Updated: June 22nd, 2018
Fine, I’ll say it. I was never interested in visiting Amsterdam. What was I going to do in a city known for its legal prostitution, space cakes, and bicycle enthusiasm? And while that may sound like a good time to some (a freaking phenomenal time if you put them all together), I’d just… rather… not. In fact, the only reason I visited Amsterdam in the first place was because the plane ticket was insanely cheap and, mehh, I wasn’t doing anything that week that the DVR couldn’t handle. But just like your mother, your happily married best friend, your therapist, and your inspirational Pinterest boards have all told you—it’s when you stop looking for love that you find it.
Now, I didn’t expect to even like Amsterdam so falling completely head over heels in love with it hit me square in the face in a way I couldn’t have anticipated–much like a space cake will after about an hour of asking, “Do you feel anything yet?” I really should’ve known, too. There’s been a handful of things—Italy, musical theatre, holding a tarantula—that I swore off before even giving a try. Now, I find all of these to be a good time… a phenomenal time if you put them all together! I’m picturing a spider wearing kinky boots, if you must know. And so are you if that space cake has finally kicked in.
So because of this preconceived notion that I would, for some strange reason, not love the adorable architecture, the picturesque, fairytale canals, those heavenly stroopwafels, and the abundance of impressionist art, I dedicated only 3 days in Amsterdam. I saw the highlights, the must-dos, the CliffsNotes version of the Netherlands capital. So yeah, I would totally ace a quiz on stroopwafels and bitterballen—though I’d probably still need to cram (that shit into my mouth).
3 DAYS IN AMSTERDAM | DAY 01
Having flown overnight from Boston, 3 Days in Amsterdam—Day One didn’t get started until about 11:00 a.m. so, already a couple hours late for beer. (What? It’s 5:00 somewhere, right? And by that I mean 11:00 a.m. in Amsterdam is 5:00 a.m. in Boston. Totally counts.) I landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport/train station mashup and fell in love immediately. The cleanliness, the color, the flowers, the legit ballroom dancers in flowing gowns sashaying throughout the concourse. Was this happening? Or was I imagining this? Was I, indeed, stoned by association?
It’s safe to say Amsterdam took my negative assumptions of it and squashed those straightaway. Like a spider chilling on the inside of a toilet bowl, they didn’t stand a chance. There wasn’t a single moment during my time in Amsterdam when my negative prejudices were proven right. Even, on my last day, when I watched a guy get tackled onto the sidewalk and cuffed by police—it was the calmest, most sugar-coated street arrest I’d ever seen (and I’ve seen a good number of them). It happened in slow motion, surrounded by beautiful potted tulips, and in almost perfect silence. And it was only 7:00 a.m. I left Amsterdam just as impressed as when I arrived.
HOTEL MOSAIC CITY CENTRE
After arriving in a new city, I always recommend making your hotel the first stop, whether or not you’re able to even check in yet. To brush your teeth, change your clothes, get rid of your baggage—it’s starting to sound like checking into a hotel after an overnight flight isn’t all that different from preparing for a first date. In either case, don’t forget to put on clean underwear and pray you don’t find yourself in the Red Light District.
Julianne (of It’s Five O’Clock Here) and I stayed at the Hotel Mosaic City Centre that is, brace yourself, not in the city center. This shouldn’t surprise anyone though as our society is chock full of misnomers–like how an airplane’s black box is actually orange, how the Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place on Breed’s Hill, and how guinea pigs aren’t actually pigs from Guinea and should really be called South American teacup bunny-bears. Regardless, the Hotel Mosaic is perfectly located. It’s just a short walk to the Jordaan and the Anne Frank House, Museum Quarter, Vondelpark, and is surrounded by a thick wall of hasty bicyclists for that added level of security.
The hotel was clean and well kept, the employees were friendly and helpful, and our room had a balcony overlooking a tree-lined canal from which I could watch the bicyclists crash into one another. Put that all together with the affordable price and the fact that they showed American sitcoms in English (!!!) on the TV every night and you’ve got yourself the perfect Amsterdam hotel.
LUNCH AT CAFÉ DE JORDAAN
After checking in to the hotel, we needed lunch. And beer. Slight emphasis on beer. Wandering around the Jordaan we sought desperately a joint that was actually open at that time. We tried a few, unsuccessfully, until we finally found a place that was open and checked all of our boxes. ☑︎ Food ☑︎ Beer. Does this story sound familiar? Maybe a little Goldilocks and the Three Bears-ish? Let’s just go ahead and refer to this portion of the blog post as Dirty Socks and the Three Bars.
