Sometimes you visit somewhere and just know you’ll be coming back again and again within the first few minutes.
This is how I felt about Amsterdam. A place so wonderfully open, delicious and visually exciting that there is enough to keep you busy for multiple trips. In fact, I’m currently planning my next trip.
Links for everything are at the end of this post.
With just a couple of days to explore the city for the first time we decided to skip the attractions with long queues and high admission. We dropped our bags at Ecomama, our rather cosy hostel home for the weekend, and headed off in search of food.
As we were waiting for a friend to arrive at the station we plumped for the touristy Pancakes Amsterdam just across the road from Amsterdam Centraal. A few minutes waiting for a table later and we were presented with a dizzying array of pancake choices. I went for a bacon and cheese Dutch pancake which was a revelation. The toppings were cooked into the pancake and it ticked every box. I can’t speak to their authenticity but they were delicious enough to be forgiven any transgressions – yes, I would go back.
Almost every guide I read & friend I spoke to recommended a canal tour. On one level I knew Amsterdam had canals but I don’t think it had sunk in just *how many* canals until I began looking at maps of the area. Travelling by water lets you experience the city as it must have grown up around trading boats. You also get a sense of how many people are living in canal boats and house boats throughout the city.
We bought tickets for a Lovers Canal Tour using a voucher from our hostel to discount the price. The tour took an hour and gave us a great overview of the city as well as lots of local history (can’t express enough how much I love a bit of local history!) although the guide was a touch creepy. In future I might opt for a private tour to explore some of the sights off the main drag and hopefully do some photography from the water.
Wandering the streets in Amsterdam is a treat. Every turn is a new delight to feast your eyes upon. While I opted for a travel card allowing me to hop on and off trams or the underground to get about quickly, it was the slow moments walking along backstreets which truly gave me goosebumps.
Having time to slow down and work on my street photography was a rare treat. I could easily spend a week lurking around corners waiting for the perfect face to move into my frame. As it was, I had a couple of hours filled with interesting faces, locals whizzing past on their bikes and even a gang of urban herons who flocked to the market waiting for scraps of fish to be thrown out.
Eating in Amsterdam spoils you. The range of cuisine on offer is thrilling and the short list of places we wanted to go to ran to many more meals than we had time for.
We visited Foodhallen which is an undercover street food market in former tram depot, De Hallen. The stalls are set around the central hall with seating in the middle. Finding a table took a while but in the mean time we greedily eyed up the food on offer. There were stalls selling a vast range of food including strong vegan options. I went for fish tacos which were perfectly crisp with crunchy, piquant pickled cucumbers.
For brunch we booked CT Coffee & Coconuts which we’d seen enough rave reviews to have us salivating long before we got to Amsterdam. We were not disappointed. The interior is fresh with white walls, blond wood and lush greens throughout. Located in a former art-deco cinema the building’s quirks give you a sense grandeur as you walk in, your eyes drawn upwards to the mezzanine above.
The menu is billed as good food for the soul and had a mix of worthy and delicious food, juices and of course, coffee. I opted for the scrambled eggs avo and no word of a lie – I still think about how good it was on a weekly basis. I’ve tried recreating it but nothing beats the original and I’ll be back for second helpings on my next trip. Their evening menu mixes food from around the world and I’m itching to try it out. The lunch and breakfast menus have more variety for vegetarians and vegans with the evening menu being more meat heavy.
Our other great meal out was at Los Feliz. Honestly, I think you can guess this made it on the list after I saw a picture of that mural wall on instagram. I love it so much that it’s still my phone wallpaper. But Los Feliz isn’t just beautiful to look at they also serve incredibly good Mexican food.
Situated in the old fire brigade building in Albert Cuyp Markt, you step from a grey evening into a mini slice of Mexico. I would recommend booking a table to avoid disappointment or, as we did, heading in early.
Their dinner menu is packed full of flavour. The dishes are served with a creamy-smooth guacamole and there’s plenty of hot sauce. Swag. I chose the quesadillas with pork belly carnitas and my friends went for (and raved about) the tostada salads. Having eaten Mexican food all over the world but sadly never actually in Mexico I can’t vouch for its authenticity but I can tell you it was divine. The balance of cheese to meat was spot on and the whole plate was a joy from beginning to end.
They also serve brunch which means I’ll be back for more treats in the future. As well as Los Feliz, the owners have set up Bakers & Roasters where we had breakfast on our last day.
Shopping in Amsterdam has much to recommend it. I feel like we saw far more independent boutiques than we did tourist or chain stores. We didn’t have much time for browsing but did find a few spots in Oud West. Including Cuki, Wijs West and our favourite, Wildernis.
Wildernis is on Kinkerstraat, not far from De Hallen where we ate. As you approach you can see the greenery spilling out onto the pavement. Stepping inside, you almost don’t know where to look. There are plants surrounding you on every level, each one a beautiful specimen which you’ve no doubt been hankering after on instagram. I bought a few ceramics on this trip but I do plan to head back for a few leafy friends to join my plant gang at home.
Whether it was the because the first nice spring weather had arrived or because it’s an inherently nice place to live, I found the vibe in Amsterdam to be relaxed and welcoming. People were chatty and eager to give you tips on where to spend your time.
As our visit was mid-week (I spent the weekend there at a conference) it didn’t feel too busy and we only saw one stag party. A sad embarrassment of a British export, shouting their way down the street. The night life is fabled to be second to none if that’s what you’re looking for.
For me the beauty of Amsterdam is wandering the streets, discovering well curated boutiques and restaurants, and culture. In future visits I hope to explore the museums and venture out to Keukenhof Gardens. There is so much more to experience in this city which is fine by me because I plan on returning again and again.
I flew from Southampton Airport in April 2017.
We stayed at Ecomama (more Amsterdam Hostel suggestions here) for three nights in a private room.
And here’s my vlog of the trip.