City Guide to Amsterdam

Amsterdam Canals


It was only 8pm last night and I was rugged up in bed, eyelids heavy with the need to sleep and the sun streaming in through the window high over the rooftops still. It has been a long trip to get here but now, sitting quietly at 5am in the morning, the sky is already tinged with an incredibly rich shade of blue, the birds are chittering in the tall trees silhouetted against the rising sun just outside the window and a church bell tolls not too far in the distance, unobtrusive and pleasant. This is Amsterdam. 

Down a quiet cobblestone street beside a boat-lined canal, just past the small arched bridge where the white swans shelter from the wind, there is a green wooden door. Up a long narrow staircase, steeper than I like, winding up towards the bright sky, is our apartment. With the thermostat adjusted and the curtains thrown open, it is an inviting and warm home to settle in to. Such a welcome feeling when you imagine others opening their doors to sterile hotel rooms with block out curtains – that is if they are lucky enough to have windows – let alone amazing views like we do. Looking at that view I am excited to get out and begin exploring and I just hope that my exhilaration is enough to keep me warm.  

We were in Amsterdam in Spring (early May) and the weather was sunny but chilly with the top temperature being about 16 degrees Celsius and at times it was dropping down to around 6 degrees. And there were almost 16 hours of sunshine a day though I think when you add in first light and twilight you are left with only 7 hours of darkness to sleep in.

Amsterdam truly is an easy city to walk around, something I had heard quite a lot but never really thought true. The city is flat and most sights on any tourists to-do list are within a fairly small circumference. We never actually got lost but it is a confusing warren of streets and lanes, which is compounded by the crisscrossing tram rails and bicycle lanes and on top of all this they drive on the opposite side of the road!

If you stay in the city there is no need to purchase any travel cards. When you chose your accommodation it is all about location! Hire a bicycle if you feel confident enough to navigate the roads. Otherwise your 2 feet are the best way to discover this city. And we easily got around with a stroller for our child, it was a little bumpy on the cobblestones but easy enough. Just remember to be wary when you are walking around and look every which way for trams and bikes before you cross a road.

Wandering the streets of Amsterdam is a very picturesque experience. The canals are lined with boats, some adorned with flowerboxes and others have become permanent homes complete with doormats as they occupy prime real estate. These are then lined with beautiful tall oak trees littered with intensely green leaves, which are rooted in cobblestone streets lined with bicycle racks overflowing with unique and interesting bikes. Then we have the tall buildings built tightly together, 4 stories high with beautiful facades and intriguing interiors lurking behind wooden doors begging for their stories to be told. The first door we stepped into today told a story we are all familiar with but one that truly hit me in the heart only now. It is Remembrance Day today and what more fitting day to visit the Anne Frank House.

My tip is to buy your tickets to Anne Frank House online and you can walk straight past the hundreds of people lined up waiting to get in. We felt it was a little too good to be true when we walked straight in but it was that simple. Do the same for the Van Gogh Museum or buy them across the road at the Diamond Museum – you don’t have to actually go in here but the ticket line up is much shorter.

Amsterdam - 2

After a long morning of easy strolling around the city we settled in at an Irish Pub. It was a scene that seemed to be replicated around the surrounding streets – a plaza full of tables and chairs set up for people watching; festive music; small artist stalls; clattering trams just inches away from the front row; a slight smoke haze and a pint of beer, a burger and fritjes/fries in a paper cone with ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard, a strange but addictive taste sensation that I am yet to find replicated anywhere else in the world.

Amsterdam is heavily populated with museums to pick and choose from however there aren’t a lot of major sights to see, it is in my opinion simply a beautiful city to wander around in. You will stumble across many sights in Amsterdam if you just follow where curiosity takes you. So please, just enjoy whatever you come across but if you like a little guidance you may like to make sure you find:

  • The Anne Frank House & Museum
  • The Royal Palace – we didn’t go in as it is hardly ever open to the public but it is a beautiful building to look at despite it not actually being a royal palace.
  • The Red Light District – remember it is real but satiate your curiosity and take a quick walk down these streets (without your camera!)
  • The Museumplein – home to several big museums (including the following 2 on this list) and the ‘I amsterdam’ sign that everyone seems to have their photo taken on
  • Van Gogh Museum – we were lucky and were there when there was also a guest collection of Picasso, but Van Gogh alone is worth the visit.
  • Rijksmuseum – we didn’t actually get to this one but it is a rather comprehensive collection of Dutch artworks and I have been told it is best to book tickets online.
  • Vondelpark – the city’s largest and prettiest park which we found great to just relax and unwind and is perfect for letting kids burn off some energy.
  • Bloemenmarkt – check out just how cheap they can buy flowers!
  • Albert Cuypstraat Market – a busy general market
  • The Nine Streets – literally nine streets of shopping
  • Waterlooplein – if it is your style this is a local flea market where you can rummage through and find some great second hand treasures.

We had a list of bad weather/ child-over-muesums-meltdown plans appropriate for kids but never actually needed to go to any. Things on the list included: the zoo, NEMO (a hands on science centre), TunFun (an indoor playground) and Madame Tussaud’s.

And you are in The Netherlands, you are bound to see a windmill, cheese, clogs, Dutch French fries, mini pancakes, ridiculously steep and tiny staircases and bicycles.  Now you can’t say I didn’t mention these obvious highlights of any trip to The Netherlands.

Amsterdam Flower Market

We are craving a new palate of food.      

They eat what we refer to as hangover food here – burgers, chips, toasties, pizza (pre-made and reheated by the slice) or sweet food – ice cream, waffles, pancakes. This is all enjoyable, but in small doses.  

A sleazy underbelly to a truly stunning city with an old-world charm catapulted into the 21st century without missing a step.

Yes, there is a sleazy underbelly to Amsterdam though it isn’t so much hidden as right in your face and somehow still relatively family friendly. The Red Light District is worth the 5 minutes to wander through and giggle at the bored girls sitting in their windows filing their nails, eating dinner, reading a book or texting their friends. Yes you can buy marijuana plants alongside the tulips, sex toy shops blend right in beside cheese shops and you can order a side of hash with your coffee. Really, unless it is your thing, just be wary of which coffee shop you go into or your brownie will have a few extra ingredients in it.

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We catch the train from Centraal to Leiden and watch the countryside whir past. We’ve gone via Haarlem and see the farmers tulip fields stretch into the horizon on either side of us. Broken occasionally by Dutch windmills, country manors or black and white cows grazing on bright green grass. The blue sky is streaked with white plane trails, there are so many of them that they create a tapestry in the sky. Once at Leiden we jump on a bus out to the Keukenhof Gardens. An early start (the benefits of travel with children) has allowed us to beat the crowds and we slip in before the busloads arrive.

Miss A learnt today that pink is simply not enough description of a colour. The variety of colours and shapes of tulips astounds me. The flowers stood tall, all a uniform height, all placed with precision – like soldiers in formation. But their head-dress spectacularly flamboyant.

Amsterdam - 9

Keukenhof Garden is the largest flower garden in the world but they are only on display for a few precious weeks each year and I recommend timing your trip to The Netherlands to coincide with this festival. You can purchase combined train and bus tickets to get there. I recommend catching the train via Haarlem to see the tulip farms and I also recommend arriving as early as you can to beat the crowds. And ensure you have plenty of space on your memory card as you will take hundreds of photos here!

Actually – for the whole of Amsterdam you will take plenty of photos as it is a beautiful city and everywhere you turn looks like a postcard.

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