Turns out, Café de Jordaan was juuuust right. Great food, great beer, and an even greater time listening to our server give us directions to the Anne Frank House. Is Amsterdam the most hospitable city in all the land? I’d have to say yes. And we drank happily ever after.
ANNE FRANK HOUSE
Visiting the Anne Frank House was the one thing I had to do while in Amsterdam that didn’t involve a caramel-y syrup pressed between two thin layers of baked dough. In fact, I didn’t even know this was in Amsterdam to begin with. Sure, I “read” the (Cliffsnotes to the) book about 20 years ago but that did nothing to the fact that I thought her story took place in Germany all these years. Now, I can’t emphasize enough that you cannot visit Amsterdam and not visit the Anne Frank House. That would be like visiting Rome and not seeing the Sistine Chapel with your own eyes or visiting Boston’s North End and not devouring a cannoli like there was no tomorrow. There’s just no excuse.
Touring the house where she and her family, along with four others, hid out during the German occupation of Amsterdam during WWII, seeing the pictures she hung on the walls that still hang there, walking through the hidden door behind the bookcase that leads to the attic, and seeing her actual handwritten diary are truly eye-opening (and potentially head-bruising) experiences. Beyond that, the Anne Frank House is bursting with information, inspiration, interviews with Otto Frank, the Annex’s only survivor, and video footage you’ll tell your friends not to watch that they do anyway.
TIPS FOR VISITING THE ANNE FRANK HOUSE
⇢ Reserve your tickets well in advance. Think: months. I believe only Hamilton and the complaint hotline at Spirit Airlines are more popular at this point in time. Tickets are sold for specific times throughout the day with only a certain number of visitors admitted every 15 minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. However, should you want to visit and reserved tickets are already sold out, you can buy day-of tickets on site beginning at 3:30. All you have to do is show up and claim your spot in a line that makes trying to snag cronuts and unicorn frappuccinos look as quick and easy as choosing which bowl of porridge to eat. I’m pretty sure the odds of scoring an actual unicorn are better than showing up to the Anne Frank House on a whim and getting in.
⇢ This page is the only official ticket seller to the Anne Frank House so please don’t get yourself ripped off trying to save a buck or get in on a sold out afternoon.
⇢ Read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl before your visit. Actually read it this time. It’s really good. What was just another school reading assignment I would half-ass my way through 20 years ago is today one of the most remarkable books I’ve read. Anne Frank is so inspiring, so eloquent, and insightful beyond her years. You won’t believe this book was written by a girl in the same age bracket as Honey Boo Boo. Sure, we all know the story but reading her diary before your trip to Amsterdam will significantly enrich your experiences walking through the Anne Frank House and seeing for yourself all the rooms and windows and offices she wrote so much about. Watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on the other hand will kill brain cells and begin your swift decline into a trailer park residency. The choice is yours.
BEERS AT CAFÉ KALKHOVEN
Café Kolkhoven is just down the street from the Anne Frank House and is classified as a ‘brown café’. If you Google ‘brown café’ you’ll end up at a site that boasts “UPS info for UPS-ers”—literally an informational forum for employees of the United Parcel Service—so allow me to explain. A ‘brown café’, the kind that has nothing to do with men’s short shorts, is a traditional Dutch pub thusly named for their dark, wooden interiors and smoke-stained walls. Newer pubs try hard to replicate this edgy, worn-in look–something you’ll understand fully if you’ve ever paid good money for jeans already full of rips and holes.
Café Kalkhoven is one of Amsterdam’s oldest pubs and has been open since 1670. In early 2017 it was here that I discovered rosé beer was a thing. I can’t decide which of these is more noteworthy.
STROLLING THROUGH THE JORDAAN
The Jordaan is arguably one of the prettiest neighborhoods in Amsterdam and dates back to the 17th century. It blossomed as a working-class neighbourhood and is where you’ll now find the Anne Frank House, countless cafés and art galleries, and the hip cats who visit them. The name Jordaan is derivative of the French word for garden and most of the streets and canals in the Jordaan are named after trees and flowers—just like the babies of the hip cats who live there, probably. Be sure to take some time to stroll the sickeningly adorable neighborhood and question your prejudice of every place you’ve written off for travel (Scotland—too wet), every person you’ve not yet met (Ed Sheeran—he’s the kind of guy that leaves toothpaste caked-up in the sink, I just know it), and every food you said you’d never try (actually, nope, there’s no way blood sausage is good).
