HOW TO SPEND 24 HOURS IN AMSTERDAM
Staying in Amsterdam over the weekend or passing through on the way elsewhere and do not know what to do with your time? Not to worry, I've got you covered!
If you are new to this blog, you might not be aware that I am, quite possibly, the biggest fan of the Netherlands in general and Amsterdam in particular. What is so great about Amsterdam is that while it is a true world city where you can find anything, it is quite compact. Weather permitting, this means you can easily see most of the place by foot, by bike or by boat in just one day. The location of the airport also makes it a perfect city for a layover: a train from Schiphol will take you to the Central Station in only 15 minutes!
However, Amsterdam offers completely different experiences depending on the time of the year. Luckily, there are only two seasons - the very rainy one and the slightly less rainy. Provided my beloved Chekhov the Bike is still with me, here is how I would spend 24 hours in Amsterdam in the winter (going from West to East) and in the summer (going from East to West). Come along!
AMSTERDAM IN THE WINTER
In winter months, the sun only rises at 8:40, so there is no way I'm out before 9:00 (unless I have to). When I finally head outside, it's first things first: coffee. This ritual helps me wake up and get the day started on the right foot. My coffee spots of choice in the Oud West, depending on the next stop, are Café Kobalt, Koffie ende Koeck, Lot Sixty One (on Kinkerstraat), Café Bax or Café de Toog. I normally skip breakfast in favour of brunch, so my order - double espresso shot, no milk, no sugar - will be accompanied with a newspaper or a book.
Dutch markets usually sell everything from local fresh produce, bread, and cheese to flowers and small household items. Although a trip to the market is a pretty nice activity as it is, what makes the Dutch ones so appealing is the wide variety of national delights (that aren't necessarily raw herring) and seasonal specialities such as oliebollen and poffertjes on offer. Oliebol is a deep-fried ball of dough that is served plain with powdered sugar or with different fillings such as cherry, almond paste or cinnamon (see picture above). Poffertjes, on the other hand, are puffy mini-pancakes served with a lump of butter and some powdered sugar. These traditional wintery treats will brighten up any dark, cold day!
There are three markets in Amsterdam that I particularly like to visit. They are Ten Katemarkt (Monday - Saturday), Noordermarkt (Saturday), De Sunday Market at Westergasfabriek (Sunday). They are up and running from 9 o'clock on, so I'd normally to get my groceries in the morning. If you happen to like seafood, be sure to try mussels at Noordermarkt - they are superb.
Having looked at and nibbled on all kinds of foods at the market, I feel like it's time for a proper morning meal. Luckily, the Oud West is hardly short of places that serve hearty brunches all day long. My go-to's are TEDS, Gs Jordaan, staring at jacob, and Vinnies. Overall, their menus are pretty similar: eggs and omelettes, toasts and sandwiches, porridges, parfaits, and so on. I would just bike to whichever one is closer to me (scroll down to see them on the map).
If I had to pick one favourite museum in the city, it would be Huis Marseille. Situated in two 17th-century canal houses, it opened in 1999 making it Amsterdam's first photography museum. For the past 17 years, it has been displaying a wide range of exhibitions as well as its own extensive and varied collection primarily focused on leading contemporary photography. Well-curated exhibition programmes change about 4 times a year, and there has not been a single one that left me indifferent.
Huis Marseille is open every day except Monday. In this case, I'd go to FOAM, which is another photography museum just down the street. It exhibits all genres of photography: documentary, fine art, modern, and historical. Besides exhibitions of renowned photographers, this museum also showcases emerging young talents in short-term shows.
Despite the weather, I really enjoy walking around town in winter. Greyness suits Amsterdam and makes it all the more picturesque and atmospheric. My favourite hangouts are Kinkerstraat and Overtoom, two busy parallel streets that are perfect if I want to watch people go about their day and blend with the crowd. I might pop into De Hallen, in case they have another live performance of Beethoven (see picture above - click to enlarge) or something else going on.
For window- or actual money-spending shopping, I'd head back toward Jordaan or to the 9 Straatjes neighbourhood. Packed with small shops and pop-up stores, there is always something to look at. Although I'd probably end up in a post office and disappear there for an hour signing postcards!
The Rijksmuseum is often cited as an ultimate must-do activity in Amsterdam for a reason. It is the largest art museum in the Netherlands with 8,000 objects of art and history currently on display featuring some of the most celebrated Dutch artists - Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Rembrandt. Altogether, the museum's collection boasts 1 million objects from years 1200-2000. Along with the permanent collection, the museum also presents multiple temporary exhibitions throughout the year.
I've been to the Rijksmuseum too many times to count and will go back again, partly because of their impressive Research Library. Even though my educational background has nothing to do with art history, the library is perfect if you need to get things done while enjoying the beautiful space.
From mid-November through early February, the Museumplein turns into an ice rink with quite the backdrop - time to put my skates on! It's been 4 years since Amsterdam's canals were completely frozen, so the rink is a great way of recreating this traditional winter activity.
I don't know about you, but all I want to do after a long winter day full of activities is to sit by a fireplace, relax, and enjoy a glass of red wine (or even better, mulled wine). Located just 10 min away from the Museumplein, Café de Wetering is a perfect cosy spot with an open fireplace. Just imagine a rough wooden floor, rough brick walls, and sounds of the wood splitting in the background. Does it get much better than that?
If this place gets too buy, there is another great fireplace at Lion Noir, which is about 3 min away by bike.
