I have been a few times in the past but haven't been back since the 90s. What a delight to re-discover this unique city: so clean, architecturally beautiful, friendly, and, apart from the speed the bikes go, so safe! We were there for five days and had the time of our lives: walking, eating, giggling and even gigging................
As it was my friend Dalia's first visit, we did the usual touristy things and started our first day doing what must be the best way to get to know this city - by boat. It was just getting into heatwave time in the UK but, fortunately, Amsterdam was a little slower to get it, so the weather was just perfect for our dreamy trip all round the city via the canals.
Then, knowing exactly where we were going, we got walking. The second best way to see this city. Just watch out for those bikes! It's quite daunting crossing the road nowadays. More to the point, I really should watch out for what's above my friend's head next time I photograph her!
The views of these beautiful Dutch buildings with the water lapping in front of them was even more spectacular come the evening. The hotel tipped us off about a great photography spot called The Seven Bridges, but we never quite found it! But at this time of the day, you really see why it's called the Venice of the North and it just takes your breath away.
There weren't as many little cafes to stop and watch the world go by as I expected, but we made full use of any we found on our long walks as we needed frequent stops as the heat built up. And if you're into books.....I have never seen so many book stores in such a small area in my life. Our hotel, the Ambassade, even has a bar/library stashed full of 1st editions!
As Dalia is a bit of a culture vulture, one of our main attractions just had to be a visit to the Rijks Museum, which was walking distance from our hotel. Top tip: book ahead on-line as it is a very popular attraction. I'm not really into the Old Masters, as you can probably tell from my photos, but the architecture and the diversity of the other, far emptier, floors was worth a trip in itself.......and our spectacular lunch at the Rijks Museum Restaurant afterwards was just the icing on the cake. If you can afford the higher than normal prices, this a must for Foodies!
And talking of food.....we didn't have one bad meal the entire time. There is so much on offer in Amsterdam and it's all of a very high standard and quite reasonable considering this is a major European city. From healthy Indonesian to brekkie, we had some of the best food we have ever eaten. Our hotel, Hotel Ambassade, (more on this boutique gem in a bit) has its own restaurant, Brasserie Ambassade, and after one meal there we had to go back again because it was so fabulous and so reasonable. If you want fine dining overlooking a canal I would really recommend this one as well as the bar for a glass, or two, of delicious Cremant (their house sparkling wine). At only 7.50 Euros a glass, at the time of writing, it obviously became our evening tipple wherever we were going that night!
There are also plenty of cheap snacks to munch your way round Amsterdam, as well as great places for brekkie. Top of my list has to be chips and real mayo, especially after a night out on the town going to a gig..........
That was one of the main reasons we went to Amsterdam when we did. To combine a great concert with a mini break in another country/city is just the best. And, again, the Dutch did not disappoint. The arena was easy to get to, well organised and a dream to leave. We only waited 5 minutes for a taxi back. Oh, and Ed Sheeran brought Robbie Williams on stage to sing Angels together! What a result and what a night to remember.
And if that wasn't enough excitement for one night we had to do the Red Light District as well. By now we were exhausted from all the walking and dancing so we opted for one of the many bike taxis around. I urge you to try one when you're there. They are absolutely mental but safe and you get to your destination feeling like you've just been on a fairground ride with all the ducking and weaving around people and cyclists. It was a blast and we giggled all the way.......
Talking of giggling.....the cafes with the "special" cakes and smokes just had to be experienced. This was Dalia's first introduction to a legal joint and I think this photo of her is priceless looking like Audrey Hepburn with a giant spliff in her hand. Even funnier was her 34 year old son sending her a message from the UK , literally one hour later, with a photo of him sunbathing on his new lawn, saying "look Mum, we've got grass" of course I sent this photo of her right back to him saying, "so have we!" Think he's seeing Mum in a whole new light now!
The bikes were fast and scary, especially in that state! But Amsterdam is all about the bikes and it's a sightseeing event of it's own watching people of all ages whizzing around with a coffee in one hand and a mobile in the other. (Not so easy to photograph!) We did notice how stylish all the locals are so a little shopping in our part of town was a definite must......
There are loads of independent boutiques and shops around 9th Streets, in particular Hartenstraat where I found a fabulous purse. Just ask for the Jordaan District or 9 Streets, even if you're just window shopping. Of course, no visit to Amsterdam is complete without a cheese shop and a visit to the Flower Market. Unfortunately, we missed the tulip season, but you can buy plenty of bulbs there, although we did find it all a bit touristy.
I went shopping till I was dropping while Dalia inhaled more culture and, amazingly, only came back with a pair of baggy shorts and this beautiful shirt which was from one of the stores along Hartenstraat. And I had enough room in my carry-on for both.......
Carry-on saves so much time and cash so am pleased I managed to pack five outfits for five days and still had room for a little light shopping. If you want to see what I packed and wore, with some great advice from Dalia on underwear, here's a little video to give you some ideas for your next City Break.
Finally, I have to mention the Ambassade Hotel, where we stayed. This beautiful, boutique hotel was recommended by friends via Facebook and is now my favourite in Amsterdam mainly because of the authentic historic Dutch building, beautiful furnishings, fab food and the fact that it is right slap in the middle of the 9 Streets area..... so easy for walking to any of the main tourist attractions whilst being on a pretty and quiet canal with trendy eateries such as the Hoxton and the Indonesian Kitchen a hop and a skip away. The staff were wonderful and gave us so much advice on where to go, where not to go and how to get there. (Hello Femka!) And, along with some 10 buildings that make up the hotel, they also have a Spa, Koan Float, on the corner where I had one of the best body massages ever. Dalia had a flotation tank session and we both slept like babies on our first night there.
The night view of our hotel just sums up how special this city is and why it's, deservedly, called The Venice of the North. Personally, I can't wait to go back, have another massage, do the Hungry Birds food tour, get into the Anne Frank's House tour, pop into the Van Gogh exhibition and do more exploring of this awesome city, maybe by bike! Oh, and as I've recently got into pink gin, maybe I ought to try the original Dutch Courage Jenever!
Meanwhile, I would love to hear from you if you've enjoyed my new favourite city and have any other must sees, must dos to add to my list!