Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Love at first bike: 8 things you must do in Amsterdam

HOLIDAYS. Glorious, wonderful, soft focus holidays. What a cruelly distant memory they seem. Especially in January, when you spend the whole month hibernating like a hamster and not keeping New Year’s resolutions. So of course the only thing to do is to plan lovely exciting new holidays you can daydream about whilst reboiling the kettle for another hot water bottle.

And you can certainly do a lot worse than my mini break destination du choix in 2012, the beautiful bike-tastic city of Amsterdam. It’s about an hour’s flight from pretty much anywhere in the UK but you can fly direct from Edinburgh airport AND you don’t even have to go Ryanair (cue fanfare and street carnival) so it’s a fantastic option if you’re high on wanderlust but low on time off. Here are my top tips for making the most of even a short trip away:

(1) Relaaaaaax. Disclaimer: this does not mean get stoned, dudes. It does, however, mean you should leisurely enjoy Amsterdam for the absolutely picture-perfect city that it is. Think lopsided houses concertinaed together on the canal banks, houseboats with colour-pop window boxes, pavement cafes, and traffic-free, tree-lined streets. Charming and picturesque don’t even cover it – so don’t rush to giddily hit up every tourist hotspot namechecked in Lonely Planet. Walk around, take it in - the main attraction in Amsterdam is Amsterdam itself.

(2) Rent an apartment. There are plenty of lovely hotels in Amsterdam but like a lot of European cities, you’ll pay a pretty penny for anything fancier than a TravelLodge. Hire an apartment instead – the Jordaan or De Pipj are your best areas to stay. My friends and I made huis (that's house in Dutch) at this canalside Airbnb Eames-styled beaut for a mere snip, just 5 minutes cycle to both the centre of town and to Centraal, the main railway station.

(3) Hire a bike. Wow. What a groundbreaking recommendation for the world’s most famously bike-gaga city. But for the cycle-shy (like myself), toolin’ aboot on a bike, trying not to fall in a canal, might not appeal. You’ll be missing a trick though – it’s not only a glorious way to see Amsterdam but it’ll get even slowpokes (again, me) across the city in less than half an hour. And if you don’t fancy the traditional Dutch bikes (which you have to backpedal to stop) then there are plenty of places you can pick up a pair of wheels with trusty handbrakes. Trust me – get on yer bike as soon as you get off the plane.

(4) Enjoy the cafes. Again, this does not mean get stoned. Rather I’m suggesting you try out the city’s other café culture – because you can’t swing a pair of clogs without hitting one adorable and quirkily styled wee hangout or other, and it’s all part of the less herbally-induced chilled out Amsterdam experience. Two of my favourites were De Bakkerswinkel for cakes and mismatched teacups a-go-go, and vintage hotchpotch/old lady living room Café Brecht, near the beautiful Vondelpark.

(5) Eat like the locals (sort of). Like the UK, the Netherlands embraces an plethora of cuisines, but there are nonetheless some traditional Dutch classics you’d be well advised to get your chops around. Try out a breakfast of appeltaart, apple cake with mounds of whipped cream, at the Jordaan’s café Winkel; snaffle chips and mayo in a cone for lunch, and round off the day at Moeders for a Dutch stamppot of sausage, meatballs and dumplings (they do a veggie version too). Amsternyoms indeed.

(6) SHOP. Amsterdam is teeming with gorgeous wee independent shops, perfect for picking up a souvenir with real style. The 9 Straatjes (“9 Streets”) is your top spot for bohemian boutiques, but make sure you also swing by the Lomography store for their rainbow-bright camera displays, and the inimitable Kitsch Kitchen Supermercado for a cheerful mash up of retro plastic homewares and Mexicana trinkets.

(7) Strike a pose. Of course for all the insouciantly untouristy things you do, it’s still of course perfectly ok to call a spade a spade and just be a tourist. Have a helplessly giggly trip to the Sexmuseum. Go on a canal boat trip. Drink Heineken. And rock your very best Blue Steel for shots in front of the IAmsterdam sign…or just look like you're a bit lost, like me.

(8) Do the things I didn’t manage…Such as the windmill brewery Brouwerij't Ij (I was holidaying with non-beer drinkers, boo); sample tapas with a twist at converted warehouse Trouw; get pished at cocktail emporium the House of Bols; and check out mega flea market Ij-Hallen on the first weekend of the month. To name just a few...

But that's just the tip of the very lovely iceberg - if you've been (or are planning to go) to Amsterdam, I’d love to know what’s on your must-do list.

Where else are you headed off on your holibobs in 2013?

Jane x


  1. Amsterdam is soooo beautiful - the flat you stayed in is gorgeous! My dream holidays this year are Tokyo & Reykjavik but definitely want to go to Amsterdam for a weekend now!