Amsterdam really seems to be the place everyone's got their sights set on at the moment, and heading there was one of the best things I've done in a LONG time. The city's infamous for its canals, coffee shops and red light district, but there's a whole lot more going on underneath the surface. We spent 3 full days here, with an extra afternoon/evening on the first day and a morning on day 5.
After landing and catching the train to our airbnb in Lelylaan (about a 20 minute tram ride from the centre), we bought our tram tickets and headed to Amsterdam Centraal Station. The tickets lasted four days (96 hours precisely) and cost around 25 euro. Individual ones cost 3 euro and last for an hour.
Our first evening was a chance to explore. We found dinner along a heavily tourist-y street close to Centraal station. We spent a few hours strolling around without any kind of real agenda, just getting a feel for the city (and all the snacks on offer!).
We headed to our first coffeeshop (after googling it and realised that cafe = place that sells coffee and coffeeshop = place that sells weed). We tried a few whilst here and the original Dampkring, which was the one we went to on the first day was one of the best. There was a guy designated to talk you through all the different options if you wanted to buy any weed or spliffs and the space cake in there was v tasty.
We planned to head out to ICE Amsterdam, which is just by the Rijksmuseum to go ice skating on this day, but when we got there it was just so underwhelming. It looked fab online and a whole lot of guides I'd read had recommended going there. In reality it was a very small rink and you had to pay to enter the small hot chocolate shop attached to it as well as extra for skates.
Instead, we went for a long wander back to Centraal through Jordaan (a v pretty area of Amsterdam). This was our time to discover a whole load of canals and a whole load of cheese shops.
Day 2 was when I ate my first poffertjes, which are mini sweet pancakes covered in icing sugar and they were SO good. I had a mini bucket list of foods I wanted to eat whilst away and this was my first one ticked off.
The main part of this day was our visit to the Anne Frank museum, aka the one thing I absolutely insisted we had to do. You have to buy your tickets online (10 euro each), and they sell out fairly quickly so make sure to book in advance! My boyfriend hadn't read the diary, so he wasn't looking forward to this part of the trip at all, but it ended up being one of his favourite bits too.
The museum is based in the hiding place that the Franks' lived in, You go around the first few floors with an audio guide which gives you information about the war, about Jews living in Amsterdam at the time, and about the Frank family and the others who were in hiding with them. Before you head into the annex the audio guide switches off, and everything descends into an eerie silence. The rooms they hid in themselves are empty as Otto Frank wanted them to be preserved in the way he came back to them after the war (they had been raided by the Nazis), but the bookcase that hid the door to the annex has been preserved. To this day, no one knows how they were discovered, or who tipped the Nazis off.
I found the whole journey through the house very upsetting, but two points in particular stuck out. As you were heading around the annex in silence, all you could hear was the tramp of people heading up the stairs to where you were, and in that moment I realised how utterly petrifying that sound would have been to those in hiding. The other was seeing Anne's bedroom: she'd covered the wall next to her bed in photos and newspaper cut-outs just like modern teenagers do (or at least did when I was a bit younger) with posters on their walls. It just made it really hit home that she was a young teen when all of this was happening. If you only do one thing in Amsterdam, I'd make it this.
We headed to Good Times, a coffeeshop that's heavily recommended for tourists, and whilst it was fairly good, it didn't quite live up to Dampkring in terms of atmosphere. However, if you want to try different types of weed cake, then this one had a good selection.
We ended the day on a glorious high note (no pun intended) of heading to Van Wonderen Stroopwaffels. I went for the sea salt fudge one and honestly it might be the best thing I've ever eaten. They get two thin waffle layers and sandwich them together with warm syrup before dipping it in melted chocolate and adding the toppings. My mouth's watering just remembering it. It was a bit windy when I ate mine so there was syrup everywhere (in my hair, in my scarf, all over my face) but I was living my absolute best life.
We kick-started the day with the nearest canal cruise (11 euro each) to Centraal station. After doing a LOT of walking so far in the holiday, an hour sat down being entertained was actual bliss. I can see why people hire bikes when they come here, but we were (mostly) happy to walk, so spared that extra expense. The canal trip took us around a few of the more historic streets that we would probably have missed and helped us learn a few things about the history of the city as well as the canals.
Next up was the Amsterdam cheese museum, which I won't lie, was massively underwhelming. It was a small room in the basement of a cheese shop. The one positive is that the cheese shop had free samples of so many cheeses and oh my god my lil belly was happy.
Eating chips in a cone was another foodie bucket list tick, and there were so many places to get it from. I got mine with mayo and cheese sauce on (an actual dream). In our quest to find these we stumbled on the red light district. Obviously we were here in the day time, which meant it was a little quieter and safer than at night, but I really did not expect the ladies to just be there in the window. I'm glad we experienced it, though I'm not sure there would be a need for any of the red light district walking tours I saw online.
I'd heard mixed things about the sex museum, but when in Rome ...
It was fairly empty when we went, and stays open until fairly late in the evening. After paying our entrance fee (5 euro each) the whole trip around the museum probably took half an hour (if that). There was a whole room dedicated to the history of porn, and as it turns out the Victorians weren't so prudish after all. Aside from the novelty of being squirted with air by one of the body parts on the wall (I honestly can't remember which part), and the gigantic penis statues, the weirdest part was the fetish room.
I think I would have felt as though I'd missed out if I hadn't gone, but now that I've been I wouldn't really make it a 'must see' and it kind of struck me as being something that would be a glorious attraction for a 16 year old boy.
After having dinner in one of the many Argentinian restaurants in the city, I got the most decadent waffle in the world (but almost choked when they charged me NINE EUROS for it. NINE). It did have a kinder egg smothered in extra chocolate on it, but to be honest, the waffle was a bit stale and I'd rather have just had the kinder egg.
This was the day I finally convinced my boyfriend that the Rijksmuseum ticket price (around 20 euro each) was worth it. And it absolutely was. The museum has three floors taking you around different time periods. It would take far too long to go through everything that was there, but if I'm honest the absolute highlight was the Rembrandt Night Watch painting. The way he manipulates dark and light is incredible and I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer size of the painting itself.
There was even a library in the museum closed off by glass doors so that when you entered the whole thing smelt like musty old books. The absolute dream.
For lunch this day we headed to the Food Hallen a little outside of the city. It was recommended to us by our airbnb hosts but I'm not sure I'd go again. A lot of the stalls there only took card (we only had cash), although this was true for a lot of restaurants we saw in the whole trip. However, I did get to try bitterballen, which was my final foodie goal for the trip.
This was the evening we skipped dinner to get samples from lots of different cheese shops, mmmm.
We only had a few hours in the morning on the last day, and so we went for a good long stroll around Jordaan, and headed to the Flowermarkt to pick up some tulip bulbs to bring home. It was tough to find somewhere to store our bags for the morning that didn't request an ungodly amount, and so we ended up leaving them a little bit away from the centre of the city.
The whole trip was the best holiday I've been on in years, and going in winter actually made it better in my opinion. It meant that all the walking (my fitbit had us at over 20 000 steps a day) was bearable and non-sweaty, and everywhere was a little less crowded.