes in home-made Dutch cuisine, so I was excited to eat dinner here. Reservations are a must, this restaurant is very popular among tourists and locals and only a fifteen minute stroll from the musuems.
The decor was homey and inviting and made you feel like you were in a typical Dutch setting. The menu has four specials that include a particular appetizer, entree, and dessert. We enjoyed the combination of hutspot, boerenkoolstamppot, and zuurkoolstamppot (mashed potatoes with kale, carrots or sauerkraut) served with a smoked sausage and the savory beef and onion stew with mashed potatoes and red cabbage. Both were phenomenal and memorable.
Our first day in Amsterdam was jam packed, yet unforgettable. I don't normally visit so many museums in one day, but the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum contain the essence of Dutch history. For me, art helps explain the world in which we live, it is an important element of culture and describes the history of a place and time. Now, we wander back to our hotel to rest for our next big day of sightseeing in Northern Holland and more of Amsterdam.
2nd Day in Netherlands/Amsterdam
Guided tour of:
Zaans Schans, Volendam
Edam & Marken in Northern Holland
Canal tour in Amsterdam
Dinner at Loetje Amsterdam Central
Shopping in Amsterdam
Stroopwafel at van Wonderen
We began our day eating a very enjoyable breakfast at our hotel to save time since we needed to meet the tour operator near the train station by 8:15 am. Not to mention, a lot of breakfast places, even bakeries don't open until 9 am, which is quite surprising. We also needed to allot twenty minutes to walk to the meeting point making our departure time around 7:45 am.
I had booked a tour through Tripadvisor for a day trip to Northern Holland. Our guide, Ilya, was very knowledable about all things associated with the Netherlands. During our entire tour, he provided informative narration.
Our first stop, Zaanse Schans, is an idyllic community in the Dutch town of Zaandam, which is located near Amsterdam. Here you will find historic windmills that were transferred here to create an 18th/19th century village. This pretty as a picture village also includes museums, gift shops and artisan workshops demonstrating their handicrafts.This is a real working town. People reside in the homes, and work in the village.
We had a fantastic time just walking around the town and exploring. If you have plenty of time to visit, have fun riding bikes or taking a boat tour at this enjoyable and educational place.
Our tour guide led us through the village giving us a short tour of where to wander for the next hour and a brief synopsis of the history of Zaanse Schans.
The next stop was the picturesque town of Edam. Edam is known for its well known cheese which is covered in yellow wax. This charming village is lined with canals and walkways with many types of shops.
Here you will stay with your tour guide while he provides the history of this scenic village.
For me, the highlight of the entire tour took place at a delightful local cheese producer and wooden shoe maker in the town of Volendam.
We enjoyed a humorous tutorial of their cheese making process and an eye-opening experience on how the Dutch carve wooden shoes and why they are used over other types of shoes. After these informative activities, we were led into their shop where we could try on clogs and sample cheeses to purchase and enjoy. In addition, they have a gift shop where you can purchase souvenirs.
Also, in Volendam is a dyke that was built to protect the old fishing village from the sea. Along this barrier is a strip of shops, eateries, and bars. There are many locals and tourists that come here to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Here you have the opportunity to eat lunch at one of the many fish restaurants and shop for some souvenirs.
Walk through historic fishing communities while churchbells chime to the hour. Marken is famous for its charming wooden houses and beautiful scenery, which makes this place so idyllic.
Visiting these old-world villages was a such a treat. These beautiful fishing villages are a major part of the rich culture in the Netherlands and give you an in depth knowledge of how Dutch people live.
Part of our tour includes an optional canal cruise (for an extra fee) upon our return back to Amsterdam. Considered the "Venice of the North," going to Amsterdam and missing the opportunity to cruise their many canals would be a heartfelt regret.
Enjoy a Canal Cruise
Upon our return to Amsterdam, our tour guide led the many people that opted for a canal cruise to the boat where our canal cruise began. This hour long cruise led us past the beautiful sites and landmarks of the city. We weaved our way through the canals with beautiful views from the water. The cruise concluded where it began, near the train station.
Eat at Loetje
After a day of touring we were hungry for for some of Amsterdam's flavorful food. Since we were nearby the train station I had planned for us to eat at Loetje Centraal, which serves local Danish food. My husband ate the specialty, the beef tenderloin which is cooked medium rare and served with white bread and gravy, which reminded me of a deconstructed beef manhattan. I decided to eat a burger with fries and mayo, which had a very unique, but delicous flavor. They served the fries on an entire slab of mayo, which was creamy and delightful.
Eat a Stroopwafel
Our day was almost finished, but I hadn't yet eaten a legendary stroopwafel, so we meandered the streets of Amsterdam to van Wanderen Stroopwafel for their famous stroopwafel. Here they make your stroopwafel to order. Fresh out of the oven, these steaming hot wafels are smeared with ooey gooey caramel, dipped in melted chocolate, and then sprinkled with your choice of topping. I opted for the salted caramel pearls, which created a perfect combination of sweet and salty.
It was definitely worth the wait. A freshly made stroopwafel is infinitely better than the store bought variety. You can imagine the smile on my face after devouring this delicious work of art.
Our journey in Amsterdam is sadly now coming to an end. This energetic city, with numerous bicyclists pedaling to their destinations, was vibrant and an eye opening experience. Dutch people are very unassuming and friendly and a joy to be around. Northern Holland is worth the effort to visit and I look forward to returning to explore more of the Netherlands.
Next stop......Ghent, Belgium
In the morning we will be taking the Thalys high speed train (2 hours) to Brussels, Belgium to transfer to another train (30 minutes) to Ghent, Belgium. Ghent is a charming medieval town located in Northwest Belgium and is bustling with history and famous works of art, particularly the Ghent Alterpiece. Read my blog post about our next stops to Ghent and Bruges.