Summary of the trail:
Amsterdam is worldly known for its canals, its bikers (the ones who ride a bicycle… but that doesn’t do a real different regarding to their driven!), its paintings (and Rembrandt’s ones), Anne Frank, its Red light District and… its coffee shops! Be clear, you will not find here a guide of the best coffee shops available in town. Many guides still exist and if you have any doubt of your capacity to find one “coffee shop” which sell not the beverage but hemp, don’t be afraid, eyes but above all your smell will find them without any margin of error…
No, I suggest you here my 2 days experience of the Dutch capital, based on visit, food, wandering, discoveries and food!
Note: the core city of Amsterdam is really easy for pedestrians! (everything is accessible in 30min max)
Your name as author of the trail: Hélène Herniou – visicity
Walking through Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum
How to arrive?
If your arrive by train, the itinerary is quite simple: the main train station “Amsterdam Centraal” is on the North of the core city centre. But if you come from the “Amsterdam Airport Schiphol” you can take a train from the airport to “Amsterdam Centraal” (around 20min). You can buy your ticket on the yellow machines (which even offer you different languages!); prices were, in February 2015, of 5,10€ by ticket. Note that you have to check in and out with this ticket.
Accomodation in Amsterdam
- A lot of B&B are available in Amsterdam and, if they are not less expensive that an “regular” hotel, they are often more interesting because you can now understand why houses are so tall (stairs are steep) and share a little bit the life of inhabitants. You can find one B&B in the usual websites but also on dedicated official websites
- Of course, what could be a touristic city without hotels?! You can find a list of suggestions here or also the Booking research here
- Youth Hotels are not the kind of accommodations we can find the most easily but some exist of course! You can find one selection here. Eventually, if you have still doubts, The Guardian made a selection for you!
Starting visiting, the Morning
Of course, that depends a lot of when you arrived but if, as me, you arrive an evening, you’ll prefer to wander the evening around your accommodation and starting visiting the day after, at the Morning.
- Start from the train station and walk toward the Damrak. Continue to walk down this street and you’ll see on the right side of the street a huge brick red building; it is the Stock exchange building (“Beurs van Berlage“). You can visit it when there are exhibitions or free entry or, if you want to have a look and drink a hot beverage because of the weather, a cafe is located in the rare of the building. For the little anecdote, the civil wedding of the actual king Willem-Alexander was celebrated inside the building.
- Continue straight away, toward the Royal Palace (on the Dam Place). Just before, you will see the Bijenkorf, the Dutch equivalent of John Lewis, Debenhaus or Selfridges. The palace can be visited (c. 9€*). When the new king, Wilhem-Alexander, was crowned (even if, in the Dutch dynasty, the new king or queen never wears crown but automatically becomes head of the Royal House when the predecessor signs his/her resignation) the 30th April 2013, this place was full of people (and journalists).
- On the same place, you can see the Nieuwe Kerk (the New Church… from the 15th century). It is no longer used for church services (exception of the wedding of Wilhem-Alexander and Màxima) but an exhibition centre (up to 8€*). A little bit further behind this building, you’ll find another big shopping centre: the Magna Plaza.
- Cross the road and take after the second street on your right, Kalverstraat, one of the most commercial streets of Amsterdam, specialized in expensive brands. Take later the Gedempte Begijnensloot street, on your right, that will bring you to the Amsterdam Museum. Even if you don’t want to visit it (up to 12€*), this place deserves a look because of its architecture and complex of buildings and the charm that inspired this place! And there we are! The next gate is the Beguine closed community, called Beguinage, or in Dutch the Begijnhof. This series of community houses is really a green peace place in the core of this city that is, finally and even with its canals, no so green that it could be outside the core city centre. The architecture is a mix of medieval houses plans and 17th-18th centuries facades. Another point to out is that this series is turned toward an inner garden, that is one of the last examples in the city. About the Beguines, they were women, not necessarily nuns, and turned their services to sick people. Many tales exist around this place, mainly because of the religious war, when all the country becomes Protestant and no longer Catholic. But now, ironically, the Beguinage church is not Roman Catholic nor Calvinist Protestant but English Reformed Church.
