After a solid night’s sleep, and some strong coffee to fight the jet lag (I made friends with the hotel’s cappuccino machine!), we started off on a full day of exploring the city!
We had an idea of what we wanted to see, but mostly set out with our bus passes, good appetites, the curiosity and desire to see everything we could, and plans to take in an evening canal boat ride. We walked about 9 miles during the day, and really enjoyed every step.
A few words of wisdom for those who set off to explore Amsterdam:
- As per our research, the weather really does change throughout the day… we started with a drizzly rainy, cloudy day, had some great periods of blue skies and perfect breeze, and ended with a cool and drizzly night. Definitely dress in layers, prepared to take it all on!
- Be aware of the bicycles! No kidding, there really are over 100,000 bikes in the city, and they definitely have the right of way. Both Rabbit and I had our near-misses, and we heard a few tourists yelp as they had theirs. The bike lanes are much more intimidating than the car lanes, with motorbikes and bicycles sharing the lanes and moving in many directions. Look in every direction before attempting to cross!
We knew that we wanted to at least see the Rembrandt and Van Gogh museums while we were in town, but the weather changed from rain to bright and sunny, so we snagged advance tickets for Van Gogh, and took advantage of the sunshine by walking the city.
Amsterdam is a very clean and beautiful city (other than the red-light district, perhaps), filled with friendly locals and tourists – most, if not all, of whom speak English- making it very enjoyable and easy to navigate and enjoy everything Amsterdam has to offer.
We passed through a canal-side street of market stalls selling tulips, souvenirs, and local wares, and a row of old shops, including the Amsterdam Cheese Store (a must stop!! try the coconut cheese – it is amazing!). It was at one market stand that we got to taste our first stroopwaffel… WOW! Freshly made thin, tender, cinnamon infused waffles brought together with a wonderfully gooey layer of caramel… one of my new favorite foods!
We strolled through an open market in a beautiful town square, and perused through a local bookstore – and a few other local shops, letting us get a real taste of the city. The buildings of the city are so beautiful and inviting- it was difficult to resist the temptation to walk into every building, take photos of every archway and facade, and explore every corner. It helped that there was an unexpected power outage in the city, which closed about half of the city’s shops and restaurants.
After our adventures we found a perfect spot for lunch, enjoying the outdoor deck of a cafe, overlooking a gorgeous view of a canals and an amazing row of crooked canal homes. The menu was full of delicious things to try, including the long-awaited bitterballen!
Bitterballen are deliciously bad-for-you, fried balls of diced meat (beef and/or veal), swimming in a rich, comfort-food worthy, delicious mac-and-cheese like roux. Served with coarse mustard, and REALLY hot inside, they are an incredibly decadent must-try Amsterdam bite. (…now my mouth is watering and I’m wondering how I can make them at home).
After enjoying the sights and tastes of our lunch, and attempting to warm up under the cozy fleece blankets on the patio, we set off to explore again, this time headed towards the Rembrandt museum. The museum, which is housed within Rembrandt’s actual home, includes rooms of artifacts the artist and his students, pieces of his original furniture and belongings, and a chance to interact with his studio. Moving through the space alongside the audio tour provided a great chance to learn some history, enjoy the surroundings and be immersed into the artists’ home.
Next, we headed back towards the Centraal Station, and the ticket counters for the canal boat tours. Due to the research I did in advance, and their prime location, we decided to go with Stromma tours. As luck would have it, the rain started to drizzle as the sun was setting, and our (dry, warm, enclosed) boat pulled away from the dock! The tour guide provided a great narrative of the city’s history and descriptions of the buildings, as we coasted through the waters, taking in the beautiful city illuminated by the white lights on the canal’s bridges, and streetlights. It was a perfect, romantic, relaxing way to finish our day’s tour of Amsterdam.
After grabbing some dinner at one of the Argentinian steakhouses in town, we headed back to the hotel to relax and prepare for our day-trip to Brussels – coming on day 2!