2019 ended in Ireland but before heading home to Seattle, we had one more stop to make. We decided that we’d spend a quick 2 days exploring the ‘Venice of the North’, so we popped over to Amsterdam!
Generally, my ‘Quick Trip’ travel guides are usually about the things I loved about a city, this guide will be a little different. While I loved Amsterdam and could have kept exploring for quite some time, this trip had a ton of things go ‘wrong’ haha. Since I’ve always prided myself on telling you readers the truth, I’ll include all the mishaps and mayhem of this trip.
SIDEBAR: I’d like to give a shoutout to Lust Til Dawn and The Blonde Atlas! Their Amsterdam guides helped make this trip full of fun activities and yummy food.
Where To Stay in Amsterdam
Hotel Arena –
I wanted to surprise my partner Eóin with a fancier hotel stay than our normal spots. After doing a ton of research I found Hotel Arena. Located just outside the edge of the city, Hotel Arena is connected to the gorgeous Oosterpark. I wanted to stay outside the city because I wasn’t sure how much of a party scene the city center would be and I’m a light sleeper. This gorgeous building is a Catholic Church turned 4-star hotel; most of the building has been beautifully restored but still kept in its original state. We got in early and our room wasn’t ready yet so we walked to breakfast to kill some time. After a few hours we were told our room was ready so we headed upstairs to get settled…and that’s where things went wrong haha.
As it turns out, due to a computer error, the previous guests hadn’t actually checked out of the room yet. All of their luggage, toiletries, even souvenirs were left in the room we were told was cleaned and ready for us. I headed down to the front desk to let them know and they sent someone up to collect the items. There was a language barrier with housekeeping (he spoke Arabic and no English) but eventually we were able to communicate that the items weren’t ours and we’d like the room re-cleaned. So we headed back down to their PARK Café-Restaurant for drinks and nibbles, this time with a complimentary drink coupon from the hotel for our trouble.
When we finally were let back in, we got settled and the room was gorgeous! We had our own hot tub/jacuzzi, plenty of space, and a huge bed! I was definitely exhausted after a cranky day of back and forth, not to mention we were coming off of a 10 day trip through Ireland that had us drinking and dancing until 4am most nights. However, I had planned a fun romantic date night surprise for my partner so I needed to pull myself together and get ready.
I’ve also heard great things about the Swissôtel, the Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel (Marriott), Hotel V (they have a few different properties), and of course there are a ton of AirBnB options as well.
Where to Eat in Amsterdam
While the food at our hotel was great, we headed out for the date night that I had planned. Thanks to The Blonde Atlas, I discovered Café George, a “proverbial French-brasserie-in-New-York… But then in Amsterdam.” It’s located right off a canal so if the weather is great then sit outside and enjoy the view. Since it was early January, it was cold and rainy so we took our date inside. I had the spaghetti carbonara and Eóin got the lamb chops with the bordelaise sauce. Holy YUM, they were both absolutely fantastic!
I found this restaurant on Pinterest and had to try it. Box is an Australian café, serving all day breakfast and brunch! Since brunch is my favorite meal of the day, this place was made for me. The food was fantastic but their coffee and juice really put the meal over the top!
This New Zealand + Brazilian style café is quite popular and located in the hip neighborhood of Oude Pijp! I didn’t realize until later that I had chosen an Aussie and a Kiwi breakfast place, two days in a row haha. This place has amazing eggs benedict!
I couldn’t come to Amsterdam and not pop in to the Insta-famous bakery. They’ve got chocolate covered strawberries, cakesicles, chocolate bars, and even a chocolate bouquet if you’re interested. I opted for the unicorn cakesicle and Eóin got the peanut butter bar (it has a pocket of hidden raspberry jam and oh my gosh it tasted like a pb&j sandwich).
There are so many places I wanted to try but we just ran out of time. Check out Lust Til Dawn’s list of great places to eat in the city! She’s a local so she knows what she’s talking about.
What To Do in Amsterdam
There is so much in this city, it was a lot to try and fit into 2 days. We wanted to relax and not feel rushed, so we made sure to take our time when choosing what to do.
