Monday 14 January 2019

A weekend in Amsterdam

On the second weekend in December, I took James away to Amsterdam as a surprise for his birthday. I'd been planning it meticulously for months and managed to get away with not revealing anything! On the Friday night the day before we flew, I gave him a wrapped Lonely Planet guide and let him know that we needed to be up really early (we were on the 5.55am flight).

always get really itchy feet in January and seem to draw up longer, more elaborate travel plans and aspirations than at any other time of the year, so if you're feeling like you need to book a cheeky weekend away then I can't recommend Amsterdam enough; we both left talking about when we could come back, and we're planning another trip soon, as it was so easy to get to: we don't live far from Manchester Airport, the flight is just over an hour and Amsterdam airport is a 20 min train ride into the centre.

We'd both been before but separately, about eight years ago (hello, inter-railing with the one and only Kate Stephens!), but I was eager to go back after hearing such good things from friends who had been recently. Struggling a little for annual leave, it was great to see decent weekend flight times - the flights we got meant we landed at 8am Saturday and didn't fly back till 9.30pm Sunday night, giving us two full days and one night, and no annual leave required!

So, here's what we did in those 36 hours... there's a shed load more that the city has to offer (I had so many recommendations from friends on places and things to try that we just couldn't fit in), but this list was a great starter for ten and an amazing way to spend the weekend, we both said we felt like we'd been there a good three days with everything we crammed in!

Brunch at G's Really Nice Place, De Pijp

We got straight on a train at the airport into the centre and then a quick tram to the De Pijp neighbourhood for much needed breakfast. Usually, I'm a firm believer in walking everywhere on a city break, but due to our flight being delayed a little bit, we were running late for our brunch booking (note: everywhere i'd looked at for brunch needed booking - some were booked weeks out so I'd definitely call a couple of weeks ahead).

This place really set the tone for us for the weekend and was exactly what we needed, would highly recommend! The menu was lushh and they specialise in bloody Mary's, so we ordered a couple of those too. I went for huevos pedro (those black beans!) with a side of halloumi, and James got the Benny New York.

G's have also got a place in the Jordaan neighbourhood & a brunch boat which sounds cool - definitely one for the summer.

Other amazing looking brunch recommendations included: Bakers & Roasters, Avocado Show, Little Collins, Coffee & Coconuts, Scandinavian Embassy, Omelegg & Cut Throat Barber.

Feeling fueled (and a little hazy after three hours sleep and a strong bloody Mary), we ambled along de Pijp and made our way to Dam square. Amsterdam is so easy to get around on foot as it's quite compact, but they've also got a great tram network if walking isn't your thing. We spent hours over the weekend just ambling round the canals and neighbourhoods, taking it all in, and would highly recommend just pottering about, finding cosy cafes (pubs) or canal-side bars to chill out in.

We dropped our bags off at the hotel (more on that one later), and got to Dam square for a free walking tour. I'm a hugeee fan of free walking tours - they're an amazing way to see a new place and learn so much about a city or town in a short amount of time, plus, you get your bearings a lot quicker than if you were meandering about on your own so by the time we'd finished we felt quite au fait with the central canal rings and areas we'd walked around.

We'd booked on to the tour with Sandemans as that had got great reviews but unfortunately due to us going slightly over on timings at brunch, we missed that slot, but got in with another company half an hour later. I can't remember their name (annoyingly) but they had red branding too, similar to Sandemans. Our guide was great so we tipped and then left to do some more exploring.

The streets around Prinsengracht and Jordaan are really nice to wander around, so many cool boutique shops and cafes. We ambled around taking it all in (cafe p 96 looked cool - in the summer they have a houseboat bar too) before settling on drinks and a quick bite to eat at canal fronted t'smalle in Jordaan, a 'jenever' (gin distillery) that dates back to 1796 - it's a really cosy 'bruin cafe' with brown stained walls from all the smoke from over the years. We enjoyed a few red wines and beers sat at the bar before making our way back to the hotel.

Side streets off Prinsengracht looking lush!

Ink Hotel, Amsterdam

So, accommodation in Amsterdam is expensive, there's no getting away from that. I'd booked flights way before I'd booked accommodation and thought I'd just get somewhere on air bnb. However that didn't work out and before I knew it I'd been won over by the Ink hotel with its amazing looking rooms and food photos on Instagram. The reviews were really positive too. Definitely one for a special treat, I wouldn't doubt to recommend this place to anyone. Our room was beautiful, the atrium outside / inside style foyer and the kitchen were all designed in a cool, effortlessly glam way and the staff had gone to so much effort as they knew it was James' birthday!

It's called the Ink hotel as the building was the former newspaper headquarters for the Dutch paper Tijd, hence the 'stories' written on the walls (we had a useful map on our walls). The attention to detail in the room was second to none, right down to the short story on the bedside table, to the murals on the walls in the lobby.

Dinner at Le Bistrot des Alpes, Utrechtsedwarsstraat (nope, I don't know how to pronounce the name of the street, either).

