48 Hours In: Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of the most distinctive cities in Europe. There’s an interesting energy here. The Dutch seem to be very content and happy in their own skin, which makes this city of tall crooked houses and curving canals an inspirational place to spend a weekend.
What to do
One of the best ways to see the city is either on foot or, like the locals do, by bike. Amsterdam is incredibly walkable and even more bike friendly. In fact, you often need to watch out as a pedestrian as bikes have the right of way in most places and can come whizzing speedily around corners. But it’s an organized kind of traffic chaos and gives this city its memorable character.
Thanks to the Dutch Golden Age, these dynamic streets are full of art galleries, museums, and a rich history of scientific, military and trade prowess too. See what the Dutch masters are so famous for at the Rijksmuseum, or visit the Van Gogh Museum, probably the Netherlands’ most famous artist. Another iconic place to dig into Amsterdam’s history is the Anne Frank House where she hid and wrote her diary, but be warned that the lines are always extremely long, snaking around adjacent buildings, so come prepared for a very lengthy wait.
But by far one of my favourite museums is much, much smaller. Head to the Houseboat Museum to get an authentic feel for what life is like on the water for the residents who call Amsterdam’s canals home. This tiny museum is a converted 1914 freighter where you can see all the inner workings of a real houseboat. What these houseboats lack in space they more than make up for in charm. But they’re certainly not cheap! You pay much more in home insurance for a home on the canal than a regular house, and don’t forget those mooring fees.
For contrast, check out one of the old tilting houses, restored to look exactly like they did in the 17th and 18th centuries. You’ll find Museum Willet-Holthuysen on the Herengracht and Museum Van Loon on the Keizersgracht (gracht means city canal), both spectacularly restored old houses with stunning architectural features, old paintings and period rooms as well as beautiful gardens.
What to eat
When all the walking starts making you hungry, poke your head inside The Pancake Bakery on Prinsengracht, one of the city’s best canal streets for wandering. If all the tables are full it’s worth a wait to try one of the nation’s favourite guilty pleasures: giant pizza-sized pannekoeken (pancakes) slathered in stroop (syrup) which gets ladled on with a giant spoon from a communal bowl in the middle of the table. Opt for traditional toppings like apple, spek (Dutch bacon), and Dutch cheese, or any of a huge list of other options. Come with a big appetite though, you’ll need it if you want any hope of finishing your pancake, trust me.
For something a bit smaller and more snackable, you’ll find bitterballen (deep fried balls coated in crunchy breadcrumbs, filled with a rich, creamy mixture of beef, butter and parsley) on the menu at many cafes and bars, ideal for accompanying your Amstel beer.
You’ll come to realize that Dutch cuisine is all about rich, hearty foods and sweet treats. Yum!
Where to stay
Depending on your budget, Amsterdam has a lot of range when it comes to accomodations. While staying in the heart of the city can get quite pricey, you can still find quaint little hostels and B&Bs at a reasonable price. For a local feel and to be situated among some of the most visually appealing canal streets, you’ll want to stay in the Jordaan neighbourhood. It’s less touristy than the centre of town but still walking distance to many of the spots mentioned in this article.
Amsterdam is a great city to visit year round. While in April you’ll see gardens in full bloom with tulips (and don’t forget the Tulip Festival, of course), in December there’s a magical Light Festival, and temperatures are cold but still amenable to wandering the pretty streets.
For more great itineraries in some of the world’s top cities check out our full 48 Hours In series.
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