Claire Lewis from Jersey tells us about her weekend break in Amsterdam, and suggests a quick stop itinerary to pack it all in!
Kick off your whirlwind tour of Amsterdam with breakfast at Koffiehuis “De Hoek” on the corner of Reestraat and Prinsengracht in the Canal District. This cosy coffee shop is just the ticket to set you up for a day of exploring, so tuck into a typical Dutch pancake or open-faced sandwich and wash it all down with a cup of strong coffee.
10am: Canal Houses and Museums
From here, you’ll be well placed to visit a number of Amsterdam’s best Canal District museums. The obvious place to start is the Anne Frank House (Huis), which lies four minutes north on the same street. The world famous museum documents the life and times of the Jewish teenager, who with her family and others went into hiding from the Nazis during the second world war. Here you can visit the undercover annexe where Anne wrote her diary, and view objects and documents belonging to the people in hiding, including the bookcase which concealed the annexe’s secret door.
The diary room of the Anne Frank Huis
Further museums lie in the opposite direction, including the Het Grachtenhuis (Museum of the Canals) on Herengracht, with its interactive displays of how the canal district evolved; the lavish Museum Van Loon which was home to the founding family of the Dutch East India Company; and the rather more niche Museum of Bags and Purses, which is set in a gorgeous, restored canal house dating from 1664.
Close to the Anne Frank Huis, the cosy and elegant Restaurant Black and Blue is one of Amsterdam’s best steakhouses. If that sounds a bit heavy for the middle of the day, don’t panic – less hungry diners can choose from a lunch menu full of casual dishes and lighter fare, including a simple steak sandwich with hummus and pepper relish, beef tartare focaccia with poached egg, or a 100% Black Angus burger. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely lunch in a stylish, unhurried setting.
3pm: Hire bikes
You can’t avoid cyclists in Amsterdam, so you may as well join them. And it’s an excellent, inexpensive and healthy way to explore the city too. At Bike City on Bloemgracht in the Jordaan – a four-minute walk from Restaurant Black and Blue – you can hire an inconspicuous, no-logo, single speed or three-gear bike that’ll help you blend right in with the locals. Once you’re up and running the city is your oyster, and you can cycle around to your heart’s content. See more of the Jordaan’s narrow streets, stopping off at whichever vintage store, coffee shop or independent boutique takes your fancy. Or head slightly further afield to the 47-hectare Vondelpark, with its bandstand, children’s playground, open-air theatre, and network of wide, well-maintained pathways.
7pm: Dinner and drinks
After dropping your bike back at Bike City, wander two blocks over to Rozengracht and stop for dinner at trendy seafood restaurant Pesca. This crowd-funded venue brands itself as a “Theatre of Fish”, and true to its name, the concept involves selecting your seafood from a mocked-up ‘market’ where everything is priced per 100 grams. Select whatever takes your fancy – it’s fine to mix up several different fish – then go and collect it from the counter once it’s cooked. There are big shared tables, as well as private booths, but the best spot is arguably one which overlooks the kitchen.
After dinner, walk off your fish feast with a five-minute stroll to Bar Oldenhof on Elandsgracht. This low-lit, speakeasy style cocktail bar is the perfect spot for a nightcap – it’s decked out with dark woods and velvet upholstery, and mixes up a cornucopia of old-school cocktails from its well-stocked bar.
Begin your second day with breakfast at Valerius in Amsterdam South, which is only a five-minute walk from the Museum Quarter. This low-key corner cafe has a relaxed ambience and an airy interior, so grab a table and enjoy a simple breakfast of yoghurt, fruit, croissants and coffee. More substantial choices include eggs Florentine, French toast and pancakes.
11am: The Museum Quarter
With limited time in the city, you might want to be selective with your art gallery choices rather than trying to cram in the whole shebang. The big three in this part of town are the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the contemporary art of the Stedelijk Museum – all of which are worth seeing, of course, but none of which can be done properly in a few hours.
Nonetheless, with some careful planning, it’s perfectly possible to see the very edited highlights of all three museums, especially if you avoid queues by book tickets in advance online. Alternatively, purchase one of the city passes that allows entrance to all of Amsterdam’s major museums, as you’ll get discounts on other attractions and free public transport too.
If you do decide to whizz around the lot, spend a few minutes beforehand deciding what you want to see, and save time by dining in one of the museums’ excellent cafes rather than sitting down for lunch elsewhere. In the Rijksmuseum, the biggest draw is undoubtedly Rembrandt’s enormous military ensemble portrait The Night Master, as well as paintings by other Dutch masters like Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hans the Elder. There’s also a triangular sculpture garden, as well as absorbing collections of Delftware and Golden Age antiques.
Look at works from one of the most iconic Dutch artists at the Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is equally compelling, and holds the largest collection of Van Gogh artworks in the world. No visit would be complete without viewing the paintings from his iconic Sunflowers series, and there are numerous other works on display by contemporaries such as Gauguin, Charles Laval and Toulouse-Lautrec. At the Stedelijk Museum, you’ll find masterpieces of modern and contemporary art, including works by Matisse, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Warhol ad Chagall.
6pm: Canal pizza cruise
Developed in the 17th century, Amsterdam’s canal system was originally a practical matter, allowing the city to expand beyond its original boundaries. But as handsome merchant’s homes and mansions sprung up along the waterways, the canal network began to evolve into the series of charismatic neighbourhoods we associate with modern Amsterdam. Today the canals also play host to some of the city’s best loved festivities. Several major annual events take place on the canals every year, including King’s Day at the end of April – where thousands of brightly festooned boats take to the water – and the famous Gay Pride Canal Parade, featuring hundreds of rainbow-hued barges.
Take off on a Canal Pizza Cruise from Damrak Pier 5
If you need to get back to the airport for a flight home and don’t have time for a full evening meal, a pizza cruise on the canals of Amsterdam could be an excellent way to kill two birds with one stone. A shorter, earlier, and less expensive version of the popular nighttime dinner and cocktail cruises, this outing combines a tasty pizza and unlimited soft drinks with a voyage through the unique surroundings of the picturesque Canal Ring, giving you an entirely different perspective on the city. Tours depart at 6pm from Damrak Pier 5, a five-minute walk from Centraal Station.