A few months ago a friend was telling me how much she loved Amsterdam. She’d just returned so the magic of it was fresh in her mind, and she made it come to life for me. This was right around the time we were thinking about our summer vacation and what to do with it (always a big debate in our house) and well, it was a case of hearing the right thing at the right time. So, we went and now we’re back and I’m here to tell you it’s now my most favorite city. I know I say that every single time I go somewhere new (so if you’ve been reading for a while you’re probably rolling your eyes right now) but this time I mean it. Probably. Or possibly. Until the next place. But for now, believe me. It’s my favorite. For real.
The very first thing you should do when you get to the Netherlands is visit some windmills. Why? Because you’re in HOLLAND that’s why! The kids didn’t get it, but you do, right? When you think of Holland you think of canals, and wooden shoes, and bikes, and flowers and WINDMILLS… don’t you?
The Netherlands never brought to mind tiny butter and powdered sugar drenched pancakes, but now it forever will. Because they are really good and they make the trip to visit the windmills much more interesting for children or people who don’t care about windmills. But who are you people and why are you here then?
Windmills + Pancakes = Holland. She’s Dutch now.
And, I tried to get her to exchange those Docs for wooden shoes to complete her new image but she wasn’t having it. Don’t they look comfy though?
The next thing you need to do when you’ve had your fill of windmills and pancakes is get yo’self to Amsterdam. This is the coolest and prettiest and coolest and most interesting and coolest city ever. Really. Or, probably. At least possibly…
Right? You can’t argue with that. It does look a lot like Bruges where we were last winter, and kind of like Antwerp where we were just days before, but the VIBE is what makes it different. I swear.
And the coffee shops. This might look like a coffee shop but in Amsterdam you can’t call this a coffee shop. You can find this not-coffee-shop called Blushing near the Museum Quarter (where you can also find some museums). You can find the other kind of coffee shops everywhere.
This is Vondelpark looking at the Rijksmuseum, which I’ll come back to later. It’s one of the museums you are supposed to NOT MISS. Just like you aren’t supposed to miss the Anne Frank house. We missed the Anne Frank house. BUT, that’s because you have to buy tickets like two years in advance and we are just terrible at planning ahead. That actually was the only disappointing thing about the trip. You’d think at some point I’d mend my ways and do some actual research, but alas… here we are.
Oh and here’s another not to miss museum that we missed because as the kids pointed out, if you’ve seen one Van Gogh, you’ve seen them all. Which, I don’t necessarily believe, but ok. It’s fine.
Here’s one we didn’t miss! I’ve found that it’s much easier to engage the kids in a museum when it’s a modern art museum. All of us decided that we LOVED this one. It was just the right size with just the right mix of exhibits.
I’m not sure I understand this, but here’s a picture of it in case you do.
The best thing about the Moco when we were there is that there was a Banksy & Street Art exhibit. I really dig street art and so this was a bonus.
Did you know that Banksy went around to a bunch of different museums–important ones like the Met, Moma, the Brooklyn Museum and the Louvre– and hung up his art among the masters to see how long they would remain on the wall before someone noticed? I think the shortest was a few hours, but the longest was like 8 days and that’s pretty cool. And funny. Funny, cool. Banksy, I like your style.
This speaks to me. There is so much I could do with this, there is so much we could all do with this. Though, on second thought maybe some of the things people want to see in the world aren’t so great… like genetically engineered food. And clones. So hmmm. nvm.
I did really like this too. This is Daniel Arsham or I mean it’s his art. It’s not actually him. That would be creepy. But also impressive. Because he’d have to stand really still for a really, really long time.
And this is David Arsham. I mean, it’s me, admiring the purpleness of David Arsham’s immersive purple experience. I’m not sure I understand this at all either. I kind of felt like I was trapped in a display of Lush bath bombs but in the moment that felt pretty cool.
This exhibit got a lot of eye rolls from the kids. Dads are so embarrassing.
I don’t know about you, but museuming makes me hungry. And I love avocados. Enter the Avocado Show. We owe this epic lunch experience to my daughter who is actually very, very good at finding cool things to do by using that thing called Google, which is useful when you do things like leave the book you bought (and never read) about Amsterdam at home.
This is what they promise.
And they actually deliver on it!
I mean, if this isn’t food porn, I don’t know what is.
The obvious thing to do after you’ve had an amazing meal is to follow it up with some light and healthy stroop waffles.
And then go shopping for cheese.
And taste all the cheese. In full disclosure we returned here more than once because free cheese is really, really hard to pass up.
And then FINALLY! I got someone to don the wooden shoes with me. This is a look. Is it a good look? Who cares! We’re in HOLLAND.
Also FLOWERS. Obviously. Sadly we weren’t there during tulip season… but that’s just a reason to come back. In the meantime, the floating flower market (Bloemenmarkt) was pretty cool.
I can’t believe I haven’t even mentioned the bikes yet! Bikes are life in Amsterdam. They are everywhere and come at you from every direction. It’s a little nutty. But also a little awesome.
