Best tips for a weekend trip to Amsterdam

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Since our daughter studies in Amsterdam we visit regularly, and so we get to know many great places to visit, sleep, eat and drink. Amsterdam is the capital of a country but has the feel of a cosy provincial city, not unlike Bruges, our hometown. On the other hand, since it is the capital of The Netherlands it is a lot larger than it looks, with many hip and exciting places waiting to be discovered. It boasts a few really great museums, and there is always something going on the cultural side. The many canals and parks create an airy feel, and with the seaside not far away, there is always a breeze, which in winter can turn into a cold wind. Bike is king here, so it is a perfect place to discover cycling, but also on foot and even by boat. The ferry services to the other side of the River IJ are free of charge, and there is always a lot going on the North side of the river.

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We visited Amsterdam for the first time in October 2011, and I remember being pleasantly surprised by this city often only known for its “coffee” shops. (where they sell marihuana legally) There was so much more to see and do, that it was easy not to even notice these rumoured places.

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We stayed in the Mercure Hotel Amsterdam Centre Canal District, a boutique hotel, located in the centre of the city close to the Prinsengracht, one of the famous streets along the central ring of canals. The hotel, which is converted from nineteen weaver’s houses built in the 17th century, was built in 1967 by the famous American author of travel guides, Mr. Arthur Frommer. The hotel is located in the city centre. Dam Square, the Royal Palace, the Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank museum are all within walking distance of the hotel. The rooms are beautifully decorated and spacious, and the hotel boasts a beautiful lobby. The price for a room is very reasonable for the centre of Amsterdam (around 113 euro per night for a standard double room)

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One of the places we did not want to miss on this first visit was the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh in the Van Gogh Museum. On exhibition in the permanent collection you can see: Sunflowers, The sower, Self Portrait, Irises, Wheatfield and for me his most beautiful work on exhibit in Amsterdam: Almond Blossoms. But I still prefer his works on view in the Musée D’orsay in Paris: Thatched Cottages at Cordeville and Starry Night. When we visited the museum in 2011  the museum still had to undergo large renovation works. Today these works are finished and I am sure the museum is even more interesting now, especially the double exhibition with works of Munch which are on show in 2015 (and ends on January 16, 2016). Since September 2015 the museum also boasts a beautiful large glass entrance hall that will help welcome the usually large number of visitors. I advise booking your tickets online to avoid the long queues. Also in 2011 we booked our tickets online and triumphantly walked past the huge line of visitors waiting outside the Van Gogh museum. We did not get our tickets for the Anne Frank museum online at that time, and confronted with a huge line there did not visit the Anne Frank house on our first trip.

Bagels and Beans” (Keizersgracht 504) was something of a novelty in 2011 and we had lunch there. Now you find them all over the place and Bagels are nothing new anymore, except maybe in Bruges. But it is still a reliable place for a good bagel sandwich.

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Our first visit was a short one, but one that asked for a second visit. It took us 4 years until 2015 to visit Amsterdam again when our daughter did auditions for the Theatre school in Amsterdam.

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Being early, we had a drink first at the café “Lokaal ’t Loosje” on the Nieuwmarkt. It is a very cosy place with reasonable prices, and very good coffee. We ordered a traditional applecake to share, and my husband took a soup, all very good. The lunch menu also looked very appealing.

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On the same day we also walked into the literary cafe “De Engelbewaarder“, close to the Theatre school, at the Kloveniersburgwal. It is a perfect place for a drink and a chat, or to work a bit on your laptop, although some tables are ‘laptop free’ on certain hours.

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The first round of the auditions took place in the first week of January, and would only take 20 minutes, so we decided to take this opportunity to visit the Anne Frank museum afterwards. We did not book tickets online, since we consider January to be low season. There was a small queue outside the museum, but it took us only about 5 minutes to get in. It was rather quiet in the museum, what made for a very pleasant visit. If you can choose, try to visit this place on a slow moment since the museum is quite small ( it is only the size of a small town house), and crowds very quickly. Our visit also felt very symbolic, since we visited it on January 7th, 2015, the day Charlie Hebdo was hit by a terrorist attack in Paris.

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The next round of auditions would take longer so we visited the Rijksmuseum this time while waiting for our daughter. As a national institute, the Rijksmuseum offers a representative overview of Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages onwards, and of major aspects of European and Asian art. There was a temporary exhibition of the Late Rembrandt from February 12 to May 17, 2015. It was a one time large overview of the later works of Rembrandt van Rijn, with more than 100 works from top musea and private collection from all over the world.

