Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
It was an easy choice to make Amsterdam my first destination of my Self Care Sabbatical. I had always wanted to visit the city and it’s an easy direct flight from JFK to Schipol on Delta. It would make a simple starting point in Europe as I could easily get to other parts of Western Europe quickly from there. And Amsterdam always looks so charming in photos..it truly charmed me on my first day.
I spent a total of 4 nights in Amsterdam, which seemed to be the right amount of time to explore the city at a leisurely pace. I could have also done a day trip from Amsterdam to a nearby town but chose to spend the entire time in Amsterdam as I would be exploring a few other towns in Holland after leaving the city. I never felt rushed to see things, rather I felt like I could fully enjoy the city and see a lot. Also, it was incredibly hot while I was there so it was also nice not to feel rushed when you’re sweating all the time!
On my first day, after settling into my hotel, I spent the afternoon exploring the Jordaan neighboorhood and the center of town. I had signed up for a free walking tour that began at 4pm (probably my favorite way to kick off my visit to a city), so I had a few hours to kill strolling around. I popped my head into various shops and “museums” like the Tulip Museum and the Cheese Museum (glorified shops with some kind of history lesson), and grabbed a sandwich and a beer in the shade. More strolling found me near Stubbe’s Haring, known for their raw herring served with onions and pickles. I had to try it! Also, it made a convenient place for a stop as I was tired and sweaty.
From there, I went to meet up with my tour at Dam Square. The tour was offered by Free Walking Tours Amsterdam and was incredibly helpful. I think these tours are a great way to learn a little more about a city from a local and serve as a nice way to get oriented to a city. Our guide, Peter, told us a lot about the local culture in Amsterdam and took us into some secret gardens and courtyards in the Jordaan. He even took us to his home/art gallery! We extended the length of our tour a bit so we could visit the Red Light District and when our tour was over, I felt that I had seen much of the city in just my first afternoon.
I stayed at The Tire Station located outside of the city center and I am so glad I did! While the center is very charming and beautiful with its canals, it is also incredibly touristy. After that first day, I was ready to get away and be in the more local areas. My hotel was located just next to Vondelpark which was perfect for an early morning run or bike ride. There were trams nearby so it was easy for me to get into the center by public transit as well. I felt like I got to see a whole other side of the city by staying here! The staff was also incredibly friendly and helpful, they offered bikes for rent (which is where I got mine), and they had a free wine Happy Hour every day from 5-6pm. Perfect for a break after biking around in the sun!
Getting Around: I highly recommend renting a bike while you are in Amsterdam! It is the best way to see the city. I was a little nervous at first because the cyclists are a bit aggressive, but I found it much easier than biking around Brooklyn! There are bike lanes everywhere so it feels safe, and having the bike makes it easier to visit further away parts of the city on your own. I felt like I was able to see so much just by being on the bike. The tram system is also very easy to navigate and I used it for the first two days before I rented the bike. Plus, there are lots of great parks in Amsterdam (like Vondelpark) and it would be a shame not to ride around on a bicycle!
Things to Do:
- Museums – Check out the Museumplein where you will find the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum (contemporary art). The grassy area near the museums is also nice for just relaxing in the sun (or the shade). This is also where you find the I Amsterdam sign.
- Make sure to visit the Anne Frank Museum (reservations recommended so you don’t have to wait – I booked mine a full month in advance!)
- Explore the neighborhoods like De Pijp (where the Albert Cuyp market takes place Monday-Saturday) and Oost Amsterdam near Oosterpark (have a drink at Bar Bukowski)
- Take the ferry to Noord Amsterdam (it’s free! and you can bring your bike!) where you can visit the EYE Film museum (also a theater) and see yet another I Amsterdam sign. There’s also Oedipus Brewery if you want to explore further.
- Take a tour! The walking tour was great, the boat tours also looked fun though I chose not to do one.
- See the Red Light District – I did this as part of my walking tour, otherwise did not hang out in this area. Worth checking it out if you’re curious.
- Relax in one of the beautiful parks like Vondelpark, Oosterpark, Westerpark…
- Visit a coffeehouse (more on that in a separate post) – suggest trying one out of the center where you can find locals and not just tourists (aka 20 something British guys)
Eating & Drinking:
I ate a mix of traditional and nontraditional food while in Amsterdam. There were a few local dishes I really wanted to try, but I also wanted to try some of the other cuisines available in Amsterdam (there is a lot of Indonesian food worth checking out!). Rijsttafel (rice table) is the primary Indonesian meal you can get while in Amsterdam – it is a few different dishes and rice. And it’s delicious. I tried it at Kantijl en de Tijger, they offer a version for solo diners which was nice because I couldn’t have eaten that much food!
- I really wanted to check out Foodhallen which reminded me a lot of Chelsea Market. There were vendors selling traditional Dutch food like bitterballen, but you can also find tacos, burgers, and more. On Friday and Saturday evenings they have a DJ and it gets pretty crowded. There’s also Filmhallen next door where you can catch a movie before/after eating.
- Bazar – North African restaurant near Albert Cuyp market, Very good and inexpensive
- Visit Brouwerij ‘t Ij (the windmill brewery) – try the different beers, get a snack, and just hang out. I didn’t love this place (mostly the beers were not for me) but other people really enjoy it, and there is a nice outdoor area if you can grab a table
- Toasties – I swear that every little cafe/bar has tuna melts on the menu. Sandwiches, including toasted ones known as toasties, are everywhere. And they are generally cheap.
- Bar Bukowski near Oosterpark (good for a drink before/after the park)
- Kingfisher Bar – nice place in the De Pijp neighborhood, good people watching
- De Pizzabaekers – Pizza place by my hotel which was very busy and very good (and good prices!)
- Get a cocktail (or a few) at Pulitzer Bar – for some reason, there are a lot of hot guys here 🙂