We love Amsterdam. We visited together in 2017 after a 20-year gap and loved it so much that we’ve been back several times. For ages we overlooked it and set our sights on European cities further afield, but we are now utterly in love with the place.
Why are we so smitten? It is an undeniably charming city. The canals and beautiful canal-side houses, the world-class museums and galleries, the bicycles clattering their way over the cobbles. But there’s something very comfortable and homely about it too. Take, for example, the brown cafes (see tips 5 and 10, below), with people of all ages drinking, talking and sharing some bar snacks.
So, grab your passport (before it turns blue) and hop on the direct Eurostar service from St Pancras, because here are our top 10 tips for things to do in Amsterdam…
1. Best brunch
Never sign up for a hotel breakfast if you’re staying in Amsterdam. It’ll be criminally expensive (hotel breakfasts always are) and the city is literally teeming with fabulous places to grab a bite to eat before you head out on that day’s adventures.
We haven’t yet explored the whole city and so right now our tips are mostly from the western canal districts and a little further out. These neighbourhoods have everything you could want from an Amsterdam streetscape: water, bridges, attractive townhouses, bicycles and trams. But they are also slightly away from the tourist hotpots. Little Collins at Bliderdijkstraat 140 is a great choice for weekday coffee and brunch, though you may need to book at weekends.
2. Best pancakes
A fun alternative if you are into all manner of savoury or sweet meals loaded onto pancakes is Moak, who are at three locations in the city. We went to De Clercqstraat 34 – you can’t miss it because the entrance is through an arch of pink and blue balloons!
3. Best coffee
Goodness me, there is so much good coffee in Amsterdam… but our tip based on flavour and impressive on-site roasting equipment would be Lot Sixty One on Kinkerstraat 112.
4. Best view
From Central Station the ferry in the direction of Buiksloterweg (free of charge) will take you on a short and blustery crossing to Amsterdam Noord, a part of the city that is going through a lot of development. The striking building on the waters edge is the Eye Film Museum.
Drop in on the café in the museum, with its tiered seating and a great view out over the river traffic. And be sure too to check out their shop, with loads of interesting and very inexpensive things on sale, like old film reel boxes for just a few euros.
5. Best place to sit and read
We love Cafe De Pels, Huidenstraat 25, which celebrates its 50th anniversary later this year. Gefeliciteerd! With no music and an extensive selection of daily newspapers and weekly magazines in at least six European languages, it’s a great place to spend some time over a beer, coffee or some food. Or read a book and watch the world go by.
Like so many other places in Amsterdam, you’ll find yourself amongst a wide range of people. When we visited, there was a group of students, a young woman tucked away on her laptop, an old man reading his newspaper, a middle-aged couple quietly chatting.
6. Best open space
A walk in the Vondelpark is a quintessential Dutch experience. Just watch out for all the bicycles … or better yet hire a bike and join them.
7. Best place to shop
We are not greatly into shopping but Hutspot, Rozengracht 204-210, is definitely worth checking out if you want to buy a quirky or stylish gift for someone.
8. Best night out
To be fair, there’s a lot of different tips one could mention here. But because it is unique we are recommending the almost 100-year old Theatre Tuschinski, which is in fact a Pathé cinema. For pretty much the same price as two regular seats at a cinema in London’s West End, you can get a two-seater sofa in its own box, with a choice of complimentary food and drink (we chose a lovely beer from the city’s Brouwerij ‘t IJ brewery) served at your seat. All of this inside an auditorium with wonderfully over-the-top restored art nouveau décor. A real treat!
9. Best food
This next place that we are going to recommend reminds us of one of the wonderful things about Amsterdam. Buffet van Odette at Prinsengracht 598 is a fantastic restaurant. The food was delicious. The atmosphere fantastic. All around us were couples and families and groups of friends having a lovely night. And it wasn’t particularly pricey at all. All of those wonderful things and we turned up without a reservation and were seated straight away. And despite being canal-side and edging towards the centre, we felt like the only tourists there. We should probably keep this place our little secret, but we also want to share it with you.
10. Best beer and bar food
Our favourite of Amsterdam’s many canal-side pubs, known as ‘brown cafes’, Cafe De Prins has a blackboard with a couple of hearty home-cooked daily specials to complement the beer. Or if you prefer they’re also good at the traditional Dutch bar snack, bitterballen. Down the stairs, the walls are lined with a thick layer of event posters which they have been stapling over the old ones for well over 20 years. It’s definitely not chic, but it has become a little tradition for us to end an evening in Amsterdam with a drink here.
Need more information?
We are still getting to know the city. We’ve found enough to give you our top 10 tips for a city break to Amsterdam, but there is so much more. There are plenty of good guides to the city, not forgetting the iamsterdam website. We particularly like this one from Monocle (Amazon), which we found to contain excellent recommendations.
But we also want to hear from you. Have you been to Amsterdam? Maybe you live in Amsterdam. We want to hear your tips. Please share them in the comments below.