If there is one city we are getting to know better than our current home in San Diego it is most certainly Amsterdam. From it's gorgeous canals, to it's "crooked" houses, Amsterdam is instantly recognizable in photos, yet many tourists are unaware of its rich history and just how diverse and dynamic the city and its people have become.
We have noticed that the moment we tell people that Ryan is Dutch, that we were married in Amsterdam and go there as often as we can, they instantly bring up the Red Light District and the legalization of drugs. Quite frankly there is not a lot that we can tell you about either subject since we have literally only seen the Red Light District twice, by accident, mid-day, for about five minutes total. Drug legalization might draw others to the city but we personally do not indulge. What draws us to Amsterdam is its diversity, beauty, open-mindedness, central location (in terms of the world) and heritage. (Ryans mom was born in Holland, giving him Dutch citizenship.)
Another "must-see" that everyone thinks about and discusses when they think of Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House. We are sad to say that we have yet to visit this historic house (on the inside at least), due to the heavy construction happening in and around it to support the tourist visits and the hours-long lines to get in. You can pre-purchase tickets prior to your visit but every time we have tried it has been sold out during the times that work for us. We know that we will get see the inside soon, but if you are like us and do not make it in, the surrounding area is very beautiful and special knowing what happened during those terrible years of Nazi turmoil. The church bells still ring that Anne Frank heard while she hid inside the walls of that tiny house, and you can feel the energy of it all.
One day we would love to live in The Netherlands. (The country is in fact known by two names. The official name is the Kingdom of the Netherlands. King Willem-Alexander is the king of the nation. Holland actually only means the two provinces of Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland. However, the name Holland is often used when all of the Netherlands is meant). There is so much that is so wonderful, and this blog will help outline some of our most favorite aspects of "the Venice of the north," and help guide visitors to some touristy, and not-so-touristy spots.
The first time we arrived in Amsterdam together was for our wedding in 2017. Liberty had never been to The Netherlands despite many European adventures before. It had been quite a few years for Ryan to visit and he had been itching to go back. After many months of paperwork and planning, our wedding date was set for August 1 at the central city office. From that visit forward, we knew we wanted to go back, and go back, and go back again to soak in not only the culture of the Dutch, but to learn more about a city we both fell instantly in love with as a couple and meant so much to our lives together.
Based on four visits to Amsterdam in the last year, here are our current recommendations of what to see and do in our favorite city and why. With many plans to go back in the future we will provide updated blogs and suggestions as we have more experiences. Just get yourself there no matter what and check out this perfect city. One thing to note - English is spoken way more than Dutch but it won’t hurt to brush up on your “please” - alsjeblieft - and “thank you” - dank je - before you go. It seemed to be appreciated when we tried.
1. Walk, walk and walk some more.
First of all, you need to love to walk to take this suggestion but we strongly believe that this is one of the best ways to get to know a new city. You instantly get your bearings, plus you see things that would never otherwise if taking a car, train, tram, etc. Just going from one destination to the next as quickly as possible has never made sense to us. We stay as central as we can and then walk everywhere to soak it all in. It doesn't hurt to burn some extra calories, get in some steps (your Apple Watch and FitBit will love you), and earn another beer or tasty Dutch treat. Amsterdam is extremely walkable and you'll love checking out the little shops, restaurants, cafes and most interesting diverse people in the world you wouldn't know about from a map or in a car. Literally, people from every country are attracted to Amsterdam for every reason under the sun and it's all accepted and valued here. We also found that we were exposed to art while walking, as there are so many galleries plus art in most places you look in Amsterdam. Just beware of crossing bike lanes! More on that in number two.
2. When your feet are tired from walking...bike.
Bikes are everywhere in Amsterdam. No, not just a few bikes, with a few bike paths. There are more than 881,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, four times the number of cars. 57% of Amsterdammers use their bikes on a daily basis on over 400km of bike paths. Bike-friendly is certainly an understatement. There are plenty of bike-rental options. A word of caution is to WATCH OUT! Local cyclists are aggressive and have been riding their entire lives. There are bicycle FREEWAYS in Amsterdam and somehow its expected that everyone just knows what to do, but it can be extremely intimidating as a tourist who not only is used to aggressive cycling, but hardly used to being on a bike at all. It's intimidating but we promise you will get the hang of it and feel that it was one of the best parts of your experience in Amsterdam. Plus, you will get that much further and see so much more combining walking and cycling over taking Ubers, cabs and trolleys. If moms with four kids on one bike can do it, you certainly can! As mentioned in number one, walkers do pose a threat of collision, but everyone seems quite aware of one another and we have yet to see an accident, albeit many close calls.
3. Science Center NEMO
With or without kiddos this is a very cool interactive museum with plenty of fun exhibits for both adults and children. We brought our then four-year-old daughter to NEMO and she loved it!
