Amsterdam. I have long been fascinated by the Netherlands. I especially remember it from the book, “The Hole in the Dike” by Mary Mapes Dodges. I read the book in grade school back in the Philippines. The picture of Peter, the boy who placed his finger in a hole on the dike and saved Holland from a devastating flood, is still etched in my memory. Needless to say, I was very excited to finally visit the place that have only lived in my imagination for years.
After 3 days in London (read about our London trip here), we took the Eurostar from St. Pancras Station in London to the Amsterdam Central Station. The train ride takes about 3:44 hours. It is a smooth ride all the way through. An added experience is when the train slows down for a 20 minute ride under a 50 km stretch of the English Channel. If you didn’t know you were going under water, it is just another ride except you don’t see anything outside the window. This is truly a technological feat. Except for a slight pop in the ear to equalize, you don’t feel the pressure at all.
The train speeds up again until we arrived in Brussels Zuid/Midi for a short stop before continuing on to Rotterdam then to Amsterdam.
We stayed in Amsterdam for a day en route to Paris. We specifically picked an AirBnB just a stone’s throw away from the Central Station to maximize our stay.
1. Eat some Dutch treats
After leaving our luggage at our BnB for the evening, we went out in search of the famous Dutch pancakes or pannenkoek. Pannenkoeks are large (about a foot diameter) and thin, but not as thin as crepes pancakes. You can add any topping of your choice. I chose the savory kind with ham, egg and cheese. Ralph had the sweet one with fruits, and a dusting of powdered sugar. Dutch pancakes in Amsterdam, a must try.
These small, fluffy pancakes, are made with yeast and buckwheat flour. They have a light, spongy texture. We got ours to go. They serve them with a generous dusting of powdered sugar.
Another treat to try is a stroopwafel. These sweet treats are two thin waffles stuck together with a layer of sweet syrup; these delectable delicacies are best enjoyed hot and gooey. You can find these at street markets or a bakery.
2. Explore the canals on foot
There are three main canals in Amsterdam: Herengracht, Prisengracht, Keizersgracht. These were all dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age. Each canal is surrounded by traditional Dutch houses. Herengracht is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so a definite must see. However, you will most probably pass by it during a canal tour so you can hit two birds with one stone if you simply take a canal tour.
3. Take a canal tour
With over 100 km (62 miles) of canals in Amsterdam, the best way to see Amsterdam is from the canal! There are so many kinds of canal tours to choose from. You can choose through Trip Advisor or popular AirBnB Experiences. There are combo tours to the Heineken Brewery, the Rijksmuseum, Madame Tussaud’s or Van Gogh Museum with a canal tour. There are several “party” tours with bartenders to keep drinks flowing as they cruised through the canals.
None of the other tours fit our schedule before we went to the Anne Frank Museum so we went with an operator near the museum. Check out the link here to get tickets. It truly was a great experience.
These are called the “crooked houses”. With the shifting of the ground under, the houses are slowly shifting as well.
4. Visits one museum: Anne Frank House, Van Gogh, Reijksmuseum
We didn’t have much time to visit all three so we chose to visit the Anne Frank House. This was the highlight of our trip. It is a moving experience. The house is where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Germans for 2 years. It is hard not to feel the discomfort and the fear of being found out that they all felt in this tiny place. You can see the original diary and other notebooks on display at the museum. It is a must if you will be in Amsterdam.
TIP: You can only buy tickets online. Tickets go on sale 2 months before you planned arrival. You can download it directly on your phone and show at the entrance at the time and day that you chose.
5. Visit the Jordaan Neighborhood
The Jordaan is a charming neighborhood where you can see authentic Dutch living. It is less crowded than the more touristy spots. There is really no particular place to visit but just to take in the charm of this neighborhood.
We found a neighborhood cafe where you order your food and drinks inside and bring them outside to a platform along the canal. We sat down and just watched the boats pass by.
6. Stroll the canals at night.
If you are staying overnight, strolling the canals at night is special. The reflection of the lights throughout the canals is just beautiful. The banks of the canals are a popular spot to sit down with your dinner to go and enjoy the breeze.
With limited time to go inside the Reijksmuseum, it is still worth the walk to the museum and check it from the outside. If you do have a couple of hours to spare, be sure to purchase tickets in advance to avoid the lines.
This is where you used to see the I amsterdam sign until it became a tourist trap and was removed in late 2018.
TIP: You can see the sign at the Schiphol Airport.
8. See Damrak, Dam Square and The Royal Palace
Dam Square with the Royal Palace is one of the most well-known locations in Amsterdam. You don’t need much time here. We just had our picture taken in the middle of the square and went on our way to our next stop.
9. Stroll the Nine Streets
The Nine Streets are the old cobbled streets that connect the main canals between Leidsegracht and Raadhuisstraat.
This area is where you will find independent boutiques, specialty stores, and vintage shopping. You will enjoy a different shopping experiment from the main shopping street on Kalverstraat with its big chains.
10. Red Light District
I debated whether to include this on the list but it is a part of Amsterdam. If you have an open mind, feel free to visit this area. As soon as you get there, you will understand why it’s called the Red Light District.
Seeing the display on the show windows you cannot help but feel for the women. One can wonder if there aren’t other ways of employment that they could do other than selling their bodies.. For those who don’t know, prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. Women display themselves on windows waiting for somebody to “hire” them. We didn’t go through the district during the day but they are apparently on display even during the day.