Amsterdam is famous for its houses, its Red Light District and its beer, but on Laura’s recent trip she managed to find a few things that weren’t in the tour guides. Read on for her quick guide to the city.
My boyfriend and I have decided that instead of birthday presents every year, we will go on a city break (a much better idea in my opinion!) and this year, we chose Amsterdam as our birthday present to ourselves. I loved this city; the laid back vibe and peaceful canals were a great change of pace and a welcome break from our work lives, and everyone was so friendly (unless you got in the way of their bike…).
We did a lot of the main ‘touristy’ things as well as a few places that are a bit more off the grid that we definitely think are worthy of checking out if you are planning a visit soon.
Stay here – Max Brown Museum Square Hotel
We chose this hotel partly because it’s in a great location, but mostly because the decor of the rooms is awesome. The hotel takes up four town houses, and despite the large reception and seating area, you definitely know you’re in a traditional Amsterdam townhouse when you have to find your way through the warren of tiny corridors to get to your room! The rooms are decorated wonderfully – ours had a really hipster vibe with leather look wallpaper, reclaimed wood furniture and old school telephone. The thing I loved most though, was the basket ball hoop (not kidding) and the bean bag ball left on the bed for throwing through said hoop – we would have left so much earlier every morning if it weren’t for that, but it was so much fun!
The rooms come with breakfast included which is served downstairs in a small dining room where a continental feast is on offer consisting of meats, cheeses, breads, yoghurt and fruit to set you up for the day. They also offer a small menu of hot food including delicious looking handmade pizzas that you can eat in the seating area of the reception, as well as a variety of crisps, nuts and sweets and a selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks from the reception itself – they are well equipped to cater for your every craving!
We sat in the reception for a while when we checked out and discovered they had a whole host of board games and books to keep you occupied if you came back with achy feet after a day’s exploring. I also loved that they’d hung a tandem in the window. I guess, cos Amsterdam.
Visit here – Heineken experience
I know the Heineken Experience is in all the guide books, but I really can’t rave about this place enough. We got a Rock the City ticket for €30 which gave us access to the Heineken Experience, a boat tour along the canal, and access to A’DAM Lookout tower.
The Heineken Experience offers you an interactive tour through the old brewery (now turned fully into this museum) with bow tie and braces clad employees at different points to offer snippets of information. You are left to walk around the exhibits yourself though which is good as otherwise it could get a bit squashed with the amount of people who arrived with us. Making your way around the old brewery you see so much, the old tiled, distillery room full of enormous copper drums, the stables where the shire horses live that still trot around the city twice a day, but my favourite bits by far were the interactive sections.
Nearing the end of the tour we were lead into a lift with video panels in the roof that made it look like we were being brewed to make a glass of Heineken, which then lead out to a huge room with eight big sections lit up on the floor (it felt like we were in Tron). We were told to stand on one of the sections and look ahead where the walls were turning into a virtual reality video of a bottling facility! Then we were shown into another smaller room where another screen showed us videos of parties, football fields and under the sea, the whole room was the screen with the walls and floor being used – it was awesome!
There were so many really cool interactive exhibits as you walked through including a mixing station where you could build a song using different beats just by touching different parts of a table and an area where you could virtually learn to pull the perfect pint! With our ticket we were given a wristband with two removable tokens on to swap for beers at the finale which was an underground bar clad in various neon signs and info stands. The queues were long, but moved quickly and you were definitely ready for a beer once you got there.
Afterwards we hopped on the Heineken-green boat moored on the canal outside and spent the next 30 minutes blissfully floating down the waterways (with another beer each – it would have been rude not to) with our guide telling us facts about the houses and canals as we went. My favourite snippets she told us are that because the houses had to be built on stilts due to the swampy soil, some have sunk and are now rather wonky – the Dutch call these ‘dancing houses’. Also of the 850k residents of Amsterdam, 847k own a bike and 10k of those bikes end up in the canals every year!
Our boat ride ended at A’DAM Lookout, a 100m tower in Amsterdam North with a brilliant 360 degree view of the city from the skydeck. To get up to the top we took the lift with another Tron-esque video in the roof to the restaurant which serves drinks and snacks then took the stairs to the deck.
The observation deck has beanbags and deckchairs for those who want to stay a while, as well as ‘Over The Edge’, a bright red swing that literally swings you over the edge of the building! It looked great fun, but the queue was pretty big when we visited so we didn’t have a go.
Visit here – Artis Amsterdam Zoo and Micropia
Another one of my must-sees was Amsterdam’s surprisingly large zoo with over 700 species of animals calling it home. My favourite animal by far was the sloth. I’ve never seen one in real life before and he was amazing! He was in a section of the zoo where the animals were running around you (or moving extremely slowly in his case) and it was great to see him without a cage.
Not just a zoo, it houses an impressive aquarium and the biggest Planetarium in the Netherlands as well as Micropia, the only museum in the world dedicated to just microbes. When you arrive you are met by a scientist in a lab coat who tells you about the museum and also hands you a card to stamp with different microbes as you discover them on the way round. You’re then taken in a lift with another interactive roof (the Dutch seem to love these!) to a mezzanine level full of exhibits and microscopes to get your hands on. Never having thought about microbes much before, it was really interesting to learn about them and we managed to collect 20 out of 30 microbe stamps on our way round!