Oh, and there are a lot of cats in windows.
DINNER AT LA OLIVA
The idea for dinner at La Oliva came from the pages of my Rough Guides Amsterdam guidebook, the word “Pintxos” solidifying it as our next stop. You may recall that time in Barcelona when, faced with the prospect of eating pintxos for dinner, I declared to my friend Amanda, “I’m not fucking standing up to eat!” And as happens so often when I hard-core complain about things, it was the best meal of that entire trip. I’m fairly certain it’s God’s mission to make me look like an ass every hour of every day.
Pintxos is a traditional Basque-style meal consisting of tiny food portions held together with sticks and typically eaten while standing up at the bar. Giving Spain a run for its Euros, dinner at La Oliva was phenomenal as was the service, and, no, I didn’t have to stand up this time. My recommendation—choose the number of pintxos you want and tell the server to surprise you. Just be as lazy as humanly possible.
QUESTIONING OUR DECISION MAKING SKILLS AT BAR OLDENHOF
I realize the first rule of speakeasies is: you do not talk about speakeasies but… they have a website so… this one’s not on me.
As a cocktail aficionado, Bar Oldenhof was really more Julianne’s realm and I think I heard a little “pshh” when I ordered a beer like some kinda mudblood. I do, however, enjoy a little bit o’ “What the !@#$ am I getting myself into?” when I go out at night and Bar Oldenhof certainly delivered.
Bar Oldenhof was recommended to us by our table neighbors at La Oliva and its description was about as much of a red flag as possible. It’s an unmarked, yellow storefront with a locked door and a large window covered in blackout curtains. You’re to ring the doorbell and wait for a stranger in all black to escort you inside while he locks the door behind you. Absolutely nothing about this screams Taken. If only they knew my dad has a very particular set of skills… on the golf course and in the field of talking to strangers in grocery stores. He will find you. He will make you laugh at the checkout.
Bar Oldenhof turned out to be quite harmless and definitely the fanciest place I’ve ever been in a T-shirt I’d been wearing for 48 straight hours. My beer was delicious (thankyouverymuch) and Julianne said her cocktails were fantastic even if I did think one tasted like the business end of a cigarette. The blues music was perfection to this Memphis-born muggle and the service was outstanding. And for that, I’ll tell my dad to stand down. And also to pick up hot dog buns.
3 DAYS IN AMSTERDAM | DAY 02
BREAKFAST AT VLAAMSCH BROODHUYS
The topic of breakfast is consistently a source of anger and frustration for me when traveling in Europe. I mean, on what planet is a shot of espresso and a croissant with a side of hangry an ideal way to start a day? My ideal breakfast isn’t that unlike the last meal requests of convicted felons. “I’ll have the John Wayne Gacy special please. Yes, that’s right: 12 fried shrimp, a bucket of original recipe KFC, french fries, and a pound of strawberries.”
This is why, when in Europe (excluding those brilliant breakfasteers in the UK), I usually just say something like, “Let’s just walk until we find something that’s open.” And that’s exactly how we found Vlaamsch Broodhuys—halfway between Hotel Mosaic and the Museum Quarter. I’m not sure what these words mean but I’d be willing to bet it has something to do with pretty girls and the fancy breads they serve. Although VB serves a typical Euro-style breakfast, everything was delicious and the service was super (this seems to be a trend here in Amsterdam). This place is all about bread and I’m all about some quality people watching first thing in the morning. Hangry bicyclists equal top notch entertainment.
Checking out the I amsterdam sign wasn’t even in our plans because I knew it was going to be a shit show—and it was—but we found ourselves there regardless killing time before the Van Gogh Museum opened. For whatever reason, it seems every visitor to Amsterdam includes this in his/her plans and perhaps their reason is the same as ours—convenience. The sign is located just in front of the entrance to the Rijksmuseum and if you want your picture taken here, have patience you must. The sign doubles as a jungle gym for children who’ve had nothing but sugar-dusted pastries and double espressos for breakfast.
Actually, here’s a better representation of my feelings on this experience:
VAN GOGH MUSEUM
The Van Gogh Museum was one of the places I looked forward to visiting in Amsterdam the most. I adore van Gogh’s works though I am by no means an expert. I can’t talk to you about brush strokes, cultural implications, or what exactly went on in (or came off) his head—but I do know pretty colors when I see them and, y’know, what woman isn’t drawn to a tortured bad boy?
