April so far has been all about travel. I was visiting my family in the first two weeks, and shorty after my return to London my husband and I left for Amsterdam to spend our Easter break there. We've wanted to go on a city break for a while, and there have been a few contenders including Barcelona and Scotland, but we decided on Amsterdam in the end. They say the city does not reflect Netherlands at all, but if you are thinking about going away for a few days and you are after history, good food, beautiful architecture and culture, Amsterdam with its quirky buildings and canals is a perfect destination. There is a lot more to this city than the Red Light District and coffeeshops (not your usual kind).
From the very start of planning this trip we decided to rent a place through Airbnb. We found a lovely bright flat across the road from Vondelpark, in a quiet residential area. It's located around the corner from the Overtoom and is only 10 min from the city center. It was a perfect location for us as we got to experience both the tourist center and places 'where locals go'. Esther, the owner of the flat recommended lots of places to us, which we probably wouldn't have found through online research. If you want to experience what it's like to live in the city, rather than just being a tourist, consider hiring a place via airbnb. They will usually have more character then hotels, and you have a flexibility of cooking your own food if you want. Staying in Esther's flat definitely added some lovely memories to our trip. She has a turntable and a great collection of vinyl records, which we played in the mornings whilst having coffee. Another memory was sitting on a little balcony watching the sunset, looking out onto a backyard and listening to the noises of the living building. Check out her place here.
Weather in Amsterdam is quite unpredictable. The forecast may show one thing, whilst the reality is different. Apart from some drizzle on our first day we were quite lucky and got to experience two warm and sunny days. We had a list of places we wanted to visit, so we spread them out between 3 days and just wandered the streets in between. Amsterdam is quite compact and it's easy to walk everywhere. There was nothing nicer than wandering along its numerous canals, popping inside every now and again for coffee, or sitting outside in the sun enjoying a chilled drink.
Places to see:
As the weather wasn't great on our first day we did as much as we could indoors. We took a long canal cruise. You will see a lot of the city and it's nice to get an introduction into its history, all in the comfort of a covered boat. Then we spent a couple of hours in the Heineken Experience, which was good fun. You get to learn about the beer, history of the company, and have a pint in the bar. It's an interactive place that will keep you entertained for a few hours. Van Gogh Museum is a must see. We were not really familiar with his art, apart from the most famous pieces, and it was great to learn and see his progression as an artist. It's quite memorable as the whole museum is dedicated to one artist. Learning about his dedication and approach to his art was very inspirational to me as a photographer. It would be to anyone I think. If you are after old streets, beautiful canals and nice cafes, head to Jordaan (probably the equivalent of London's Greenwich or Notting hill) and just wander around exploring. One of the hidden gems of the city is the Our Lord in the Attic museum, not far from the red light district. It has a hidden Catholic church in the attic, from the times when Catholicism was prohibited in Netherlands. The rest of the house was preserved as much as possible, and it was interesting to see what those 'dancing' buildings of Amsterdam looked like from the inside. For trendy shops and hip cafes head to the Pijp area - the melting pot of Amsterdam. De Gooyer Mill, the tallest wooden mill in the Netherlands is in the eastern part of Amsterdam, on Funenkade street. Right next to it is an organic local craft brewery - Brouwerij't IJ.
Food is a big deal for us. We love our food, and I think we researched this more than anything. We haven't got to visit all the places on our list, but those that we did visit were amazing. The very first night of our arrival we went for a late dinner at the wine bar Screaming Beans , which was only 10 min walk from our flat. The food was incredible and beautifully placed on a plate. It was a perfect start to our holiday! They also have a coffee bar in a different part of the town, which is really good. There is a network of independent coffee bars in Amsterdam, which are passionate about coffee and promote the art and craft of artisan brewing. We visited the Screming Beans, Trakteren and Koko. For good lunch and cakes in a quirky atmosphere head to Latei in the Chinese quarter. It has a resident cat named Elvis. Cats generally seem to be a feature of many places in Amsterdam. We went to Gollem's Proeflokaal for a night of live jazz (really nice bar with a relaxed vibe and good music on Saturday nights), and it also had a cat wandering around :) The most memorable meal was probably in the Gebr.Hartering restaurant. It's a small place a bit out of the city centre. Very interesting food and unusual combination of flavours and ingredients. Think fresh fish and meat that may be accompanied by things like squid ink and wild garlic. Very nice and certainly memorable.
As with any holiday we started to think what if we lived in Amsterdam :) The conclusion was that we certainly could live there. Amsterdam is a beautiful city with a relaxed vibe and crazy cyclists (we didn't even chance it!).