The Ultimate First Timers Guide to Amsterdam

Oh, Amsterdam.

A city that captured my heart the first time I visited, and has lured me back many times since then.

Houses are tilted.
Stairs are steep.
Houseboats bob.
Candles burn in all the eateries.
Bicycles outnumber cars.
City lights twinkle on the canals.

A city on canals, Amsterdam is easy explored by foot, boat or bike. With delicious eateries, charming boutiques, and incredible museums, there’s no shortage of things to do in the capital of the Netherlands.

My first venture to Amsterdam was in 2015, and since then I’ve written a number of guides to different things in the city. As great and detailed as those guides are, none of them combine all the advice you’d need for a first time visit to Amsterdam.

I’ll never tire of Amsterdam, both as a city, and because of the family I’ve made there. It’s somewhere that feels like home a bit more with every visit.

Incorporating a Stop in Amsterdam Into Your Trip

Unless you’re planning on visiting more places in the Netherlands, or live in Europe and will be heading to Amsterdam for a weekend trip, chances are your trip to Amsterdam will be part of a trip to see more in Europe, or a stop-over en-route to somewhere else.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol is one of the world’s most connected, which makes it a great hub for countless places in Europe, as well as Asia, the States and other parts of the world.

The great news is that Shiphol isn’t far from Amsterdam- usually less than a half hour by train, or about the same in an Uber.

Not flying?

You could train to Amsterdam from London, France or Brussels. In fact, if it’s your first time in Europe, the London -> Paris -> Brussels -> Amsterdam route is popular, in part, because it’s simple to traverse.

If you’re adding Amsterdam as a trip stop or layover, I’d give yourself at least 3 days, accounting for the fact you may be exhausted from your travels. That said, there’s plenty to do in Amsterdam, and around the Netherlands, so you could easily spend much longer seeing more of what the city, and country, has to offer.

What to Do

Tour the Anne Frank Huis & Climb to the top of Westerkerk

Visit the house where Anne Frank hid with her family during the war. Seeing the Secret Annex was a powerful experience. It’s a dark and airless space, and hard to imagine the families who lived there had to be completely silent during the day.

Admission is under €10, amd purchase your tickets in advance if you don’t want to wait to get in. Post-Anne Frank, if you have a nice day, walk next door to the Westerkerk, a Reformed church within Dutch Protestant church. For ~€7, you can join a guide-led tour to the top for incredible views of the city. The tours are scheduled, so heading there in the morning is best if you want to have flexibility with when you climb to the top. When we went, it took ~30 minutes to climb up and down- a small chunk of time for such stunning perspective.

Visit the Van Gogh Museum + Rijksmuseum 

It’s hard not to love seeing Van Gogh’s famous works. As a big impressionistic art fan, a trip to the Van Gogh Museum was at the top of my to-do list, and although I may be biased, I can’t say enough good things about it

  • Tip 1: Spend the extra money and buy a headset for a guided tour. We did the highlights tour and loved the background context and move-at-your-own-pace experience 
  • Tip 2: Unless you want to wait in line, buy your tickets (€17) ahead of time

Nearby the Van Gogh Museum, you’ll find the Rijksmuseum, which despite it being one of the city’s most popular, I still haven’t visited. However, it’s at the tippy-top of my ‘to-do’ list upon a return venture to Amsterdam.

Cruise the Canals

Few things I love more in the world than cruising Amsterdam’s canals. 

Amsterdam is known as the “Venice of the North” because it has so many canals, so touring them by boat is a must. I’ve done nighttime and sunset canal tours- both times with  Holland International, but there are a bunch of providers to choose from depending on the kind of cruise experience you want. Try to time your cruise for sunset, the sun’s setting reflection on the water is stunning.

And, if you’re not sold on a group tour, fear not- there’s also G’s brunch boat, and companies which cater to small groups, allowing you to rent an entire, tiny boat for picnics on the canal.

Go Shopping

Amsterdam’s most picturesque canals are in and around the Jordaan district. Known as De Negen Straatjes (9 streets), it’s a wonderful shopping area filled with trendy boutiques, cozy cafes and restaurants.

Favorite shops in/near De Negen Straatjes:

    • Ko: Cute little gift shop, picked up a pair of darling earrings here
    • Property Of…: Perfect place for accessories and a good cup of coffee
    • Sukha: Quite possibly the most beautiful shop I’ve ever visited
    • Store Without a Home: Started in 2010 as a design gallery with temporary pop-up locations, now the store represents a good balance of emerging designers and international brands.
    • Restored: A well curated shop- clothing, accessories and housewares with a minimalist feel

Favorite shops outside of De Negen Straatjes:

    • COTTONCAKE: Located in Oude Pijp, this cafe is an interesting concept with an open Scandi-style store up front and a loft with cafe tables in the back
    • Also in Oude Pijp, I always like stopping in Circle of Trust, All the Luck in the World and Anna + Nina


Amsterdam is also home to some great markets, three to check out:

Albert Cuyp: With 260 stands, it’s the largest market in Europe. You’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, textiles, leather goods and trendy clothing here.

Noordermarkt: Huge farmers market in the Jordaan held on Saturdays (food focused) and Mondays (textile focused). Loved this market almost as much as I love the Union Square Greenmarket, which is one of my favorite places in New York City.

Bloemenmarkt (flower market): Floating flower market situated on barges on the Singel Canal. Although the array of plants and flowers was impressive, I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for this market. If you’re nearby, it’s a cool place to stroll through.