Arriving at the museum was exciting in itself as it is a gorgeous building reminiscent of a giant ship. It’s five floors of hands-on science exhibitions attract over 500,000 visitors per year making it the fifth most popular museum in the county. It was definitely popular on the day we visited, but the throngs of joyful families made it that much more enjoyable. Prepare to spend the better part of your day here, ideal for a rainy or chilly day in the city.
4. Keukenhof March - May
Its not a large window of opportunity to see the breathtaking tulips as well as many other varieties of flowers in Holland’s famed Keukenhof, but it’s worth planning your travel at this time to experience one of the most gorgeous places on earth.
When we first arrived in Amsterdam in the summer, our dream of having tulips at our wedding was quickly dashed when we were told the season isn’t until spring, and only spring. Options to see tulips at that time are the fake version or nothing. We quickly made note that we had to come back the following spring. Lucky for us we returned eight months later to visit Keukenhof with our family who lives in Amsterdam. They had already been multiple times but now we know why they wanted to go again. Words can’t do it justice, and photos barely can! As far as the eye can see in all directions is BEAUTY. Tickets will run you about 20 euros per adult (less for kids) but there are group rates as well as combo offers with transportation. Be sure to visit the official website to buy tickets before you go.
5. Love Lock Bridge
The Bridge of Love, or the Love Lock Bridge (less romantically known as Skinny Bridge) is a very special bridge in Amsterdam that is covered in lovers' locks. Messages of eternity and life together adorn the locks that are clicked on to the bridge at every point possible. These “love” bridges are famous all over the world, the most recognized being Paris’ Pont de Arts. Ryan and I excitedly and proudly clicked our love lock onto this bridge the day we were married. We just as excitedly went back to visit the bridge six months later with our daughter only to find that things were slightly different. Ryan pulled up our photos from our wedding day and could clearly see the spot where our lock had been. We searched and scanned and to our dismay, the lock was nowhere to be found and neither were the other locks surrounding ours. A quick Google search proved our suspicions correct. The weight of all of those locks was not good for the bridge, and the locks are removed from the bridge periodically. Even that famous Pont de Arts bridge has experienced the same. We felt sad, but then did the math in our heads. If just 100 people put a lock on per day...you get the idea. So much for eternal love and visiting our lock as the years ticked by. After letting the news sink in we still felt a special love for the bridge, and our memory of adorning the bridge with our own lock was just as special. So consider this your warning. Go get that lock, snap it on and as long as you never return, your lock and promise will be kept forever. Well, at the very least your photos will. Find it here in Google Maps: Magere Brug, 1017 AK Amsterdam, Netherlands
6. Wine and Cheese, yes please
On our fourth visit to Amsterdam we had just 12 hours in the magical city as it was a purposeful long layover on our way to Italy. Prior to our arrival we mapped out the few special things our local cousins had encouraged us to do. With the limited time we had, the top of our list was wine and cheese. At Reypenaer we found wine and cheese heaven. Our cousins had told us that we needed reservations for the cheese tasting that is offered a few times per day. Thankfully we timed it perfectly to get from the airport to the central part of the city.
This is not just any wine and cheese pairing. It's a full-on class. First thing is first - this was the BEST cheese we have ever tasted in our lives hands down, and we've both had a lot of cheese. The best part about the class is you learn SO MUCH and it's SO enjoyable! Ron lead us with about 8 other people through a lesson in the aging of cheese and why Reypenaer is so special. As we tasted each cheese, it was paired with a delicious wine that brought out its best flavors even more. Frankly...it was unreal. The "oohs" and "ahhhs" coming from our classmates were our own thoughts precisely. Interestingly enough we felt that out of all of our travels all over the world, this was one of the very best things we had ever done, anywhere! Every sense was satisfied and we were extremely excited to bring some of the cheese home to our uncle for his birthday gift (fingers crossed he'd share). We have zero doubts that if you choose to do this tasting it will be a fantastic experience!
On our last longer visit in Amsterdam during springtime we were very excited to be outdoors more, on our bikes and in some fresh air. We had heard so much about Vondelpark and it's beauty but the descriptions were no match for what we actually experienced. WOW! A huge (over 100 acres) oasis in the middle of the city, Vondelpark is full of restaurants and cafes, open air theater, huge rose garden, and of course more canals. We rode our bikes all over the park, stopped for drinks, took photos in trees and breathed in the fresh air of the gorgeous space.
Foodies rejoice. Here is your positively overwhelming hall of fabulous at your fingertips. This renovated tram depot has become a Dutchie hot spot with over 20 food vendors and bars galore. Inspired by food markets in Copenhagen, Madrid and London, you will not be disappointed with the selection you'll find here. Michelin star concepts to international "street foods" all under the same roof. Yes please.
We cannot wait to make it back to our favorite city soon and will update the blog on the latest finds and suggestions for the best experiences. Until next time, Amsterdam!