Last Summer we went to visit my best friend Thys in his (current) home city of Amsterdam.
It was a secret trip that I had planned to surprise Frazer with, as we weren’t officially having a holiday due to focusing on saving up for our wedding. I booked secret flights, organised a secret lift to the airport and began to pack. Then, unfortunately, Thys’ new flat fell through, meaning our place to stay no longer existed. I had a look at hotels and hostels around Amsterdam but in peak-holiday times it was difficult to find a good deal. So I revealed the secret plan to Frazer, and we made the tricky decision to have to cancel the trip before the spending went way over budget.After breaking the news to Thys he told me to “leave it with him” – perhaps as reassuring as being told your newborn will be babysat by a blind possum. But a couple of days later I received a message that Thys had made plans for us to stay with his “grandmother’s novelist” (refer to previous comment about reassurance). And because we are as insane as our Thys we decided to board that plane and stay in the home of a complete stranger.
So without further ado… our guide to Amsterdam.
The most important meal of the day.
“Upstairs” Pannenkoekinhaus is housed in a typical Amsterdam House in the centre of the city. Just head up the tiny, steep staircase to find Europe’s smallest restaurant – with just four tables.
Rating – 5/5 delicious.
Plus super friendly owners who made us feel really welcome, and we really liked the unusual decor (there are literally 100 teapots on the ceiling).
2. Bike Tour
I don’t often (read: ever) ride a bicycle but what better place to give it a go than a bustling city centre where the main traffic is confident cyclist commuters and trams that can’t stop?! Online reviews led us to Yellow Bike so we went along and booked a tour for that afternoon. Before leaving we were given our bikes, different sizes for different people. And, after asking if my feet were supposed to be able to touch the floor mine was switched for a child-friendly bike which was a strong, competent start to my cycling journey.
Rating – 3.5/5
Guide was good, bikes were safe, weather was great. But it turns out that bicycle seats become uncomfortable after the first 20 minutes. And I know that because I was on one for three hours. Or, 180 minutes. Or, 10800 seconds if your butt is counting.
3. A Quick Snack
The second most important meal of the day.I had no idea that getting chips was a thing in Amsterdam, but it turns out that there are a number of delicious options. Thys insisted on walking for about 45 minutes to visit a specific place – Vleminckx the Sausmeester, a shop that’s been serving delicious saucy chips for almost 60 years. Although I should stress, they aren’t serving 60 year old chips. Thys highly recommends Oorlog Mix, an apparently infamous sauce made of mayonnaise, satay sauce and onions. Erm yeah, no thanks Thys. But it is their most popular dish so…
Chips were yummy but it’s a hole-in-the-wall vendor so it was very much a wander and munch situation. Also important to note: it’s cash only.
Wow, much culture. Very art.
Rating – 1.5/5
Okay so art galleries are not my thing. But this one especially was lots of very old (and fairly boring) paintings. I appreciate the talent, and the skill, but you can only enjoy so many paintings of clouds or rivers, or rich people with dogs or swords. Also there was a Van Gogh self-portrait in this museum which I could hardly see because of the people trying to take photos of it on their phones. I mean really. You can literally Google it and see a higher quality image. Put your phone down.
5. Red Light District
You can’t go to Amsterdam and not visit the infamous Red Light District. Often portrayed in films as the city’s naughty secret – a sexy centre of taboo. In reality it’s seedy, depressing and a stark reminder of the reality of the sex trafficking industry in Europe. Windows glowed red and in the doorways lurked the miserable and middle-aged, and the clearly far-too-young. The streets were filled with bemused families desperately reconfiguring their Google maps, stag-dos who reeked of “making a tit of themselves” and the type of older man that would make you want to cross the street (to the other side). We didn’t stay for long. I probably won’t return.
No rating necessary.
6. The Heineken Experience
Recommended to us by so many people that we couldn’t not!
At the end we got two free drink tokens. We were offered to try the new “wild lager” and spent a token on this. Don’t do that. It’s not good.
This was actually really good fun, and interesting. The guide was brilliant – I can’t remember her name but she was funny, informative and clear. Plus we got to drink 3 delicious, cold beers en route so it was worth the ticket price (€18). Book online first.
7. Coffee Shop
No, really, just a coffee. But a trendy coffee.
Rating – 3.5/5
The decor was cool, the coffee and hot chocolates were good, and there was a decent range of cakes and other cafe snacks.
8. NSDM Wharf
We caught a ferry from Amsterdam Central Station to NDSM Wharf so that we could visit Pllek (a cafe/restaurant/creative hotspot) which had been recommended to us by Syl, the lovely lady we were staying with – who, it turns out, was not a murderer. It took about 20 minutes, and was completely free which is a bonus!
Created from old shipping containers and nestled in an urban landscape of street art insta backdrops, Pllek was very Amsterdam. It was like being at the watering hole of the Digital Nomads of Dam.
Rating – 4.5/5
Looking for a meet-up location that screams “I’m cool, alternative, young, hip and happening”, or somewhere for your insta-husbabe to capture your new profile picture? This is your place. Scores highly just for being so pretentiously trendy.
9. Pancake Boat
On our penultimate day in Amsterdam we took a trip on the infamous Pannenkoekenboot – yes, that is Dutch for Pancake Boat. An all-you-can-eat pancake cruise around Amsterdam. That’s right, as many pancakes as you can eat. Which, if you’re me, is 5.
You could choose between plain, bacon or apple pancakes and then load them up with extra toppings from the buffet – which inluded cheeses, jams, mini marshmallows, fruit and more!
Then – just when we thought it couldn’t get any better they opened up a secret ball pit, and let us wander around the deck of the boat (very windy) and meet the boat driver (very Dutch).
That’s right, the Pancake Boat has a ball pit with a slide. A very steep slide.
The pancakes were delicious, the boat ride was mostly smooth and most importantly we had a really good laugh.
10. Honourable Mention
Frazer would not forgive me if I didn’t take the opportunity to give a shout out to one of the real stars of the show here. If you’re looking for delicious fast food, that is excellent value for money and all over Amsterdam – then this is it. SALSA Shop.
Rating – 5/5
It might not be your conventional restaurant, but it was good enough for us to eat three of our meals in – sorry, not sorry.
Best bit – Having an absolutely kokosnoot time with two of my best friends in the very cool city of Amsterdam.
Worst bit – Probably getting caught out in a sudden and very rainy thunderstorm – although this was unusually good fun.