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The third round of auditions took half a day, so we decided to visit the Royal Palace on the Dam. The Royal Palace in Amsterdam is one of three Palaces used by the Dutch Monarch, notably for State Visits, Award Ceremonies, New Years Receptions and other official functions. The building plays a role in royal marriages and in the abdication and investiture of the Monarch.

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When the Palace is not in use by the Royal House, the Amsterdam Royal Palace Foundation opens the building to the public (since 1979). In the beautiful former Citizens’ Hall, you see six of the eight original chandeliers measuring three metres in height with a diameter of almost two metres, made of iron, tin and crystal. In the same hall you find in the middle of the floor, a depiction of a star chart of the Northern Hemisphere. This star chart, with a diameter of around six metres, is flanked by two maps of the world, showing the Eastern and Western Hemispheres respectively. The star chart is an original feature of the hall and dates back to 1649.

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We had some time left and walked to the river and crossed the bridge to the other side. We went into the public library of Amsterdam. Occupying a staggering 28,000 m2 – Amsterdam boasts Europe’s largest public library. It opened in July 2007, stands as a modern architectural gem on the Oosterdokseiland, just a five-minute walk east of Central Station. The library was conceived by Jo Coenen, the former state architect of the Netherlands, and is spread over seven floors in a cutting-edge ecological design. A perfect place to take refuge on a cold windy day, and if the weather is nice, you have a beautiful view overlooking the city from the outdoor terrace of the restaurant .

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After the fourth and last audition day, we had some time to spare and since the weather was really nice, decided to to visit the area of 19th century “De Pijp“, the Quartier Latin of Amsterdam. It is filled with exotic stores, cozy bars and restaurants, giving for a very lively atmosphere, and in the middle you have the lively Albert Cuyp market, filled with stalls selling cheap goods.

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We had our lunch here at the Bazar, a large former church, filled with colourful tables, with Middle-Eastern and Asian decorations, and mostly dishes from the Middle-East and North-Africa on the menu, all priced very reasonably and all very tasty.

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On our first visit in summer when our daughter already lived in Amsterdam, we looked for a nice spot to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon and found it at “Hannekes Boom“, a wonderful hippie style bar where you can eat and drink, looking out over the river, at the passing boats. Boats can moor at the bar, to have a drink. We had a salad and a panini with a drink and let the sunny afternoon pass talking about my daughters exciting new life in this wonderful city. Perfect for a Sunday!

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Our daughter now lives almost six months in the capital of the Netherlands, time for another visit. This time we will stay one night and combine it with a nature walk somewhere around Amsterdam on Sunday. We booked a night at the “Volkshotel“, a hotel in the former newspaper headquarters of the National newspaper “The Volkskrant”.

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The hotel is located in the upcoming Amsterdam East, near the Amstel river, the lively neighbourhood ‘De Pijp’ and the market on Waterloo Square. The hotel has 172 hotel rooms, ranging from cosy hideouts to huge hangouts. Stay in a bed with a view or in one of the nine special rooms. They used raw materials of wood, glass, concrete, always with a hint of history. There is always something going on in the hotel, there is a club where they throw parties on Fridays and Saturdays, a restaurant, a bathing area, and often there are exhibitions or other events. The rooms are really well designed, light, with great use of space. The bed is very comfortable, and you can read parts of an old newspaper while taking a shower.

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On the ground floor is a very lively bar, on Saturday evening a dj plays live, and there is a restaurant and bar/club on the 7th floor. One little warning, the hotel attracts a very young crowd, and can therefore be noisy. Our neighbours where using their room as a meeting place for their friends up until the wee hours. Best take ear plugs with you!

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You can take breakfast for 10 euro per person at the hotel, but there are some alternatives a bit further up in the same street: Stek and Knoert, two places that serve breakfast. There is a parking at the hotel but it is quite expensive, we only parked two hours but were charged 17,5 euro ( the rate for a day)! About 500 metres away there is a underground parking: Q Parking Centrum Oost, where we only paid 10 euro for the night.  (you pay max. 10 euro per day)

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On Saturday we visited the Open Day organised by the school of theatre and arts of Amsterdam, where our daughter is now a student. Time to get an idea of the vibe and atmosphere of the school and see what is going on.

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We had made a dinner reservation at restaurant De Plantage, close to the Artiszoo, (Plantage Kerklaan 36), a restaurant in a large conservatoire. The restaurant was completely packed, so making reservations seems advisable. The building is beautiful, there is a tree in the middle of the restaurant, and although the restaurant is quite big, the atmosphere is still very cosy.