Eat here – Die Silveren Speigel
As this was our birthday present, we treated ourselves to a posh dinner at a fancy restaurant and weren’t disappointed! We’d researched a lot of different restaurants because we wanted to find something a bit special, and finally decided on De Silveren Spiegel because of the fantastic reviews and also their promise of their delectable tasting menu of Dutch cuisine. I’ve never tasted food like it, it was all exquisite! Each course showcased Dutch produce fantastically and our waiter Harry explained what we had in front of us and a little about where the ingredients come from as each course was brought out, which was a really nice touch – he was so helpful and never let our glasses sit empty! As this was a treat we did spend a fair bit on this meal, but it was so worth it! My favourite course was the mussels in champagne sauce (the center image below), until the lamb arrived (bottom center) and I didn’t ever want it to finish!
Eat here – Dirty Chicken Club
In stark contrast to the above meal, our next culinary adventure was much cheaper but still so tasty! My friend recommended the Dirty Chicken Club to me and it’s fairly new so we popped it into Google Maps and wandered the canals until we came upon an unassuming restaurant in the middle of a busy street. From the outside it looks fairly hipster with reclaimed wooden tables with graffiti and traffic signs on the walls. We were greeted by a really relaxed vibe and a lovely smiley waitress, grabbed a booth and got stuck into the menu.
We chose loaded nachos to start and a whole roasted beer can chicken with coleslaw and fries for main and we basically inhaled all of it it was so good. Everything was so delicious and I loved that the chicken was stood up on the beer can it was roasted on (Heineken, of course), it made it really easy to carve too! We got talking to the waitresses and found out they were from the UK and New Zealand and had both been in Amsterdam for about five months so we got some great insider knowledge of non-touristy places to visit. We told them it was our birthdays too and five minutes later they emerged from the kitchen with a birthday ‘burger cake’ with a candle in singing happy birthday to us! It was so lovely – I definitely recommend you go not only for the amazing food, but the staff there were so wonderful!
Drink here – Up On The Roof at NEMO
We didn’t have time to visit the NEMO Science Museum in the end, but we did spend some time Up On The Roof at NEMO – the highest city square in the Netherlands and also home to a restaurant, bar, large seating area and open-air exhibition Energetica all with great views of the city. Energetica consists of several interactive exhibits such as the water cascade, wind island and sundial stage to teach visitors about the power harnessed from wind, water and the sun, and renewable energy. We stopped here for a drink and a rest after exploring all day and sat at the top of the terrace looking out over the exhibits and the rest of the city. Despite being slightly more expensive than a regular bar, Up On The Roof at NEMO was a great find and as it was such a beautiful evening we got a fantastic view of the canal with the sunlight bouncing off it.
Brunch here – Bakers and Roasters
I know a lot of these places to visit revolve around food, but that’s what my life revolves around! On our last day we wanted to find somewhere nice to go for a tasty brunch to fuel us to the airport and after a quick Google search we were making our way to Bakers and Roasters. We got there a little before 11am which seemed good because as soon as we were seated a queue formed out the door – this place is a hit with locals and tourists alike. The menu all looked amazing and it took me a long time to decide, but in the end I chose a black coffee and the smoked salmon stack which consisted of two huge hash browns, two poached eggs, a pile of smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce – heaven. The bright and airy little cafe was a lovely setting to have our last meal in and from where I was sitting I got a great view of the mouthwatering homemade cakes that my boyfriend had to literally drag me away from!
Have you ever visited Amsterdam? What are your go to places, we’d love to hear!
Tips and tricks
- You can view the Heineken Experience ticket options on their website, which includes the Rock the City ticket (scroll through the options at the top).
- There is an app for the Heineken experience if you’d like an audio and video guide on your way round, you can download it from the Apple and Play stores or find it on their website (scroll down to ‘Download the App’).
- Tickets for Artis Amsterdam Zoo are €21.00 for over 10s and €17.50 for 3-9 year-olds, all ticket information can be found on their website. Although the queues weren’t huge and did move fairly quickly, I’d still advise buying tickets in advance.
- The zoo also holds guided tours every weekend and will be hosting a series of lectures for a few dates in September 2018, more info can be found here.
- If you want to visit the zoo and Micropia you can get a ticket for both for €27.50 (over 10s) and €23.50 (3-9 years), all ticket details can be found on their website.
- If you’d like to try one of the amazing tasting menus at De Silveren Spiegel, I would advise booking ahead as from the reviews it can get busy. Making a booking was easy through their website.
- Just a note, we went on a Saturday night and they didn’t offer a children’s menu so double check if you are planning to visit with little ones.
- Another note – the toilets of the restaurant were up some extremely steep stairs and coming down was a bit perilous even in flat shoes! I could imagine if you were in heels/slightly tipsy/pregnant/had children etc. this would be quite difficult, and completely impossible for a disabled person.
- Up On The Roof at NEMO‘s terrace is open daily and can be accessed via the Science Museum or stairs at street level (so no need to buy a ticket if you only want to see the roof).
- NEMO’s Summer Roof is open daily until 21:00 between 23 June – 2 September 2018 and on Thursdays live music from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam will be played.