Amsterdam certainly seems to be on everybody’s bucket list, the al fresco dining by the canals, the lure of the famous Red Light District and the beautiful architecture really seem to draw everyone in. What I realised when I went there, however, is how much history and culture there was in this city and I was lucky enough to go and spend a weekend there!
When booking the trip to Amsterdam I decided to stay a little out of the centre of the city where it was quieter and cheaper. I chose the Inntel Hotel in the city of Zaandam which is a 30-minute taxi journey from the Airport. I booked this trip with Expedia and decided to get a private car to and from the Aiport for convenience, however, the Hotel is situated next to the train station so this would have been another viable option.
Travelling into the centre of Amsterdam is super easy although something I found confusing before I got there. I knew there was some kind of travel card (I Am Amsterdam Card) that you could use on all the transport and certain attractions but I couldn’t work out if it included Zaandam station so we decided to get day returns whilst we were there. This is when we learnt of the OV-Chipkaart this confused us on our first journey to Amsterdam Centraal as no one checked our tickets and the gates the other end were open. The train only took 12 minutes to get from Zaandam to Amsterdam Centraal.
In the Netherlands, the public transport is nationalised and they can use an OV-chipkaart on any train, bus or tram all they have to do is check in and out at every stop, they are able to check the balance of this card online or any station. My first thought was that they must be a very trusting and honest nation as none of the tickets were checked and everybody did sign in and out at every station. My second was how easy and painless it was to get the train into a busy central station and how regularly the trains ran.
As I have already said I made the decision to stay outside the centre as we wanted a quieter weekend. The Inntel Hotel is a stunning building and has some incredible rooms with amazing views across the city and huge ensuite bathrooms. The bar and restaurant were incredible as well as the staff.
Zaandam is a beautiful city just outside Amsterdam and has some interesting history. Czar Peter I of Russia spent some time in Zaandam studying shipbuilding and the house that he stayed in has been preserved as a small museum. Claude Monet also lived there for 6 months and painted 25 paintings of the area.
Something to be wary of which luckily I knew about and did research in advance is the ‘Tourist Tax’ or ‘City Tax’. This is a tax charged in cities across Europe including Amsterdam, Rome, Berlin, Paris etc. In Amsterdam, the city tax is charged at a flat rate of 5% of your hotel room bill but in other cities, it can depend on the accommodation type, number of guests and number of nights. Just be wary of this when looking into your city break.
We got our BA flight from Gatwick at 7:50 am and promptly touched down in Amsterdam at 10:10 am. The flight was super quick (50 mins in total) and was a breeze compared to some I have been on! We had breakfast at the lovely Wetherspoons in South Terminal and thought we would start the holiday early and had a cheeky beer as well.
Luckily even though it was only midday when we reached our hotel we were able to check in. We freshened up and then hit Zaandam’s main shopping street. We didn’t find anything we fancied there so we decided to head into Amsterdam itself. Once there we just wandered around until we spotted something we liked which happened to be Bravi Ragazzi. Here I got the Penne Arrabbiata and Alex got a Spaghetti Carbonara, we shared some fries. The food was really good and filled a hole, we washed it down with some Heineken and were back on our way.
We had a couple of pints at The Grasshopper before heading back to Zaandam and checking out the bar at our hotel. Now we were pretty full by the time we got back to the hotel so we ordered some G&Ts and decided to get a couple of portions of chips to share. The G&Ts were the best G&Ts I have ever had! Incredible.
The second day we headed into Amsterdam to get some breakfast and went to a bakery, I got an amazing waffle with a dollop of Nutella on and Alex got a cheese and sausage pastry thing. They were super yummy! We then went to a cafe outside the Rijks Museum called Cobra cafe to get a drink and a quick bite to eat, we order some strange beef and cheese kebab things that tasted very cinnamony and were very strange, however, the chips were good.
For dinner we headed back to our hotel and ate in the restaurant it was really good food and tasted amazing. I had the Greek marinated Chicken and Alex had the pork medallions.
The Heineken Experience is a tourist spot that has been created in the old Heineken brewery on the canal on Stadhouderskade. This is now an ‘experience’ to show tourists how the beer is made throughout the world. When we booked this it had been recommended but I wasn’t sure of what to expect.
This was actually one of my favourite attractions that we went to. The first part of the tour is how it is made and the history which is what I was expecting. The next part was more interactive and you were given explanations on the ingredients and how it is all made, you could also try the product at the end of this process and have a go at different parts of the process. The last part of the section was a stable full of the old horses that used to vital in running machinery and delivering the beer. They are still used in shows to promote the beer.