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The food is of very good quality, and reasonably priced. Around 18 euro for the main course, 6-7 euro for the dessert. Wine per glass around 3,5 euro. We really enjoyed the dinner. We went by car and parked nearby, a parking ticket costs 4 euro per hour, (you need a parking ticket until midnight, and we saw a parking controller at 10 PM in the freezing cold writing parking tickets!).

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Since we had to visit our daughter who lives in the West of Amsterdam, we chose “The Breakfast Club” to have our Sunday brunch. The place was packed and some people were already waiting for a table, but since there was little alternative immediately in sight we decided to wait. After about 10 minutes we could sit down.

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While waiting we had studied the menu, and the plates of people already eating around us. Our eyes fell on the fantastically looking pancakes, which were obviously a popular choice. Our daughter fell for the pancakes with a fresh mint tea, while we went for muesli and oatmeal as a healthy choice with a cappuccino. If we would still be hungry we would share a plate of pancakes. All three choices came with delicious fresh fruits: banana, strawberries and raspberries. None of us was still hungry, so we took a second cup of coffee to finish up our conversation. You cannot make reservations at “The Breakfast Club”, but it is certainly worth its while, so just give it a try!

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We drove to Zandvoort to make a walk at the Waterleidingduinen, a 30 minute drive away from Amsterdam. These sand dunes, where you can make nature walks, cover an area of 3400 ha, 5 kilometres wide and 10 kilometres long, between Zandvoort and Noordwijk. This area  purifies 2/3 of the drinking water for Amsterdam since 1853. You can follow the indicated and often paved paths but it is allowed to stray from the paths. You are likely to see deer, and the likes of Bambi. Well honestly, you will see deer, the place is packed with them, and since nobody is allowed to hunt them, they are not scared of humans at all. There are places where you can also spot foxes. Important; do not feed any of the animals! There are four entrance points, where you can park your car, from where you can follow several walking trails. (bikers and dogs are not allowed) Everyone has to pay the entrance fee; 1,5 euro per day per person, and parking your car costs 2 euro.

Walking made us hungry, so we drove into Zandvoort and and ate a pancake with view over the sea at “De Lachende Zeerover“. We had a harty pancake with leek, mushrooms, ham and cheese (11 euro). Enough to fill our hungry stomachs.

 Looking for a place to have lunch close to the School of Theatre and Arts in Amsterdam, in combination with maybe a museum, my eye fell on The Hermitage on google maps. It is on the border of the river Amstel, very central and one of the most beautiful spots in town. Only a few minutes away on foot, we had never visited this museum. The building in which the Hermitage Amsterdam is currently housed was for 324 years a home for the elderly. Since June 2009 the site has been home to Hermitage Amsterdam.The Hermitage in Amsterdam shows art from the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Café restaurant Neva in the east side wing of the Hermitage, offers a daily Chef’s lunch for 25 euro, that includes a first course, a main course and coffee or tea with sweets. For both courses you can choose between three dishes of which one is vegetarian. The restaurant is housed above the ticket room and offers splendid views of the garden. It is possible to book a table in advance online for the lunch. The dishes are really good and beautifully served, and you cannot beat the quality for this price and location. The service is extremely friendly, a real find!

Our last trip to Amsterdam was to visit my daughter’s new student room. It took quite some time and perseverance, but we found a room in time before the lease of the first room expired. And she found a room in the ‘Rivierenbuurt’, in the Pijp, one of the most vibrant areas of the city. We had lunch in a Belgian place “Pain Quotidien”, where they serve the same excellent quality as in Belgium.

After viewing the room, we decided to visit the newcomer on the Museumplein. ‘Moco Museum‘, Modern Contemporary Museum is located in a villa, in the heart of the city. The villa is designed in 1904 by Pierre Cuypers, who also designed Amsterdam Central station and the Rijksmuseum. There runs a double exhibition at the moment: Banksy meets Warhol. The Banksy exhibition show his indoor art, and some outdoor pieces rescued from the rubble of buildings that were torn down. The Warhol exhibition shows mainly his Celebrities and Royals prints. Where Warhol was at the front of Popular art, Banksy for sure found inspiration in Warhol’s work. They both focus on popular and street art, depicting consumer products, blurring the lines between the worlds of popular art and high end art and humouring the elite. The museum is quite small, and I fear that if it becomes more popular, visiting might become uncomfortable when too crowded. For now I can highly recommend the small museum.

