I [LOVE] Amsterdam
I’ve traveled to so many places in Europe and whenever I’m asked about places that I’m embarrassed for not having visited yet I always think of Budapest, Munich and Amsterdam.
I have been so close to these towns many times and for one reason or another I just miss them. Well, now Amsterdam is no longer on that list and I’m so excited to write about this town, which has become almost my favorite city in Europe, just right after Rome. So this is for Amsterdam.
Weather at this time of the year was mild, kind-of-like San Francisco and this makes it an easy city to visit anytime of the year. My time there was Fall and it was a beautiful season with so many vivid colors. I felt many times that I was part of one of Van Gogh’s sunset paintings along the canals.
Even though Amsterdam is a “big” city, it still has that old-small-town feeling when you stroll down the streets and cross the hundredsof canals, yes hundreds. Second city in the world with the most number of bridges, after Venice. So it has the sense of small town, in a big place with a very cosmopolitan feeling with all the amenities that a large first-world city can offer.
I must say that it took me by surprise how friendly Dutch people are. This is a hidden secret and I only got to learn about it by experiencing it. There are many places in Europe with amazing friendly people but the Dutch just took number one place with me. Everywhere you go they are authentically friendly, smile at you, try to help you, it’s safe, and you don’t have to worry about crime, at least not with my experience.
The best method of transportation is walking, like I always recommend, walk for miles, get lost and you’ll find the best hidden spots in town. Biking is so popular and polite-ish in the city, but don’t get fooled, look in every single direction when you cross the street because bikes have the right of pass and they take that very seriously. Taxis, Uber and trains are available but if you stay within the center you’ll be ok walking all the time.
It didn’t take us long to make friends there, from the great staff (now friends) at our hotel (Canal House) to the shops and people at bars. We talked to many people and just the last night there we met a great couple, Tom and Ellis, which are now our best Dutch friends in town.
Eating was amazing, not sure why Amsterdam doesn’t get that reputation as we ate deliciously every single meal and definitely more affordable than San Francisco and NYC. There are so many bars to choose from, great Dutch beer including the famous Heineken. And the shoppingwas another great surprise as it has very unique styles and prices attractive. Lastly, of course you have to check out their coffee shops, which are not really coffee shops but legal cannabis shops where you can taste dozens of types and give you the fix that you need to keep experiencing the city. When in Rome…
Because of all the above I’m getting to the point that you’re probably wondering and wanting to read about, with more specific names on places to visit and things to see. Here are some of my favorite spots in the city that you should, and must, check out.
Where to stay. Canal House. Definitely an elaborate small boutique hotel, and part of the SLH collection, and our home away from home in Amsterdam. Located right on Keizersgracht street, one of the main and most luxurious canals with the typical architecture from the Dutch Golden Age, with narrow and tall intricate buildings with the most picturesque windows lined up the walls. Our friends at the hotel were so nice and always made us feel at home. We even experienced three different rooms because we had three stays (as we were traveling in between) and all rooms are so tastefully designed, decorated and feel just comfy.
What to see. Vincent Van Gogh Museum was my favorite museum. Book tickets in advance and skip the lines. The most impressive collection that I’ve seen, so colorful and so deep. Rijksmuseum is another impressive museum that was recently renovated and just re-opened a couple of years ago. I didn’t get to experience this museum but it’s definitely on the list for the next time.
Anne Frank House-Museum is a time capsule that takes you back to World War II in Amsterdam and the way Anne and her family lived in the attic of that place. Humbling experience. Lines tend to get pretty long so best to buy ticket in advance for specific time and skip the lines. Just a five minute walk from Canal House Hotel.
Flower Market is open year long and the best time to see it is Spring and Summer seasons. You can still experience the market in Winter with all the different tulip bulbs, souvenirs, and Dutch memorabilia. All laid out alongside the canal as this market is floating on the canal. Tourist spot but worth it.
Christmas Market is only available during that season and it has great shopping.
Anice find. Conservatorium Hotel by museums. This was a find on our way to the Van Gogh museum, situated right next to it and close enough to Rijksmuseum. It’s an old conservatory that was transformed into a luxury hotel. Great location if you want to stay near the museums. We spent time at the courtyard which is enclosed in glass walls and has a great lobby where you can order drinks and food. Perfect stop before or after checking out museums.
Drinks and Eats. There are so many, and honestly picking any restaurant by walking by it will be good. Still here are some of my favorites: Dante Bar, Black and Blue steakhouse, Bleu Brasserie with the best desserts, Adonis and Venus for best burgers, De Belhamel with more of a classic Dutch cuisine. And for special occasion check out Mr. Porter at W Hotel and Jansz at the Pullitzer Hotel, best restaurants on my list.
Gay Amsterdam. Did anyone doubt Amsterdam is gay friendly? This was even impressive for me as one of the friendliest cities with tons of things to do for gays and lesbians. I’m not usually about narrowing options to gay alternatives, but here there’s no difference here and you can find the spots all over the city. The city has an openness to lifestyles, no judgment and embracing diversity that is really hard to compare to other cities in the world.
Prik is a small gay club with cool European pop music, good cocktails and the crowd is very friendly.
The Eagle and The Cuckoo’s Nest are a little more alternative as they are more leather and S&M bars, still friendly and cool to have a beer and it’s up to you to explore beyond that. Totally safe, friendly and fun.
Gay Pride is probably the best holiday to spend in Amsterdam, which is usually the first or second week of August, right in the middle of the summer and the entire town is a celebration-parade for a week. Check out the specific dates and book in advance as the place is party central for everyone. I can only imagine with warm weather and celebrations all over. Fun!
Lastly. The Heineken Experience is something that everyone should try. Touring the oldest brewery in town, learning about its history and why it’s considered a landmark was fascinating. Not to mention the brewing process, tasting and all fun experiences that they have throughout the tour. Special tip: go there on your birthday, get in the contest of jugging a beer and get your own Dutch birthday beer mug. Priceless.
It took me a while to finally write this blog but to be honest the reason was because I’ve been dreaming of Amsterdam for weeks and I can’t wait to go back. So putting all those emotions and experiences into a blog was challenging this time, so much to see, do, experience — amazing city, so make sure you spend a few days there.
And I’ll be back in the Summer time again! See you soon Amsterdam.