For the 5th winter in a row, Amsterdam invited light artists from around the world to make the city even more photogenic during the Light Festival. Over 35 installations are scattered along two routes: one for boats and the other for everybody else. I'm picking the Water Colours Cruise (Premium), which covers a 75-minute boat ride plus a snack and a drink. The snack includes a cup of traditional Dutch pea soup (erwetensoup) and the best of guilty pleasures, borrelhapjes, among other things. All the while cruising the festive canals!
Once off the boat, I make my way to the Red Light District for good locals brews and brown bars. Depending on how hungry I am, I might first stop by the (apparently) oldest pub in town, In 't Aepje ("In the Monkeys"). Open since 1519, it occupies one of the two remaining wooden buildings in town that survived the catastrophic fire in 1452.
RIght around the corner is Brouwerij De Prael (pictured above). It is a brewery and a bar that offers a homey ambience, proper dinner food (no, not only bitterballen), and even better beers. Highlights include Russian Imperial Stout, Barley Wine, and Scotch Ale. I once celebrated by birthday there, if that speaks for anything.
From here, brown bar options are plentiful: 't Loosje and De Engelbewaarder just nearby, on the Rembrandtplein, I'd choose either Cafe Schiller or Langereis before turning East toward Café Eik an Linde and De Groene Olifant. Alternatively, I'd check out Mezrab for live gigs or another favourite of mine, Roest, which is part city beach, part market, part event hall, and part bar that hosts all kind of events throughout the year.
AMSTERDAM IN THE SUMMER
Oh summer, when days are long, sunny (just kidding), and beautiful! Even if it's raining, I get out by 9:00 for a much-needed cup of coffee. Ivy & Bros is a perfect place for quality coffee as well as for full-on brekkie/brunch/lunch (their sandwiches are a must-try) and even some home decor. Located in the heart of the Red Light District, this cute café is an amusing spot for people watching.
The Red Light District and its neighbouring streets are packed with museums for all tastes and interests. Most of them open at 10 am, so I have to get right down to it.
- De Oude Kerk ("The Old Church") is the oldest building in Amsterdam; it was built around 1300. Ironically, it is Amsterdam's newest museum. Nowadays it hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary artworks. When visiting, don't forget to look down - the ground is covered with fascinating gravestones.
- Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder ("Our Lord in the Attic"). This 17th-century canal building once housed a Catholic Church on the last three floors that could welcome up to 150 people. The church was built between 1661-1663 in order to provide worshippers with a place to express their religious beliefs as Catholic services were officially forbidden at the time. Eventually, the place was transformed into a museum in the late 19th century making it the second oldest in the city.
- The Royal Palace is still in active use by the Dutch Royal House so it closes for official events - be sure to check the calendar on the website first. When it is open to the general public, you can learn about the building's rich past as well as study symbols embedded in the intricate interior and exterior. Did you notice, for example, Poseidon on the pediment facing Dam Square? He honours the Stedenmaagd, a virgin that personifies Amsterdam, depicted at the centre of the pediment.
My brunch on a summer day isn't different from the one I'd normally have in winter, so I'm on a lookout for a traditional all-day-breakfast kind of place. In the East, Beter & Leuk, eastside, Gs Oost, and Louie Louie perfectly match my preferences. Poached eggs with salmon, please and thank you.
Raise your hand if you enjoy a lazy hour in the park with a good book. *Raises hand*
Since I am in the East, I can either go to Oosterpark or - a less obvious option - to the grass area in front of the canal on the corner of Alexanderplein and Sarphatistraat, behind the UvA. I've got just slightly over an hour to lay down and enjoy an interesting read. If it starts raining, it will only take me a couple of minutes to get to Hortus Botanicus. This botanical garden is an oasis in the midst of the bustle of the busy city.
It's boat o'clock, my favourite time of the day! Nice company, pleasant views, warm weather - what's not to like? So hop on a boat and explore Amsterdam from a completely different angle. I'd go as far as to say that's the best angle to look at this place from. As canals cover most of the city's area, we can easily make our way from the East to the Oud West and get a comprehensive tour of Amsterdam.
Two particularly popular places to stop by if you are boating around are Brouwerij 't IJ (yes, that windmill on the left) and Hanneke's Boom. The former is a brewery and a bar situated next to the biggest windmill in Amsterdam, Molen De Gooyer, originally built in the 16th century. Their brews are really worth a try! The latter is a bar that humbly claims to be "the most beautiful place in Amsterdam". Their biggest appeal is a massive terrace/deck that can welcome many boats at the same time.
Still on the boat, we are now headed to A'DAM Toren in Amsterdam Noord. Here, you can find ‘Over the Edge’, Europe’s highest swing at 100 meters high that goes back and forth over the edge of the tower. The city is right below their feet. Not too shabby a view, eh?
Having boated for almost 4 hours, it's time to have dinner. Tucked into a tiny alley right next to the Red Light District, Kapitein Zeppos is hidden from the wandering eye. All the better for those who are in the know: delicious food, cute terrace as well as interior, and friendly staff make this place a real gem. I'm already looking forward to my next visit!
Summer nights mean longer opening hours for terraces - in Amsterdam, you are allowed to drink outside until 01:00. As I am heading West, it's time to visit my local favourites: Café de Dokter (aka the smallest bar in town), Gollem Raamsteeg (14 different beers on tap and about 200 in bottles), Café de Prins, 't Smalle, P96, to name but a few. Cin cin!
Disclosure: this post is a submission for the 24 Hours In... contest organised by Accor Hotels. Pick your favourite city, share how you'd spend 24 hours there in an article or a vlog – and you could win a 9-day trip for two people in Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris including transport, accommodation, a GoPro camera and a citypass. Sounds incredible? Submit your entry here.
Happy travels! x