I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but after years of hearing what an amazing city Amsterdam is, I am happy to finally be able to say I wholeheartedly agree! A lovely and walkable city with no shortage of interesting sights and streets to wander we made the most of every minute. With it’s Seattle meets Europe vibe, I felt right at home and I would even go so far as to say, “I would live there,” a distinction I’ve saved for only the most special of places. Needless to say, I hope to return one day.
Always looking for a fun photo opportunity I was excited to visit the I Amsterdam sign! You can’t miss it as the red and white sign is 2 meters tall and crawling with people. The city’s catch phrase, I Amsterdam, represents not just the city itself, but a state of mind and is a symbol of inclusion. It’s hard not to fall in love with such a positive message and it was clear from the crowds swarming on, in and around it that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. There are four I Amsterdam signs throughout the city!
Of course we joined the masses and posed in, on and around the sign doing our best to get that perfect shot!
Training from Bruges and arriving in the early afternoon we grabbed a taxi to the Hotel Sebastian in the Jordaan District, dropped our bags, and immediately set out to see what the city had to offer.
Lucky for us, we had personal tour guides as some dear (Dutch) friends from the States were also in town. We met them for dinner and a walking tour through the city.
The Red Light District
One can’t write about a visit to Amsterdam and not mention the infamous Red Light District, so let’s just get it out of the way…
I’ll start by saying, It wasn’t a place I had on “my list” and definitely not with the kids in tow, but we did end up walking through. Talking and walking, and not paying attention we looked around and… Oops! Suddenly instead of retail shops, many of the windows had red curtains hanging in them, but only the occasional few had someone standing inside. The younger boys were oblivious (thankfully), and the older boys did a great job of pretending they were.
Funny enough it was the window displays in the “toy” shops, that brought out the giggles in the adults… thankfully the boys, too busy eating ice cream, didn’t notice. However, they did notice the “coffee shops”. The general consensus was: “Why would anyone go in there? It smells so bad!”
Anne Frank’s House
As soon as we decided upon a visit to Amsterdam I knew I’d be visiting Anne Frank’s House. My experience visiting this special place was so profound, that I’ve given it a completely separate post. Keep in mind that getting tickets can be somewhat complicated, as the timed Tickets are only available from the official website exactly two months in advance.
Walk or Bike Everywhere
A highlight of our visit were the many walks we took. In fact, we walked as many places as we could, rarely using any public transportation. I know you’re wondering why not bike? Unfortunately, Elliot just wasn’t confident enough to ride a bike in such a big city.
The Van Gogh Museum
I loved this museum, which you might be surprised to learn was a surprise to me! Not only will you see the largest collection of Van Gogh works in the world, but you’ll learn Van Gogh’s fascinating life story along the way. Especially touching to me was the close relationship he shared with his brother and sister-in-law who were instrumental in his success and eventual world wide fame.
The museum’s layout was easy to navigate and the children’s activities were superb. This museum is incredibly popular, and I highly suggest booking your tickets in advance online as you’ll be able to skip the lines!
The Rijksmuseum is a Dutch National art and history museum. The museum is vast, so if like us, you’re traveling with a large group, or with children it might be a good idea to choose some highlights rather then try to see it all.
On our can’t miss list were paintings by the Dutch Masters Rembrandt and Vermeer a painting of William of Orange, who I learned quite a bit about while in Belfast, the modernist exhibit from 1900 to 1950, a Van Gogh (of course), and the largest painting in the museum, Waterloo.
The MOCO (Modern Contemporary) is a brand new, privately funded, museum featuring what they themselves refer to as the “rock stars” of the art world. On display during our visit were works by two internationally famous artists: Bansky, a London based graffiti artist, and Andy Warhol, an American pop artist. If you’re interested in either of these two artists, you’d better hurry, the exhibits close January 31, 2017.
Keep in mind this is a very small museum. A visit here could easily be tacked on to either of the above mentioned museums. If you enjoy street, graffiti and pop art than this museum is definitely worth a look around.