1) you don’t go to every museums you wish to but select one or two
2) you think that you will be not come back again and Dutch art is definitely your favorite one! A Museums card exist, that costs 54,90€ that to say 4 museums visits… To find the list of participated museums (they are quite all in) and where to buy your card, please follow this link.
What to eat?!
- I have to confess that I had many ideas about Dutch food and its quality before visiting Amsterdam but it seems that there is not only the British food which knows a huge improvement, Dutch one too! A first possibility so is to find a takeway caterer. One that I particularly enjoyed (and has a really good selections of cheese, not the one for tourists) is Sterk Staaltje (Staalstraat 12). Here you’ll find homemade sandwiches, traiteur Dutch meals as stamppot Boerenkool (sausage with mash potatoes and vegetable) or Erwtensoep (peas soup with cooked with sausages) but also salads, dried sausages, fantastic bread, incredible gouda (from young to mature, I particularly suggest to taste the mature one, a pleasure in mouth), sweets viennoiserie and local alcohols.
- About restaurants with Dutch cuisine, you will see, they are a little bit more complicated to find that other kind of cuisine. You can nonetheless find a (official) selection here. I have to say that I didn’t try any of them (for my experience of Dutch restaurant, see Day 1, for the dinner) but be careful because many restaurants are closed for lunch (it’s the case of the Blauwe aan de Waal, Oudezijds Achterburgwal 99)
- Indonesia was a former Dutch colony and their taste for this food is still really present. You’ll can find many of Indonesian restaurants but also Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, in particular in the “China Town”, on the north of the Red Light district (but maybe too far if you aim to go to the Rijksmuseum as I did). You will find also other kind of cuisines: Italian, burgers, kebabs, … but I was surprise by the number of South American/Argentinian restaurants (it seems that many belong to the same brand as it is for RANCHO)
Afternoon with Rembrandt (and the others!)
The Rijksmuseum suggests to come visiting from 9 to 11am or after 2pm… As holidays are also made to rest, I took the second option and, to be sure to not have too many people, I visited a Friday afternoon.
- After your lunch, and if you were in Sterk Staaltje, cross the Amstel river and follow, straight (or near of) away the Reguliesgracht. A market place takes place near the Amstelkerk (that can be seen on the map) and a free water fountain point is available there. Follow then on the right the Prinsengracht then Spiegelgracht then straight away, toward this hige neogothic red brick building that is the Rijksmuseum. I advice you to book in advance your ticket to avoid the so famously long queue. Another interested info: if the enter price is 17.50€, the mobile application (but only for Android or iTunes) is free and, as quite in every restaurants, B&B and train station, a free wifi access is available! The Museum departments are divided in 7: special collections (Delft, mode, weaponry, models and Asian artworks), 1100-1600 (paintings, sculptures and engravings), 1700-1900 (paintings, engravings, earthenware
and china and sculptures, 2 really interesting period rooms: Amsterdian style bedroom and Haarlemian style bedroom and one self portrait of Vincent van Gogh), 1600-1700 (level where you can see the Nightwatch and the Milkmaid but also tapestries, paintings, engravings, medals, dollhouses and sculptures) and finally the 1900-2000 department that is actually divided in two, for totally practical and architectural reasons. These two sides of the top roof of the building are really worth a visit because, among the collections are a plane, De Stijl artworks and Yves Saint Laurent works.
- Don’t hesitate to take a break in the cafe in one of the covered court that is really peaceful and allow you to see again the day light! Their fresh mint tea is nice!
- Even if you don’t want to buy anything, the Museum shop is nice to see, among the products, the Playmobil statues, at the enter of the shop or the Milkmaid and Nightwatch scenes available in plastic!
- After a Museum session, if you have still energy, a skating rink is placed in front of the Museum (but I imagine only during winter months) or the Van Gogh and Stedelijk Museums are just around the green place in front of the Rijks! Or, if not, I suggest you to walk a little bit around, seeing all the workers come back their jobs by bikes! It’s really not a myth: you find A LOT of bikes in town and, definitely, as a bike can crush a pedestrian, you are at the bottom list of the power users of the streets, bikes will certainly not stop for you and can drive in any directions so don’t apply the car restrictions to them!