Taste Local Cheese

Holland is the largest cheese exporter in the world. The cheese and wine tasting at Reypenaer Proeflokaal didn’t disappoint. Their cheese literally melts in your mouth. And they’re still producing it the traditional way, letting it age in a warehouse where temperature control means opening or closing the windows.

If you’re traveling on a budget, this is a pretty affordable afternoon activity, coming in at €15. Over the course of the tasting, you try six wine pours and have unlimited access to accompanying cheeses, so it’s a good value. Tastings sell out though, be sure to book your spot in advance.

If you can’t make it to Reypenaer, hit up the Amsterdam Cheese Company. They carry many different kinds of cheeses and let you sample before buying.

Visit Vondelpark, and Get Lost in Botanical Gardens

Explore Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s most popular park. Pack a picnic lunch, go for a morning run or afternoon stroll- it doesn’t matter what you do in the park, just make sure you find time to enjoy it.

If you’re a big fan of being immersed in nature, and surrounded by plants, don’t miss Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam. It’s one of my favourite places to head on a cold day in Amsterdam- there’s just something about being surrounded by tropical plants that makes everything feel brighter and better.

Wander the Canals

  • Wander through the streets of De Pijp, the ‘Latin Quarter’ of Amsterdam (it’s an artsy, eclectic area)
  • Walk the narrow cobblestone streets in the Jordaan district, window shopping as you go
  • Check out the three main ring canals that connect Amsterdam’s oldest streets – Herengracht, Prinsensgracht and Keizersgracht in the late afternoon light for stunning canal photo opps
    • One street in particular that’s adorable because of all the shuttered old warehouses: Brouwersgracht (Brouwersgracht 107, 1015 GD Amsterdam, Netherlands)

See Windmills in the Netherlands

If it’s your fist time in the Netherlands and you’re hoping to see windmills, travel 20-30 minutes outside of city center (easily accessible by bus!) to Zaanse Schans. Is it a bit touristy? Sure, but it’s also one of the best places to get a postcard worthy picture of working windmills

I’ve been to Zaanse Schans twice, each time only for a few hours, but you could rent a bike and easily spend a day exploring this idyllic town. While you’re here, get a fresh stroopwaffel- they’re incredible.

Take a Day Trip to Rotterdam

Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands, and home to one of the world’s largest seaports. Most of the city centre was bombed during World War II, so Rotterdam is known more for its industrial side and architectural uniqueness than Dutch quaintness like Amsterdam.

If Visiting in Spring, Make a Day Trip to Lisse to Cycle the Tulip Fields

There really aren’t words to describe the flower fields- rows and rows of colorful daffodils, hyacinth and tulips, it’s extraordinary.

While you’re biking, as you approach a field, you’ll likely smell it before you see it- heavenly. You can rent bikes from Lisse (or even Haarlem, if you’re up for a half day cycling), and bike the countryside without going to Keukenhof. The flower fields were so magnificent, I’d definitely look into the details of just renting a bicycle if I ever returned to The Netherlands in springtime.

Time wise for a trip, try to plan for mid-late April- it’s usually when the flowers are in full bloom.

Where to Eat

I’ve been to many restaurants in Amsterdam, but these are some of the places I love returning to (*), or that I recommend for any first time visitor:

  •  The Pancake Bakery*: When you’re in Amsterdam, it only makes sense to eat a Dutch Pancake. This restaurant may be tiny, but they make amazing sweet and savory pancakes. You’ll also find the best poffertjes (mini pancakes) in the city here
  • Moeders: I’ll admit I was skeptical of Dutch food (my diet is plant and whole grain based, so I was worried traditional Dutch food would be too heavy). But, you really can’t go wrong mixing potatoes, cheese and vegetables- hotpotch is where it’s at. Moeders does a great presentation of the Dutch classics, and the photos of mothers everywhere are super adorable
  • Foodhallen*: Beautiful food hall with lots of great vendors. Don’t miss the gin & tonic stall
  • Omelegg*: There are a few locations in the city, which makes it easy to have a great breakfast (awesome omelets) wherever you’re staying
  • La Perla*: Wood fired pizza, def among the best in Amsterdam
  • SLA*: Healthy, tasty salads. Usually a go-to for me for lunch if I know dinner is going to be a ‘treat yo self’ meal
  • Pluk*: Easily one of the most Instagrammable cafes in Amsterdam, it’s the kind of place that’s a joy to browse (because of their gorgeous homewares), or pull up a seat and brunch (bonus: so many healthy, delicious eats and drinks)
  • The Avocado Show: As the name suggests, this place features avocados as the main event

&& A few great picks for dessert-

  • Winkel 43*: The place to be for traditional Dutch Appeltaart (so good)
  • Van Stapele Koekmakerij: Get a warm chocolate cookie with white chocolate center and walk the canals with your treat
  • Van Wonderen Stroopwafels: Chocolate dipped stroopwafels, made to order
  • Stroopwafelkraam: Located at the Albert Cuyp market and Zaanse Schans, these stroopwafels are made fresh and served hot. Few things are better than crispy wafers with gooey caramel sandwiched in between

Where to Drink

If you’re in the mood to sample some of the best beer in Amsterdam, head to Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a modern brewery next to a windmill producing organic blonde and dark beers. We ordered the sampler to try a few local crafts and really enjoyed the experience of drinking them in the garden with the after-work crowd. The brewery also offers tours if you’re interested in the creation process.