Rent A Bike –
You can’t go to Amsterdam and not mention their cycling culture. This city was practically designed for bike riders. While it can be daunting, this city cares so much about it’s bikers that they have the right of way in every aspect (above both cars and people). Our hotel had an option to rent bikes, so we grabbed two and headed into the city. I’m more of a rollerblade girl, I like keeping my feet on the ground, but after a while I got the hang of it. We had a few close calls, I almost got hit by 2 cars (both driven by tourists, not knowing we had the right of way). Also, be sure you get a bike with a bell or horn attached so you can warn other tourists or walkers to get out of your way!
Go To A Museum –
There are quite a few to choose from so narrow down your list based on your interests. The obvious mention is the Anne Frank Museum, but buy your tickets early because they sell out months in advance. While the museum does release a handful of tickets the day of, they’re very difficult to get. I attempted this and managed to purchase two for that day, only to realized later that I actually purchased them for February. My dumb American brain forgot that Europe write their dates day/month/year unlike in the USA where it’s month/day/year. So I confused ’01/02/2020′ for January 2nd instead of February 1st.
We couldn’t come to Amsterdam and not go to the Van Gogh (pronounced ‘Van-Goff’) museum. Weeks later and I’m still dreaming of sunflowers and straw hats.
The one museum we had a lot of fun in was the Sex Museum! It goes through the history of sex throughout different cultures across centuries, up to today. Walk through at your own pace, free from judgment and full of humor; I’d recommend this museum to anyone who’s interested!
Canal Boat Ride –
Part of the romantic date I had planned for us involved a lovely ride through the canals. Every year they have the Amsterdam Light Festival, that runs through December and into January. These are huge light displays and they have boat rides that float around and explain the significance of each piece and the art that went into it’s creation. I found a tour through Stromma and booked us two seats on a tour.
To be honest, we were a bit disappointed with this tour. We figured it would be a guide, talking to us about each piece, making it more personal and talking to us individually. Instead, we got onboard and had a pre-recorded tape play as we moved through the water. Now, I’m not blaming Stromma for this but I definitely passed out for 85% of the tour. I was so run down and not feeling well that the recorded voice just lulled me to sleep. I was so mad at myself for sleeping through our date night! My partner was his wonderful self and of course told me he wasn’t upset, he knew how tired I was. Well, as it turns out I caught the flu sometimes on this trip so me sleeping wasn’t entirely Stromma’s fault 😉
Walk Around & Explore –
Amsterdam is made up of smaller neighborhoods or boroughs, all of which are connected by bridges of the canals. This makes the city insanely walkable, even in crummy weather! If you’ve seen picturesque streets with gorgeous bridges and slightly wonky buildings, then they were probably taken in Jordaan (pronounced like ‘your-dahn’). This neighborhood is so beautiful that it’s actually a protected UNESCO world heritage site. I could walk around this city forever and continue to fall in love with it’s beautiful, albeit crooked/wonky architecture haha.
Get High –
It would be hard to mention activities in Amsterdam without speaking of their legal drug use. If you’re into it, there are plenty of options from marijuana to mushrooms. Wanting to smoke and chill? Then head to one of their coffeeshops (in case it’s confusing, coffeeshops are for smoking and cafés are for coffee lol). Here’s a great list with more coffeeshops to try if you’re looking for some legal fun! Don’t be an idiot though and make yourself out to be an awful tourist. Since this is legal here, people aren’t stumbling around stoned out of their mind. Just find a place to smoke and chill, and you’ll fit in fine.
The Red Light District –
It’s the oldest profession and in Amsterdam it is perfectly legal. When walking through the district of De Wallen, you’ll notice it’s marked by red neon lights above building and signs on doors. Like I mentioned above, don’t be a dumb tourist. These are working women and sex workers are deserving of just as much respect as you give anyone else in the world. The biggest rule is NO PICTURES! If a worker even sees your phone out it becomes a big scene, I’m not kidding so don’t try to be sneaky. Be respectful or don’t bother.
While I think Amsterdam and I need a do-over, I am leaving so in love with this city. Despite all the mishaps, I can’t wait to come back and continue to explore the history, architecture and food that the ‘Venice of the North’ has to offer!
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. This is at no extra cost to you and all products linked are ones I use personally and/or paid for myself