TULIPS AND WINDMILLS: Easter break in rainy Amsterdam

ams01

We decided to spend Easter in Amsterdam to enjoy tulip season. I’d been to Amsterdam before so this time I didn’t need to cover all of the highlights.

ams02

We bought tickets to Keukenhof (24€ per person, including transfers), a magical place where you can see enough tulips for a lifetime. The transfer bus leaves Schiphol airport frequently, but queues can be lengthy.

Once there, we spent a few hours exploring: the place is huge and beautiful. There are countless varieties of tulips, as well as daffodils and hyacinths. You also get amazing views over the fields nearby full of blooming flowers.

ams03

ams04

ams05

ams06

ams07

ams08

ams09

ams10

ams11

ams12

ams15

ams20

ams22

There’s also a windmill and canal tours available – great if you like all your Dutch stereotypes in one place. All in all, Keukenhof is great, but also immensely touristy (and probably best visited early on a weekday if you have that option).

ams23

ams13

ams14

Back in Amsterdam we headed to Terra Zen for an early dinner. This is a Caribbean/Japanese vegan restaurant serving yummy food in the city centre. A meal for two including a soft drink and tip for 33€.

On our second day in the city we went exploring beautiful Jordaan, where you spot lots of canals and great traditional architecture. This area is full of nice little streets and you can spending hours wandering around – unfortunately for us, the weather wasn’t ideal.

ams24

To escape the cold and rain, we headed to De Hallen, an old warehouse which has been converted into a big space with independent shops, a cinema and a large food hall with lots of options.

We had lunch at Maza, a stall which served delicious large mezze plates for 12.50€, watered down with nice cold local beers. There are lots of other nice stalls to choose from, with food from all over the world and plenty of veggie options – this was an ideal find for a rainy day.

ams25

We then headed back to the city centre, stopping at Cafe Pieper for a drink. This brown cafe is a traditional bar with cosy ambience – and one of the oldest in Amsterdam. Two beers including tip for 10€.

On our last day in the city we headed to Museumplein, a nice open area with many great museums – this time we checked out Moco, a contemporary art museum which was hosting exhibitions by Banksy and Dali (tickets for 12.50€ per person). It was a cold but sunny day, so we continued on to the city centre via the many canals and cute little roads.

ams26

We had a quick lunch at old favourite Maoz (meal for two for 15€) before the weather started turning and we decided to call it a day. Amsterdam is a great city to visit for a chilled break – we had a great time!

ams28

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stay: We stayed at this Airbnb flat which was nice and well located near Amstel station (it came complete with a lovely house cat too!). Staying in Amsterdam can be very expensive, so an alternative is to stay in cities nearby as the train network is good and cheap.
  • When to go: We went in April which is an ideal time to see tulips. Even though it was Easter, everything was open as usual. But we did get a lot of rain. The other time I visited Amsterdam it was summer, and that was great.
  • Transportation: Amsterdam is very well served by trains, metro, busses and trams. The centre is easily covered on foot. The easiest way to navigate the system is to buy an OV-chipkaart (similar to an oyster card) which gives you access to the public transport in Amsterdam as well as national trains.

ams16

ams17

ams18

ams19

Advertisements

A WEEKEND IN AMSTERDAM: ITINERARY FOR SOLO TRAVELLERS

ams20_for web

I don’t normally travel by myself these days, but last weekend I took a plane to Amsterdam for a long weekend. I enjoy travelling solo, but for those who are not used to it, my tip is to keep busy – having a planned itinerary works well for me.

DAY 1

RIJKSMUSEUM

ams10_for web

My main objective with this trip was to visit the Rijksmuseum, which reopened last year following a decade-long renovation. I got there early to avoid the crowds.

The museum has a range of exhibits from different periods, but most of the highlights are found in the Gallery of Honour in the second floor. This is where you will find Rembrandt’s Night Watch and Vermeer’s Milkmaid – and it’s also the busiest place in the museum.

The renovated building is the perfect mix of old and new and the displays are beautifully curated.

When I visited, Alain de Botton’s project Art as Therapy was on display alongside some of the artworks, prompting visitors to reflect on specific themes of modern life, such as work, self and anxiety.

ALBERT CUYPMARKT / DE PIJP

ams05_for web

I had heard good things about Dutch market, so I decided to check out one of them. Albert Cuypmarkt is very big and has a wide variety of stalls. It is a good place to get something to eat (I had the fries – yum!).

The market is in De Pijp, a nice neighbourhood with lots of bars and cafes.

VONDELPARK

ams06_for web

This is a very nice park, located within walking distance from the main museums. Although it’s busy, it’s a world apart from the crowded old city centre.

Here you can see the locals going for a run or walking their dogs, but Amsterdam being Amsterdam, it’s also a nice place for a bike ride.

BOAT TOUR

VAN GOGH MUSEUM

Alongside Anne Frank’s house, this is probably the most popular attraction in Amsterdam. Queuing for at least one hour is the norm, so booking in advance is strongly recommended.

This museum has many paintings by Van Gogh and these are displayed in the context of his life.