And, if you’re more-so up for cocktails or a glass of wine canal-side:

  • Door 74: Known as the first speakeasy in Amsterdam, the cocktails are amazing. If you don’t have a reservation, come early- otherwise, be prepared for a wait
  • Tales & Spirits: Phenom and inventive cocktails. If you tell the waiters what kind of flavors or spirits you like, they’ll take care of you. And, if you’re here on a warm day, try to grab a table outside
  • Cafe P96: There are a lot of places to sit and enjoy a drink along the canals, but I’m a fan of this one because it’s on a super cute street, and there’s houseboat seating

Which Coffeeshops to Visit

Famed worldwide for its association with legalised marijuana, Amsterdam is a good place to try a pre-rolled joint, or even edible whether you indulge regularly or dabble occasionally. Having tried a few coffeeshops over the course of my visits back, there are two I gravitate to time after time- Basjoe and Amnesia.

On a recent trip, I visited Green House and Barney’s and enjoyed both, but not enough to add either of them into my regular rotation. Many people (especially Americans) recommend visiting Grey Area, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as others I’ve been to- a bit too ‘vibey’ for me.

Where to Have Coffee

One of my favourite things to do in the city though, is find a cosy cafe and settle up for conversation or reading.

Whether you’re visiting Amsterdam for the first time and looking for a caffeine fix to power your explorations, or on a return visit and keen to take things a big slower, to absorb more of local life, these cafes are my favourite ones to frequent in the city of tilted houses and twinkling canals.

Coffee & Coconuts: Located in a former movie theater, this multi-level cafe has an open, gorgeous interior. Come for breakfast and linger over coffee or a freshly cracked coconut.

Back to Black: Second only to Coffee & Coconuts, I love Back to Black. It’s a cozy cafe with good speciality coffee. Location wise, it’s near Vondelpark, the Rijksmuseum & the Van Gogh Museum, making it a great stop for a caffeine pick-me-up while sightseeing.

Screaming Beans: Screaming Beans equals great coffee. Period. Their location in the Jordaan is recently renovated, and perfect for a sit-in or takeaway espresso.

Lot 61: No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a stop here, in my opinion. Their flat whites and lattes are great, I usually pop in before or after heading to Food Hallen. Every time I’ve been, there’s always a few locals milling about, which is one of the reasons I love dropping it- helps me feel like I’m living in Amsterdam 😉

Little Collins: Aussie coffee always wins, and here, flat whites are an art form.

Scandinavian Embassy: Scandi-style design, great coffee, and hearty breakfast dishes, like porridge. A great place to pop in for coffee while in the De Pijp neighborhood.

Two for Joy: Another one of my favourite cafes in Amsterdam, and for good reason- the vibes are calm, cozy and ideal for getting a few hours of work done, or curling up with a good book on a rainy day.

Worth nothing, on my last visit to Amsterdam, I found this cafe was in the same location, but now goes by a different name. Google doesn’t turn up its new name, but will lead you to the right place if you search for Two for Joy.

Hummingbird: On the edge of the Jordaan, Hummingbird is a bright, open cafe. The decor is cool, and there are usually dogs lounging about. On a warm day in Amsterdam, Hummingbird hits the spot with its iced lattes.

NAKED: Tucked down an alley in one of Amsterdam’s busiest neighbourhoods, the Red Light District, you’ll find Naked. With modern, bright design and plenty of space to sit, Naked offers a reprieve from the city chaos with great coffee and an ever-changing array of cakes.

The Hoxton: Although I’ve never actually stayed at a Hoxton property, I love hanging in their lobbies early morning for coffee or breakfast. Often, there’s roomy, comfy space to sit (couches or booths), and a great morning menu.

Extra Amsterdam Travel Tips

Language: Dutch, officially, with many locals speaking German and other European languages (Italian, Spanish, Danish, etc.). It’s common for Dutch to learn three languages in school (Dutch, English and German), so you’ll likely have little problem conversing in English, especially in the more touristy areas of the city 

Safety: Never, have I felt unsafe wandering around Amsterdam (or other parts of the Netherlands) by myself. As with any global city, if you’re visiting during peak season and in crowded areas, keep an eye on your belongings

Currency: Euro. 90% of the purchases I make while in Amsterdam are contactless (by card). I usually carry €20-40 with me for the rare instance I need it- usually at street vendors, and sometimes at grocery stores, which only accept local cards.

Budget: Amsterdam sits among the pricer cities in Europe (London, Paris, Edinburgh). But, as with any trip, there are ways to keep cost down (shared accommodation, walking/taking public transit, making a few meals in, and so on).

Getting To Amsterdam’s City Center: From the airport you can easily hop on a train. Purchase your ticket beforehand, and watch for signs to tap on/off- they’re often discreet, so best to follow actions of locals. 

Once at the main station in city centre, you can take a tram or Uber to your accommodation if it’s not within walking distance. If I’m planning on going back and forth across the city during my stay, I often pick up a transit card before leaving- although, you can also purchase single ride or day passes onboard trams (at the back of the tram, there’ll be an operator). And, always remember to tap on and off when using the trams.

If you’ve only got 2-3 days in Amsterdam, you can likely structure your activity in a way where you can allow enough time to walk everywhere in city centre.

Where to Stay: Sometimes, I’ll stay with friends, and other times, I get a hotel/hostel room so I can be closer to city centre, as everyone I know in Amsterdam lives outside the tourism focused inner rings. 