The 9 Streets
If you like to shop, then I you might like The 9 Streets. Located in the Jordaan Neighborhood The 9 Streets are home to galleries, cafes, restaurants and more than 200 retailers, many of them one of a kind, selling everything from modern design to vintage clothing. I especially enjoyed, Pluck, an adorable cafe/shop selling a bit of this and that. An added bonus they had a nice bathroom. If you’re a fan of whimsy then make sure to stop by the Amsterdam Rubber Duck shop, where you’re sure to find a rubber ducky that suits everyone in your party!
Founded in 1862, when flowers were still delivered daily by boat, the Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market. Beyond the expected tulips you’ll find the bulbs and seeds of many other flowers as well as marijuana seedlings and starter kits. Before you’re tempted to purchase anything make sure the items your after can be imported into your home country.
This area is also home to many souvenir and cheese shops, so even if you can’t purchase that rare flower or starter kit (wink wink), you’ll be sure to find something else to remember your visit by.
A Day in The life
Invited to join our friends at a local friend’s home we were excited to go inside a traditional Dutch house. The owner, a children’s book writer and amazing artist, was kind enough to give us a tour of her in-home art studio. I was so excited when I got to try-out her printing press!
A visit to The Vondelpark gave the kids a chance to run free while the adults enjoyed conversation, bitterballen and beer. We had such a lovely afternoon and felt very much like we’d just experienced a day in the life.
Walking back to our hotel through the park we came across this neat little art exhibit, findfence. Where art meets the lost and found!
Day trip to Zaanse Schans
We spent the majority of our time in Holland exploring Amsterdam, but I felt I couldn’t visit Holland without seeing at least one windmill up close and personal! I know, I know, that’s a very touristy thing to do, but hey, sometimes I’m a tourist!
Located just a 30 minute ride from the city, Zaanse Schans was quintessential Holland! There are many things to see and do while visiting Zaanse Schans, the demonstrations of windmills, clogs, and cheese of course, but also walking and biking trails, boating and of course shopping.
Dinner on our first night in town, was at the lovely De Waag a restaurant cafe located in the Nieuwmarkt. De Waag (the weigh house) was built in 1488 and was originally one of Amsterdam’s City gates. We were lucky to find a table outside, but a reservation is a good idea!
A neighborhood favorite for over 100 years and well known for their delicious apple pie, we made it a point to visit Cafe Hegeraad (Tim lOVES pie). The pie was fine, especially if you’re a fan of pie (which I admit I’m not), but I couldn’t get past the restaurant’s strange decor. Their were RUGS on the table tops. Actual rugs complete with fringe, which I found incredibly weird. I couldn’t get past the idea that rugs are for floors, not table tops.
De Belhamel, is a lovely and potentially romantic restaurant (we brought our kids) at edge of the Jordaan quarter. Located on a corner where two canals meet the restaurant’s outdoor dining area has a fabulous view of both canals. Unfortunately it was too windy for outdoor dining during our visit, thankfully the interiors are equally as wonderful and the food was delicious.
Also in the Jordaan Quarter was the restaurant De Reiger. I enjoyed everything about this meal, the atmosphere inside and out, the service and the food. You can’t ask for more than that!
The Pancake Bakery
Hearing they had the best pancakes in town, we had to go to The Pancake Bakery. The table line was long, but moved fast. I’ve decided I’m not a fan of Dutch pancakes (sorry), but everyone else in the group enjoyed them. Elliot’s car pancake actually came with a giant toy car. Who knew!?
I highly recommend the Hotel Sebastians as both the location and service were perfect. The rooms and ensuite bathrooms were also lovely and spacious, but I admit the having the toilet inside the shower stall was a bit strange. If I wasn’t considering a houseboat stay on my next visit I would absolutely stay here again!
Can you tell by the length of this post, that We ALL loved our visit in this amazing city?