Amsterdam was on the top of my list of European cities I wanted to visit for a long time. In 2017 the trip finally became true and at the beginning of June, I spent three days in the Dutch capital.
In addition to consulting a tourist book to plan what I would visit in Amsterdam, I also had a look at the I Amsterdam website. This platform offers practical information not only for those who are visiting this city but also for the ones who are planning to move there either to study, work or even open a business.
From a tourist point of view, the I Amsterdam website was very useful tool for me not only to see what the cultural offer is and what are the most interesting points in Amsterdam, but also to understand the structure of the city and the how the public transport works, which is usually one of those first things that can eventually be more confusing when we get for the first time to a city.
Where did I go and what did I see in Amsterdam?
My tour of Amsterdam started in the centre of the city. I passed Dam Square – one of the most important squares in the city – where we can also find the Royal Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk or New Church – where the World Press Photo exhibition was taking place at the time – and the National Monument in memory of the resistance and suffering of the Dutch people during World War II.
The Museumplein is a public space where three of Amsterdam’s most prestigious museums are located: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. This is a very nice place to sit on the lawn and chill out with a group of friends.
Despite being one of Amsterdam’s ex-libris, I did not visit the Rijksmuseum, a museum dedicated to the art and history of the city. However, I enjoyed the outdoor space in front of it, where we can find the famous sign “I Amsterdam”, surrounded by a few dozen people trying to take pictures with their selfie-sticks.
Another “must do” in Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Museum. This museum has an impressive collection of works by the Dutch painter. The audio-guide and the way the exhibition is organized takes us through the artist’s career, from the moment he decided to dedicate himself to painting, his learning, his troubled relationship with his father and the friendship he had with his brother who helped him financially, the artists who inspired him, the technical rehearsals he did for some of his works until the point his mental health started to decline, culminating with his suicide.
I recommend buying tickets to the Van Gogh Museum in advance as the queues on site usually take a long time. In my case, I bought the combined ticket that included this museum and a boat trip on the Amsterdam canals through the company Blue Boat. It cost € 31.50 and I bought it at a kiosk located at the place where the boats of this company are docked and start the cruise, very close to the Heineken Experience. When I bought the ticket, I also had to book the day and the time when I intended to visit the museum. It may happen that there is no availability for the time you picked in the first place and need to choose another one.
The cruise lasted 75 minutes and took us on a panoramic tour of Amsterdam’s canal ring – the network of canals that in 2010 won the UNESCO World Heritage status. Along the way, we can admire the 17th-century buildings so characteristic of the capital of the Netherlands and observe the evolution of the city to a more modern architecture, mainly in the North zone of the canal ring.
And finally, the visit I had been waiting for so long: the Anne Frank House! Since I read the Diary of this Jewish heroine whose tragic fate made her a historical symbol, visiting the Secret Annex during my stay in Amsterdam was one of my priorities. I recommend buying the tickets online well in advance, as the queue to buy tickets in loco is quite long.
When I bought the tickets on the website I chose the day and the time when I wanted to make the visit. I picked the 12 o’clock timeslot and when I arrived I just showed the ticket to a member of staff who was checking the entrance and I was immediately directed to a specific queue. I waited only five minutes. Upon entering the building, I was offered an audio-guide available in several languages.
This building was the place where Otto Frank – Anne’s Dad – was running his own business until he had to go into hiding with his family. The Secret Annex – in that same building – became the home for two Jewish families. The visit starts at the building’s warehouse, then we go up the different levels passing by the offices where, through texts and images displayed on the walls, we learn about the Frank family’s history: their move to Amsterdam to escape the Nazi regime, the failed attempt of exile in the United States, the preparation for a life in hiding in the Secret Annex and the help of other members from Otto Frank’s company who risked their own lives to try to save this family. And finally, we get to the famous bookcase and the secret entrance behind it. After visiting the annex, the visit to the museum ends with an exhibition of the diaries of Anne Frank and several of her manuscripts.
For those interested in history, who read the diary or have only a general knowledge about what happened in that place, I think visiting Anne Frank House is very worth it.
Another interesting place to visit is the Jewish Cultural Quarter and the Portuguese Synagogue, which were a very interesting surprise for me when I realized that there is an Iberian heritage in Amsterdam dating back to the end of the 16th century, when the Jewish community from Portugal and Spain, Catholic kingdoms, was forced to emigrate to escape the Inquisition.
The Jewish Cultural Quarter is formed by the Jewish Historical Museum and its Children’s Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue, the National Holocaust Memorial and the National Holocaust Museum. The ticket costs € 15 and includes entrance to all these places.
Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to visit the Portuguese Synagogue, but I can say that just by visiting this building the ticket is already worth it! Like the other museums I visited in the city, I was given an audio-guide at the entrance. The tour begins at a basement where the Treasure Chambers are located. Here we can watch a video about the origin of the Jewish community in Amsterdam and admire a collection of valuable objects used in the ceremonies still held today in this house of Jewish worship.