The Van Gogh Museum is an art-lover’s dream—its massive collection of quality artwork, the way it’s all organized, and the way it tells van Gogh’s life story sets it apart from all other art museums I’ve visited. It’s like you’re a prostitute and the art world has sliced off an important chunk of itself and given it to you as a gift. Accept this gift graciously. Tour its halls and read its walls. Admire its beauty but call the police if there’s more than a little bit of dried blood on it.
Vincent van Gogh is, without a doubt, the most famous Dutch artist to ever have lived and so it goes without saying that no trip to Amsterdam should be without a stop here. Followed by a stroopwafel from the stand out front in his honor. Stroopwafels have nothing to do with van Gogh but I think he’d appreciate the sentiment. I visited the museum this year on March 30th—Vincent’s birthday. (And one stroopwafel to grown on!) Had he not taken his own life in a moment of sheer madness, he would’ve turned 164 this year. Such a shame—oh, how he would’ve loved the selfie stick!
The museum contains the world’s largest collection of van Gogh’s works with 200 paintings, 400 drawings, and 700 letters by Vincent himself. They’re also pretty psyched at the moment since two previously stolen paintings have been returned and put back on display in what could be called a shining example of “we didn’t learn our lesson the first time”. I’m talking about a legit mafia art heist during which the thieves broke into the building from the roof and slid down a rope. Good for you Vincent—who sold just one painting during your life. What is it they say? Grand larceny is the sincerest form of flattery?
Since photography is not allowed in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, I’ll share with you some similar paintings of his from other museums so just pretend, okay? Van Gogh often painted subjects multiple times and slightly altered versions of all the paintings below can be seen at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum.
If Amsterdam were a character in Lord of the Rings, it would be Gollum—well known for its seedier side and scant wardrobe but deep down just a dude trying to protect his precious. Amsterdam’s Precious being the Rijksmuseum—the singular most important and vast museum dedicated to Dutch art and heritage. One museum to rule them all, one museum to find them. One museum to bring them all, and then showcase them in this exquisite building that alone is worth a visitses.
You’ll find all the Dutch masters here—Vermeer, Rembrandt, and, yes, van Gogh. The Rijksmuseum houses the oldest and largest historical art library in the Netherlands but also a gallery dedicated to drinking games so… something for everyone.
The museum itself is enormous, decorated with elaborate stained glass windows and mosaic floors, and has hired some of the most passionate employees I’ve ever come across. They answered all my questions with unyielding enthusiasm and not a single one of them was asleep in the corner—take note, Louvre!
STROOPWAFELS FOR LUNCH
Between the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum is a kiosk that sells fresh, hot stroopwafels that are as tasty as they are fun to say. And ‘STROOPWAFEL’ is hella silly. I might have a different opinion of Euro-breakfast if stroopwafels were served with my cappuccino. Maybe with a lil’ bacon on top… and 12 fried shrimp and a bucket of original recipe KFC on the side…
The Heineken Experience is part brewery tour, part beer tasting, part tomfoolery but, definitely, ALL “experience.” Opt for the VIP tour + tasting for the most fun (and cheese) you’ll have in Amsterdam. Don’t believe me? Read the whole post I dedicated to it titled, The Heineken Experience // The Most Fun I Had in Amsterdam. See? It’s right there in the title.
DINNER AT ASSAGGI
Assaggi is located in the Jordaan, not that far from La Oliva. They serve quality Italian food authentic to its very core: from the salami pizza to the tiramisu, from the flamboyant uomo with the flashy belt and silk neck scarf, sporting mirrored sunglasses at night to the arrogant server who acted like bringing us a dessert menu was her life’s most regrettable moment.
Great food though…
3 DAYS IN AMSTERDAM | DAY 03
BREAKFAST AT TEDS
Breakfast at TEDS was just what the doctor ordered… if the doctor were also a hipster alcoholic. They serve REAL FOOD and an even realer philosophy here.
Eggs like ten different ways, sandwiches, entrees, and a crap load of booze (menu here). They have outdoor seating and is an all around adorable spot for breakfast if Instagram is your thing. If you’re headed to Amsterdam and you require nothing less than a serial killer’s last meal to start your day, this is your spot.
KEUKENHOF FLOWER GARDENS
Keukenhof is located just outside Amsterdam in a town called Lisse and is the world’s largest flower garden. I wrote an entire post on it last week and, coming in at 2,000+ words, even that takes up its fair share of internet real estate. Keukenhof makes the perfect Dutch day trip if you’re visiting Amsterdam in the spring. If you’re not, maybe spend some more time at the stroopwafel kiosk. Just a thought.
