November 18-21, 2021
For Andy’s 30th birthday, we met one of his childhood best friends in Amsterdam for a fantastic three-day weekend of celebrations. I had previously spent a few days in Amsterdam during a solo trip I took after a work conference in Copenhagen in 2019, but Andy hadn’t been and it was at the top of his list. Despite The Netherlands suddenly announcing a partial lockdown (basically just bars/restaurants shutting down at 8 PM) the week before our trip, we still had so much fun celebrating Andy’s birthday and exploring a new city with an old friend.
We took Eurostar’s last train out of London on a Thursday evening, so we didn’t do anything on our first night beyond hanging out and catching up with Andy’s friend (who lives in Jackson, WY, but had been in Greece for a few weeks on a rock climbing trip) at our apartment. The city of Amsterdam has some unique regulations and restrictions for holiday rentals vs. B&Bs that make Airbnb rentals much more challenging and expensive, so we rented an apartment in a B&B through Booking.com instead. The apartment itself was so-so, but it was in a great location on the Prinsengracht Canal in the Grachtengordel (Canal District) and had fantastic views.
On Friday, we had an excellent breakfast at Little Collins De Pijp and then walked over to the Museumplein (Museum Square) for our entrance reservations at the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. Between the two museums, all three of us strongly preferred the Van Gogh Museum — aside from generally preferring Van Gogh’s work, the museum was organized much more logically and efficiently than the extremely overwhelming Rijksmuseum. However, I’m still happy we went to both museums, especially since they’re so close to each other and the combined entry tickets are <€40.
After knocking out both museums, we headed to Foodhallen, an upscale food hall located in a historic tram depot in Oud-West. I’d been here on my previous trip to Amsterdam, and it really is the best place for a casual meal and/or drinks since there is something (delicious) to satisfy a range of palates, and getting a table is pretty easy. They’ve also introduced some new options for ordering drinks and meals from your phone that made it even more convenient than my first experience.
We spent the next few days strolling around the canals, browsing vintage markets and boutiques, and eating all kinds of excellent and highly diverse food. After such a fantastic weekend, it’s no surprise that Amsterdam is now officially Andy’s favorite city in Europe.
If you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations.
Food & Drink
- Foodhallen: There are 20+ food and drink stalls at this upscale food hall, and everything we tried was fantastic. It’s an ideal spot for lunch, dinner, or drinks — especially since it doesn’t require reservations. Don’t miss De BallenBar, which exclusively sells gourmet versions of bitterballen (deep-fried Dutch meatballs).
- Little Collins De Pijp: Casual, trendy, and absolutely delicious Australian restaurant in De Pijp that’s known for its creative brunch menu and had great outdoor seating.
- Toko Dun Yong: My Dutch boss told me about this fantastic ramen-ya located on the top floor of a pan-Asian supermarket that has been open for 60+ years in the city center, and it was absolutely phenomenal. In addition to an incredible lunch, we also bought a few extremely inexpensive Asian dining and cooking utensils that have been put to great use since we’ve been back in London.
- Back to Black: A super cute local roastery with two locations serving excellent espresso and baked goods.
- Glou Glou: A cozy wine bar in De Pijp with a great selection of natural wines and a bottle shop.
- Flying Dutchmen Cocktails: Extremely cool and creative cocktail bar in the city center. Reservations are necessary.
- Village Bagels: This bagel shop and espresso bar was just a few doors down from our Airbnb, and it honestly had the best bagels I’ve had in Europe.
Activities & Attractions
- The Rijksmuseum: The most popular museum in The Netherlands is the Dutch national museum of arts and history, and contains a colossal collection of objects and artwork, including 2,000+ paintings by Old Masters like Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, and Peter Paul Rubens. There were honestly so many pieces across so many different classifications and collections that it was a pretty overwhelming experience — I also admittedly don’t know all that much about Dutch art or history, so I was probably missing a lot of context. However, it was still worthwhile to spend a few hours catching the highlights, especially Rembrandt’s gigantic Night Watch and the monumental Cuypers Library.