The ‘Brew you Ride’ simulator was an interesting part of the experience and is a 4D simulator that takes you through the brewery and the route the beer takes.
You are then handed your first free drink and you learn that in the Netherlands there is a deliberate head on each beer as it keeps the beer fizzing and the flavour in, you are then shown how to drink the beer to enjoy the full taste. There is then a load of games and challenges that you can get involved with including a photo booth!
At the end of the experience, you reach the Rooftop bar and you have 2 free beer tokens on your wristband. The rooftop bar has stunning views across Amsterdam and a little merchandise stall if you want to check that out (there is a bigger shop at the end). You can also have your name put on a bottle of Heineken so we got Mr. and Mrs G ready for when we get married next year!
This experience was a lot of fun and for the €16 entry (including the free beer tokens and the extra beer) I think it’s very well priced! Check out the website and book your tickets in advance to skip the queues (trust me it can get busy!)
The Rijksmuseum is Amsterdam’s National Museum and is one of the most popular museums in the capital. Luckily we went late afternoon and were able to just walk straight into the museum and buy tickets. One of the first things I loved is that they had lockers where we could keep our big rucksack in whilst we wandered around. I also loved that cameras are allowed in the museum (kinda hate it when they aren’t but oh well). We had a ten-minute break of sitting in the lobby and deciding where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see before setting off around the museum (bare in mind it covers art from 1100’s to present day!). When we left we felt happy that we had covered everything that we wanted to.
There is a lot of art and plates in this museum and it is certainly interesting but sometimes to just find that golden painting that makes you giggle, for us it was the one below. The one things I did love about the Rijksmuseum was that there are all different types of arts for everyone to enjoy.
I would definitely recommend if you are into art taking a whole day to explore this gorgeous museum, for €17.50 it is a little on the pricey side but it’s worth it if you spend a whole day there.
The House of Bols experience is located in the Museumplein around the corner from the Rijksmuseum. As you enter you are given an explanation of how the self-guided tour works and then handed a vial of fluid. They explain that half way around the experience there will be 3 doors and you have to go into one and then drink the vial (they don’t tell you what is in the vial). It was a lovely little walk through of how they make bols and all the different flavours they have available. There is also a shop at the end where you can buy some to try. The experience in the cubicle with the vile is interesting and slightly weird but I highly recommend the experience to anyone who wishes to go! Also, Rose gold cocktail items in the shop is a must!
The Anne Frank Huis is certainly the only reason I wanted to visit Amsterdam after reading her diary as I girl I have always been interested in that area of history so I knew if I was going to Amsterdam I would have to visit her hideout. I booked the tickets a month in advance and I highly recommend it as there was only a couple of spaces left on Sunday when I booked. They have a 15 minute time window where you can queue up and then you get in the house pretty quickly. There is no photography in the house which I respect as they are trying to keep the experience unique and preserve the documents.
The house itself is set alongside a pretty houseboat lined Prinsengracht canal next to the Westerkek which is the church that Anne mentions in her diary whose bells would chime throughout the day. The church tower was one of the only buildings that the family could see from the secret attic behind the warehouse. If there weren’t lots of people taking photographs of the house you wouldn’t notice that the house is even there.
What I found the most interesting was after the self-guided tour when you actually got into the annex and you realise how cramped everybody would have been, especially the room that Anne shared. There is a somber atmosphere amongst everybody in the annex and no one talks as you walk through. The stairs are super steep going up to the second floor of the attic and although you can peer up to where Anne spent moments with her love the third floor is closed off.
The museum part of the end, documents what happened to the occupants after the war and how Anne’s diary was discovered and published. I’ve known the story for the majority of my life but it was certainly moving to go and view where the young 15-year-old spent 2 years of her short life.
The last thing we did whilst in Amsterdam is the Lovers Canal Cruise on a Sunday afternoon. We brought tickets for the Semi open top boat and headed out 15 minutes later. The tour is only an hour long but considering you do get to see plenty of Amsterdam and luckily it was the area of Amsterdam that we hadn’t discovered on foot! You discover a lot which includes the Skinny Bridge, The VOC Ship, the Zevenbogenbruggengracht and the docks. It has a special audio system that transmits 16 different languages into headphones that you are given on the boat. The tickets cost €16 and for what we saw I think it was worth it, however, I wish we were able to do a dinner cruise and see more of the history of the canals.
Have you ever visited Amsterdam? Is there anything awesome that we missed? I’d love to know in the comments!