- The area around Museums is definitely posh and shows you another face of the wealthy 19th century in Amsterdam. A walk around canals towards the Leidseplen (a place with a lot of restaurants, bars,…) then toward again the Prinsengracht (the canal of the Prince, if you wonder since the beginning of this day), on the left will lead you to one of the best Dutch cuisine restaurant I tried: the Molenpad (Prinsengracht 653) where I discovered the Ossenworst (see below) that is a minced meat sausage. It could be sound strange but that is indeed really good. Of course, as you could guess, I am not a Vegetarian that is quite convenient to taste the Dutch food but they are enough aware of all these questions of diets and intolerance so, if you are in this/these case/s, don’t worry!
- Amsterdam is one of the most active and dynamic cities in the world so why not enjoy a concert there?! You can find a lot of live concerts in bars and some restaurant but if you want something a little bit out of the maintream or known fields, discovering Tolhuistuin could be benefit! This venue is in front of the central train station but the other bank. You can easily rich it by using a free boat that navigates between banks (you can find it just behind the train station)
Note: transports are expensive but also not necessary (because so many things are feet accessible) but a good tip is to take a 24 hours ticket, payable inside the tram and buses, for 7,50€.
This second day is not a guided tour but suggestions of what I appreciated or found interesting when I walked through them.
This district is perfect for walking around but also to find your lunch or dinner. You’ll find there many of restaurants and take-away, from (quite) all around the world but also shops. This district was, until these last decades, the area of the working class and, that you can still feel, that is a nice mix with the 17th century canals buildings. But the spirit of this district spreads wider that the map limits. In the Vinkenstraat and Harleemerdijk (more in the North-West) streets have the same spirit but more hype and hipster-chic turned. I have to say that if I enjoyed walk through the Jordaan but I really more enjoyed the Harleemdijk one with its Pho House (which does a really good Phò soup, excellent Banh Cuon and not bad Bo Bun!), Haarlemmerdijk 6, or this astonishing Spanish restaurant-grocery, Ibericus, Haarlemmerdijk 93, where you can select the smoked Spanish ham, you wish to eat. You can find also really nice shops, independent brands, strange haircut dressers and vintage shops.
This is not a touristic area but that is a pity because here are the vibrant 19th century wealth part of the city (especially true around the Museum quarter) with all its Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings, strange shapes, astonishing architectural statues. What saying of this huge park where you can find so many Amsterdamians, with their children, or doing their jogging,… A good way to cross this is to take the tram 3 (that, can be taken on Haarlemmerplein, at the end of the Haarlemdijk street), because first you can see through the windows this astonishing architecture and cross a long distant and secondly, you are seated.
The Old Centre
Even if you have fully booked all your stay planning, this part of the city is in the cross of so many ways that, at least to reach other parts of the city. One thing interesting is that if, yes, you can find many old facades, that is true mostly for the canals houses and this, for every canals, not only in the old centre.
The Red District
Of course, it is the place to go because, after all, the Red District is known for its windows. But, I have to say that I was a bit uncomfortable for many reasons but, one thing astonished me: if you go around the Oude Kerk (that, stricto sensus, not in the Red Light district), you have this impressive religious building and, all around, cafes, one chocolate seller (Puccini, excellent, see below) and… a lot of windows! This difference of worlds and spheres is really interesting and gave me reflection until now.
Interesting to see, in the North of the district, the “China town” that is, actually, a long street, the Zeedijk. But you can find here a Buddhist temple (between Stormsteeg and the Nieuwmarkt place).
The old Jewish Quarter
The area was deeply changed after the war and what you could see in guides about diamond sellers is not really…palpable. When I arrived on this large place with the Portuguese Synagogue, you see the new face of this district: an alive testimony of the former Jewish implantation and the modern city plane and architecture that was operated in there and… this impression to be in a suburb of a big American city. But this area is also the one of Museums: many of them are relative to the Jewish or Second WW history (the Joods Historisch Museum, Verzetsmuseum, De Hollandsche Schouwburg and the Wertheimpark memorial and the Jonas Daniel Meijerplein memorial) but also other subjects (as the Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum, the Nemo, the Hermitage Amsterdam)