We are full fledged, no shame summer lovers. Snow and cold weather seem like unnecessary evils that keep us indoors and are a constant inconvenience, but… then there’s Europe. There is something magical about Europe in the winter. The summer crowds are gone and you feel like a local walking through Christmas decorations in quaint markets. Amsterdam is a perfect city to ring in the new year!
After a layover in Düsseldorf we arrived to the Amsterdam Central Station and walked by the water to our humble abode, the Noorderzon. It is a boat in the middle of a large canal and while it was tight quarters it was a really cool place to stay! We were centrally located and walked most everywhere.
Shopping and Wandering
Some of the best parts of our trip were spent wandering the streets and canals of this idyllic city! Areas you don’t want to miss are Leidseplein, Rembrandt Square, and Dam Square. Also, check out some flea markets in De Pijp to get some second hand garb or cheesy trinkets, but caution they are not hagglers. One man became very angry with Grant when he tried to bargain over an 80’s ski suit! We found the prices to be non-negotiable.
Even in the winter you can pick up some famous dutch tulip bulbs. The flower markets were delightful and we would love to go back in the spring and visit the famous flower fields.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ is a trendy brewery located in a windmill building. We love craft beer (basic, I know) so we had to give it a try! They had some delish IPAs and a great atmosphere. If you tire of Heineken, stop in for a cold one.
We met up with one of our friends who was visiting from Paris at Gollems Proeflokaal for drinks and appetizers. They had yummy local brews and a delish charcuterie board! We also ordered the bitterballen which are kind of like meat-filled hushpuppies, interesting but flavorful.
Amsterdam Light Festival
Since it was the holiday season, the city was decorated with lights and had a light tour accessible by foot or boat. The boat tours were pricey so we decided to check it out on our own. It was okay, definitely not the best holiday light display. The exhibits were spread out across the city and there wasn’t clear signage, so it didn’t really have a “wow” factor. The boat tour was probably better but the self-guided “walking tour” was free and still fun!
We go wine tasting often but had never been to a cheese tasting, so I was so excited when we found this one! Their storefront is very small and is a small gift shop selling various cheeses. The tasting is held downstairs and there were about 15 people participating. It started with a brief presentation on how the cheese is made, then we got to taste several delicious cheeses accompanied by wine pairings. They gave us a sheet to write comments and rate the cheeses. We even got a tasting certificate that says we are experts in cheese tasting!
We fell in love with Dutch pancakes on our trip! You must try them. They are nothing like American pancakes. They are very thin and have toppings, similar to crepes. The ham and cheese pancake paired with an americano is the perfect breakfast meal! Side note: We ordered americanos at several different cafes and restaurants in Amsterdam and they were all amazing, best in the world so far!
I was OBSESSED with Anne Frank’s story as a young girl and I was thrilled to visit the secret annex. The line is long, I mean super loooooong. We waited about 4 hours outside in the freezing cold but it was so worth it! Insider Tip: Apparently they have online tickets you can purchase in advance but they sell out quick. You start in the main house area which leads to the bookcase. You’re not supposed to take photos but I snuck one of the infamous bookcase – pseudo door. (Don’t judge, we all have the Sistine Chapel ceiling in our camera roll, right?)
You then walk up very steep steps to the secret annex. The museum did such a fabulous job capturing Anne’s story by not tampering with authentic parts of the house while gracefully intertwining modern technology. Walking around the annex was awe-inspiring yet a little creepy. We stood in the same spot as Anne, where her mom used to measure her height on the wall…talk about chill bumps! Overall, the tour was remarkable and reminds us to never forget about the lives impacted by this horrific event.
While we were bored to tears in line for the Anne Frank House we got sold on a 2 for 1 combo tour. We saved money by booking the Heineken Experience and the Canal Boat Tour together. We went to the Heineken Experience right after the Anne Frank House and after being on our feet all day we were looking forward to chill out with a brewery tour and tasting. The Heineken “Experience” was definitely just that. It was more like an interactive museum than a typical brewery tour; including a 4D ride, EDM blaring Heineken commercials, and a lesson on hops. There was lots of line waiting here as well. The long tour ends with some Heineken tastings which was nice but we may have enjoyed it more if we had a little more energy.
Canal Boat Tour
We thought the canal boat tour would be cheesy but it was great! It was a fun way to see the entire city and we did a hop on, hop off option so it was an informative and easy way to get around for the day, definitely better than a cab!
Museumplein is a big grassy area in between the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Iamsterdam sign. When we visited it was decorated for Christmas and was beautiful. They even had an iceskating rink! It is a very lovely space, especially at dusk. Definitely check it out!
We visited Amsterdam in winter 2015, right after the November Paris attacks so we were a little more cautious and on edge than usual. Sure enough, Amsterdam on New Year’s Eve was complete chaos! (in good and bad ways) We went to Dam Square which is where the fireworks shoot off. The tradition is that everyone shoots off sketchy home job fireworks too! The locals thought it was NBD and had babies in strollers and were drinking hot cocoa while anxiety inducing bottle rockets were launching in every direction! There were also a few ambulances from kitty whistlers gone astray. Don’t let this deter you from visiting on New Years, just be prepared to get in the mix and have a little fun!
The Taboo Side
And then there’s the Amsterdam you’ve heard of… While there is the red light district and several cannabis coffee shops, it was not as seedy as I expected. The red light district is actually in a nicer area right in the mix of things. But be aware there were definitely XXX stores and scantily-clad ladies in the windows. As far as the “coffee shops” they are just a part of everyday life in the Netherlands and look like little pubs mixed with a dispensary.
Our Amsterdam travel map
Know Before You Go
So I was completely perplexed by the Holland, Dutch, Amsterdam, Netherlands thing. I did some research beforehand as not to insult anyone. Here is the breakdown, Amsterdam is the city, Netherlands is the country, Dutch is the language and refers to anyone from the Netherlands, and Holland is a region of the Netherlands (kind of like New England) Mind blown!
Don’t forget to smell the tulips,
Inspired Recipe: Quick and Easy Crepes from The Baker Upstairs
So I’ve never made a Dutch pancake, but I have a super simple, yummy crepe recipe! My favorite way to serve is one savory (spinach, mushroom, and goat cheese) and one sweet (nutella, strawberry, and banana) Enjoy!