De Dam, Mokum, A’dam, Venice of the North or however you refer to the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam is, according to me, one of the happiest places on earth (sorry Walt for co-opting your slogan). Yes, Amsterdam is a happy, fun, fascinating, historical, delicious and culturally diverse city and I was lucky enough to go Dutch for 5 days.
After landing in the hub of the Flying Dutchman (aka KLM), I was super peckish. Dropped my bags off at one of my now-fave hotels ever, The Dylan
, and headed to the much-lauded breakfast spot Pancakes Amsterdam
, which is listed as a top place to get my mitts (and mouth) on, yes, you guessed it, Dutch pancakes. I am a pancake fanatic so I was super excited and while I hate waiting in line for food, I gladly stood around for 25 minutes while tables remained empty and uncleaned. I quickly realized I was going to have to adapt my North American impatient ways to the more laid-back Dutch approach. Once seated, we ordered the Dutch apple cheese pancake, apple cinnamon crumble pancake and the American banana pancakes. The crepe-like pancakes were good, but by no stretch a match for my fave pancakes
and the American pancakes were at par with an IHOP. While I was sorry my first taste of Dutch cuisine wasn’t ideal, I knew I was destined to have food that, as the Dutch say, “Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest,” which is translated to “As if an angel pisses on your tongue.”
Those Dutch, they do have a way with words.
I didn’t have to wait long to meet those angels. Dinner was at The Duchess
, a stunning restaurant with jaw-dropping 50-foot ceilings and fantastic food to boot. After a fizzy peach champagne cocktail, I took my fork on a journey through a fresh avocado and crab salad, creative chopped nicoise salad, creamy yellow beet and gorgonzola risotto, crispy gnocchi in cherry tomato sauce and as if that wasn’t enough, perfectly prepared beef wellington served with smooth buttery mashed potatoes. The whole experience was divine – the service, food and atmosphere were top-notch and a great way for me to slip into my food coma, where’d I’d slumber for the next 11 hours.
After waking in the late morning hours (see food coma mentioned above), we grabbed a coffee to go and got started.
First, we took a canal cruise
to get our bearings through the 165 canals (that’s a combined length of 60 miles) of Amsterdam. It’s a great way to see the architecture dating back to the 17th century, rife with gables galore. One facade is more charming than the next, narrow, shuttered and unique in its own right. Lunch was at the Foodhallen
. To call it a food court would be a mistake...it’s foodie heaven. Located in De Hallen Amsterdam, a newly renovated tram depot, the indoor food market is home to a wide variety of international eats, everything from waffles, tacos and dim sum to burgers, baos and fish sandwiches. Every palate will be pleased here and as your guide, I took it upon myself to sample a few things – highlights included the unbelievable veggie dog with hummus and popcorn in a pretzel bun from Bulls and Dogs
, the fresh tofu rice paper rolls from Viet View
and the ultimate egg waffle dessert from I-Scream
called The Unicorn, a combo of creamy vanilla ice cream, marshmallows, rainbow sprinkles and a lollipop. And they say unicorns don’t exist.
Based on my lunch, one might assume that I’d be looking to skip dinner. One would be wrong. Especially since we were going to Ron Gastrobar
, a Michelin-starred eatery from Chef Ron Blaauw. If you don’t fall in love with the airy, chic and relaxed atmosphere, you most certainly will with the food and wine, such as a super flavorful and inventive appetizer of crab with cream of egg and hollandaise sauce, a perfectly executed beet and Feta salad and the dream burger, a Waygu patty with blue cheese and pickles on a brioche bun. This burger, along with some of those famous Dutch fries, was surreal, and much to our delight, we didn’t get dinged by a huge bill that might come with a Michelin rating.
After dinner, born out of a combo of curiosity and voyeurism (I did go there when I was 18-years-old and witness a live sex show), we headed to the Red Light District. I’m no prude in my old age, but I didn’t find my return to this area the least bit titillating – in fact, I found the gyrating window women depressing and the men who crossed their thresholds seedy.
I hightailed it out of there and found comfort in a stroopwafel, or two.