You can find my dedicated Kuekenhof article full of fancy flowers, wooden shoes, and references to munchkins right here: Day Trip to Keukenhof // Getting’ Spring-y With It.
RED LIGHT DISTRICT
It’s about to get real creepy SEO up in here.
As I said before, none of my negative assumptions about Amsterdam proved true and that includes even my time in the Red Light District. Unless you count G-strings as “negative clothing,” which you absolutely should. By the way the RLD’s reputation precedes it you’d almost expect hookers on every corner in Amsterdam but essentially it’s just a couple of blocks along a single canal.
Before dusk, and regardless of what happens behind the neon signs advertising LIVE SEX SHOWS! it’s just another freaking gorgeous Dutch neighborhood. Seeing the sun set through the trees, the light bouncing off the (very clean) canal and adorable buildings in this part of town, was a beautiful sight the guidebooks fail to mention. Obviously you don’t need to head specifically to the Red Light District to see sunsets and trees but I was expecting a much more disgusting stroll through legal prostitution.
After dark the red lights come on as do the titty tassels. The ladies of the night take their places behind the street-level glass giving a whole new meaning to “window shopping.” Some try to entice you with their big boobies and Borat-style G-strings. Some are bored AF, slouched down on a bar stool scrolling through their phones. What do prostitutes do on their phones anyway? Are they just like us? Do they tag their friends in hilarious memes? Do they share their Facebook memories? “Oh my god you guys, can you believe it’s been three years since I started working at the Lick Her Store?! #memories #sexworker”
So you wanna know… is the Red Light District something you need to see during your 3 days in Amsterdam? Well, it doesn’t matter what I say here you’re probably halfway there already. We humans are naturally curious animals so yes, a street full of dildo shops and brothels that everyone is absolutely fine with is a must-see. If they outlawed pencils where we lived, would we not hop over and check out Amsterdam’s legal pencil shops? It’s just the way we’re wired.
For more on the Red Light District and Amsterdam’s famous De Wallen neighborhood, HotelsCombined has a great article here ⇣ on some of the history, famous bars, and popular restaurants: The Best of Amsterdam’s Red Light District Nightlife.
For a preview of those come hither looks I mentioned, please refer to this picture of me being
creepy as hell inadvertently sexy on a mountain in Canada:
DINNER AT HEMELSE MODDER
Hemelse Modder is actually Dutch for Heavenly Mud so I’m pretty thrilled I didn’t know that at the time. (dream sequence…“I am NOT eating dinner at a place called Heavenly Mud!”) But as we’ve learned, even if I had said that nothing would’ve changed—it was still the best meal of the trip. They have phenomenal food on a reasonably priced fixed menu, some of the best service EVER, and they currently hold the record for the longest time it’s ever taken me to eat dinner.
Should you fancy a dinner at Hemelse Modder (and I hope you do), be sure to clear your schedule for the rest of the evening. I have no regrets to having spent four hours here—literally from open to close—I just think it’s important to point out in case you had plans after this. Needless to say it was a very relaxed dinner with about enough time to watch an episode of Mad Men in between each course.
In case you’re curious, I had the Dutch oysters (and as an oyster connoisseur I can assuredly say these were the best I’ve ever had), the pan-fried Atlantic hake with mussel saffron sauce, and, you should’ve seen this coming a mile away, the Dutch cheese platter. Pro tip: if you want to know what kinds of cheeses you’re eating, get the server to write. them. down. Otherwise she just stands there going “googdisie gioodeldll flskeuugotn” over and over.
So in the spirit of full disclosure I’d like to tell you that, on Day Three of 3 Days in Amsterdam, in between our day trip to Keukenhof and our trip down #sexworker memory lane we actually spent 4 days in Belgium and Luxembourg. Ignoring that fact, Day Three blends together seamlessly.
On our last night in Amsterdam we stayed at the Rho Hotel in the city’s actual center to see what that part of town was all about. Rho Hotel is in a great location, if the city center is what you’re after, and just about a ten-minute walk from the Centraal train station. Personally, I prefer the chill neighbourhood vibe of the Jordaan over the city center, regardless of how pleasant the nearby street arrests are. However, Rho Hotel’s proximity to transportation is convenient, the staff is friendly, and the breakfast is included (and pretty decent actually). The fact that I started a fire in the toaster had nothing to do with being hangry.
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