5 reasons to visit Amsterdam that aren’t sex workers or drugs
There’s more to Amsterdam than its famous Red Light District (De Wallen) or its tolerance of marijuana. In fact, we managed to spend a whole 4 days in this beautiful city without paying for sex or smoking a spliff! Read on to find out more about what Amsterdam has to offer.
Let’s be honest. One of the main reasons you’ve been thinking about a trip to Amsterdam is because of the stunning photos you’ve seen on Amsterdam of those wonky, narrow, tall houses which line the edge of the canals. There’s no denying that the architecture in Amsterdam is striking and even on the roads which run perpendicular to the canal the distinctive style lives on.
Spotting “dancing” or “singing” houses is particularly fun. These are the ones that aren’t standing quite as straight as they once did because they’ve had one genever too many (/they are suffering from subsidence because of their watery foundations).
The reason behind their narrowness is because back in the sixteenth century taxes were paid on the width of the front of your house – the narrower the facade the less tax you paid! Not too dissimilar from the UK’s window tax which explains why so many old houses in London have had windows bricked up.
Bonus points if you decide to stay in one of the cities real quirks of architecture – the bridge houses. They are these tiny little structures built next to the bridges in Amsterdam which raise and lower to let large boats through. SWEETS hotel have converted them into apartments which you can sleep in. I highly recommend staying in one over the expensive hotels right in the centre of the city.
If you’re interested in architecture you’re probably also interested in art.
If you’re more interested in contemporary art then I can highly recommend MOCO, the modern, contemporary and street art museums which includes works from had a Banksy and a Daniel Arsham exhibition on while I was there. You will also find lots of other contemporary art galleries around the city. We even found that Arsham had another exhibition on at a small gallery off a canal in the north of the city.
If you’re really into street art you are into there’s plenty around the city. Highlights include the self portrait from Van Gogh (“Vincent was here 1877”) and the girl with the pearl earring on the back of the floating flower market.
Amsterdam really does cater for all styles.
Jon and I have this joke – it’s not a holiday unless you’ve been on a boat – so not matter where we are we tried to squeeze in a trip on a boat of some description. Of course Amsterdam is famous for its canals which are wonderful to just wander up and down no matter what time of the day or night.
If I lived in Amsterdam (and seriously, I would move there in a heartbeat) I would definitely love on a houseboat. Next time we visit I plan to rent my own boat to sail up and down for a day.
If a tour is more what you’re after, I can recommend “Those Dam Boat Guys” who will take you up and down the canals and regail you with fun facts and plenty of history along the way. Our guide Joel had a huge amount of knowledge about Amsterdam but at no point did it feel like he was just reciting facts for the sake of it. The tour felt tailored to the group on the boat and he also gave plenty of insight into his own experience of living and working in Amsterdam which made it all the more interesting. It was definitely 25 euros well spent!
I bet when you think of the Netherlands you think of poffertjes, stroopwaffle and cheese (inc. gouda and edam!) These are definitely some of my favourite Dutch treats and so I insist that if you visit Amsterdam you eat your body weight in all three.
For poffertjes head to The Pancake Bakery. We opted for the “Dutch Poffertjes” which were served with cherries, cherry liquer, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream and were not disappointed! Now the Culture Trip have written a guide to the best stroopwaffle and I’m not going to pretend I tried every stroopwaffle for sale in Amsterdam. But, one thing I will say is I didn’t eat a bad one while I was there. When it comes to cheese on the other hand please, please, please stay away from the tourist-y cheese shops. They are selling sub-par cheese at EXTORTIONATE prices. Head to Noordermarkt to buy from cheesemongers who will let you try before you buy and cut a wedge off of a huge wheel just for you. Some also sell little snack cones of different varieties in case you can’t make your mind up about which one you like the most. In case you’re wondering, komijne kaas (cumin gouda) is my absolute favourite. It’s no surprise we bought a tonne back with us. If the market isn’t on while you’re visiting then I can also recommend JWO Lekkernijen delicatessen which has a fantastic range of Dutch cheeses amongst other things.
