This is the second of three posts I’m planning covering our trip to The Netherlands back in February/March. The first, which you can find here, was all about our visits to two aviation museums and some of Flevoland’s oldest and highest bits of land. This post is all about our visit to the Dutch capital itself, whilst the final post will be about spotting at Schiphol airport with a few other bits of The Netherlands thrown in.
From our base in Almere it was an easy 25-minute train ride into Amsterdam’s Centraal station. We had opted to purchase an Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket which cost €17 each and allowed us 1 day of unlimited travel in and around Amsterdam on Buses, Metro, Trams & Trains. As well as the city itself, these tickets cover parts of Flevoland and North Holland, allowing you to stay further out and travel in cheaply.
Our first stop after arriving into Amsterdam was somewhere for breakfast and as usual the spot was decided after a quick look for recommendations on the internet. The Breakfast Club on Haarlemmerplein is about a five-minute bus ride from Centraal station. With breakfast choices ranging from a Full English to Chicken Waffles or pancakes, we were spoilt for choice. I went for the Chicken Waffles which was all cooked perfectly and the siracha & honey sauces gave the meal a sweet but spicy kick.
After filling up on an excellent breakfast, our first stop was my new city default, a walking tour, this one organised by Sandemans New Europe. The first thing to note is that although the tour itself is free, Amsterdam has recently introduced a tourist tax and so you must pay this €1.50 fee before you can join the tour. The tour itself was delayed starting by half an hour due to a lack of people, however we were soon underway from our starting point in Dam Square. One of the first stops on the tour was the former headquarters of the Dutch East India Company which, founded in 1602, became the world’s first publicly listed company. The Oost-Indisch Huid or ‘East India House’ was constructed in 1606 and after a restoration in 1976, including the rebuilding of the grand meeting room, the building has been declared a national monument. The building is now used by the University of Amsterdam.
The next stop on the tour was the former Jewish Quarter and the Waterloopein Flea Market which now occupies part of the area. As with most of Europe, Amsterdam’s Jewish population was decimated by the Nazis in World War 2 and after the war the 5,000 Jews that returned to the city were just a sixteenth of the population pre-war. The Jewish Quarter itself also suffered and the former bustling neighbourhood was mostly abandoned until the mid-1950s when the local government made plans for renovation. The Flea Market has been operating in Waterloopein square since the post-war era and now has over 300 stalls open 6 days a week (not Sundays).
After the stop near Waterloopein, our next stop was a courtyard garden within the Amsterdam Centre for International Law, a part of the University of Amsterdam. The courtyard garden provides an oasis of calm and quiet and although our stay was brief, it was easy to forget that the garden was just a short distance from the bustling city. Continuing on, we passed through a small part of the Amsterdam Museum where the guide explained a bit more of the city’s history to us and it’s strategic importance as a port.
One of the final main stops on the tour was Begijnhof, a hofjes (a courtyard surrounded by Almshouses) and is the oldest of all the hofjes in Amsterdam having being founded in the middle ages. Begijnhof is home to two churches, the English Reformed Church which is beautifully imposing in the centre of the courtyard, and the hidden Catholic clandestine church that was created in 1671 and kept secret given the anti-Catholic sentiment at the time. There was plenty more included in the tour that I’m not going to include here, and I’d certainly recommend going on one whatever city you’re in.
After the tour it was time to find some lunch and a quick search online had provided me with a slightly different option, Waterkant, which serves Surinamese food! Suriname is a former Dutch colony in South American and so although from the other side of the world, I’m allowing this in my ‘eat local food’ rule. Waterkant is on the west side of Amsterdam, about 10 minutes’ walk from Anne Frank’s house and is located on the side of the Singelgracht canal under a multi-story car park (bear with it!)
One of the main speciality of Waterkant are delicious Surinamese Puntjes (or Surinamese buns) with various toppings. We opted for the Philly Cheese Steak variety which came as a slightly spicy variety with bell peppers and jalapenos. Perfect as a lunch option for a busy day, I can imagine that Waterkant is thriving on a summers day with people visiting for drinks or meals.
After a filling lunch and a bit of relief from the rain, we were ready to get back on the road and headed off to our next stop, a boat tour with Those Dam Boat Guys. The tours are bookable online with the meeting point being Café Wester which is a short walk from where their small boat is moored. The first striking thing about the group was the mix of nationalities with out captain being an Australian expat named Julian and the tour consisting of 4 Brits (including us), 2 Canadians, an American and an Israeli.
A lot of the tour was spent chatting as a group and learning what life is like living in Amsterdam from Julian. Along with some of the sights of Amsterdam, including the Waterloopein Market we had seen earlier in the day and Amsterdam’s famous floating flower market, Bloemenmarkt. The Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market and was founded in 1862. Today only a few of the stalls still sell fresh flowers, however the market is one of the main suppliers of dried tulip bulbs to the city’s tourists.
One of the key sites that the boat tour allowed us to see from a different angle was the Homomonument, which commemorates all gay men and lesbians who have been subject to persecution due to their homosexuality. The Homomonument was designed to “inspire and support lesbians and gays in their struggle against denial, oppression and discrimination.” The monument is formed of three pink granite triangles which are set to create a larger triangle in the ground. If you’re heading to this by foot, it’s next to the historic Westerkerk church.
If you fancy going on a boat tour whilst you’re in Amsterdam (it’s a city of canals, why wouldn’t you?), I’d certainly recommend booking one with Those Dam Boat Guys as with them being independent and having smaller groups, I felt the tour was a lot more personal.
After finishing the tour we headed to one of the lesser know sites in Amsterdam, ‘Zevenlandenhuidzen’ which is a row of seven houses built in the styles of different European countries. The houses were built in 1894 and designed by the Dutch architect Tjeerd Kuipers with Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Russia, The Netherlands and England all represented. This is a fascinating display of architecture and if you’ve got a bit of time to spare, make sure to head across and have a look.
Our final stop for our day in Amsterdam was another recommended restaurant for some dinner before heading back to our base in Almere. Moeders or ‘Mothers’ is a restaurant that serves traditional home cooked Dutch food whilst the walls are covered in pictures of the mothers of the restaurant’s patrons and staff. We opted for the Dutch Ricedish sharing platter which is a combination of all the Dutch specialities served by the restaurant including ‘Granny’s stewed beef’ and hotchpot all of which were absolutely delicious! This platter cost us just €20 each and so was great value for money, especially considering the amount of food we got!
Overall, our day in Amsterdam gave us an excellent overview of the city and some of the things it has to offer. I enjoyed seeing Amsterdam from both street and water level and I would thoroughly recommend doing a tour of some sort to learn more about the city. All the food I got to try was delicious, especially the slightly less traditional Surinamese buns, and I can’t wait until I can re-visit The Netherlands and see some more sites and try some more food.