We spent a lovely relaxing week in Amsterdam, what a brilliant city. I know a fair few people who have visited and when I asked advice of places to go, yes it was the usual touristy places, but there were a few gems that I wasn’t told about that I feel everyone needs to know about and go to. So here’s how my week in Amsterdam went and the first list of some cool places in the Old Town to check out.
We travelled direct from London St Pancras to Amsterdam via Eurostar so more time sleeping and less time changing trains. I think this is a new route and on the way there it was direct, whilst on the way back we had to change at Brussels but this was relatively pain free. The Eurostar was perfectly pleasant with plenty of luggage space. We arrived four hours later into Amsterdam station, which is huge with plenty of shops and a row of restaurants inside.
As we walked towards the centre we noticed there were trees almost everywhere. Cyclists are also everywhere and whiz past you so closely; they look so calm and poised, even when running red lights. I found as the trip went on how difficult it was to see the difference between the roads, cycle lanes, and pavements, so I almost got cycled over or ran over a fair few times. The panic of road-crossing is almost worth it to see the beautiful canals and stunning tulips. Tulips – everywhere. And I am so grateful for this – all the colours, and oh so bright.
We walked around and happened upon a market square called Nieuwmarkt, where the dominating de Waag is right in the centre. This was originally a city gate and is now one of the oldest non religious buildings in Amsterdam. The building is now a restaurant boasting of 300 candles inside, and from the outside it looked so grand. We didn’t go in to eat but it sure looked very popular.
2. China Town
West of here we entered Amsterdam’s China Town, though perhaps not the best named, as there were many Thai, Malaysian, and Indonesian places too. There were so many restaurants and shops, but the main attraction is without a doubt the Buddhist temple known as Fo Guang Shan He Hua. Right in the middle of the hustle and bustle, yet this particular part was surprisingly tranquil. The temple is free to visit but we arrived just as it was closing (5pm) so didn’t manage to see inside.
3. Oude Kerk (Old Church)
A little further west is the red light district, where the Oude Kerk (Old Church) was right in the centre, which I found quite jarring as there were the expected sex workers just feet away from the church. The building was quite grand looking, so I was surprised to find it was a protestant church. There were quite a few tours focusing on the church and this area and is only €10 per person to enter.
4. Red Light District
We walked around this area in both day and night time, surprised to find a couple of sex workers standing around at 10am in the morning, whilst evenings here the atmosphere is not too different from evenings in London’s Soho. The cobbled streets can be a little narrow so I must admit I thought I was just walking past clothes stores with mannequins, only to be startled as they moved suddenly and figured out clothes were not for sale here.
5. De Ton Ton Club
Only a few yards away from the Oude Kerk was the Ton Ton club – this was a gem. No one had told us about this place, or were probably even aware of its existence, but a couple of websites pinned this down as an ideal place to kill an hour. We spent several hours here. Essentially an arcade and bar; there was air hockey, driving simulators, motorcycling simulators, beat ’em up games, shooting games, and pac man. Best of all: they had pinball, several pinball machines. They had beer too, I guess, and for those who didn’t want to stand up to play there were board games and jenga too on the tables. Basically, a fun time was had by all who entered this gem, and I wish there was one (or five) in London so I could flex my pinball hands.
6. Dam Square
West of here is the Dam Square, which is in the centre of Amsterdam and reminded me of London’s Piccadilly Circus with all the hustle and bustle. You know you’re here when you see the tall National Memorial statue, built to commemorate World War 2. On the square is also Madame Tussauds and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and the shopping streets are really close by too.
The Royal Palace is also on the Dam Square. This was originally a town hall and was turned into a palace by Napoleon’s brother. I wasn’t aware that you could visit the palace so can’t comment on the interior, but you can see from the outside why it was such a great building to turn into a palace.
7. Amsterdam Museum
South of the Dam Square is the Amsterdam Museum, a small yet informative museum charting the history of Amsterdam. Quite similar to the Museum of London, but much smaller, I suppose due to the shorter history (Amsterdam didn’t form until the 1200s) or because there wasn’t as much detail (more of a broad brush). There is a gallery as well that you can just pass through, and I must admit the tour’s listening device was one of the highlights: you just point it at information points like a remote control and it starts playing.
The museum was previously an orphanage, and there is a dining room with paintings on the ceiling that reminded me of the Banqueting Hall in London. The courtyards outside are lovely too and the staff here are very friendly. It took less than two hours to wander around and see everything, so for €15 per person it wasn’t too bad (the cool multimedia device is included in the price).
8. Begijnhof Park
Right by the Amsterdam Museum is Begijnhof Park, a quiet courtyard that was originally a sanctuary to nuns and is now an almshouse. There is a cute little gift shop inside and a church, which was closed to visitors when we were passing through so didn’t manage to see inside. This is so peaceful and quiet and it is amazing that people are lucky enough to live and work here. The roofs of the buildings are what you expect to see in Amsterdam and some of the intricacies are beautiful. Be mindful to be quiet and respectful when visiting here though, not only presently as people currently live and work here, but it’s always nice to be respectful of the past.
Near the north exit of this lovely courtyard was a Waterstones, where we popped in and were pleasantly surprised to find that British food is sold here with its own cute little nook. Not exactly on your list of attractions, but how unexpected and interesting. You can’t see in the picture below but jars of pickles were displayed and sold too. The other items, a bit more understandably, I would agree are quintessentially British. Pickles, though, I have no idea why.
South of the Amsterdam Museum and Begijnhof Park is the Bloenmenmarkt (Flower Market), the world’s only floating flower market. Though, I must admit, I didn’t know it was the flower market till we had almost walked past it all. Most stores just had bulbs, others had wooden flowers, and only a few actually had fully bloomed flowers – most of which had tulips, naturally, but a couple stores did have other flowers. Essentially more of a seed market, or bulb market, this was not a flower market like I would expect from the UK. Maybe it was the time of year we went, we expected to see more blooming flowers, but if you’re after seeds or bulbs to grow your own tulips then you can definitely find these here. For those few stores that did have blooming flowers, they were indeed very beautiful.
10. Canal cruise
We wanted to experience Amsterdam from the canals, so thought a canal cruise would be great, add in some food and that’s two birds with one stone. We opted for the Lovers Cruise Canal with tour and food, which was advertised in most places, but it turned out to be a tourist trap. Being a large boat it didn’t go down the smaller canals, the food was ok but much smaller than anticipated considering the price, the captain was nice and the tour guide was funny but we were expecting more for the price. It didn’t help that it rained, which might not have been an issue for a hop on/ hop off canal cruise that allowed more flexibility. I did manage to take a fair few photos and they did take us along some notable areas, for instance to see the seven canal bridges, but we were seated on the other side of the boat so didn’t get to take a picture of that attraction. I would say if you wanted a more informative canal cruise tour there are others out there that aren’t tourist traps.
The list continues on the second part of my ramblings: part 2.