I know what you’re thinking… Amsterdam is just about weed and the red light district and pancakes, right? Wrong! Amsterdam is about culture and art and architecture and history… and yes, the pancakes are good, there is weed everywhere and the sex museum is definitely worth a visit too! I first went to Amsterdam – the city I shall henceforth refer to as the city of a thousand bridges because I swear there is a bridge every ten feet! – when I was a wee nipper. All I remember from that trip is the crowds at Anne Frank’s House and being scared by creepy-looking men in the red light district at night. But, let’s be honest, your kid’s eyes see things very differently to your grown-up eyes. So this year, I went back to Amsterdam. It was a perfect long weekend and a real Dutch adventure!
If you’re planning a trip to the Netherlands city and looking for what to squeeze into a short timeframe, read ahead for some tips to make the most of a few days in Tulip Central.
From the UK, Amsterdam is a relatively quick trip. We flew from Manchester Airport to Schipol; the flight time was less than two hours and, even for a less-than-happy flier like me, felt like a lot less.
Once you arrive at Amsterdam Schipol Airport, it’s an easy trip to the city centre. Just be warned though, the station at Schipol isn’t the easy to navigate! For the cheapest way to get to Amsterdam Centraal, head straight to the friendly, people-manned desk (unless you don’t mind card machines and bots) and ask for a single train ticket to Centraal. The trains are pretty regular and the journey quick. Plus, you get to enjoy the sights as the train passes overhead, which is an added bonus.
Hop off the train at Centraal Station, and the world – or more specifically, Amsterdam – is your oyster!
Where to Stay
There are a myriad of options for places to stay in Amsterdam. Hostels, boutique hotels, houseboats – the list goes on. We went with Conscious Hotels for our stay.
Situated at Westerpark, this eco-friendly hotel is reasonably priced and the rooms are just lovely. Fresh, light, with a ginormous bed and spacious bathroom, it’s located just a little out from the main centre in the surroundings of the beautiful Westerpark. There is a shop selling everything from gifts to healthy snacks and bottles of beer and wine. There’s even a bar and restaurant attached which was always bustling while we were there. It’s about a twenty-minute walk to the centre, but we actually found that quite nice – a good opportunity to explore Amsterdam even further.
I’d highly recommend it as a place to consider resting your head for your trip to this beautiful city.
Things to Do and See
Amsterdam is not short of museums and galleries. Whilst you’ve probably got the big, uber-famous ones like the Rijks Museum already on your to-visit list, here’s a quieter one worth adding to your itinerary. Foam is a photography museum that is a little off-the-beaten-track but completely entrancing. The main exhibitions, as you would expect, change but the heart of the place stays the same – good photography, as an art form, exhibited by those who appreciate it.
Yes, I know it’s touristy, and yes, I know there’ll be some folk reading this and thinking it’s seedy, but when in Rome… And when in Amsterdam, why not visit the Sex Museum?! Where else can you sit on a giant penis? (Don’t answer that, please…!) It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for the faint of heart, but it is a bit of fun and will guarantee you a good giggle and great memories.
Perfect for a quiet morning, Hortus Botanicus is a peaceful spot filled with plants of numerous varieties, butterflies, and even a few friendly ducks. Best visited in spring or summer when most colorful, there’s a lovely little coffee shop on site too and their coffee is delicious!
You’ve two options with this one… One: bite the bullet and pay the entry to go inside the Nemo Science Museum. Two: be a cheap sod like me and just wander up a hundred steps to the top of the museum for the free – and breathtaking – view. The best free view of the city there is!
You can’t think of Amsterdam or the Netherlands without thinking of tulips. The good news for Europeans is that you can carry tulip bulbs in your hand luggage. They make great gifts and wonderful reminders of your trip, and the best place to buy them is at the flower market. Down by the canal, Bloemenmarkt is a rainbow of colours sure to make you smile. The shops are in floating barges, a reminder of days-gone-by when flowers arrived daily to the city via boat. I honestly haven’t seen anything quite like the endless tubs of beautiful Dutch tulips. Set aside an hour of your time and wander around this place and enjoy the colours.
Think eBay but in real life. That’s IJ-Hallen. You’ll need to take a boat to get here, but the ferry to the North of the city is free and quick. Once back on land, IJ-Hallen is hiding in a perfectly graffiti-ed, industrial corner of North Amsterdam. Next door to ‘Sexyland’ (I never did find out what that place was…), IJ-Hallen is a sprawling maze of vintage, second-hand, garage-sale-like stores. People spread their treasure out on countless tables and across never-ending coat racks in this old hangar, and you’ll have to work hard not to spend all of your money and all of your day perusing. There are a few places to eat inside and outside, from burgers to chips and, of course, coffee. You’ll find everything from the perfect pair of vintage Levis, to old gas masks, tobacco tins and pin badges.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ
What’s more Dutch than a windmill? A brewery in a windmill, that’s what! Now, while this gluten-intolerant girl can’t exactly attest to the quality of the beer, I have it on good authority that IJ is the best the city has to offer. But even if you’re not going for the beer, sitting out under the towering windmill by the side of the water… well, that’s worth it.
Last Stop: Buttons!
Confession: I have a button problem. I also have a chocolate, gin, fabric, book and notebook problem, but those are stories for another time. If, like me, you like those little discs of joy that can be made into clothes or rings or art, then you NEED to visit the button shop. Even the name is a joy: Knopenwinkel. Just be warned: they don’t like photos, so keep that camera phone tucked away in your pocket while you choose which dozen buttons to take home.