Well, the downside is that it’s dark very early and it’s not hot! We were lucky in the weather, very little rain and an incredible mildness for this time of year: about 10, 11°.
We stayed 4-5 days in Amsterdam from 20 to 24 December 2014. We would have liked to stay a little longer because we loved the atmosphere of the city but it’s enough to see the essentials without too much haste either.
The hotel we had chosen is called Le Bohème, it is located 2 steps from Place Leidseplein. In hindsight it was an excellent choice, he is extremely well placed both to go for a walk in town and to come from the airport. The hotel is simple but very pleasant, the staff is very friendly and the room is well proportioned (I think there are much worse things to do in Amsterdam). As soon as we arrive, we are told with a smile that our room is on the top floor and that we will have a free drink at the hotel bar. We quickly understood why!
It should be noted that in Amsterdam, the stairs are all very steep and narrow. That’s how buildings are made. Needless to say, there is no elevator! Of course we took it with a smile on our faces, and it’s quite nice to offer consumption for this “inconvenience”. We are young we can climb 4 or 5 floors even steep but it is good to know if your age or your physical condition does not allow it.
Day 1: walk in Amsterdam, Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein Christmas markets
As soon as we arrived, around 4:30 pm, we left for a random walk in the city and what a surprise it was to see that it was getting dark! The days are short, very short! We immediately fall under the spell of this succession of canals and bridges. We stop every 20 meters to admire the view. We head towards Rembrandtplein and then towards the central district. The streets are very lively and nicely decorated.
A short stop at the Rembrandtplein Christmas market is in order. Personally, I love the atmosphere in these markets with the illuminated stands, the smell of food… We come across a poster and signs warning against the sale of an extremely dangerous drug by street dealers. Welcome to Amsterdam!!
Before going to bed, we watch people on the cute ice rink in Leidseplein. Skating is very popular in the Netherlands and you can quickly recognize the Dutch as tourists! We’re too tired to go skating now so we decide to postpone it until the next day.
To eat, we went to Lombardo’s to eat the #1 burger in Amsterdam. There is very, very little space (4.5 stools) to eat indoors, it is more of a takeaway place. We were lucky, there were not too many people and we were able to eat on the counter. Burgers are quite expensive (8-11€ on average). For my part, I took the Wagyu Burger, the most expensive at almost 14€! It is true that the burger is excellent, that it is quite big but I had trouble with the price. It’s still a little expensive for what it is (at least for this one).
2nd day: Museumplein, skating in front of the Rijksmuseum, stroll in the Vondelpark, Verzetsmuseum and Heineken Experience
Skating in front of the inscription I AMSTERDAM
After a good breakfast, head for the Rijksmuseum and the famous I AMSTERDAM inscription. As soon as we arrive, we see a gigantic ice rink with a view of the museum. Neither one nor two, we go out to buy tickets, this is where we’re going to skate (it’s better than the small skating rink in Leidseplein). There is a bar next to the rink for those who just want to observe. There is even a small bridge overlooking the ice rink.
You can rent skates or come with your own. Instructions are available to leave your city shoes. I can’t remember the price of the rental and admission, it was a little expensive but there is no time limit. Well it had been four or maybe five years since I hadn’t done any (at the Cauterets ice rink) so the beginning was a little hesitant.
For the time being, we did not visit either the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum, which is just next door. In fact, we didn’t really want to lock ourselves up for several hours in a museum, we prefer to explore the city instead. These two museums are the two most visited museums in the Netherlands and are among the highlights of a visit to Amsterdam.
After this small skating activity, head for the Vondelpark located 300m from the Rijksmuseum. The park is quite large (more in length than in width) and walking around it takes some time. Many runners and cyclists train here on the many trails that run through the park.
In the middle of the afternoon, we leave for the Verzetsmuseum, the Museum of Resistance. The museum is not very well known and yet it would benefit from being so. The visit was very interesting! Admission costs 10 euros including audio guide. You can pick up your tickets online at official website.
The museum is quite small but it is extremely well furnished! The rooms, the decor, the photos and the video testimonies are very well done and are exciting. The museum transports us back in time and we do not see time passing. The museum closes its doors at 5pm, so very early. We had the idea of arriving around 3:30 pm but it was more like 4 pm when we arrived. So we were quite frustrated that we didn’t have time to do everything. Plan 1h30-2h of visit to have time to see everything and listen to each radio or video clip. In short, visit strongly recommended!
To end the day, we go to the Amsterdam Heineken Experience, which is a kind of beer “museum” with a strong marketing focus (from the Heineken brand). Admission is quite expensive since it costs 16€ per person by taking tickets online (you can order tickets on Tiqets or on the Heineken site), 18€ on site (it may have increased since then) but it gives you the right to 2 beers offered at the bar at the end of the visit.
The tour begins with the history of the brand with decorated rooms and videos. Then we explain the composition and manufacture of the beer. You go through the fermentation room and then it’s the brand’s marketing universe with video games, how to serve a draught beer, possibility to take a picture with the Heineken logo… The visit is entertaining but I advise you to do it on a rainy day or when it is dark at the end of the day so you can drink the two beers at aperitif time:)
In the evening, we went to eat at Leeuw’s Steakhouse Piet, a restaurant with a friendly and noisy pub atmosphere! The meat is good (steakhouse obligatory), the staff is friendly and even makes the effort to speak French.
