April 13, 2024

Marline Travel Sea

Fly to a New World, Set Foot on Every Adventure

what to do, eat and drink

11 min read

If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be Amsterdam. I envision spending my days clutching bunches of tulips, cycling along the canal and waving to locals (everyone I’ve ever met in Amsterdam is so friendly). Yet, when you say to people how much you love Amsterdam, and that you’ve been there multiple times, I’ve found there’s only one response: “we all know what you’re going to be doing there, wink, wink.” For a long time the city of Amsterdam has had a reputation as the go-to destination for stag and hen parties, as well as those wanting to get super high, in coffee shops, surrounded by a fog of marijuana smoke.

So much so that, last year, Amsterdam’s council launched a “stay away” campaign aimed at British tourists asking them not to visit, if all they wanted to do was get high or run feral on a stag do. The campaign even went as far as to target Google search feeds and, at the time, searching for “cheap hotel Amsterdam” or “stag night Amsterdam” triggered government adverts warning that a messy night in the Dutch capital could lead to a 140 euro fine, a criminal record and permanent health damage. It was all in an effort to crack down on so-called “nuisance tourism” as locals were so fed up of their streets being taken over by lairy, drunk groups whose only mission for visiting was getting as smashed as humanly possible.

Since the campaign, there has been a small drop in British tourism to the city, and, while some locals have praised the advertisement, others are worried it could make the city and its people seem unwelcoming. From my experience, having visited the Dutch capital a number of times, both before and after the campaign, the city is still as friendly and welcoming as ever. But, perhaps that’s because I could not imagine anything worse than being labelled a ‘nuisance’ tourist, and much prefer to explore Amsterdam and discover things to do beyond the partying and sex shows. I’ve found, once you begin to see Amsterdam beyond its reputation, you really uncover just how special this place is.

How to get to Amsterdam…

There are flights to Amsterdam from pretty much every major UK airport, with most flights taking just over an hour to get there, and prices going from just £15 (although, when I searched I mostly found flight prices floating around the £130 – £150 mark, one-way fare.)

But while flights are quicker, since the Eurostar expanded, and can now take you to Amsterdam from London St Pancras, I think it’s the far superior way to get there. It does take longer (three hours and 52 minutes) but when you factor in the faff of getting to an airport in time for check-in, and the travel to and from the airport in both destinations, it’s actually around the same amount of time. Plus, train travel is just a much more romantic way to travel, as you whizz through the countryside, and stop off at different cities along the way. It’s also more environmentally friendly, so you can sit and daydream, staring out the window, while also feeling smug and like you’re “doing your bit” for the planet.

Where to stay in Amsterdam…

Remember how I said if you catch the train to Amsterdam you cut out all the faff of getting to and from the airport (oh how I hate debating whether to splash out on a taxi and begin my holiday sooner, or wait and get a long and confusing airport shuffle)? Well, if you stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station you can be in your hotel room within five minutes of arriving in Amsterdam. Seriously, the clue is in the name but this hotel is right by Centraal Station, you just wheel out and boom, you’re there.

The central (centraal) location also makes the DoubleTree an ideal base for exploring the city, as the hotel is within one kilometre of Dam Square (where you can admire the Royal Palace and, err, Madame Tussauds) and Haarlemmerdijk shopping (or, indeed, window shopping as it houses some pricy garm stores). It’s also incredibly close to the old centre, also known as the Red Light District and (more on this later) there’s a lot more to offer there than people think.

Sometimes city breaks can be exhausting as once you’re out for the day, you have to prepare yourself for being out all day long, taking a huge bag full of everything you need. Whereas, I enjoyed being able to pop back to the hotel to change in the evening, without cutting into too much of my time in Amsterdam as well as, admittedly, a few afternoon naps. Many of the rooms also have floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking the city and the canal, with roomy beds and super friendly staff (one lovely man even recommended his favourite pancake spot to us.)

If you’re looking for something more intimate (*cough* sexy and romantic) the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam is an indulgent, blow-out option. The hotel is comprised of six 17thand 18th century palaces and sits right on the Herengracht (considered to be the most important canal in the city, as in the 17th century the richest merchants and most influential lived there, a legacy that lives on today, with a property overlooking it highly sought after).

Rooms overlook the water or the private garden. There’s two restaurants housed within the hotel (one, Spectrum, is Michelin starred) while Peacock Alley does a very pretty (read Instagrammable) afternoon tea, and is slightly more casual for lunches but, let it be known, this is not really the sort of place where you slouch down in your stained tracksuit bottoms and slippers for breakfast.

Every detail of the hotel, from the chic marble lobby to the rooms which are designed in a luxury, cream minimalism style that felt very much like Charlotte from Sex and The City’s apartment (the one she gets from Bunny, in the divorce). You even, on check-in, get the chance to select what fragrance you want your room to smell like, from a selection from French candlemaker Cire Trudon. There’s also an extensive pillow menu… Now that’s luxury.

a building with a body of water in front of itpinterest
Courtesy Hilton

The outside of the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam

What to do in Amsterdam…

Head to the art district

I’m aware, despite everything I said above, that you’ll probably want to check out some bars and clubs in Amsterdam. But first: art. The art district is known as Spiegelkwartier and, even if you’re not particularly art-enthused, is one of the most enchanting neighbourhoods for wandering. I dedicated a whole day for mooching about the area, as alongside its museums, 100 art specialists have their galleries, offices and stores. Along one street (Nieuwe Spiegelstraat) I spent a happy morning weaving in and out of smaller, individual art shops (it’s fun to pretend you can afford art, when really you’re just using the shop as a gallery.) The street is also home to various antique shops, housing all sorts of relics from the past, from brass pharmaceutical devices to classic tulip vases.