  • Hotels: There are plenty of hotels in the inner rings, try to book early for the best selection and rates
  • Pod Hostel: On my most recent trip to Amsterdam, I stayed at City Hub to be close to the Jordaan for wandering, and loved the experience. You’ll have your own private room, and share bathrooms, showers and a lounge area. The pods are surprisingly roomy, and beds super comfortable. 10/10 would stay again
  • Airbnbs: As with hotels, plenty of options. Although, with an ongoing housing crisis in Amsterdam, I’m usually weary of using Airbnb while there
  • Houseboats: On one of my first trips to Amsterdam, I booked a houseboat (found through Airbnb, though there are other booking sites as well). We loved staying on a houseboat, it’s such a unique experience and perfect to try in Amsterdam. Best to do in a group, as boats usually have several beds, and are way more spacious than you’d believe

When to Visit: I’ve been to Amsterdam in every season, and prefer summer. Even though it can be busier, there’s so much greenery – vines on homes, outside plants, and the like, which makes wandering a gorgeous experience. 

I’ve also enjoyed spring, and cycling through tulip fields in Lisse (easy day trip from Amsterdam). And, while we’re covering the other seasons- autumn can be great as well with the changing leaves, cooler temps, and fewer crowds, and right before Christmas, the city is its own kind of magic with festive lights strung up everywhere.

Tipping: Tipping is not common practice in Amsterdam, but if the service is exceptional, it’s nice to leave a few extra Euros

WiFi Access: You’ll find WiFi at some cafes and restaurants, but it’s not common to have it open for customers to use everywhere. So, it’s best if you come with international service, pick up a SIM or rent a hotspot

SIM Card Options: Every time I’ve traveled to Amsterdam, I’ve had international service (if coming from the US) or a general EU SIM that I’ve used in other countries. That said, you’ll have no problem picking up a SIM in the airport or places in the city

Packing Necessities: What you bring depends on the season you visit. One thing to bring for certain- a raincoat or umbrella, as it’s not uncommon for weather to change quickly in Amsterdam, regardless of season

Have you ever visited Amsterdam? Is it on your list of places to visit once COVID-19 ends?

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Where to Find the Best Coffee in Amsterdam

You know those places you fall a bit more in love with every time you visit?

The Netherlands will always be one of those for me.

Since my first visit in 2015, I’ve tried to venture back at least once a year (a feat which living in Europe made easy, pre-COVID days).

Amsterdam has to do very little to earn the labels, ‘charming’ and ‘adorable’. After my first long weekend in this magical city, I found myself ready to return time after time.

With delicious eateries, charming boutiques, and incredible museums, there’s no shortage of things to do in Amsterdam.

One of my favourite things to do in the city though, is find a cosy cafe and settle up for conversation or reading.

On my most recent trip back to Amsterdam in December 2019, I went to see friends. But, since many of those friends work during the day, I, too, planned to work from Amsterdam’s cafes, a rhythm which I needed no time to adapt to.

Whether you’re visiting Amsterdam for the first time and looking for a caffeine fix to power your explorations, or on a return visit and keen to take things a big slower, to absorb more of local life, these cafes are my favourite ones to frequent in the city of tilted houses and twinkling canals.

10 Cafes for The Best Coffee in Amsterdam

Coffee & Coconuts: Located in a former movie theatre, this multi-level cafe has an open, gorgeous interior. Come for breakfast and linger over coffee or a freshly cracked coconut. Their coconut coffee is great, and the brunch menu is the kind of healthy, but also interesting combination that keeps people coming back.

Back to Black: Second only to Coffee & Coconuts, I love Back to Black. It’s a cozy cafe with good speciality coffee. Location wise, it’s near Vondelpark, the Rijksmuseum & the Van Gogh Museum, making it a great stop for a caffeine pick-me-up while sightseeing, or a great place to start the day after a morning stroll through Vondelpark.

Screaming Beans: Screaming Beans equals great coffee. Period. Their location in the Jordaan is recently renovated, and perfect for a sit-in or takeaway espresso.

Lot 61: No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a stop here, in my opinion. Their flat whites and lattes are great, I usually pop in before or after heading to Food Hallen. Every time I’ve been, there’s always a few locals milling about, which is one of the reasons I love dropping it- helps me feel like I’m living in Amsterdam 😉

Little Collins: Aussie coffee always wins, and here, flat whites are an art form. Their brunch menu is also what you’d expect of an Aussie-esque coffee shop.

Scandinavian Embassy: Scandi-style design, great coffee, and hearty breakfast dishes, like porridge. A great place to pop in for coffee while in the De Pijp neighborhood.

Two for Joy: Another one of my favourite cafes in Amsterdam, and for good reason- the vibes are calm, cozy and ideal for getting a few hours of work done, or curling up with a good book on a rainy day.

Worth nothing, on my last visit to Amsterdam, I found this cafe was in the same location, but now goes by a different name. Google doesn’t turn up its new name, but will lead you to the right place if you search for Two for Joy.

Hummingbird: On the edge of the Jordaan, Hummingbird is a bright, open cafe. The decor is cool, and there are usually dogs lounging about. On a warm day in Amsterdam, Hummingbird hits the spot with its iced lattes.

NAKED: Tucked down an alley in one of Amsterdam’s busiest neighbourhoods, the Red Light District, you’ll find Naked. With modern, bright design and plenty of space to sit, Naked offers a reprieve from the city chaos with great coffee and an ever-changing array of cakes.