I'd seen this place on Instagram and it looked so cool! Cute, cosy and there's a gondola inside! It had rained as we walked to the restaurant so the warmth and cosyness were perfect for us. They also had lots of seating spilling out on to the quiet side street so think it would be lush on a balmy summer evening too.

We ordered a bottle of red and some escargot to start. They were garlicky and very rich, but what else do you order in a French restaurant?! Before that, we were brought a couple of palette cleansers from the chef which were lovely - not sure what we had but I remember something mushroomy!

For mains, we shared a fondue with porcini mushrooms and oh my god. What a feast. An entire le creuset was brought to our table filled to the brim with melted, bubbling, mature cheese, a basket of French bread and two side salads. We were set.

I'd booked about a week in advance and they could only offer me 6.30pm so would definitely recommend booking ahead, this place is clearly in high demand!

After, we went to a great speak easy called Door 74, not far from Bistrot Des Alpes (you have to txt them to make a reservation on the day you're looking to go). Would def recommend a drink in here. We passed a few more places and ended up in In't Aepjen in the north (one of Amsterdam's oldest pubs, it used to accept monkeys as payment from sailors hence the name!). We had some really strong beer and then decided it would be good to go to the 'Red light secrets' museum in Red Light District. It was 'educational', but having just recently watched Doing Money on BBC iPlayer (about sex trafficking) I probably wasn't in the best head space for this place... it details the history of prostitution and was quite brutal at times. If you're looking for something different to that then I'd go to the sexmuseum Amsterdam - history of porn through the ages, giant cocks... was much more light hearted and fun, it was hilarious (and a little weird, at times).

We tried to get into Tales and Spirits for a night cap but we hadn't booked and there weren't any tables - so would recommend booking this place as it looked great!
Other bars we'd heard great things about: Calle Ocho, Glou Glou, Bar Feijoa, Suzy Wong.

Not getting a table in Tales and Spirits was probably a good thing as my god, we were both hanging on Sunday morning. I had one of those hangovers where I wanted every food group and a selection of hot and cold drinks all at once immediately, so we stumbled downstairs at the Ink Hotel and demolished the breakfast.

After a lazy morning we walked down through the nine canal rings, through Leidseplein (lots of bars) and on to Vondelpark and the South, to check out the museums and consume some culture to alleviate our hangovers.

We'd seen posters for an exhibition at Moco museum on Saturday and decided to book tickets online for Sunday (you get discount and queue jump if you book online). The exhibition was great, and a good place to spend an hour or so, as it was on-and off raining...

After, we sought some solace in a bar with an open fire that was attached to the ice rink and Christmas markets before making lunch plans...

Could not recommend this place enough, it's a huge food and drinks hall in what once used to be old tram sheds, which have been converted into a massive international food hall, with a really intimate vibe. It was heaving when we arrived, filled with groups of friends and couples - of all ages. The place was buzzing and was just what we were looking for - somewhere we could perch and have a few drinks before deciding what we'd eat. After wandering around looking for a free seat for about 10 minutes we found two seats at the main bar, an ideal spot for people watching and for chatting to bar staff. With a beer and house red ordered, we took it in turns to walk round and see what took our fancy.

It was a tough decision but in the end I opted for a huge falafel pitta with hummus and all the trimmings from a place called Pita, and James got pizza. We stayed for a while, wandered around the markets outside and then walked back through the nine rings all the way near to Centraal Station to the sexmuseum I mentioned above.

Cafe de vergulde gaper
After the museum and exploring more on foot, we walked back to a cafe that had caught our eye earlier in the day, that looked like a really nice place for coffee and lunch. It was now dark, and the windows were lit up with fairy lights (essentially calling me in), and the place looked magical. Again, this place is right on the canal so in summer with the windows open, it would be lush. For us though, we were nestled in and managed to get a small table next to a band playing live jazz, which was the perfect way to end the trip. We were only supposed to stay for one drink (largely due to how anal I am about getting to the airport early), but the atmosphere was so chilled we stayed for another one, both not wanting to leave.

We were home for 10.30pm having left in the early hours of the morning before, but feeling like we'd been away for days - a weekend well spent indeed!

Other reccos / things we wanted to do but didn't have time for:

  • Canal boat tour. We wanted to do this at night and planned to possibly to it on Sunday eve but time ran away with us, definitely one for next time!
  • Rijkmuseum/Van Gogh museum. We didn't have enough time to visit Moco and Rijkmuseum - the Moco exhibition was more our thing, but it would've been good to spend a couple of hours at the other two.
  • Hire bikes - would've liked to have rented bikes around Vondelpark
  • A'Dam tower - a huge swing off a building in the North.. umm.. sounds terrifying but also cool
  • Previously when I'd been to Amsterdam I'd visited Anne Frank's huis, I'd definitely recommend this if you haven't been before. 

As you can probably tell, I'm itching to get back and explore more of Amsterdam, hoping to go back in the summer at some point, I've got my eye on Skyscanner... So if you have any must-do recommendations, let me know!

Also, I couldn't have crafted this itinerary without the help of Alice, Ellie, Alex & Grace, Georgia who sent me soo many restaurant, bar and things to do recommendations.

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