3rd day: Jordaan district, Anne Frank House and Red Light District
The next morning, we go for a stroll in the Jordaan district with its countless alleys and canals. The district is quiet and restful, almost deserted in some outlying streets. We continue our walk to Westerkerk Church.
Having booked a visit to Anne Frank’s house (which is right next to the church) in the early afternoon, we eat herring sandwiches at a stand on church square, a delight!
House of Anne Frank
Concerning Anne Frank’s house, I strongly advise you to book tickets in advance on the internet. When you see the line to get in… A small click on the internet and you go through the left door and in 30 seconds you are in (more than 1 hour without reservation I think). You can take the tickets on the official website and it is better to take them early (otherwise “no tickets”). The ticket costs 9€ per person and the visit lasts about 1 hour.
Anne Frank’s house is a place steeped in history. We think we heard everything and saw everything about this house and its occupants, studied its book at school for some (I tried to read it again a month before the visit to refresh my memory but I couldn’t get to the end, it takes too long), the media talk about it again on the occasion of birthdays but the visit to this place will not fail to mark you, even more than anything you have read.
Being inside these places immediately takes you back 70 years and puts you in the shoes of Anne Frank and her family and all the people who have had to deal with this situation. We go from room to room with always this oppressive, suffocating atmosphere. The story is told through excerpts from journals, historical documents, objects, photos, and videos. The visit ends with an interactive space where you can visit the house in 3D, see or review testimonies… A must visit if you are visiting Amsterdam.
Red Light District
At the end of the day, we went to the Red Light District, the famous red light district of Amsterdam, the place of prostitution. We arrived at nightfall so we saw from afar the windows with the red neon lights, impossible to miss them. The district is quite folklore with these neon lights, the prostitution museum, the Erotic Museum and of course the prostitutes behind the windows. Behind the windows, if the curtain is drawn, it’s because there’s a customer (I’m not drawing a picture for you). Otherwise, the prostitute often waits at the door and tries to attract customers. Don’t look her in the eye too much, otherwise she’ll think you’re interested in her and will try to get you in. So the atmosphere of the neighbourhood is strange, it can make you “laugh” or make you uncomfortable or a mixture of the two, but I think it’s still something you have to see with your own eyes, if only to form your own opinion!
To finish the day, we went to Haesje Claes Restaurant, which serves typical dishes (stamppot in particular) and it was excellent. The wooden decor is warm and it is one of the oldest restaurants in Amsterdam.
4th day: discovery of Waterland = Edam, Volendam and Marken
For our last full day, we took the bus to Waterland, a region made up of small villages north of Amsterdam: Edam (where the famous cheese comes from!), Volendam and Marken. Big day ahead! To get there, we took the bus 312 behind Amsterdam station. You have to act as if you enter the station, go straight ahead and exit on the other side and from there there there are stairs that go up on your left where there is a stand to buy tickets. More information on this link. The day ticket costs 10€.
You can also book an organized tour with an audio-guide included that will take you to the windmill village of Zaanse Schans, the fishing villages of Volendam and Marken, a cheese factory and a traditional clog maker. More information here.
First stopover: Edam! The journey from Amsterdam takes about 30 minutes. Edam is a small Dutch town that looks a little like Amsterdam with its peaceful canals, cobbled streets, brick houses and weighbridges. The other essential element is of course cheese, Edam! You can’t go there without bringing some back. The village is really very, very quiet, it’s soothing after 2, 3 days in Amsterdam. You can even observe a windmill.
After this short getaway, we take the bus back to Volendam, our second stop. Volendam is an old fishing village, it is quite similar to Edam on its remote part but the port radically changes the atmosphere of the village. The port is very lively with its many restaurants and shops. There is even a large cheese dairy where the upper floor is used as a shop and the lower floor for cheese making. It is impossible to resist the desire to buy farmhouse cheese (mustard is also excellent), especially since you can taste many cheeses.
To get to the Marken peninsula, we took the Volendam Marken Express, a boat that goes back and forth between these 2 villages. The crossing takes just under 30 minutes. Marken looks like an old fishing village on the other side of the world. The typical and picturesque houses made of a mixture of wood and brick give the impression of going back to the last century. The village has a crazy charm with its wooden footbridges and fences and we were almost alone in the charming alleys. We had a good hot chocolate and a good beer in one of the only cafés in the village. There is no better way to get away from it all in the area.
We returned to Amsterdam by bus via the island’s only bridge and made one last stop at Monnickendam at nightfall. The village is in the same vein as Edam and Volendam, it is very cute and nicely lit at night for Christmas.
5th day: visit Begijnhof and flower market
For the last morning, visit Begijnhof, the Amsterdam beguinage with its courtyard surrounded by picturesque houses. It is a place where women adopted a religious way of life, but without taking vows. By the way, we came across the flower market next to the Singel Canal. Small purchase of tulip bulbs on the way:)