The Hoxton: Although I’ve never actually stayed at a Hoxton property, I love hanging in their lobbies early morning for coffee or breakfast. Often, there’s roomy, comfy space to sit (couches or booths), and a great morning menu. Their property in Amsterdam is in the Jordaan, and a favourite space of mine to sit and answer emails, or pop in for a pause from seeing and doing all the things.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam? Did you enjoy any of the city’s cafes?

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The Best of Rotterdam in One Day

During a recent weekend trip to The Netherlands, my first priority was to see the flower fields. Second to that, I was keen to explore more of the country. On past trips, I’ve spent most of my time in and around Amsterdam.

This trip, after cycling through the Dutch countryside, I headed to Rotterdam for a day before finishing the trip with another day in Amsterdam.

So short on time, I knew I had to prioritise what I wanted to see and do in Rotterdam. Ultimately, I didn’t end up making it to everything I wanted to see because the weather was so beautiful, we ended up lounging in parks and hanging at beer gardens much more than I’d planned- but no complaints!

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Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands, and home to one of the world’s largest seaports.

Most of the city centre was bombed during World War II, so Rotterdam is known more for its industrial side and architectural uniqueness than Dutch quaintness like Amsterdam.

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How to Spend One Day in Rotterdam

Post flower fields, I arrived in Rotterdam mid-afternoon and headed straight for my hotel, citizenM. Normally not one for hotels, a branch like citizenM was more affordable than Airbnbs in Amsterdam. And, being so short on time in Rotterdam, I wanted to stay somewhere central with an easy option for luggage storage.

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citizenM has a perfect location in Rotterdam, post dropping off my bags, I headed next door to check out the Cube Houses. Dutch architect Piet Blom designed each cube to be tilted at a 55-degree angle and perched atop a hexagonally-shaped base. So cool to imagine what life is like inside these bright yellow houses.

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Next up, a visit to Rotterdam’s Market Hall (Markthal), a beautiful food hall with tons of veg, food stalls and cafes. I’d eaten a salad on the train, so I only had a stroopwafel here but it was nonetheless delicious.

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From taking an early am flight, at this point, I was ready for an espresso pick-me-up and headed to NINE BAR. Great espresso.

Two nearby shops to check-out for cute homewares: Home Stock and Depot.

Ready for happy hour, we headed to Rotterdam’s North District to one of the area’s new bars- Rose Rogue. Talk about my kind of place- pink velour, brass details, bouquets of flowers, golden hour and good cocktails. Doesn’t take much to make me happy.

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Next: We headed back south and stopped at one of the hopping beer gardens we passed, Loos, for a pint before our next cocktail stop- Dr. Rotterdam.

Dr. Rotterdam: One of the best speakeasies I’ve ever been to. An unmarked door, no photos allowed and truly ace drinks. We’d planned on going for one drink but ended up staying for over three hours, that good.

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Not quite ready to call it a night, we headed to one of Rotterdam’s main streets to Stirr for another round of drinks and finally, Supermercado for a nightcap and tacos. This part of Rotterdam really comes alive at night- lots of bars, outdoor eateries and places to grab a quick snack fix.

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Then, back to citizenM to crash in a king size bed that stretched wall to wall. Heaven.

The next morning, we woke and headed straight Delfshaven for a morning walk. Delfshaven is the only part of Rotterdam that wasn’t destroyed in WWII. Well preserved, you’ll feel strong Amsterdam vibes, but be pleased to see not even a tenth of the tourists you’ll find in the Jordaan.

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And, for a bit of travel trivia: The Pilgrims sailed from Delfshaven when they set out for America. They changed ships in England, but their journey originally stated in The Netherlands. Really enjoyed wandering these cobblestone streets, such a stark contrast to the rest of Rotterdam, which is modern with buildings in all different shapes and sizes.

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Soon enough, it was time for breakfast. Café de Oude Sluis was a great choice for coffee- it overlooks the canal in Delfshaven, but we headed to Coffeelicious for real brunch. Some of the best pancakes I think I’ve ever had- thick, fluffy and topped with plenty of fresh berries.

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Ready to wander for a bit more, we made our way back to central Rotterdam, stopping at Lilth on the way for more coffee. Looked like a hopping place for brunch as well.

Rounding out our trip, we walked up the main canal towards Central Station- loved the green park with tram lines running through it.

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As a final stop before boarding the train to Amsterdam, we checked out the Old Harbor next to our hotel. It’s the city’s oldest harbour and home to a mix of old and new. We decided to have a pint at Stockholm, a bar with lots of outdoor seating overlooking the shipyard.

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Before we knew it, it was time to head north. Even though we didn’t have much time in Rotterdam, it was a great day exploring a new part of The Netherlands.

Have you ever been to Rotterdam? Which Dutch city is your favorite to visit?

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Spring in the Netherlands

Some places are just better seen in spring. Warmer weather, greenery, flowers blooming, and less tourists than summer make many places in Europe better to visit in spring.

One such place? The Netherlands.

With charming windmills, colorful tulips, idyllic canals and warm days, spring is a great time to cruise the canals of Amsterdam, cycle the flower fields of southern Holland, or wander Rotterdam.

The flower fields, in particular, are not to be missed if you visit in springtime. There really aren’t words to describe the flower fields- rows and rows of colorful daffodils, hyacinth and tulips, it’s extraordinary.

And, although I’ve been to Amsterdam many times, a recent spring visit was my first time visiting other Dutch cities- Rotterdam and Zaandam.