The Esnoga is today still exactly the same as it was in 1675, the year in which the building was finally completed. There is no electricity, and its interior is lit by the hundreds of candles on the big chandeliers in the room.
Traditionally, in all orthodox synagogues, women sit separately from men. In the Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam the space reserved for the ladies is in a gallery that can be accessed by stairs.
The world’s oldest functioning Jewish library is also within the complex of the Portuguese Synagogue. It was established in 1616 and it’s part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Register since 2003 and its entire collection is protected by Dutch law as part of the nation’s heritage.
And of course, no visit to Amsterdam would be complete without going through the much-talked Red Light District! A zone of bars, where we can also find the famous coffee shops and several restaurants. A kind of Bairro Alto for the Lisboetas, but bigger, more mediatic and bustling.
Where did I eat?
I loved the food in Amsterdam! Here are some suggestions of places where I had my meals:
Mata Hari – This restaurant is in the Red Light District and has a downstairs bar area and a stage for live performances and a dining area upstairs. My boyfriend and I ate a lamb dish with yoghurt sauce and pine nuts which was amazing. I recommend calling for reservations.
Van Speyk – We found this restaurant by chance while walking through the city centre and what caught our eye was the selection of traditional Dutch dishes. We wanted to try the local cuisine as such we opted for a beef dish with sausage and mustard.
Mook – My dear Mook … The best pancakes I’ve ever eaten! The menu included not only sweet but also savoury pancakes, more suitable for lunch. If you go to Amsterdam you have to go to Mook!
Foodhallen – For those who live in Lisbon, a sort of Time Out Market (Mercado da Ribeira). For those who know London, a kind of Convent Garden. The ideal place for anyone who is looking for street food and lower prices.
O Girassol – Well, we decided to try a Portuguese restaurant in Amsterdam and we don’t regret it at all! By the Amstel River, this restaurant which according to the information on the website is the oldest of its kind in the Netherlands, features a menu of traditional Portuguese dishes with a touch of modernity. It is well worth a meal there and I was pleased to see that there were many Dutch people going there as well.
Where did I stay?
Whenever I go on a trip and I need to choose the place where I will be staying, I start by looking for houses or rooms on Airbnb. But at some point, I realized that, depending on my destination, Airbnb may not be the cheapest option. I then search on platforms like Expedia or Bookings.com to compare prices, also taking into account the proximity to the areas that I want to visit. During these days in Holland, we stayed at CITIEZ Hotel Amsterdam. The room itself was small but enough for two people, considering we didn’t have much luggage and we were not spending much time in the room. In my opinion, the two good things about this hotel were: proximity to the airport – number 69 bus stops at Ruimzicht bus stop, right next to this hotel, and connects to Schiphol Airport, taking about 25 minutes only – and the proximity to the trams number 1 and 15 which go to Amsterdam Centraal and the journey takes between 30 and 40 minutes.
How did I go around?
The way how public transport work at the city I’m going to is usually the thing that concerns me the most. As such I like to familiarize myself with the local transport network beforehand. I hate arriving in a new city and feel lost because I do not know what transport I need to take to get out of the airport, get to the hotel, etc.
The company that operates the public transport in Amsterdam is called GVB and includes train, tram, bus, metro and boat. There are different types of tickets and passes. In our case, it was worth buying daily tickets – GVB Day Passes – which can be from 1 to 7 days and with prices starting at € 7.50 up to € 34. This type of pass can be used in the GVB metro, tram and bus.
For those intending to visit several museums, may be worth buying the I Amsterdam City Card instead. This card offers free admission to many of the city’s museums, unlimited GVB transport (bus, metro and tram), discounts at various restaurants and includes a boat tour on the Amsterdam canals. It is available for periods of 24h, 48h, 72h and 96h with prices starting from € 59. Can be purchased online or in the “I Amsterdam” stores in the city. This option is good for anyone planning to visit at least three museums a day. It was not my case, because I don’t really like visiting the museums in a rush, so I chose to buy individual tickets for what I really wanted to see.
There are other options for those planning to visit different regions outside the Amsterdam area, allowing access to trains and other bus networks, including night buses. The section “Public Transport in Amsterdam” of the I Amsterdam website which I mentioned earlier has a great explanation of the various options of public transport passes available in Amsterdam and was a great help in preparing for my trip. Another digital tool that was very useful to me is the GVB app which is available for free download and helps to plan the trips in the city.
And this is it for the post about my trip to Amsterdam, the first of several I hope! I absolutely loved the city, the atmosphere that although very busy and touristy in the more central areas, can also be quite relaxed, the people are friendly and almost everyone speaks English so communication was not a problem. I’m now also more curious to know better the Dutch culture and to visit other regions of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a kingdom that played an important role in the History of Europe.
And you? Have you ever been to Holland? What other sites do you suggest visiting?
P.S .: If you are planning to go to Amsterdam, watch this video on youtube too. I followed some of the tips presented and did not regret it: