In and Around Amsterdam
Amsterdam, with its canals and architecture, is a beautiful place to explore. When the weather is good it's lovely to just wander around and take in the various small parks and neighborhoods. It is a very interesting place where one can take in art, nature, food culture, as well as home to the Red Light District and shops selling several legal recreational drugs. You can really choose your own adventure in terms of how you spend your time. I'll share a bit of what we did in our 4 days!
Museum- Anne Frank House
This museum is incredibly well designed and walks you through (with an audio tour) the house where Anne Frank and her family and the families who were with hers stayed during their time hiding from the Gestapo. The experience is extremely moving and it's a creative way to present the material- very engaging. We went first thing in the morning in off season and it was still very crowded. I had been warned that tickets sell out far in advance so make sure to book yours a ways ahead if you're planning to go.
Museum- Van Gogh Museum
I enjoyed this exhibition of Van Gogh's life and work. Van Gogh himself led a short and interesting life highly affected by his intense mental illness and this is well highlighted in the museum. The flow of the museum itself wasn't great. The audio guide is quite long in certain spots which seemed to cause a lot of jam ups, making it hard to view some of the pieces. I can't imagine how crowded it would be during high season. We were also surprised there was no mention of A Starry Night at all, which seemed strange. All in all I enjoyed it, but at 24 euro it probably wouldn't be high on my list of recommended activities unless you're a major art lover and Van Gogh enthusiast.
Museum- Moco Museum
Right next to the Van Gogh museum is this small modern art museum featuring a lot of Banksy's work, as well as a couple pieces by Basquiat, Haring, Warhol, JR and others. Banksy doesn't endorse the museum, but they've collected many of his pieces. We both really enjoyed this small exhibit and at only 13 euro it's a pretty good deal.
When we were at the Moco Museum they also had a really cool immersive digital art exhibit. Pretty trippy and great for taking cool photos!
After a quick (and free) ferry ride outside of Amsterdam Centeal Station we visited the NDSM area. There is a ton of awesome murals and street art you can see just by wandering around.
When we were there it happened to be storming so we ducked quickly into a big warehouse without knowing what was inside. It turned out to be a huge flea market. Upstairs was an art exhibit. Within the building there was also a really nice bar where we had a local beer. They served food as well though we didn't partake. It would have been nice to explore more of the area but we were a bit rained out and headed back to Amsterdam proper after our beers. We were informed by the bar staff that the activities at NDSM rotate quite often, so it might be worth looking into to see what's happening if you're in Amsterdam.
I have pretty mixed feelings about zoos- I prefer animals to be free most certainly, but it can also be interesting to see animals I would likely never see in the wild and some zoos have good conservation programs. On my last day in Amsterdam I decided to venture to the zoo as I was staying nearby. At first I was put off by the high cost 24 euro, but it ended up being a well worthwhile experience.
The zoo itself is quite large with animals from all over the globe. Some seemed happy enough, others less so. The gorillas were particularly fascinating to watch, although they seemed to fight a lot. I'm sure being penned up doesn't lead to a lot of interpersonal harmony, but couldn't say for sure if that was the reason for their behavior. One part of the zoo that was incredible was the Forest House which is an open space in a building in which you are in together with various monkeys, lizards, bats, birds, etc. There are guides there ensuring the animals' (and your) safety but it was very cool to be able to walk right up to the creatures and see them up close. In general the zoo was fairly open and there were several exhibits where you could go in with the animals. They also feature a butterfly botanical house, an aquarium, insect house, and a planetarium.
On the nicest day weather-wise we decided to venture to the Amsterdam Forest (or Fos) to explore some time in nature. The park is quite large and there is lots of room to take walks amidst the trees. It is also on a flight path, so there is an interesting contrast of nature and very low flying planes. To get to the the park it was an easy and cheap Uber ride, though I'm sure you could also bike fairly easily. There were very few tourists and it seemed to mostly be locals and their dogs and children. Be warned in the off season there are no bathrooms in the park that are open except at the goat farm!
Inside the park we found this beautiful small goat farm. It was incredibly quaint. You could feed the baby goats small bottles and many children were right in there with them. There were also adult goats, cows, pigs, etc. Additionally the is also a cute cafe with fresh cheese and other fresh food items for purchase.
Food and Dining
We had some really awesome meals in Amsterdam!
We happened upon this spot while looking for a brunch spot near the Bloemenmarket (Flower Market). It's in a shopping mall, so I was a bit skeptical, but it ended up being great and reasonably priced food. The views over Amsterdam were exceptional. The spot is quite trendy so you may have a wait (although we did not).
Water and Brood
I found this awesome brunch spots in my notes on Amsterdam and decided to go on my last day. They had some really good healthy options. I had a great green juice and a veggie filled omelette. They are also a black owned business which is awesome.
Bulls and Dogs
We came here on a junk food inspired mission with a strong craving for sweets. These milkshakes were ridiculously huge and good. Enough said.
Brouwerij 't IJ
We came to this brewery largely because we wanted to see a windmill and knew it might be our only chance. While it's really a bit kitsch more so than an actual windmill, we enjoyed some local beers including a Juicy IPA (one of my favs).
The Avocado Show
This place is beyond trendy and made for Instagram. Still, they had great food, all based around avocado. I had a benedict served in avocado and my friend had poke, as well coffee. Everything was really good and really fresh. They seem to have several locations around the city and are open for brunch.
Stoop en Stoop
This was a cute little cafe. Most notably they had an awesome goat cheese salad and some fried cheese snacks which we had for dinner one night. We also ordered a pasta dish, but it was just ok.
We had wanted to go to Pannenkoeken Upstairs but missed our window, so we tried Dutch pancakes at a chain spot nearby. They were good. I don't like pancakes in general, but these were quite light. Definitely worth a try if you're in town a have a sweet tooth.
This spot is also a free ferry ride across from Amsterdam Central Station (different than the NDSM ferry). You pay a fee to get in, stand in line for a photo op, and then take a quick and very impressive light show/elevator ride to the rooftop where you can pay to ride a giant swing or just relax and admire the view. You can also sit inside at the bar and enjoy the panoramic windows. They have relatively inexpensive drinks and food, as well as a fancy rotating restaurant on the floor below. This is a great place to go for sunset, just go early enough to snag a good spot.
Funny story: During our visit we tried to sneakily skip the photo op line and go straight to the elevator. I tripped over the chain around the line area causing an EXTREMELY loud commotion as both my metal water bottle and the metal chain clanged to the tile floor. It was hilarious and quite embarrassing. I do not recommend this, although it still gives me a chuckle to think about it.
A few other notes:
The Dutch are extremely serious about their biking. Keep your eyes open and stay out of the bike lane if you're on foot. They will assert their right of way.
Amsterdam is a great place to break out of your comfort zones around sexual experiences and substances. It might be worth your while to get some advice from locals, shopkeeps and other travelers if you're interested in experimenting. Just be sure to be respectful to your body and to others and to engage responsibly.
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