Even though my visit was short, I loved sitting canal side for my morning coffee, seeing the country’s iconic flowers in full bloom, and hanging at outdoor beer gardens with friends, revelling in the spring sunshine.

My Favourite Moments From The Trip

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Cycling Through Tulip Fields in Holland

You know those things you dream about doing as a child? The ones that when you finally get to do them as an adult, you’re awestruck?

One of those moments for me happened recently- cycling through the Dutch countryside in search of tulip fields.

I’ve been to Amsterdam plenty of times- it’s a city I become more fond of with each visit- but hadn’t ventured outside the city much. On a recent spring trip, I planned on spending a half day in southern Holland in Lisse to revel in the tulips before heading to Rotterdam for a day, and then back north to Amsterdam.

Although the entire trip was special- saw and caught up with a few of my favourite people- the half day I spent in Lisse was incredible.

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I caught an early morning flight from London to Amsterdam, which meant I landed by 8 am. After checking my backpack at the airport storage center, I headed to the front exit of Schipol (near the train station) to buy a return bus ticket and entry pass for Keukenhof.

Tip: If you only have a backpack on you, take it with you to Keukenhof. They have storage there as well- you’ll save time trying to find the luggage storage location in Schipol and then waiting in line (it’s done manually).

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Ticket in hand, I headed outside to catch the bus. Eager to get to Rotterdam post-tulips, I’d also looked at Uber estimates, but a bus, plus entry ticket for Keukenhof cost £22, whereas an Uber one way was between £25-28.

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I’d been on the fence about going to Keukenhof. Famed for its tulip gardens, everyone I knew who’d visited told me it was too touristy/overcrowded. But, I decided it was something I wanted to see and experience for myself. And, I’d heard you could rent bikes from the parking lot of Keukenhof to cycle the countryside, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check it out if I was already going to be out that way.

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I’m glad I went, but I wouldn’t go again. The designed gardens and rare flowers were exceptional, but at 9 am, there were hundreds of people- which meant the gardens were already overcrowded.

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And, with that many people, you’re guaranteed to spend time in traffic. The bus ride from Schipol took ~35 minutes on the way there, and less than 20 minutes on my way back. When I left near 1 pm on a Saturday, traffic to get into Keukenhof was backed up for what appeared to be miles.

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Some people say Keukenhof is better on week days, but I think I’d still feel similarly even with less people. And sure, Keukenhof isn’t just about the flowers- there are plenty of nods to Dutch heritage, from cheese to sample to wooden shoes, and even a windmill. But, if you’re going to be in Amsterdam or any other part of The Netherlands, they’re all things you can experience in a more relaxed (and likely authentic) environment.

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After spending an hour at Keukenhof, I left in search of the parking lot bike rental stand. You can reserve in advance online, but I figured I’d be good to grab one mid-morning and I was right- there were still plenty of bikes available when I went to rent one around 10:30. When I returned though at 12:30, the supply was dwindling.

When you rent a bike, they’ll give you a map with a few different routes on it. I chose to do part of one of the longer routes where they assured me there were lots of flowers, cycling out for an hour and then back.

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There really aren’t words to describe the flower fields- rows and rows of colorful daffodils, hyacinth and tulips, it’s extraordinary.

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While you’re biking, as you approach a field, you’ll likely smell it before you see it- heavenly.

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I’ve heard you can rent bikes from Lisse (or even Haarlem, if you’re up for a half day cycling), and bike the countryside without going to Keukenhof. The flower fields were so magnificent, I’d definitely look into the details of just renting a bicycle if I ever returned to The Netherlands in springtime.

Time wise for a trip, try to plan for mid-late April- it’s usually when the flowers are in full bloom.

Even though I was only at the flower fields for a few hours, it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

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Have you ever visited The Netherlands in spring when the tulips were in full bloom?

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A Perfect Day in Amsterdam

Oh, Amsterdam. A city that captured my heart the first time I visited, and has lured me back many times since then. A city on canals, Amsterdam is easy explored by foot, boat or bike. With delicious eateries, charming boutiques, and incredible museums, there’s no shortage of things to do in the capital of the Netherlands.

If you’re short on time and new to Amsterdam, this is how I’d spend a day in Amsterdam, soaking up some of the best things the city has to offer.

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Morning

Your morning begins in the Jordaan- if you’re able, I’d recommend staying near this area. It’s quintessential Amsterdam, arguably the city’s most charming neighborhood. The Jordaan doesn’t have any major sights, it’s more so a place where you stumble across things.

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First thing: Head to the Anne Frank Huis. Seeing the Secret Annex is a powerful experience. It’s a dark and airless space, and hard to imagine the families who lived there had to be completely silent during the day. Touring the house takes under an hour, and admission is under €10, but purchase your tickets months in advance if you don’t want to wait hours to get in.

Post-Anne Frank, if you have a nice day, walk next door to the Westerkerk, a Reformed church within Dutch Protestant church. For ~€7, you can join a guide-led tour to the top for incredible views of the city. The tours are scheduled, so heading there in the morning is best if you want to have flexibility with when you climb to the top. When we went, it took ~30 minutes to climb up and down- a small chunk of time for such stunning perspective.

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By now, you’ve likely worked up an appetite. Luckily, the Pancake Bakery is a few blocks away. The Dutch are known for their pancakes, and after coming here, you’ll understand why. Pancake Bakery may be tiny, but they make amazing sweet and savory pancakes. You’ll also find the best poffertjes (mini pancakes) in the city here.

