Amsterdam: A begginers guide


The reasons to spend a long weekend in Amsterdam are countless, but the most striking for me are its nice atmosphere, cool architecture, good food and lots of bicycles!

A good way to get introduced to the city is a boat trip through its channels. There are also many options for it, but I would recommend avoiding big covered boats (if the weather allows it, of course) with lots of people. It’s a very respectable option, but I will suggest to take a small open boat tour to enjoy the experience. You can also drive you own boat (for a very reasonable price), the best way for a group of friends: you can sail the channels while drinking a glass of wine.

Once, having a general idea of the city, it’s time to explore its neighbourhoods. If you are a good cycler you can rent a bike, but if you are not very used to it (you must be good, trust me), I suggest you to discover the city on foot or by public transport. The tram is actually a very good way.

Centrum is the oldest part of the city, and maybe the most touristic area with its well-known Red Light District. Presided by the Central Station building, you can walk Damrak to Dam Square, the actual city centre. Despite it’s not definitely my favourite area in Amsterdam, there are several spots you shouldn’t miss. First of all, The Butcher: it’s a small burger restaurant (located in front of the W Hotel building), where an upside down hanging cow will welcome you (of course it’s absolutely fake). The walls of the local are covered with tiles in blue and white, as the typical Dutch ceramics, representing the different parts or cuts of the beef. The names of the burgers are really ingenious, but its taste it’s still more worthwhile than everything else. They also have some options for those who don’t eat meat!

The old centre of the city is surrounded by the Canal Ring: Amsterdam’s most recognizable image. Forget about your map and walk around, crossing its bridges and stopping at some terrace (maybe on a coffee shop, why not?) to have a drink (non-alcoholic in coffee shops). Its architecture, with narrow houses with coloured windows, as well as house-boats (some more well looked-after than others) is absolutely photogenic. At some point, you will feel like in a 17th century Dutch painting…

One of my favourite streets in this area is Leliegracht, mostly for its light and calm atmosphere. Furthermore, there are two shops where I could spend a whole morning (in each one!): The Otherist, a modern wunderkammer (I was surprised for the Duth passion for natural history), where you can buy from an old pharmacy jar to a pair of very special opal gold earrings, all placed in an “orderly chaos”, as the ancient cabinets of the wonders; and Architectura & Natura, the best architecture bookstore I have ever been, with also a big selection of natural history books.

As the most vibrant part of the city, in the Canal Ring there are lots of spots to eat and drink. I will suggest now a couple of them, one for lunch and one for dinner. The day option is definitely SLA, a salad bar where you can build your own dish. You can take it away and eat it sitting on the brink of a canal if the weather allows you for it, or even have your lunch in the small terrace upstairs the restaurant. Leo, who is a super-veggie-fan (long before hipster are, actually), loved that place 🙂

During the afternoon, a great spot to have a drink and chill is definitely Hannekes Boom. Located in a kind of island (you will have to cross a rotating bridge to reach it), its construction was inspired by by the original structure located in that spot in 1662, which was part of the system of guard posts monitoring ship traffic into the city of Amsterdam. If you can find a (rarely in Amstderam) sunny day, from its terrace, made of recycled materials, you will have a very special view of NEMO, the science museum of the city built by the architect Renzo Piano. You will really enjoy that beer, believe me!

At night, you should have dinner at Lion Noir. It’s a very special place, with three different ambiences. Upstairs there is the restaurant itself, decorated with amazing portraits by German artists Billy &Hells. On the ground floor you can find the bar: the decoration, based on green, is super original, with peacocks and other animals (again that Dutch taste for natural history!). You can also enjoy the magnificent terrace, where you will feel as in a 18th century palace.

Jordaan is the hip neighbourhood in Amsterdam, with all that it implies: designer shops, cafés, macbooks… However, even if you are not a hipster, you will enjoy its vibrant streets! A good place to start your day with a good breakfast is the café Gezondigd, located in Haarlemmerplein. If you have time, bring a book and sit! Pay attention to the orange (here on its neon version), which you can find everywhere in Holland.

Then stroll around Jordaan, starting for its main street, Haarlemerdijk, where if you a shopping fan, won’t be able to leave easily. One of my favourite spots in Jordaan is Propoerty of… a concept store by the brand of this name, which makes leather goods and bags, which are very special. The space used to be a café, and the shop has kept this old atmosphere, with the vintage tiles and stools. Actually, you can also have a coffee while reading a magazine at the old counter. You can also purchase there a map they have created, with owner’s favourite spots of the neighbourhood.

A bit further from the city centre, but easily reachable both on foot or by tram, it’s De Plantage, a green spot in the canal city, as it used to be leisure area of Amsterdam during 19th century. Right next to the Zoo Artis you can also visit the Hortus Botanicus, where plants from around the world are grown. In a former greenhouse is located The Plantage, a café and restaurant with a stunning interior, as it’s housed in a 19th century building made of steel and glass. You can eat grood toast and sandwiches for lunch, and they have a quite more sophisticated menu for dinner. The architecture (both original and renovation) worth a visit!

Don’t leave Amsterdam without taking a ferry to Noord. Take the tunnel right next to Central Station, Cuyperspassage, which is covered half in steel (cycling area) and in blue and white Dutch tiles, in a creation of the artist Irma Boom inspired by a painting of the Dutch artist Cornelis Boumeester. The ferry will take you to the other Ij river bank, called Noord. Passing in front of EYE, the stunning building of the Dutch Film Institute, you will arrive to NDSM station. You will find there plenty of cafes and restaurants, as it’s a recently renovated are that use to have industrial uses. A good moment to visit the area is during the IJ-Hallen market, the biggest flea market in Europe (once a month). Even if you are not a big fan of thrift shop, it worth to spend a morning there!

As my sister lives in Amsterdam and I stay at her place when I visit the city (lucky me!), I cannot recommend hotels in Amsterdam. However, I would stay at the Exchange Hotel if I should to look for a place. Its rooms are individually decorated by Dutch fashion designers, and its location cannot be more central. I have never stayed in it (I have only been in its café, Stock Birds), but I have read very good reviews.

On my next post about Amsterdam I will focus on the cultural offer of the city –which are so countless that need a special view – focusing both in art and architecture.