While we’re on the subject of cheese. Are you a fan of a big vat of molten, stretchy, rice and decadent cheese fondue? I thought you might be! The only time we really ate right in the heart of “touristy” Amsterdam was at Cafe Bern. People queue for ages to get a seat in this restaurant so I recommend booking a table if you can. The concept is simple, you have a molten pot of cheese and some bread to dip. There are other dishes on the menu and I’d recommend ordering a salad or two to cut through the richness (we went for the garlic salad which worked well).
Moving away from the “Dutch classics” for a moment, you might notice when you arrive in Amsterdam that there’s actually a huge amount of Indonesian influence on the cuisine. You’ll see saté/satésaus (satay sauce) on all sorts of different dishes and rijsttafel (or “rice table”) is on cafe menus all around Amsterdam. To eat Indonesian food while in Amsterdam is to celebrate the Netherland’s rich history and the escapades of the Dutch East India Company.
To round off this list of must-eats, is the humble scone. I’ve always though of scones as quintessentially English but it seems the Dutch also have a claim to these light and fluffy baked treats. For the best scones in Amsterdam head to De Bakkerswinkel. There are a couple of branches around the city – we visited the one on the edge of Westerpark. What better way to finish off a walk around the park then with a scone smothered in cream, jam or lemon curd.
Spirits, liqueurs and beer
Genever is to the Netherlands what gin is to England but don’t get the two confused. If you love gin that’s not to say you’re also going to love genever which is a distilled malted spirit and shares more characteristics with unaged whisky than gin. Because of its mild flavour it lends itself to being infused or distilled with other spices and herbs or being barrel aged.
The tiny tasting tavern Wynand Fockink is a great introduction to genever. They produce over 70 Dutch liqueurs and genevers which you can taste the traditional way out of a beautiful fluted glass, slurping it straight off of the counter with no hands! The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and will help you find a flavour that suits you. Jon went for a barrel aged genever and I tried a liqueur that was not dissimilar from sloe gin amongst others.
The House of Bols cocktail and genever experience is also great fun for lovers of spirits and liqueurs. After a short introduction to the brand and their many flavoured liqueurs you end up at their bar for a cocktail. We paid a little extra to do a cocktail making masterclass where you make 3 classic cocktails which you then customise using some of the flavoured liqueurs. From watermelon to white chocolate, cucumber to dates there is a huge selection to choose from.
If spirits and liqueurs aren’t your thing then don’t worry. Jon and I sampled a fair amount of craft beer while we were in Amsterdam and I’m pleased to say we weren’t disappointed.
Amsterdam has a vibrant beer scene. The city is home to dozens of cafes, bars, and brewery taprooms that sell a hugely diverse range of beer. The city is a real melting pot of beer culture, which draws inspiration from the brewing traditions of Europe, modern American craft beer, and even historic British styles. There is something for everyone.
Must visit bars include Proeflokaal Arendsnest and Bierproeflokaal In De Wildeman; both traditional beer cafes with a relaxed atmosphere that have an extensive range of quality beers. Arendsnest has an impressive 50 taps of Dutch beer which changes regularly. Jon opted for the Baltic Porter with Raspberries and Liquorice from the De Eem microbrewery; but there were plenty of IPAs, eisbocks, tripels, and russian imperial stouts to keep the most curious drinker happy. De Wildeman offers beers from around the world and has a bottle list of 250 beers, including a selection of rare Belgian lambics from the likes of Cantillon.
If you want to add a brewery tour to your visit, you can’t go wrong with Brouwerij ‘t IJ. Located at the base of a windmill next to a canal, it’s a picturesque place for a beer and is clearly very popular with the locals. They offer a very wide range of styles for a small brewery and Jon was particularly impressed with their American pale ale, which he said was one of the dankest beers he’d experienced in a long time.
Other great locations include BeerTemple, which focuses on US imports, cause Beer Loves Food, where we had a sensational Kirsch Stout from Uiltje, and Brouwerij Troost, which has a few brewery taprooms around the city.
So there we have it – Amsterdam is so much more than just it’s red light district and coffeeshops. Have I missed anything else off? Let me know what your favourite things to see and do in Amsterdam are in the comments below.