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Afternoon

Heading into the afternoon, do a bit of wandering (and shopping, if that’s your thing) in the Jordaan.

One street in particular that’s adorable because of all the shuttered old warehouses: Brouwersgracht (Brouwersgracht 107, 1015 GD Amsterdam, Netherlands).

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As you’re wandering, if you need a bit of caffeine, one of my favorite coffee shops is nearby- Two for Joy Coffee Roasters. Cosy cafe with great espresso and free wifi.

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A couple of my favorite shops in the area: Sukha, Store Without a Home, Ko and Restored.

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Keep walking the narrow cobblestone streets in the Jordaan for a bit- the three inner canal rings, Prinsengracht, Keizergracht and Herengracht are picture perfect.

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If you need an activity for the afternoon in the area, I love the cheese and wine tasting at Reypenaer Proeflokaal. Holland is the largest cheese exporter in the world. The tasting is an hour long, and well worth it- their cheese literally melts in your mouth. And they’re still producing it the traditional way, letting it age in a warehouse where temperature control means opening or closing the windows. If you’re traveling on a budget, this is a pretty affordable afternoon activity, coming in at €15. Tastings sell out though, be sure to book your spot in advance.

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As your wandering, you’ll see a bunch of canal-side eateries and bars. One of my favorites, Cafe P96, has both indoor seating and houseboat seating at the adjacent canal. Relaxing atop the houseboat with a glass of wine or local brew late afternoon is one of my favorite ways to take in the city.

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I’d recommend being flexible with lunch- there are a lot of great eateries in the Jordaan. Foodhallen, a beautiful food hall with lots of great vendors) is just outside the neighborhood and has something for everyone. Within the Jordaan, there are plenty of great delis and cafes where you can grab a quick bite- I’m a big fan of sla, serving healthy fresh salads, and Boca’s- great cheese & charcuterie boards and sandwiches.

Evening

Late afternoon/early evening, head to Central Station to hop on an hour long canal cruise. Amsterdam is known as the “Venice of the North” because it has so many canals, so touring them by boat is a must. I’ve done day, night and sunset canal cruises, and enjoyed the time right before/during sunset the most. Near Central Station, there are a bunch of providers to choose from, typically ranging from €15-18 for the cruise.

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Post-cruise, I’d walk back to the Jordaan. For dinner, be flexible again. Two of my favorite eateries in the neighborhood- La Perla for great Italian or Moeders for traditional Dutch food.

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Be sure to save room for Dutch Appeltaart at Winkel 43. I’m not a pie person (unless it’s strawberry rhubarb), but when you’re visiting a country that’s been making apple pie for centuries- an early Dutch cookbook dates it back to 1514- you make an exception.

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To end the night, head to either Tales & Spritis for a few cocktails- order off the menu of inventive drinks or tell the waiters what kind of flavors/spirits you like, and they’ll take care of you. If cocktails aren’t your thing, walk or take a tram across the city to Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a modern brewery next to a windmill producing organic craft brews.

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If you’re not ready to turn in just yet, take a stroll through De Wallen (red light district) to see a different side of Amsterdam, or grab another drink at one of the canal-side bars. Watching lights twinkle on the canal as the night settles in is a perfect way to end your day exploring Amsterdam.

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More to See & Do

Of course, there’s so much more to see and do in Amsterdam- one day only scratches the surface. If you have more time-

What is ‘A Perfect Day’? Often, I’m asked for my top recos for cities near and abroad by friends who only have a few days to explore a destination. ‘A Perfect Day’ are my top recos for exploring a city if it’s you’re a first time visitor and short on time. 

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Where to Eat & Drink in Amsterdam

Oh, Amsterdam- a city I’m truly smitten with.

With delicious eateries, charming boutiques, and incredible museums, there’s no shortage of things to do in Amsterdam.

Every time I’m in Amsterdam, I check out new places to eat & drink, and revisit my favorites. The below picks are places I try to visit on every trip.

Where to Eat

  •  The Pancake Bakery: When you’re in Amsterdam, it only makes sense to eat a Dutch Pancake. This restaurant may be tiny, but they make amazing sweet and savory pancakes. You’ll also find the best poffertjes (mini pancakes) in the city here
  • Moeders: I’ll admit I was skeptical of Dutch food (my diet in the US is plant and whole grain based, so I was worried traditional Dutch food would be too heavy). But, you really can’t go wrong mixing potatoes, cheese and vegetables- hotpotch is where it’s at. Moeders does a great presentation of the Dutch classics, and the photos of mothers everywhere are super adorable
  • Foodhallen: Beautiful food hall with lots of great vendors. Don’t miss the gin & tonic stall
  • Omelegg: There are a few locations in the city, which makes it easy to have a great breakfast (awesome omelets) wherever you’re staying
  • La Perla: Wood fired pizza, def the best in Amsterdam
  • SLA: Healthy, tasty salads. Usually a go-to for me for lunch if I know dinner is going to be a ‘treat yo self’ meal

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Where to Have Dessert

  • Winkel 43: The place to be for traditional Dutch Appeltaart (so good)
  • Van Stapele Koekmakerij: Get a warm chocolate cookie with white chocolate center and walk the canals with your treat
  • Stroopwafelkraam: Located at the Albert Cuyp market and Zaanse Schans, these stroopwafels are made fresh and served hot. Few things are better than crispy wafers with gooey caramel sandwiched in between

