After spending some time in Amsterdam I thought this was actually “The Canal City.” Most commonly, this name is associated with Venice but doesn’t Amsterdam statistically have more canals? I decided to check that out and, not surprisingly, both cities go hand in hand. Here is a fun fact of the day:
# of bridges: Venice ~400, Amsterdam ~1300
# of canals: Venice between 150-177 (depending on a source), Amsterdam ~165
# of islands: Venice ~120, Amsterdam ~90
I know, I know, it’s not about the statistics. Venice was built first, that’s why it solely deserves the title. Amsterdam as a runner-up was honored with the name of “Venice of the North.” Not bad.
My November trip to Amsterdam was the second one within the past three months. I had the opportunity to enjoy this lovely city in the summer and now in the fall, and both times – I loved it. It is a vibrant but cozy place with lots of young people giving it an urban flair. The city is very compact which makes it really quick and easy to commute especially on a bike, which is one of the the main sources of transportation in the city. The bike infrastructure is amazingly developed: there are separate lanes and lights for bikes throughout Amsterdam and bike lock-in stations anywhere in the city. However, sometimes finding a parking for a bike can be challenging as there are a LOT of them, especially in the most popular areas. I chose to walk instead of bike which made me forget about the “pedestrian rules” and a few times I mistakenly walked on bike paths or forgot to look when crossing their lanes. I bet I was called a “dumb tourist” a few times.
Bicycle rack next to the Centraal Station
Amsterdam is divided into a bunch of small neighborhoods, each with their own character and charm. Here is a more detailed overview of what you can do and see in each of them. The center of the city is within “the Canal Ring” and, as you can imagine, is the busiest and the most touristy part of the city. I like to avoid it and wander around small canal streets getting to know the local life of every place I go to. Both times I went to Amsterdam, I walked everywhere and I developed a pretty good sense of orientation of where things are by now. Living in Chicago for so long and traveling around, I always thought of myself as a “Big City Girl.” However, in Amsterdam that feeling faded away and I imagined myself enjoying the short commute to work (unlike ~2h a day Chicago style), the close proximity of shops, restaurants, bars, parks etc. I realized that it’s the little things that matter in life and time is one of them (well maybe that’s a big one). When I went to London a few weeks ago, the metro ride was taking me at least 45 min to each destination and I only stayed in Zone 2. I’ve heard people complaining about the morning metro ride to work and back, the lack of social life, the overcrowded streets, not to mention the high prices of everything. Traveling helps you realize what really matters for you in life and brings you back to the present if your head in the clouds.
So what have I seen & done while in Amsterdam? See below for full disclosure 🙂
I’m not a museum buff but usually try to visit one or two main ones in each city. In Amsterdam, I went to Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum, hosting masterpieces of legends such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. The museum is huge but the good part is that you get an audio guide which has pre-selected tours that can guide you through, depending on your interest or time limit. Another one was Heineken Experience which was a 2 hour interactive tour around the brewery where you can learn about the process and the history of making this signature beer. The best part is the end, where you enjoy two beers (already included in the ticket price) on the Heineken’s top floor terrace overlooking all Amsterdam. Pretty sweet view. Buy tickets online, they were a bit cheaper and you don’t need to stand in lines (entrance is at certain hours).
Amsterdam has about 30 parks which provide for a peaceful oasis during the touristy season. If you’re visiting in the spring/summer, definitely check out Vondelpark, the largest and most famous park located steps away from Rijksmuseum. Here is a full list of parks worth checking out.
There are two cafes that I would definitely go back to: All the Luck in the World by the Oosterpark and Vlaamsch Broodhuys in the Center. The first one is actually a studio with handmade jewelry but is combined with a cafe (also serving lunch). Earthy and hip vibe. The other one is a small, rustic bread bakery perfect for breakfasts and lunches. Delish!
All the Luck in the World
Jordaan neighborhood is a very popular area amongst young people, full of bars, restaurants, specialty shops and galleries. Side note: it’s a home to Saturday’s organic farmers market. Back to bars…the ones I’ve been to are: Finch Cafe, Boca’s (your local bars), and Tales and Spirits (tiny cocktail bar). You can find more bars in Jordaan here.
The Pijp or “The Pipe” neighborhood, a part of “Amsterdam South”, is similarly to Jordaan, home to many bars, cafes and restaurants. Very much a vibrant district, great to hang out in the evenings and over the weekends. Too many places to name, so just head over there and choose what you like!
Located in the center, Door 74 is your speakeasy cocktail bar with no visible entrance and a must in making a reservation. Amsterdam Roest, in the east by the waterside, is an industrial building complex hosting a bar, a market and a (!) city beach. Super fun and a very eclectic place. Lastly, my favorite Thuis aan de Amstel, south of the Pijp by Amstel River, a two story house turned into bar/restaurant with multiple rooms to choose to sit in. Super cozy and quite romantic in the evenings. During the warm day you can hang out in the garden area overlooking the river.
Most of the brunch places, from what I have experienced, are tiny, so you can either wait outside for a table for quite some time or make a reservation ahead of time, which is definitely a better option if you can plan ahead. In Jordaan where I hung out the most, I recommend PIQNIQ, GS, Letting, and Braserie Baton. Also, for a sweet tooth try a signature apple pie at Winkel 43.