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.
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
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.
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.
‘Amsterdam has more canals than Venice’, the guide announces, so there are lots of options to see the city from the water. Prices vary greatly – there are even free ferries departing from the Central Station.
I chose the 1h canal tour with Lovers tours at 15€, which was not too expensive.
The tour goes through the most famous canals and sights and it was good, but not great.
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.
FREE WALKING TOUR
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
Jordaan 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.
Because 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)
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!
Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.
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.