On the way back to our car we took a drink at ‘Café Binnen Buiten’, where we sat outside on the terrace. It is a no nonsense pub good for a drink or for a bite.

We then headed to restaurant ‘Helder’ where we had booked a table for dinner. The restaurant is a bit out of the way, but if you visit the very special old burial place ‘Huis te Vraag’ in the South of Amsterdam, this restaurant is just around the corner. It has a great terrace. The food is good for a very fair price. Contrary to what they write on the tourist site of Amsterdam, the burial place ‘Huis te Vraag’ is now only open from Tuesday to Friday from 11 AM to 5 PM.

We slept in the ‘Mercure Hotel Amsterdam City South‘, a basic but very comfortable, mainly business hotel in Amsterdam South. It is good when you come to Amsterdam by car, although the parking space from the hotel costs you 24 euro for 24 hours. But then again, parking is expensive everywhere in Amsterdam. The ground floor has an attractive bar and restaurant. We where lucky and found a parking space on the street in front of the hotel, where you do not have to pay on Saturday evenings and Sunday.

The next morning, after picking upour daughter up in West, we drove to Amsterdam South (close the Vondelpark), for breakfast at ‘Anne & Max‘. None of the breakfast restaurants in Amsterdam lets you make a reservation in the weekend, so you always have to hope you are lucky enough to find a free table. And we were lucky again, with a table in the sunshine on the terrace. We took a ‘sweet breakfast’ (scone, croissant, jam and clotted cream and yoghurt with muesli and fresh fruit), and a ‘good start breakfast’ ( egg cocotte with salmon or bacon, tomato salad, guacomole and toast), with a drink. All really yummy for the price!

 

And again we visited Amsterdam to inaugurate my daughters new student room, located in the area ‘The Pijp’ one of the hippest places of Amsterdam. It is full of quirky little bars and restaurants, is famous for its Albert Cuyp market, and is close to the centre. She already looks forward to her life here. We had arrived a bit late but hadn’t had lunch yet, so at 3 PM we set out for a bite. There are several little restaurants around the Cornelis Troost square, so we would for sure find a table in one of them. We had to choose between Brouwerij Troost ( a local brewery), café Gambrinus and restaurant Volt. It was the cosy terrace with wooden tables and benches that drew us towards Volt. And once we saw the lunch menu, which they only serve on Saturdays and Sundays, we didn’t hesitate. They offer a great choice of healthy often organic salads, sandwiches and burgers. We took the days soup, and each a sandwich, served on dark rye bread. Perfect for our late lunch. We did not wish to eat too much, because still wanted to have dinner before the three hour drive back home.

For dinner we headed towards Lokaal De Pijp. They focus on local beers and local meat for their dishes. So prepare for a burger, a steak or spareribs and a special beer. If you cannot choose, take a meat dish and not the salad. Meat is what they do better. The host is very sympathetic and outgoing. So the atmosphere is very warm. The weather allowed us to sit on the terrace. Next time we will surely try Brouwerij Troost, Café Gambrinus and Omelegg for breakfast. Reviews still to come!

We keep discovering new places, and because we had skipped “Brouwerij Troost” on a previous visit, we decided to try it out now. The beers are brewed on location, and from the bar-restaurant, located in an former cloister, you can see the brewing tanks through the glass windows. The menu is mainly made up of hamburgers, the very yummy kind of hamburgers, which team very well with the beer. There is choice between different kinds of beers, so you always find something to your taste, and they are not too expensive for speciality beers.

We had booked a theatre performance on location during the yearly Theatre Festival in Amsterdam. But before watching “Helpdesk” by theatre company Wunderbaum, we wanted to eat a bite. The location for the theatre was Atrium-Zuidas, close to the station Amsterdam Zuid. The area is filled with office buildings and not too many places to eat or drink. The people welcoming us for the theatre performance advised us to go to Wagamama, a Japanese restaurant 50 metres away. The restaurant also has branches in Belgium, but I had never heard of it. Their  slogan is “From bowl to soul”, and they serve a lot of noodle soups (ramen), but also wok dishes, teppanyaki, curries and salads. You can eat in or take out. They have a lot of fresh juices, and they all taste really healthy, but it is not very cheap. But then again, I really enjoyed the meal. They also have branches on Leidseplein, on Rembrandtplein and in the Central station of Amsterdam.

