Amsterdam

Traveler: Danielle

When: February 2020

Overall Experience

Amsterdam was the last place I traveled before COVID-19 entered the world, upending the travel industry and careening everyone’s lives into the unknown. Looking back, I’m so glad I was able to explore such a magnificent city with world class museums, deep culture and deep history. Until it’s safe to travel again, enjoy our latest post.

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Gorgeous Amsterdam!

Where to Stay

There is no shortage of affordable Airbnbs throughout the city and coupled with an extensive  and affordable public transportation system, everything is just a stone’s throw away. Our priorities were being close to public transportation, walking distance to most museums and close to some night life. We booked a tiny, no-frills Airbnb in the Noord-Pijp neighborhood which was recently renovated to a modern style for $145 a night. However, the building must have been constructed before building codes because going up the hall stairs to the apartment felt like climbing a mountain on your tip toes.

Things to Do

Amsterdam is a city where it is IMPOSSIBLE to be bored. There is something happening on every corner and in every season. I was awed by the art, the architecture and the history!

Rijksmuseum 

The Rijksmuseum is ranked the third best art museum in the wold and has over two million visitors annually. It boasts a collection of over one million objects featuring Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Veermer.  We walked around here for hours and it still wasn’t enough time to glimpse the majority of the works. This is place where you can return again and again and still be find new works of art. It’s €19 to visit and well worth the price.
Gallery at the Rijksmuseum

Now that is a gallery!

The museum itself is beautifully designed and uses the space to highlight the renowned works of art. The “Gallery of Honor” is a highlight of the building which features a long corridor with alcoves on either sides leading the eye to the massive “Night Watch” painting.
Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum consists of four floors dedicated to Van Gogh’s life and work. It features  his personal letters, drawings, famous paintings and interactive exhibits. The famous sunflowers and his series of self portraits are highlights of the museum. Tickets are € 19 and there are timed entries so it’s best to order them in advance.
Prior to our visit, I read “Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist” by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan which gave me greater insight into the paintings I was viewing in person and what was happening in Van Gogh’s life when he painted them. It certainly made me appreciate them more.
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Van Gogh’s paints

One of the other fascinating things about Van Gogh was his legacy. His work would not be widely known without the championing efforts from his sister in law, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger.  After the death of her husband, Theo, who was Vincent’s brother and art dealer, she kept in contact with Vincent’s friends and donated his art for retrospective exhibitions and published the brothers’ letters. These publications helped to spread the mystery and create the fascination with Vincent Van Gogh that we admire today.

 

The Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House is a place known to most people around the world as a result of her published diary.  Most US students read it in junior high. However, reading about Anne’s life through her eyes and then seeing the rooms where she and her family hid for two long years is an entirely different experience.
We purchased the tickets with the introductory lecture a month in advance and there were very limited times available, so if this is a must visit on your list (and it should be), plan ahead! It’s an emotionally heavy place to visit. You’re able to walk through the families hidden apartment, see where they slept, look in their bathroom mirror above the sink, and where they basically silently lived in terror.
I was particularly touched by the markings on the wall that tracked Anne’s height. Additionally, there was another section on the wall where they had a map pinned up, tracking the progress of the allies. They were just a few months from being liberated when they were discovered and sent to concentration camps. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen.  To this day no one knows how the group was discovered but their memory lives on through the work of the Anne Frank House.
The Rembrandt House
Sitting on a corner of a canal, like most homes in Amsterdam, this three story building was home to the famous painter, Rembrandt Harmenzoon van Rijn. He lived here from 1639 until he went bankrupt in 1656 and the house and all of his belongings were auctioned off. The large museum, which costs €14 for admission, was renovated years ago and period furniture added to depict what it would have looked like when it served as Rembrandt’s home and studio. His prints are featured throughout and it provides a meticulous analysis of his work and life. I spent about an hour wandering between the rooms admiring the curated museum.
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is a great way to spend an hour or so touring the opulent rooms still used by the country’s royal family as an official reception space. For the €10 cost of admission, you get a personal audio tour of the great hall, bedrooms, and sitting rooms. The audio provides great detail on the history of the sculptures, artwork and chandeliers.
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Main hall at the Royal Palace

The Cheese Museum
Since cheese makes up about 50% of my diet (the other 50% is pasta), I knew I had to make a visit to the Cheese Museum. The term “museum” is used liberally in this instance, as it consists of a few exhibits in the basement of a cheese shop. It’s basically some brief information on the cheese process and has a photo booth with a lot of props.
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Cheeeeeeeeeeese!

Upstairs in the shop there are TONS of free samples and very knowledgeable attendants to answer any questions. It’s a really fun place to stop and even though there is zero pressure to buy any cheese, we ended up buying a boatload of  it since there were so many delicious and unique cheeses!!

Red Light District 
Tracing its origins back to 1270, the De Wallen neighborhood of Amsterdam is notorious around the world for its red light store windows featuring sex workers. Over the centuries the city has taken various stances on banning and then legalizing sex work. In more recent years the focus is on safety for the workers, combating rowdy tourists and criminal activity.
Walking through the narrow alleyways of the Red Light District, you’ll find it’s very tame except for the drunk bachelor parties combing the streets. There is a large police presence on every corner who manage traffic control and ensure no one takes photos of people in windows. While fun to walk through, it wasn’t risque as I had expected and had more of a Times Square feel to it.
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Packed streets at the Red Light District

Albert Cuyp Market
One of the largest markets in Europe, the Albert Cuyp Market has stalls lining both sides of the street for what feels like miles and miles. It operates everyday from 9:30 am until 5pm. However, we heard the vendors setting up as early as 5am from our Airbnb window. You can literally find everything for a good price. They have flowers, cheese, shoes, luggage, clothes, pottery and some amazing souvenirs!
Outdoor Market Shopping

Shopping day at the market!

Places to Eat

Floreyn
As we traveled over Valentine’s Day and our anniversary, we splurged on a fancy dinner at Floreyn. They had a five course tasting menu with a wine pairing. Their menu is a modern take on the Dutch kitchen and focuses on bringing local ingredients to the table. All of the dishes we had were fantastic, we even loved the unique pickled herring with horseradish ice cream!
Cafe Flamingo
This dark and tiny bar serves up local brews and is a popular spot in the De Pijp neighborhood. We muscled our way inside and got a seat by the front window to enjoy the blonde ale and people watch. Great place to stop for a drink after Albert Cuyp market shopping!
Sonneveld Cafe
This cozy pub style cafe serves up draft beers on a busy corner. There are big windows and a long woodbar where you can enjoy snacks and drinks. It’s also very close to the Anne Frank Museum, making it a convenient place to stop before or after your visit.
Salmuera
This restaurant is a fusion of South American and Japanese cuisines. It’s super hip and a cool space. They serve insanely delicious cocktails and street food type bites. Reservations are recommended, but if you can’t get one try sitting at the bar!
Calle Ocho
Calle Ocho has a nondescript store front but a menu packed with flavorful choices. They offer a tiki style cocktail list and a range of tasty tacos and nachos. This was a great place to sit out the rain and enjoy the tropical feel!
Bar Fisk
This Israeli bar and restaurant, Bar Fisk has a nautical theme with an open kitchen so you can watch the magic getting made! They serve up delightful gin cocktails and a variety of fish. My favorite was the sea bass sashimi! To die for!!

 

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