Last week I spent some days in Amsterdam. I did not know a lot about the city before I went there. I have a (long) list of places I want to visit in North Europe, but mostly they’re Icelandic or Norwegian towns. So, as most of my improvised trips, I went there without any particular expectation.
The main reason I decided to go to Amsterdam was because of music. I love to go to live shows and there were two bands I really like who were playing there. Even if the concerts didn’t go as expected (they didn’t happen), I was set to make the best of my time in the city. I am always happy and excited to go explore a new place, especially when I know nothing about it.
As I said, I didn’t know a lot about Amsterdam. I usually do a bit of research before leaving, but this time I was crazy busy the week before. My sister (thank you Erika for some of the pictures you took) was my travel companion and she was busier than me, so we arrived there without any real plan (my favorite kind of trips).
A friend of mine suggested the free walking tour of the city. I had booked that, so I was sure our guide would explain all the things we would do research on (and she did!).
The only other thing I did before leaving was booking tickets for the Van Gogh museum. I really wanted to go visit it, but I didn’t want to spend too much time queuing. I definitely recommend purchasing your tickets before, especially if you’re in Amsterdam for just a couple of days. You pick the day and the time, you can’t change them later, but I think the time it’s just approximate: we arrived like an hour early and they let us in anyway. You print your tickets at home or you keep them on your phone and then you get in as soon as you arrive at the museum (it’s really a dream!).
A quick note: where to stay + how to get around
In Europe we have a couple of low costs air companies. I don’t mind flying for an hour or two in a small plane seat without any “free” drink or food, so I fly low-cost whenever I can. This way I can spend my money on other things at my destination. My round-trip from Milan to Amsterdam was about 80 euros (and that’s kind of expensive considered one time I flew to Eindhoven for like half of that).
From the Schipol Airport, we took a train to Amsterdam Centraal. I immediately noticed train tickets there are not cheap. But the trains are so comfortable and clean so you can’t really complain. I mean, second class there is so much better than first class on an Italian train.
Our hotel was near the central station, we literally had to just cross the bridge and we were there. We were a street away from the Damrak (a nice street with a lot of shops and restaurants) and less than a ten minutes walk from Dam (the main square). If I have to go back, I would stay in the same area because we were within walking distance to all the major landmarks and attractions.
We visited the city mainly by walking. In my opinion walking is the best way to explore a new place, get a bit lost once in a while and discover little places you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The center of Amsterdam is not as big as I thought so I definitely recommend bringing some good walking shoes and just walk everywhere. If you’re brave enough, you can also rent a bicycle and try to blend in with the locals.
From what I could see, public transports are good even to get around the city center. We took a tram to go to the Van Gogh museum, but that was all.
One afternoon we decided to go to the countryside. We booked a guided tour so they had their own bus. There are also several public buses that go into the countryside.
To go to Utrecht, we took the train again.
Trip recap – our itinerary
We landed just in time for lunch, so we quickly eat at the airport. We traveled to the city center by train. After a quick stop to take pictures of the massive bicycle parking in front of the station (that’s so cool), we walked to our hotel.
Later in the afternoon, we went out to explore without a real destination. We just walked around the center and it was a great first impact. We walked along the Damrak, we arrived at the Dam and saw the Royal Palace.
We ended up our day with a very traditional dinner at a Japanese restaurant.
Monday morning we walked to the Anne Frank house. I enjoyed the walk along the canals and in the little streets surrounded by brick buildings. I love the architecture of Amsterdam! And I also liked how quiet everything still was at 10 in the morning.
After that we walked some more (yes, we really did a lot of walking!) and we visited the flower market. I was expecting a lot of flowers, like a lot of colorful tulips, but we found just bulbs. Well, of course this is the right season for fresh flowers, Sarah! There are also some souvenirs shops there and I love to go in and just take a look around even if I don’t buy anything.
In the afternoon, we had our free walking tour of Amsterdam. It was the first time doing a free walking tour for me, but I think I will do this kind of tours more often. This free (but tips are always appreciated) walking tour was a really great way to see the city and hear from a local about food, traditions, culture, and fun facts. Our guide gave us the historical background, she explained how Amsterdam became a city and why it’s such a free and open-minded place.
We ended up our day with another very traditional dinner at a Chinese restaurant. In my defense, I was getting really cold and I was craving a big bowl of soup and I love Chinese soups.
With our tickets for the Van Gogh museum in our purse, we took a tram and we got down at the Rijksmuseum. But that’s the wrong museum, Sarah! Yes, but there’s the I amsterdam sign there and we wanted to take a selfie in front of it. Besides, it’s really close to the Van Gogh museum so we were fine.
The weather wasn’t the best, but for once we got lucky. We took a few snaps at the sign and then, as soon as it started raining, we got inside the museum. I had a good time in there and I think it’s something you cannot miss in Amsterdam. Once we finished our visit and we got out, it stopped raining.
We finally had a real traditional lunch: chips with mayo and ketchup. We started eating them like the locals while walking around and doing some windows shopping. But we’re Italians and we need to sit down for our lunch, so we went back to our hotel and rested a bit to get ready for the afternoon.
At about 3 pm, we left Amsterdam headed to Zaanse Schans. It’s such a picturesque village, with its green-timbered houses and the windmills. With our tour we even visited a working windmill. We moved on to Volendam, a quiet but very chic fishing village. There were so many beautiful houses there and the view was great. We visited a cheese factory and tasted some cheese. To get to our last stop, the former island of Marken, we took a boat. Even if I was starting to get sick at this point, I really enjoyed the visit to the traditional clog maker.
This day was pretty eventless. I slept my fever off the whole morning. We traveled to Utrecht by train, and there I slept again until the next morning.
I finally felt a little better, so we took a quick walk around Utrecht. The center is cool, but small. There are canals, paved streets, some nice buildings, a lot of shops, and a gothic cathedral.
In the afternoon it was already time to flew back home to foggy and congested Milan.
Overall, this was a very lovely trip and I would like to go back someday to visit a couple of things I didn’t see this time, maybe without a fever.
Have you ever been to Amsterdam? What have you liked the most? Did you get to visit the countryside? Or any other city in The Netherlands?