I spend quite a lot of time in Amsterdam and I really love it there. The people are incredibly nice, the food and bar culture are great, the city is beautiful. If you’re thinking of booking a trip (and you’ve been able to find affordable accommodation…), you should! Here are some starter recommendations for you –
My favourite museum in Amsterdam, and perhaps the world, is the Dutch Resistance Museum. This lovely museum covers all areas of resistance and asks tough questions in a kind and compassionate way – what would you do as an official under occupation? You are being told to give orders you violently disagree with, but if you resign, you know they’ll replace you with a nazi, and if you disobey they’ll kill you, then replace you with a nazi. There’s a sharp focus on everyday life and experiences which is deeply affecting. A real must see. I don’t like The Anne Frank House as much, though I loved visiting it when I’d just read the book at school. If you do want to see it, scour the website for what the current etiquette is – they keep changing it to combat crowding, and if you just turn up you will be waiting for hours and hours.
Another real favourite is Our Lord In The Attic, a perfectly preserved 17th Century town house, with a secret cathedral in the attic. Yes, really. A lovely peek into the past, with a real spectacle to finish off.
There is also a lot of art, which you will be able to find yourself – obviously, if you particularly like Rembrandt or Van Gough, go to their museums. If you are into older art go to the Rijksmuseum to ogle The Night’s Watch and their extensive collection of gems, and for more modern stuff, the Stedelijk, which is amusingly shaped like a giant bathtub.
I have a LOT of opinions on this, and a lot of favourites, but my biggest piece of advice is to always follow your nose. Amsterdam has one of the nicest, most chilled out bar scenes I’ve ever seen (I suspect because of the local habit of buying halves) and you will be able to immediately tell a potential gem from a tourist trap hellhole. But my favourite gems are –
Brouwerij Het Ij, a microbrewery and bar in a windmill. Wonderful beer and great atmosphere, but a little out of the way. It’s close to the Resistance Museum though, and they make a good double bill.
Cafe t’Smalle is a beautiful old bar with a little canal terrace in the heart of Jordaan, a prime wandering-about district. Despite the terrace, the best time to visit is winter – they serve a very seasonal, very delicious pea and ham soup, and if the canal freezes over you’ll be able to step right on it with your mulled wine.
Cafe de Wetering is a tucked away little place but worth the trek. A roaring log fire, jazz, rarely packed and a lot of interesting types of cheese. Also, a pub cat – Fidel Catstro.
Cafe Hoppe is a wonderful little bar overlooking glorious Spui. There’s sand on the floor to mop up spilt beer and you have to go behind the bar, through a hidden door and into the pub next door to go to the ladies. I really love it. Also pleasingly close to the American Book Centre (three level book shop with a TREE IN IT) and round the corner is a little chip shop where you can get mayonnaise and sate sauce as toppings (trust me).
One last very important thought about bar life in Amsterdam – it is completely normal to order a plate of cubes of cheese to go with your beer – just as you would order crisps in the UK, but it is a plate of cheese. I recommend you do this quite a lot.
Interesting Wandering Places
One of my favourite streets to nose about in is Zeedijk. This street is where the gay quarter butts up against China Town, and it is packed with lovely welcoming little bars, comic book and head shops, and restaurants that aren’t just Argentinian Steak Houses.
I’ve mentioned a couple of places in it, but Jordaan is a paradise. Bars and great food everywhere, the best shopping, if that’s what you’re into, and loads and loads of beautifully lit bridges for you to put on instagram.
My absolute favourite place to eat in Amsterdam is De Reiger, a bar and restaurant in the lovely area of Jordaan. I used to ALWAYS have the ribs, but all the food is great. Lovely staff and beautiful dark wood everywhere, a real treat.
The Five Flies is an Amsterdam institution – they have original Rembrandts, original 17th century wallpaper, chairs names after the celebrities who’ve visited. It’s upscale French/Dutch, and really not affordable under normal circumstances, but if you pop in at about 5 and ask if they’re running their early bird offer you may get a free course meal with wine for a really reasonable price. The food is amazing. NOTE – I have been told in the past that this place is “very touristy”. Sure it is! I am a tourist so this has never really bothered me.
Bird is a lovely affordable thai place on Zeedijk – you’ll have to queue on busy nights but it’s worth it.
If you’re looking to wander around debating options until you find somewhere that strikes your fancy, I really recommend De Pijp. It’s an area full of bars and places to eat, and there always seems to be a gem. Lots of nice Indonesian places live here, but last time we ended up having sourdough pizza and craft beer from Mastino and it was amazing.
A note on drugs – if you would like to smoke some pot or maybe have some mushrooms in Amsterdam, it is decriminalised and no one will mind. You will be able to tell where is selling pot because it will describe itself as a “coffeeshop” and have a little symbol, with two green and white triangles. But I would council you to be selective. A lot of the coffeeshops in the more popular areas are unpleasant tourist traps (I am especially talking about the Bulldog chain). There ARE really lovely friendly chilled out places for you to smoke if you want to! As with everything, have a look in Jordaan and follow your nose. Make sure you chat to whoever’s behind the bar and let them know if you haven’t had a joint since uni or whatever, as they will give you something pretty strong by default.
I don’t really like the Red Light District as I find the dawning from some tourists a bit creepy and annoying. But you can of course go there if you want. My Mum went on a tour run by a former sex worker and she said it was a fab.
I have a real soft spot for the touristy canal tours. You can catch a boat every hour from down by Central Station – Eco Tours are the best.
Leave me a comment if I’ve missed off your favourites!