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Where to Have a Drink

  • If you’re in the mood to sample some of the best beer in Amsterdam, head to Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a modern brewery next to a windmill producing organic blonde and dark beers. We ordered the sampler to try a few local crafts and really enjoyed the experience of drinking them in the garden with the after-work crowd. The brewery also offers tours if you’re interested in the creation process
  • Door 74: Known as the first speakeasy in Amsterdam, the cocktails are amazing. If you don’t have a reservation, come early- otherwise, be prepared for a wait
  • Tales & Spirits: Phenom and inventive cocktails. If you tell the waiters what kind of flavors or spirits you like, they’ll take care of you. And, if you’re here on a warm day, try to grab a table outside
  • Cafe P96: There are a lot of places to sit and enjoy a drink along the canals, but I’m a fan of this one because it’s on a super cute street, and there’s houseboat seating

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Where to Have Coffee

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Photo Diary: Fall Euro Trip

Last fall, I spent a week and a half traveling throughout Europe (London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam). Along the way, I met travelers who were in Europe for Oktoberfest and visiting a few other cities as part of their trip.

Oktoberfest had always interested me, but I didn’t seriously consider attending the festival until hearing stories from people who had just been there. Once I decided Oktoberfest was something I needed to do in 2016, I started planning a trip.

Knowing how inexpensive it is to travel within Europe once you’re there, I wanted to see and do more than Oktoberfest on the trip. Through planning (and after finding a few flight deals), I landed on visiting Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich and Paris.

I don’t consider myself to be a festival or party/club person per-se, and wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy Oktoberfest. After a few days at the festival though, I walked away excited to return to Oktoberfest one day. So excited to share more about the trip, including my tips for traveling throughout Europe and attending Oktoberfest over the next few weeks.

Until then, a few of my favorite moments from the trip below 🙂

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#Take12Trips: September

September was an exciting, busy month. Labor Day weekend took me to Copenhagen for a quick introduction to Denmark. Two weeks later, I returned to Europe for 13 days traveling throughout Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich and Paris.

Last fall, I promised myself I’d attend Oktoberfest this year. Working back from time planned in Munich, I decided to explore another German city, Berlin and return to two cities I’ve visited before and wanted to spend more time in- Amsterdam and Paris.

Both trips were incredible, and I can’t wait to write more about them. But, I’m also looking forward to slowing down for a few weeks and taking time to enjoy my favorite season in one of my favorite cities.

For now though, a few moments from September’s travels-

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WHAT IS #TAKE12TRIPS?

#Take12Trips is the only resolution I made this year- a promise to commit to doing something once a month. Anything counts- it can be dinner at a new place, visiting a new museum or spending the weekend at a cute B&B in the country. It doesn’t need to be an epic trip to a foreign country, just the chance to discover something new.

Where #Take12Trips has taken me thus far this year:

I haven’t fully planned my trips for the rest of the year, but this is the work-in-progress schedule:

  • October: Paris in the beginning of the month & just booked a trip to Utah & Nevada for my birthday at the end of the month! Planning to do a mini-road trip and hike a few parks- Bryce Canyon, Zion, Valley of Fire.
  • November: TBD. Previously, I’d planned to run a race in Big Sur mid-month, but an injury with my left foot has me rethinking those plans
  • December: Pittsburgh for the holidays, and potentially Mexico City between the holidays and NYE

Are you planning any trips you’re excited about?

Where to See Windmills in Amsterdam

There’s no question clogs, windmills and tulips are what many people think of when they picture the Netherlands. If you’re visiting Amsterdam, fortunately, there’s a place near the city where you can experience all of these things.

Zaanse-Schans, on the banks of the river Zaan, is an idyllic town with green wooden houses, cute gardens, historic windmills and small shops, where you can sample local cheese or chocolate. Better yet, it’s the perfect half-day or day trip from Amsterdam.

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The Zaan region of Holland used to be an important industrial area, which once had hundreds of windmills. Surviving windmills in the area are now a mix of museums, gift shops and private residences. Visiting Zaanse-Shans gave me an appreciation for the role windmills used to hold for the Dutch- draining excess water from the land, grinding corn, sawing timber, etc.

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A trip to Zaanse-Schans is like stepping back in time. I went there for a few hours during one of my days in Amsterdam to see the spinning windmills, but it’s easy to spend an entire day there. There’s a lot to see and experience:

  • A cheese shop, where you can sample Dutch gouda
  • Fresh stroopwafels- seriously, these are insanely good and not to be missed
  • A chocolate shop with regularly scheduled presentations about the chocolate-making process
  • Trails that wind through the windmills (rent a bike if you’re in the mood to explore)
  • A clog museum, detailing the history of the famed wooden shoe

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Entrance is free to get into Zaanse-Schans, but some of the windmills charge a small admission fee if you want to walk inside- one of them lets you climb to the top and offerings a platform with picture-perfect views of the area.

When I visited, I took a bus (391) from Centraal Station in Amsterdam, it’s about ~30-40 minutes each way unless you’re able to catch the express bus out there (891), which takes ~20 minutes. If you’re traveling by bus, confirm which bus you need to take with an attendee at the station. When I visited, it was 5€ each way- tickets are purchased from your bus driver. The bus platform is in the back of Central Station, and super easy to navigate- the electronic displays make it simple to identify which bus you need to take.

Is Zaanse-Schans a bit touristy? Sure, but it’s also a charming little place that is a convenient trip from Amsterdam, and one of the best places to see working windmills.

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