Because of that bike culture, you don’t really need a car in Amsterdam, but when it comes to this adorable Fiat is it really a matter of need?
On the other hand, it might be useful to have that cute little Fiat because how the heck do you find your bike in this mess? I feel like I’d just give up and walk home.
We ate dinner here. It was good. And the service was amazing. So, put this on your list if you come.
Also, put this on your list. This is Max Brown and it’s a great little hotel in a great little spot, with great little extras like a candy bar and a real bar that’s open 24 hours.
And they have games and records and all kinds of things like that. We actually played that Scrabble game you see which was really interesting because Dutch Scrabble has like a bajillion j’s and i’s and k’s and e’s and not many other letters. Quick tell me what you’d make with that mix. Exactly.
Another must do that we actually did is take a boat ride around the canals. We climbed aboard with Captain Jaime and he was a wealth of information. He explained all about why these houses are leaning, and why they are all so narrow and why the windows on top are smaller. You’ll have to take the trip to find out for yourself but I can tell you that houses were painted black during the plague to warn people to keep away. I always wanted a black brick house, but now I’m not so sure.
Here’s Captain Jaime’s brochure. Normally I’d include a link when recommending something but it’s been a hell of a few months and I’m really tired, so you can just google it ok? And you really should because he’s seriously the best and his tour comes with free drinks! How did I fail to mention this before? Free drinks people. Book Jaime. For real.
You get a completely different perspective when you’re looking at Amsterdam from the water. This bridge is on the edge of the Red Light District, which looks very different when you’re standing on the street.
And speaking of that–we saw some interesting things. Ones that provoked my son to say “If Philly is the city of brotherly love, then Amsterdam is the city where you BUY love”. Oh brother. Maybe we should have gone to Disney World or something?
Also, perhaps we missed the Van Gogh Museum, but we saw this guy and if you squint his painting looks like a Van Gogh! #closeenough
We did not skip the Rijks Museum because it’s supposed to be the best one in all of the Netherlands. The kids decided it was the most boring museum they’d ever been to, but then I reminded them about Choco Story in Bruges which we’ve already established is the most boring museum on the planet and they survived that… and they agreed so we powered on.
The library is very impressive anyway.
As part of the Year of Rembrant, one of his most famous and largest paintings is being restored. It’s actually really fascinating what they’re doing- analyzing layer by layer and assessing how they can restore and preserve it.
And there’s this giant spider in the garden…
Which might make you hungry for one of these. I don’t know why it would, but doesn’t this look good? It’s only a short walk to the aptly named Seafood Shop where you can buy one, and then another one and then another one (I don’t know anyone who did that).
Here’s what your daughter looks like when you tell her you’re taking a little excursion out of the cool, hip, fun city to go see more windmills.
Even the fact that the whole town actually did smell like chocolate didn’t help. I’m not sure that it would have helped if Willy Wonka himself was there to greet us and Oompa Loompas were swimming down a river of chocolate that ran through the middle of town… at least in the beginning anyway.
But then we saw a real person wearing wooden shoes! This was exciting! Though, admittedly we thought it was a bit contrived, like a staged scene you see at a planned village at Epcot or something. Maybe it was but I was still impressed that this guy was wearing wooden shoes while perched on a ladder cleaning eaves or looking for a birds nest or whatever he’s doing. Also, why are we all so cynical?
And the windmills really are impressive and beautiful in their own right.
Plus there were cows. Everyone loves cows.
And funky architecture. If you lived here, you’ve home now. And your home would be adorable.
The town (Zaandijk) is actually a quick 20 minute train ride from Amsterdam, so you can go, soak in all the adorableness of it and still be back in time for an afternoon coffee at a not-coffee-shop.
My daughter and I were shopping late one afternoon and stumbled upon this sustainable fashion museum/store which encourages you to figure out how to make fashion for good.
When you enter they give you a little bracelet that you can use to ping actions you’re willing to commit to in order to further the sustainable clothing movement and then you get the plan emailed to you so you remember what you signed up for and don’t break any promises. Pretty cool, right? So we committed to things like buying less, encouraging our favorite brands to be ecologically conscious, washing our clothes less often and all kinds of other awesome stuff that counteracts the fact that you are actually just a slave to consumerism.
So we left with a new mission and what did we do next? We continued shopping! We did feel pretty guilty about it but there were so many cute store. At least we were more conscious of what we were looking for and we did seek out the vintage and thrift shops (which btw are amazing in A’dam) and we even found this brand, which is sustainable and super duper cute!
One interesting factoid that we learned while in Amsterdam is that there are only 900,000 people living within the city limits but there are more than a million bikes. And, 2,000 of them end up in the canals for one reason or another (though I think we can figure out what those reasons are, it being Amsterdam and all).
We did a lot of other things, but turns out we didn’t do EVERYTHING. When we got home we read in our book that was still lying on the dining room table about all kinds of things we missed- great restaurants we didn’t eat at, off the beaten path places we didn’t see, hidden gems we didn’t find, nightlife we didn’t participate in. But that’s ok. We had an amazing time, and we’ll definitely be back. So til then, Amsterdam: stay awesome.