But this place is simply just too crowded, and fails to allow for the level of contemplation needed to actually take it all in.

DAY 2

FREE WALKING TOUR

ams19_for web

This was a great start to my second day in Amsterdam. Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour through the city centre leaves Dam Square every day at 11.15 and 14.15, and it’s very popular. They offer similar tours in other European cities and they’re supposed to be very good as well.

You are expected to pay what you think is fair at the end (I gave 10€, which seemed to be adequate) and  it was well worth it.
The tour goes around the city centre and provides a lot of context to the sights.

It lasts 3 hours with a 30min coffee break, which initially I thought might be too long, but it was a good amount given how much you see.

It was also a good way of seeing the Red Light District without being worried about being a woman on my own.

JORDAAN / CANALS

ams18_for webJordaan was my favourite area of Amsterdam. This is a laid-back neighbourhood with many nice little shops.

It is a nice place to wander around and have a break. It’s also one of the best areas to see the traditional Dutch architecture of the 17th century.

This is also next to the Canal Belt of Amsterdam full of houseboats and cafes.

haarlem2_for webBecause of how small Holland is, it’s really easy to travel around. I decided to go to Haarlem, a small town reached by a 15 minute train ride.

Haarlem is very nice. The city centre is full of character and it was bustling with life on the sunny Saturday afternoon that I spent there.

After visiting St Bavo’s church (the famous organ was played by a young Mozart), stop for Italian gelato or a beer in one of the many bars and cafes nearby.

Trains leave from Amsterdam Centraal every 10-15 minutes and return tickets cost around 9€.

Our little room looked very bare at first with nothing on the walls; but thanks to Daddy who had brought my film-star collection and picture postcards on beforehand, and with the aid of a paste pot and brush, I have transformed the walls into one gigantic picture. This makes it look much more cheerful…
(The Diary of Anne Frank, July 11, 1942)

ams24_for web

Anne Frank House is open to the public thanks to the work of her father Otto.

Queues here take at least 2 hours during the summer, but after 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays the wait is shorter.

Thankfully, inside the place is quiet and the atmosphere respectful. The display is built around Anne’s quotes and you are taken through each of the Secret Annex’s rooms.

I always find this kind of exhibition difficult to visit in a tourist setting, but it is definitely worth a go.

JULIA’S CUCINA ITALIANA

When I first arrived at the Central Station from the airport one of the first places I spotted was Julia’s Cucina Italiana – and of course I knew I had to stop there.

Not only has this place got my name, but also it’s exactly my kind of place!

You choose a type of pasta and a type of sauce and they quickly prepare it in front of you. The food is served in takeaway boxes so you can have some hot pasta on your journey home. A small portion costs from 5.50€.

I went there twice and also brought back some branded napkins!

 DAY 3

BAR BUKOWSKI

ams25_for web

Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.
(Charles Bukowski)

I heard about Bar Bukowski before going to Amsterdam and thought it’d be a good stop for breakfast on my way to the airport.

This place is right next to Oosterpark, but completely off the tourist paths (they don’t even have a menu in English, but staff is happy to help you).

I had the Amsterdam Blend tea and a cheese croissant – both delicious! The pancakes they were eating at the table next to mine also looked great. A very nice place to visit to scape the crowded city centre.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Amsterdam is very popular so there are lots of options of flights. Eurostar is a good alternative – book 3 months in advance for the best prices. The train trip from London St Pancras takes only 4h40.
  • Stay: Accommodation is not cheap in Amsterdam, so book in advance. Travelling solo invariably means paying a premium for accommodation, so I ended up staying at Mercure Hotel Amsterdam City, which was not very close to the city centre but only a short metro ride away. In the city centre there are lots of options for hostels, but in Amsterdam these are definitely best for those who want to party hard.
  • When to go: There is lots to do outside, so go when it’s hot to enjoy the canals and cafe terraces. May is the time to go to visit the tulip fields.
  • Museums: The main museums can get very busy, so book online to avoid the massive queues. In the summer some of the larger museums stay open late on Fridays and Saturdays and they tend to be less busy after 8pm.
  • Transportation: Amsterdam is very well served by trains and metro, and because it’s so flat it’s easy to walk to most places. You can buy an OV-chipkaart (similar to an Oyster card) and top up as you go.
  • Travelling alone: I always enjoy travelling by myself and find it really easy. It’s a great way to enjoy a place and do just what you want. I like planning a simple itinerary in advance and keeping busy. And it’s always easy to meet people in pub crawls or hostels.

ams26_for web

TRAVEL WISHLIST: AMSTERDAM

Pretty much everyone I know has been to Amsterdam, but somehow I missed the boat.
But with the Rijksmuseum finally reopening after ten years, I decided not to wait anymore, so this August I’m finally going for a long weekend in the city!

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: There are lots of options for flights, but it only takes 4h40 on the Eurostar, which is more convenient.
  • Stay: Accommodation is not particularly cheap, but there are options for all tastes.
  • Do: for a cultural break, follow the Rijksmuseum with a visit to Anne Frank’s house and the Van Gogh museum.
Picture

The Rijksmuseum (photo from Wikipedia)