Our recent travels in Europe began with three full days in Amsterdam. Our accommodation was located in one of the older districts of this famous city, giving us efficient access to the main sights by a combination of the frequent trams and easy walking across the flat terrain. Walking is made even more pleasurable by the fact that there is so little vehicular traffic; you are more likely to be knocked over by a cyclist than a motorist!
Walking is a great way to explore Amsterdam – viewing canals, discovering neighbourhood cafes and observing the city’s residents go about their daily lives in their relaxed and open manner.
We also viewed the canals – lined with a variety of tall, narrow buildings, both residential and commercial – from a small cruise-boat we went on for a couple of hours; and on a guided walk provided by the cruise ship we joined on the afternoon of our last day, destined to travel to Basel in Switzerland (more of that anon).
In the centre of the old city, we enjoyed the flower market – not especially grand but very colourful and interesting, even out of tulip season. We also visited a Delft-ware shop to buy some dainty gifts for Maggie’s work buddies and her oldest granddaughter.
The architecture of some of the buildings in the old city is a bit severe for our taste – Dam Square, for example. However, there are also some hidden gems, including Begijnhof, a pretty, secluded square with a long history of housing single women; one of the houses is made of wood and is the oldest house in the city.
One public building that did please our eyes was Stadsschouwburg, a theatre built in the late 19th century and faithfully refurbished in recent years.
Of the best-known sights, we visited the Van Gogh Museum, with its understated modern entrance and set in a large parkland on the edge of the old city. The museum exhibits – no photos of paintings allowed – presented the story of Van Gogh’s development as an artist very thoroughly.
We decided to pass up the opportunity to visit the vast Rijksmuseum in favour of Anne Frank House. Although online ticket sales were booked out, we took the associated advice that walk-up tickets were available after 3pm daily. Hundreds of other visitors heeded the same advice!
So, we retreated to a nearby bar/cafe – van Puffelen – reputed to have a long history of serving fine drinks and food. After a particularly disappointing experience – don’t get Maggie started on the beef carpaccio! – we returned to Anne Frank House to find that the queue was no shorter, so we aborted our mission. If this famous site is on your wish list, learn from our mistake and book online well in advance!
Van Puffelen aside, we enjoyed eating out in Amsterdam, including consistently high quality coffees at various cafes across the city. Favourite dishes included:
- delightful seafood at Boelen & Boelen Wine Bar & Restaurant
- remarkably innovative and enjoyable food at Gin Neo
- poffertjes – and pancakes – at one of several busy cafes which specialise in the little Dutch treats
So, all in all, our visit to Amsterdam was very agreeable. We could have devoted more time to its iconic destinations, but it is also a city where a few hours spent strolling around the neighbourhoods of the old town is a valid and worthwhile visitor experience.