The Charm of Amsterdam

The undeniable charm of Amsterdam. Striking Dutch architecture, miles of canals lined with trees and many bikes! This pretty city has been on my bucket list forever, but it never quite aligned with other travel plans. For a summer vacation I always feel drawn to the sea or countryside and try to avoid cities only. However this trip turned out to be exactly that and was incredible! From the minute we drove into Amsterdam, it completely exceeded my expectations. I love the odd juxtaposition. There is a bit of a griminess and edginess to this city all set among a movie scene looking backdrop. The facades and flowers. People hanging out on their stoops or passing by in their boats – I could not get enough. You can walk (or bike) for miles and discover tiny streets, cool cafes and a sea of interesting museums. As always this is less of a city guide and more a recap of what I thoroughly enjoyed on our trip.

Where We Stayed

I have this slight obsession with hotels aboard. I feel like I have so many saved in different countries that when the time comes to visit said country I already have one in mind. However with this trip, the two I had at the forefront for Amsterdam, The Dylan and The Hoxton were sadly booked. I love The Hoxton hotel chain for their interiors and fun restaurant/ bars (the one in Paris is amazing too) and the Dylan has everything I was looking for. We still went to both of these places for drinks which I highly recommend, but ended up staying at The Nobleman on Leidsegracht. This place is a dream boutique hotel in an old home from 1663. Each room is decorated differently in a very dark moody style, accented with a copper bathtub and interesting details throughout.

The staff was so kind and bring an amazing breakfast tray to your room every morning. This is included in the room rate and you fill out a little card upon arrival with your preferences. I also loved the canal this was on. Leidsegracht is off of Keizersgracht which is one of the main canals, so it is a quieter side street. Do keep in mind Amsterdam likes to party, so although this is away from the main hub of nightlife, on the weekend people were walking by our room (on the ground floor) at all hours. If you are sensitive to that, I would suggest booking one of the higher rooms to still enjoy the canal views.

Left, bottom: The Courtyard at The Dylan, such a cozy spot for a late night drink. One of my favorite ways to find out about good local spots is asking the bartender!

Stunning bath details at The Nobleman hotel

Sites of Interest

I feel like no matter where I go I never have enough time for everything I want to see. You could spend over a week just going to all of the incredible museums Amsterdam has to offer and I know I will be back someday to see a whole lot more. Daniel and I try and take one big trip a year, so I love a balance of true relaxation (i.e. long leisurely lunches) and sightseeing. I try to not jam pack a schedule and leave a lot of free time for exploring which to us, feels more like a vacation. I did have some main points of interest planned ahead of time and purchased tickets online in advance since many of the top sites – especially the Anne Frank house sell out quickly.

Anne Frank House

This was at the very top of my list. It is one of the most visited sites in Amsterdam so the demand for tickets is very high. You must buy tickets online for a specific time slot on this website (they do not sell them in person anymore). They go on sale every Tuesday at 10am CEST and all tickets become available for a visit six weeks later. We only had two days we could visit at the time we wanted, so I put this in my calendar with an alarm reminder to ensure we got in. I knew this would be a very heavy experience, so we opted to go first thing in the morning (9am). Although it was incredibly emotional and overwhelming, it was my favorite part of the trip. They only let so many people in at one time because the space is small, so you really get to take it in without mass crowds. To witness history preserved like that and see her diary and The Annex in real life is something I will never forget.

Rembrandt House Museum

This is the other museum I booked ahead of time to ensure we got in. We did this the same day as the Anne Frank house and in hindsight I probably would have booked a different day earlier in the morning. I prefer to do most museums when they open because this was very crowded even with a set time slot. It was hard to see some of the art in the smaller rooms because the crowds were thick, but overall I loved seeing his home and so many of the original details / artifacts. Plus the audio guide is great and lets you go at your own pace if you want to spend more time in one space and less in another. Rembrandt is one of my favorite artists, so seeing a few of his original etchings up close was absolutely incredible. This museum is really about his home and personal belongings, so if you are looking to see more of an extensive collection of his work and other Dutch Masters, I would head to The Rijksmuseum.

Canal Boat Cruise

I knew I couldn’t go to Amsterdam without seeing the sites from the water. There are dozens of different boat companies to choose from, so I went back and forth for a bit on what would be best. Ultimately I decided on the 2 hour ultimate canal cruise from Pure Boats. This option was a bit more expensive than some of the others I saw, but it is an open bar (beer, wine and champagne) with lots of delicious snacks. Our guide was hilarious and gave a ton of great history about the things we were passing while keeping it very fun. We went with the 4pm start time which was perfect to enjoy the nice weather before dinner. I also liked that these are small groups so we got to meet and chat with other people and ended up going out with some after. Note, this particular tour does not allow children under 14.

Zaanse Schans

Since tulip season was over by the time we arrived and Keukenhof had just closed, the other Dutch sight I had to see was Windmills. I had done a lot of research on this before we left and stumbled upon many seemingly photoshopped images of vast rainbow tulip fields with windmills in the background. Kinderdijk in the south may have some tulips by the windmills (again it was hard to get a straight forward answer on this), but for the most part it seemed to be windmills OR tulips not both in one location. We were not going to the south, so I chose Zaanse Schans – about a fifteen minute drive outside of Amsterdam. Before we left I had looked at taking the train and then walking, but we actually ended up taking a private car. I booked our airport pickup (usually the only private cars I take while traveling are to and from the airport to make life easier) through Transfeero. While chatting with our kind driver I had mentioned wanting to go out to the windmills and he said he could take us the next day. He offered us a great rate if we paid cash to him directly instead of through the company. He waited while we walked around which made the whole experience even better not having to deal with crowded busses and trekking from the train station.

Zaanse Schans is this incredible Disneyland-esque neighborhood in Zaandam. It is definitely a tourist attraction so be prepared for crowds and souvenir shops, but I thought it was very charming and fun to walk around. For the landscape alone, I was in awe of the lush green fields, fresh lilac and small waterways connected by arched bridges leading to wooden houses. You can go inside the windmills to see how they are constructed and take in stunning views from the top. No detail is spared and it made for a wonderful two hours outside of the city.

One thing I wish I knew before visiting The Netherlands is the fact that you seem to need a reservation everywhere. On most trips if there is a restaurant I am dying to try I make reservation, but otherwise I kind of don’t like the day to revolve around a meal time and prefer it to free flow a bit more, however we found out very quickly that it is better to have places set up in advance to avoid wandering around and eventually settling on not so great meals. We did arrive on a Saturday, so weekend crowds were in full force, but it felt like every place we went to even with no other patrons asked if we had a reservation.

Eat: There is no shortage of fantastic restaurants in this city. There are so many small cozy options that reminded me of the West Village in NYC which made dining even more enjoyable.
Restaurant de Struisvogel, Café De Klepel, Pulitzer Terrace, Casa Di David, Mortimer (for breakfast), Hartje Oost, Café de Sluyswacht, Greenwoods, Café ‘t Smalle, Toki (for coffee), De Kas (outside of the city), Vuurtoreneiland (on a small island outside of the city we sadly couldn’t get a reservation for)

Drink: I love a mix of authentic local bars and pretty hotel bars. I find this to be a great way to scope out other hotels and relax in a pretty setting that is often not as crowded.
Ambassade Hotel, Lion Noir, Secret Garden (has food too), Flying Ductchman (definitely need a reservation even though it is a bar), Cafe Gollem Raamsteeg, Mulligan’s, The Dylan, The Hoxton, Café de Jaren (out on the terrace)

Shop: De Weldaad, Casa Gitane, Dille & Kamille, Kramer Kunst & Antiek, Van Dijk en Ko, Wildschut Antiques, Rika Studios

  1. Lindsay says:

    I enjoyed reading this post so much! My husband and I visited paris last year for the first time and we loved it so much that I’ve been trying to decide if we just go back or if we try another European city to visit. Your writing + photos really inspired me to try something new and now I think Amsterdam is next on the list. Thank you for your beautifully curated post. ❤️

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