Go to the thrift shops

Fashion more your thing? Episode, the largest second hand clothing shop in Amsterdam has two floors of clothes to rummage through. Just watch out for the bikes whizzing past, I almost got hit by one running across to look at some threadbare rugs, that, let’s face it, I would never have bought and were not worth breaking an arm for.

Hit the museums

All shopped out? It’s time to hit the museums, all clustered around the famous Museumplein square – home to various overpriced (but sweet) coffee shops and stalls for picking up all the touristy bits everyone likes to bring home. There is, of course, the famous Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum, which have been favourites of mine in the past, but on my latest visit my very arty friend suggested we go to Moco. It’s like being in a townhouse, owned by someone incredibly cool (and rich) with impeccable modern art taste. There’s works by Banksy, Basquiat and Keith Haring plus (and don’t pretend it’s not part of the reason you go to art galleries) a gift shop full of prints and pointless, quirky accessories that your home doesn’t really need but you’ll get any way. Oh and I challenge anyone to scale the bronze rocking horse outside, in heels (my Kat Maconie boots served me well) better than I did (which was screeching repeatedly that I wasn’t going to manage.)

Art-wise, if you fancy venturing further afield, there’s the street art museum, STRAAT on the NDSM wharf. You’ll have to get the free ferry there, from nearby Centruum station (closeby your hotel, if you stay at the DoubleTree) but it’s worth it for more than 180 artworks by 170+ artists, with a collection that represents street artists from across the globe. Oh and there’s also a huge swing – Adam Lookout nearby, which I didn’t venture on this time but do plan on next time I visit in warmer climates.

Wander around the cobbled streets

For sightseeing, it’s all about getting almost lost on the city’s cobbled streets – and I say ‘almost lost’ as with the canal connecting most of the city centre’s main streets it’s very easy to find your way back again. There’s the flower market, on the Singel canal, where I picked up lots of seeds that I am yet to plant and where a man sold me some wooden tulips before promptly falling in love with me. No, he didn’t ask for my number or do anything to indicate this other than simply being polite, but sssh, OK.

Take a boat tour

But, if you don’t enjoy feeling lost, another just-as-romantic way to see the city is via boat tour. There’s plenty on offer and most can be done in almost all weather conditions, it was cold when I was there but we snuggled up under blankets on the Friendship tour – which was just over 18 euros – and listened as our captains told us all about the history of the city.

Please don’t judge when I say I can only really remember the scandals and affairs of the Heineken family. Getting the real tea is my culture. I actually enjoyed the boat tour so much I also took another one at night, this time on the Lovers tour, to enjoy the twinkling lights of the city, which I would have enjoyed more if the couple opposite me weren’t enthusiastically groping one another. I guess the clue was in the name.

Where to eat and drink in Amsterdam…

I’m going to let you in on a holiday (and home) secret that has revolutionised my boozy afternoons: the half-pint pub crawl. Take an area and explore it, stopping into any pubs or bars that take your fancy, and simply have a little half pint in each little pub you come across.

It means you get to see lots of new places, have a fun wander, meet some locals but you don’t get so hammered that you ruin your holiday by getting labelled a nuisance tourist.

We spent a happy afternoon wandering through the old centre of Amsterdam (otherwise known as the red-light district) as so many of the pubs in the area are SO cute and I don’t think that gets mentioned enough, with red leather bar stools, wooden tables and stained-glass golden windows. wooden panelling and rusty, yet charming, mirrors. These are known as brown cafes and are basically Amsterdam’s pubs and are named as such, well, because of all the wood in the pub, they’re dark brown. However, they were also named that because, back when you could smoke inside them, wallpapers and curtains eventually turned brown because of the cigarette smoke. Oh and here’s another cute fact: the first brown cafes were created in people’s homes as a way to make a little extra money. Eventually, permits were needed but the homely style, where walls are covered in quirky art and old photographs, remains.

Some of my favourites included: In Het Aepjen, it’s been serving since 1544 making it one of the oldest pubs in Amsterdam (on the corner of old Zeedijk) and Louis Bar, which claims to be Amsterdam’s smallest bar and where we had shots of a homemade vanilla spirit. But, mostly, I’d recommend wandering and finding some of your own favourite spots as it was with this technique that we stumbled upon The Queen’s Head, a gay bar where we arrived just in time for one of their famous drag shows.

If you’re sick of half-pints and want to get all dressed up and feel glam, I’m going to throw an idea your way that, on past experience, you might reject. Go to a hotel bar: the DoubleTree Hilton’s LuminAir is a rooftop bar and terrace, with views that stretch way over the city that serves really inventive cocktails and nibbles. My favourite? ‘The Clear Blue Sky’ which is basically what Taylor Swift’s Lover album would be if it was a drink. Don’t believe me that hotel bars can have vibes? Our taxi driver told us it was the hottest spot in town and everyone was going there. And I trust him.

Food-wise, after a day of art-hopping, check out TOZI. It’s in walking distance of the museums, and Vondelpark (the largest park in Amsterdam) and is Italian food with a flourish, they serve their Cacio e Pepe in a Reel-worthy cheese wheel, but don’t just order based on what your Instagram algorithm would like and instead add in some other bits, you won’t regret it. I had pumpkin done five ways, and who knew pumpkin could be done five ways, but it can, and it’s delicious. Or, just take the hassle out of picking food (so! Tiring!) and instead just go for the best of TOZI, which features all their highlights and is 69 euros per person, which for nine whole dishes is well worth it, I say.

For traditional pancakes, try Café de Schreierstoren, across the canal from the DoubleTree. It was recommended to us by a local and was so good we went back twice. Not only are the pancakes delicious but you eat them inside a central old defence tower, and is also said to be the spot where women used to say goodbye to their husbands before they started at sea (Café de Schreierstoren translates as weeping tower).

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