Last Updated on March 8, 2020
Welcome to my Amsterdam blog post. In this article, I’ll share impressions from my recent visit to this magical city criss-crossed by canals and filled with determined cyclists, coffee shops, and tall narrow houses. Pickled herring and pannekoeken? Yes please!
Daniel and I arrived in Amsterdam after wrapping up a tour of Istanbul and Cappadocia in January. The last time I visited Amsterdam was over 20 years ago and I honestly didn’t recall much of the experience. I was looking forward to rediscovering the city with Daniel and his daughter, Katjia, who flew out to Amsterdam from New York to meet us there.
Amsterdam Blog Part 1: Dam Square
Positioned in the historical center of Amsterdam, Dam Square is located directly in front of the Royal Palace and is a popular gathering place and tourist attraction. The first time I entered Dam Square, I was stunned by the beauty and grandeur of the square and all the buildings surrounding it. We returned to Dam Square a few times during our stay, once at sunset and once at sunrise. It was fun to see how the square changed at different times of day.
Dam Square at Sunset
Dam Square at Dawn
Amsterdam Blog Part 2: Oh those Beautiful Canals
Amsterdam is famous for its many canals – in fact there are over 1000 kilometers of canals in the city as well as 1500 bridges. Constructed in the 17th century, the historic canal rings in the city’s center are now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I fell in love with Amsterdam’s waterways and spent many enjoyable hours wandering the streets, camera in hand, taking photos of canals.
Canals at Sunset
Canals at Night
Canal Boat Cruise
As one of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam, canal boat cruises shuttle hoards of eager tourists around the city’s waterways in cute little boats. We were initially hesitant to take a cruise because it seemed a bit *too* touristy, but we eventually decided to go for it anyway. The boat ride ended up being pretty fun and it was a great way to explore the city’s canal system from a different perspective.
Amsterdam Blog Part 3: Bicycles and Tiny Cars
In Amsterdam, cars do not rule the road. Rather, the road belongs to vehicles of the two-wheeled variety and the streets are always filled with an impressive number of cyclists. Most streets have dedicated bike lanes that look a lot like sidewalks. For the uninitiated, it’s easy to walk blindly into a bike lane – only to narrowly miss being mowed down by a bevvy of cyclists. I learned to constantly look for bikes before crossing any sidewalk, intersections or road.
Cycling Around VondelPark
Katjia and I were curious about cycling in this fair city, but we were a bit nervous to join the throng on Amsterdam’s congested bike lanes. So we rented bikes one afternoon and pedaled around Vondelpark for a couple of hours. The timing of our visit was unfortunate as we happened to ride right into a marathon that was situated in the park’s center. But once we got past the crowds, we had an enjoyable afternoon.
Daniel is obsessed with tiny cars. Every time we pass an ultra small vehicle, Daniel whips out his phone and takes a photo. And there are a lot of tiny cars in Amsterdam – most notably the Canta LX which is so small that it it’s legal to drive them in bike lanes.
You can read more about these tiny cars in Daniel’s blog post: Spotlight: the Canta LX (and other tiny cars of Amsterdam)
Amsterdam Blog Part 4: All the Museums
There are a lot of great museums in Amsterdam – the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House and MoCo Museum to name just a few. Most are situated in an area of the city called the museum district. We are not particularly big on museums so we didn’t end up seeing very many. But we did end up making it to a couple of them.
Anne Frank House
I first read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank in elementary school, and her harrowing story has stayed with me ever since. It was incredible to see the rooms where she and her family hid from the Nazis behind a hidden door. Seeing her actual bedroom with the magazine photos that she pinned to the walls was a powerful and sobering experience. She really was a remarkable young woman.
Everyone should visit the Anne Frank House at least once in their lifetime.
We also visited the Amsterdam Museum during our stay and learned all about the city’s history. Did you know that Amsterdam is built on eleven million poles because most of the city is situated below sea level? Neither did I until I visited the Amsterdam Museum.
Amsterdam Blog Part 5: Foods of Amsterdam
Amsterdam is home to many tasty local foods and delicacies. When Daniel returned from his last visit to the city, he came back raving about the food and I have been looking forward to eating them ever since. (You can read Daniel’s blog post about it here: Bitterballen, hotchpotch stampot, jenever, and haring. Hunting down traditional Dutch food in Amsterdam).
Unfortunately, I was sick during much of our visit to Amsterdam so I wasn’t able to indulge in as many local foods as I would have liked. For those who followed along on my Pacific Crest Trail Blog, you’ll recall that I have an autoimmune disease called Ulcerative Colitis. When I was hiking the PCT, I found long-distance hiking with Ulcerative Colitis to be especially challenging.
I was worried that long-term travelling would be equally difficult, but thankfully things have been a bit easier this time around. I’ve tracked down medication here in Europe – which is a fraction of the cost that I paid in the United States. As a result, my symptoms are now under control and I’m feeling a lot better.
A traditional dish served with raw onions and pickles, herring was on the top of our must-eat foods list. We spent much of our visit to Amsterdam in search of the perfect pickled herring. I wasn’t feeling that great so I only had a nibble, but it was really quite good.
Pannekoeken, or Dutch pancakes, was another local food at the top of our food list. Daniel recommended that we go the Upstairs Pannen Koekenhuis restaurant, a tiny place up a terrifyingly steep set of stairs. The pannekoeken were very tasty and I highly recommend the experience.
Note: you’ll need a reservation to eat here since the restaurant is so incredibly tiny.
Where are we now?
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Dates: January 15 to 27, 2020
Vagabonding Journey Status: Days 107-119
For more details on our vagabonding journey, see my previous posts:
- Day 106: Cappadocia Itinerary: How to Spend 3 Days in Cappadocia
- Day 106: The Pigeon Valley Trail: A Cappadocia Hiking Adventure
- Day 103: Cappadocia Balloon Ride: Sunrise over Göreme
- Day 101: Bosphorus Sunset: A Ferry Ride to Remember
- Day 93: Unmissable Istanbul: Unicorn’s Top 10 Tourist Attractions
For additional Amsterdam inspiration, check out 7 Reasons Why You’ll Love Amsterdam by Curls en Route.
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