Thinking it was time to get physical, we joined the bike-loving Amsterdamers and pedalled and pedalled and pedalled. A few things to remember when hopping on a bike in Amsterdam – bikes always have the right of way, texting and biking is perfectly acceptable behaviour and helmets are not worn. Like, by anyone. Including that 6-year-old who whizzes by you, so pedal with caution. We grabbed a ferry and took our bikes over to North Amsterdam, an area populated by quaint homes, sprawling farmland and of course, a windmill or two. The riding was much less congested (and in the case of this novice, safer) and the landscape was breathtaking. After our biking adventure, of course, we worked up an appetite so we made our way over to Winkel43
for their famous apple pie. Now, before you go expecting a North American pie, know that the Dutch dessert is more like a deep dish cake, where tender chunks of apple are encased in a buttery crust and topped with whipped cream. Accompanied by a mug of fresh mint tea, this was an awesome combo before heading to the extremely moving Anne Frank House
. It’s difficult to articulate how powerful it was to see history preserved and get a glimpse into how this incredible girl went on to write her famous diary.
Not gonna lie. Hard to find a good segue from the Anne Frank House to bemoaning how disastrous our dinner was, so I won’t even try. That said, do not go to Mr. Porter
, a restaurant so highly recommended yet so highly disappointing. Not only was it super expensive, but the food was sub par, the best part of the evening being the complimentary focaccia bread. We ordered a walnut, apple and Roquefort salad, a chopped salad, a filet, a sirloin, corn polenta and fries, all inedible. The salad was overdressed, the flavorless meat came out mooing and sliced so we were unable to have it put back on the grill and the music was pounding. Skip this one and don’t be tricked by the entrance – a huge meat locker – Mr. Porter is a dud.
After breakfast at the hotel, we walked to the Rijksmuseum
to get our fill of Rembrandts and Vermeers. To say that Rembrandt’s Night Watch was impressive would be a huge understatement – it’s epic in size and accomplishment, as were the myriad of works on display by other artists during the Dutch Golden Age. Following the audio guided tour we took and photo ops at the iconic I am Amsterdam
letters, we headed to Cafe Loetje
for lunch. If ever there was a local lunch spot, this is it. While the club sandwich and burger with fries were really good, I can’t say we were blown away – turns out, Loetje is famous for their steak, as evidenced by the countless tables covered in plates of steak.
Ah, the curse of the foreigner who can’t read Dutch strikes again. Definitely a solid neighborhood lunch spot and patio that's perfect for a post museum fuel-up. A little more walking around and alas, it was time to eat again (are you getting the hint that elastic waist pants are a must in Amsterdam?). A city known for a strong Indonesian community, we headed to Blauw
, a restaurant recommended to us by a local Dutchman. Our experience was both unexpected and delicious, a meal chock full of fantastic flavors and marked by great service. With a super low key atmosphere and local clientele, Blauw is the perfect place to sample amazing Indonesian cuisine.
We spent the first part of our last day in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh Museum
, home to 200 paintings, 400 drawings and 700 letters by the artist, to say nothing of the countless works by his contemporaries. While super-swarmed with other tourists, this museum is a must-see, a user-friendly and totally doable walk around the various phases of Van Gogh’s life. After the museum, we headed to nearby De Pijp (aka The Pipe), a cool and diverse area, where the marketplace yielded the best French fries we’ve ever had, to say nothing of the hot waffles loaded with icing sugar and topped with cherries. Walk the aisles and find cheese and fish vendors and then take a stroll into the side streets for interesting and hip little boutiques. For our last Amsterdam supper, we again went with another locals’ suggestion and ate at Il Cavallino
, a cozy Italian spot with good service and good food. The key word here is ‘good,’ which means I won’t go into what we ate as I wouldn’t go back if I had limited days to eat in Amsterdam.
All in all, Amsterdam is an incredibly fun and fascinating city, one where you can experience 4 seasons in a day – yes, the weather is unpredictable, and the the Dutch people are amongst the friendliest I’ve found in Europe.
1. People throw approximately 25,000 bikes into the canals annually.
2. Amsterdam is the 5th safest city in the world.
3. The XXX you see on flags isn’t a shout-out to the adult industry, but in fact the number of X’s in Amsterdam’s coat of arms.
4. If you want a latte, go to a “koffie haus.” If you want soft drugs and space cakes, go to a “coffeeshop.”
5. De Poezenboot
is a houseboat for stray cats, which is kinda ironic given that most cats hate water.
6. The Netherlands is home to the tallest people in the world, with men averaging 6 feet tall and women coming in at 5 feet, 6 inches.