- Vincent Van Gogh Museum: We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this museum, which is located just across the Museumplein (Museum Square) from the Rijksmuseum. The museum focuses on the life and art of Vincent Van Gogh and contains the largest collection of his paintings and drawings in the world, but it also includes pieces from some of his friends and contemporaries, including Rodin and Monet. The museum exhibits are very efficiently grouped chronologically and did an excellent job of explaining the artist’s biography and artistic processes within the context of his artwork, sketches, letters, and other personal artifacts. It took us ~2.5 hours to go through the whole museum and we left feeling very content with the experience.
- Anne Frank House: Although we didn’t go during our most recent trip, I went the first time I went to Amsterdam and would strongly recommend prioritizing this remarkable experience to anyone who is visiting the city. This 17th-century canal house near the city center is where Anne Frank and her family hid from Nazi persecution in concealed rooms (the Secret Annex) until their arrests and deportation. The museum has beautifully preserved the hiding place, which is a truly sobering and powerful experience — you really get a sense of how difficult it would have been to stay hidden and quiet, and it is almost surreal to see the personal items and the marks left behind by those who were in hiding. There is also a comprehensive exhibition about the life and legacy of Anne Frank, which helps paint a bigger picture and provides good context for anyone who can’t remember all the details from her diary.
- De Oude Kerk: The oldest building in Amsterdam is a beautiful Calvinist church that was originally built in the 13th and 14th centuries and contains the largest medieval wooden vaulted ceiling in Europe, as well as one of the most beautiful Baroque pipe organs in the world. Although Andy and I only walked by the exterior while on this particular trip, I went inside during my first visit to Amsterdam and enjoyed it. The church is beautiful, with lots of uniquely decorated auxiliary rooms and a contemporary art and heritage center.
- Dam Square: The busiest and most famous town square in Amsterdam is located in the historic city center, just a few blocks away from De Oude Kerk. Several important landmarks surround the square, including the Koninklijk Paleis van Amsterdam (Royal Palace of Amsterdam), a neoclassical palace built as a city hall in the 17th century before becoming one of the primary residences for the Dutch Royal House; Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), a 15th-century church that is currently used as an exhibition space; and the Nationaal Monument op de Dam (National Monument on Dam Square), which commemorates the Dutch soldiers and members of the resistance who perished during World War II.
- Vondelpark: This beautiful public park stretches across 120 acres in Amsterdam-Zuid and is very close to the Museumplein. It’s a great place to take a break from the city center on a stroll or at one of the surrounding restaurants/bars.
- Get Baked Amsterdam: This cooking class was yet another brilliant find on Airbnb Experiences, and it ended up being one of our favorite parts of the trip. Our host showed us how to make brownies and gummies, which was enjoyable in itself, but the most interesting part was the thorough education on the country’s relationship with cannabis culture. It was super fun and informative, regardless of your prior level of interest in and/or experience with cannabis.
- Noordermarkt: The absolute best outdoor market in the city is only open on Saturdays and Mondays, but the restaurants and cafes in the surrounding area are great any day of the week. The market has so many cool vendors, including lots of vintage and handmade items.
- De 9 Straatjes (The 9 Streets): Extremely picturesque and trendy area in Central Amsterdam featuring an array of cute cafes and vintage and higher-end boutiques. A few of my personal favorite shops include Bij Ons Vintage, a huge vintage store with a great variety of on-trend clothes; L’ Étoile de Saint Honoré, which exclusively sells authenticated, vintage designer accessories and handbags; and Gray Label, a gorgeous children’s clothing store where I’ve bought several unique baby gifts.
- Heinen Delftware: This spacious shop near the Munttoren (Mint Tower) and the flower market sells authentic Delftware, as well as much more reasonably priced imitations that make for good gifts/souvenirs, including beautiful Christmas ornaments.