This time we visited Amsterdam in the middle of winter. We arrived at noon and went for brunch at Coffee & Coconuts, in the middle of the Pijp. Take a look at the façade of the building built in 1921 before going in. CT Amsterdam, Coffee & Coconuts opened in a former cinema theatre, the Ceintuur Theater, and boasts a beautiful restored art-deco front. Inside the place is large and open, and you can see right up to the 12 m high ceiling. Do not forget to take a look at the stained glass windows.

It is not only a beautiful but also a very popular place to have coffee, breakfast, brunch or lunch. Since it is so big, you might have to wait for a seat, but never too long because there is a quick turnover. We were lucky and immediately got seated,  even though it was a Sunday. The service is great and the food really tasty and healthy! Great experience.

Since the weather was cold but very sunny, we went for the Hortus Botanical gardens close to the Artis zoo. We had never been here before, and with the cold but sunny weather we wanted to enjoy the fresh air and be able to go inside the greenhouses to warm up if it became too cold. The botanical gardens are nice, but a lot smaller than we had expected. There are several greenhouses, one with tropical gardens and forests, one with palm trees, many of them extinct, and a really nice one with butterflies.

We rounded of with a coffee and a pastry in the orangery café.

Back in the Pijp, we walked over to the Sarphatipark, and were impressed with the beautiful (expensive) big houses around the park. We walked in to Little Collins, a hip little restaurant owned by Australians, with Australian influenced tasty dishes you can share. We had red beets with goats cheese, chick peas with pumpkin and feta, duck and pork belly salad, lamb shank and maple roasted pork. We ordered five dishes for the three of us, which was in fact one too many. But we did not complain because each dish tasted fabulous and was made using great ingredients. The atmosphere is very easy going and feels more like a bar than a restaurant, great for a relaxed night out with friends!

Last week I visited the smallest theatre in Amsterdam: ‘Torpedo Theatre‘. It is a place that gives opportunities and a (small) stage to upcoming talent in Amsterdam. It is a very cosy, intimate and open-minded place. I wanted to see my daughter perform here for the first time, and because it was an evening performance, I booked a room last minute.

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I tried to stay in the vicinity of the train station, the old city centre and the theatre school, and ended up at ‘Pension Homeland‘. It is a hotel on the border of the IJ, the waterway North of Amsterdam. On the map it looked as if all the places I wanted to visit were within walking distance. When I walked from the station to the hotel I realized that distances are large in Amsterdam. It took me a good half an hour to walk to my hotel. So on arrival I decided that renting a bike would be the most convenient way to get around.

It is one advice I can give everyone staying in Amsterdam, act and feel like a local and rent a bike! Even if Amsterdam looks cosy, it is a big place. There is a good public transport system but it is also expensive.

The hotel used to be an old marine-base with quarters for the officers. The rooms are huts and decorated in a vintage fifties style with marine influences. The hotel has three floors, and there is a lift which moves very slowly. If you room is on the top floor (as mine was) the lift is more than welcome. The single room I booked was small, but very convenient. It had everything one needed; tv, wardrobe, chair and desk, a safe, a very clean bathroom with shower, free wifi and most importantly; a very comfortable bed!! I slept so very well.

On every floor there is a seating area in the hall where you can take coffee or tea at your convenience. A hair dryer is available at the front desk. I had a rate that included breakfast. It was not a buffet but an individual breakfast served at your candlelit table, with view over the harbour. It included freshly made cappuccino (or any other kind of coffee or tea), fresh orange juice, a boiled egg, yoghurt, muesli, fresh fruit salad, a croissant, toast, butter, jam and cheese. Perfect start of the day. They also serve food during the day, lunch and dinner. Inside the restaurant has a fireplace, there is a bar next door and they  have a great outdoor terrace where you can enjoy sunny weather at the waterfront.

The tourist tax is not included in the room rate and is 5 % of the accommodation rate, breakfast not included. My room rate was 95 euro, so I had to pay 4,7 euro tourist tax on top. The room rate with breakfast was 109,5 euro for a single room. The price for a double room is about the same, around 100 euro per room, a good deal for two.

The bikes they rent out are of a very high standard (constructed by VanMoof Amsterdam). I really loved riding this bike! Amsterdam is heaven for bikers. Every street has wide bike paths complete with their own signalisation. Here bikes rule over any other form of transportation, even pedestrians.

One thought on “Best tips for a weekend trip to Amsterdam

  1. Pingback: De start van de opleiding theater en kleinkunst in Amsterdam – ATKA | mychefmaison

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