At the beginning of July, Tom and I set off for a short post exam break to my new favourite city: Amsterdam. We had a wonderful time and the city is truly charming, every corner you turned the next street was just as beautiful. I thought I'd share with you all some recommendations if you ever decide to visit (and you should!) as we did/saw/ate some wonderful things during our time there.
Getting around and where we stayed
We flew out with Easyjet from Stansted airport which is only a 40 min flight and stayed at the Ramada Apollo Hotel. We were immediately impressed with everything, within an hour of landing, we were in our hotel room. Going through the airport was swift and easy, as soon as we walked out of the airport our free transfer was directly in front of us, checking in was smooth and the hotel staff were super friendly. The hotel room was also really nice with a great view (oh and free wifi! Yay!)
We purchased a 4 day travel card which allows you unlimited travel on the busses and trams (and some trains I think?) from our hotel, but they can also be bought on the trams. For only €21, this was well worth it as we were constantly using the trams (more cities need these!). Getting around Amsterdam is super easy, just keep an eye out not just cars but bikes and trams as well when crossing the road, chances are they won't stop for you!
What to see and do
I always think a good way to start a trip is with a walking tour - it gives you a good bearing of the city and the tour guide is usually very knowledgeable and can give you recommendations on a whole range of things. We did our walking tour with Sandemans Tours and went on the Free Tour. Though it says it's free, at the end the tour guide asks you to pay what you think it was worth (if you want!). We really enjoyed it!
Riding a bike in Amsterdam is a must. We were torn between renting a bike and exploring ourselves or going on another tour. In the end we decided on the latter, and we definitely made the right decision as it was the best thing we did on the trip! We went on Mike's Countryside Bike Tour (website here) and I can't recommend it enough. Not only do you get to experience cycling in the city and learning a bit about the Amstel river among other things, but you also visit the Riekermolen, an authentic Dutch windmill and also a cheese and clog farm, where you get to see how both are made and try some proper Dutch cheese (spoiler: it's amazing). On the return you cycle through the countryside, past the old Olympic stadium, through the Vondelpark and Museumplein and some more of the city. The guides are also super nice. Well worth doing.
If you're into horses, you'll love the De Hollandsche Manege. It's located near Vondelpark and is such a great hideaway from city life (like seriously, it's actually hidden away, you'd never guess there was a ménage and a couple dozen horses stabled behind its entrance). The entry price includes a free drink from the little café, where you can sit on the terrace overlooking the ménage. There was a kids pony day on during our visit, so we watched a number of young girls riding ponies around which was super cute. You can also walk around and see traditional tack and visit the beautiful horses in the stables. We weren't able to, but if we visit again I'd love to see one of their side saddle riding displays. More info here.
A lot of people recommend seeing the city of Amsterdam from a boat. Which I would also recommend. But perhaps not on a Pedal Boat. While we had a laugh, we didn't exactly get to see much as it is quite tiring (especially after a bike tour and lots of walking). I think other users of the canals aren't exactly impressed by the pedal boats either. Neither was my boyfriend when I forgot to pedal because I was busy taking photos. I was pedalling I swear! Hahaha. If you've got the money, and don't want to come close to the end of your relationship ;), I would recommend renting a proper boat out, or maybe going on a canal cruise. Although a pedal boat is a funny experience and means you can stop whenever you want to take a picture or two! We went with Canal Bikes.
If you're looking for an hour to kill and up for a giggle, you might enjoy visiting the Sex Museum. It's €4 (I think) so not too much and kinda interesting/comical. It's located not far from the Centraal Station.
Another good thing to kill some time is strolling the markets. The Albert Cuyp Market is really nice and I loved the fresh fruit smoothies/juices you could get for a €1. The Waterlooplein Bloemenmarkt (floating flower market) are busier but worth a look if you get time. You might find some hidden vintage treasure at the Waterlooplein, and it's cheaper for souvenirs than the shops.
A must for any Amsterdam visitor is the Anne Frank house. It's something you really should do as its such an experience - inspiring and horrific simultaneously, especially if you've already read the book. My tip would be, if you're going in peak seasons and can get tickets online beforehand, DO IT. This means you can skip the queue. And trust me, the queue was so long, whatever time of day it was. We couldn't get tickets online because they were all sold out, so thought we'd be okay if we went early morning/late at night (it's open until 10pm). The shortest queue is around 1hour30mins. People start queuing at 7am for opening at 9am. They started turning people away at 8pm as the queues were too long they might not get everyone in before closing. The best time is around 6pm, but you'll still face over an hours queue. However, in my opinion it is still worth waiting for and I'm glad we still went.
Where to eat
We ate at quite a few places and for lots of recommendations I would suggest visiting Awesome Amsterdam. However, I would highly recommend 2 places in particular.
Reportedly the best Appeltaart in Amsterdam. I can confirm that the apple pie is sensational. The lunch menu is also nice too!
The best brunch spot. Perhaps in the whole world. Maybe. It's tucked away down a street off the Albert Cuyp Market, if you want to sit outside a reservation might be worthwhile as it seemed popular (I can see why!). Have a look at the menu and tell me your mouth isn't already watering. It tastes as good as it sounds. The coffee is also really really good and the cucumber water on the table is a nice touch. Cute setting too.
- If you fancy drinks with a view, Floor 17 at our hotel is one of the highest points in the city and do some really good cocktails. We had a tikka bowl and the bartender made a cocktail for us just going on our preferences, it was really good!
- Watch out for trams
- Don't be scared. Visit the Red Light District at night, it's an interesting experience.
Overall, we had such a good time in Amsterdam. It's such a lovely city, stunning and friendly and an interesting history. It's a place where literally anyone will fit in and is perfect for a long weekend or a few days break.