My first foray into the Netherlands… is complete! My solo journey of 2019… is complete! When I found out that two of my closest friends were getting married in Bordeaux, and the weekend of my 32nd birthday nonetheless, I knew that I needed to “carpe diem” the heck out of this trip and tack on my annual solo adventure. Having explored much of Europe already, and in an attempt to visit every region of the historic continent, I set my sites on Amsterdam. Billed by friends and fellow travel bloggers as a deeply beautiful city, complete with locals who are warm and hospitable, an incredible history of art and culture, and stroopwaffels to boot, booking this trip was an absolute no-brainer. The icing on the cake was the almost constant proximity to water – the concentric rings of canals ensure that the calming presence of running water is omnipresent during your time in the city, and it doesn’t hurt that many are flanked by picturesque bicycles and pristine flower boxes, as well. Overall, I could not recommend this city more as an easy, approachable, friendly place to visit that doesn’t require a ton of advance planning, truly has activity and dining options for everyone, and barely registers a language barrier. I spent 2.5 days in Dam, and that felt like plenty for exploring the city by foot and coming away with a true understanding of what the city has to offer (spoiler alert: a lot). Read on for my travel guide to Amsterdam, and follow along on Instagram via #caro_in_amsterdam for a photo diary of my journey! And one disclaimer before I dive in – you won’t find the more touristy spots listed here. I purposefully avoided them so that I could get a more authentic and local snapshot of the city. Happy reading!
Where To Stay
I cannot extoll enough how much I love staying in an AirBnB when I visit a city, as it allows me to feel as though I’m immersing myself most fully in the local culture and come and go as if I lived there. This is the AirBnB I stayed at in Amsterdam (solo), and I could not recommend it more highly for its central location for getting around (but not too central – I wanted to avoid Dam Square and the surrounding areas at all costs).
If a hotel is more your speed, I checked out a few while there, not only for potential future stays but also for ambiance and culinary offerings. The Hoxton Hotel feels straight out of Brooklyn, and has a funky, art-y look and tons of space for coworking. I had a coffee here and recharged my phone, and it was quite lovely. Hotel Pulitzer feels like the place you’d stay with your parents – it’s beautifully designed, featured outdoor garden dining for breakfast and high tea, and has a stunning restaurant, Janz. Hotel De Hallen was my other favorite – it’s located right by Foodhallen a bit outside of the city center, and is filled to the brim with weird, wacky, and wild art pieces, plus an unconventional layout.
What to Eat & Drink
- Toki – My absolute favorite cafe in Amsterdam, I would come here weekly to work, eat, and drink coffee if I lived in this fair city. It’s Japan by way of Dam, and has both a funky atmosphere, and a fantastic menu. I opted for a breakfast salad with pickled radishes, soft boiled eggs, furikake, and miso dressing I wanted to bathe in, but they offer a full menu and their selection of homemade cakes is also divine.
- Coffee and Coconuts – Technically a Balinese spot (their sister cafe is, in fact, in Bali), this cafe felt distinctly Aussie to me. The space is huge so you’ll have no trouble finding a quiet corner, and it has high ceilings and comfy couches that contribute to a cozy feel. Go for the avo toast (the portion is HUGE), or their smoothie bowls for a more healthy breakfast experience before heading out for your daily stroopwaffel.
- Cafe Droog – To call Droog a cafe is to do it a disservice. It’s truly a gallery, outdoor space, event space, hotel and cafe, all rolled into one eye-popping experience. The amount of care that has gone into every detail in every room of this space is truly mind-boggling. Just dining in the cafe, a light and airy room literally filled with art and art pieces, feels like eating in a modern and thoughtfully curated museum. Go, get the full breakfast, and sit there and admire the space around you.
- Scandinavian Embassy – As someone with an acute Copenhagen obsession, finding the little Scandi coffee spot in Amsterdam really wet my whistle. The coffee is delicious, and they make cinnamon buns that come fresh out of the oven, on the regular.
- Wildernis – This tiny plant shop is a wonder unto itself for those who love greenery, but they also have an espresso machine and a sunny front table for enjoying that macchiato amidst the plant friends.
- Dignita Hoftuin – In the garden of the Hermitage Museum, Dignita is serving up coffee with a side of outdoor space. Grab a coffee inside, grab food on the patio if hangry, and go sit by the lily pad-filled pond at the Hermitage.
- Bocca Coffee – With design details that are understated but on-point, the people at Bocca not only know coffee, but give you a great space in which to enjoy it.
- Cafe Winkel 43 – Also known as, the iconic apple cake spot. Part pie, part cake, all heaven. The portion is huge so don’t expect to come even close to finishing it on your own, but the flavor is incredible, the crust is perfection, and the sizable dollop of whipped cream is a must.
- Van Stapele Koekmakerij – The best non-stroopwaffel cookie in Amsterdam, and certainly worth the wait in line. It’s dark, rich chocolate with a white chocolate surprise on the inside, and trust me when I say you’ll want more than one.
- Patisserie Holtkamp – I wandered into Holtkamp originally for the kroketten (you can skip those), but the sleeper hit that I discovered was a traditional Dutch cookie called the stroopkoeken. It has the flavor profile of the stroopwaffel, but with thicker, crunchier cookies sandwiching the caramel syrup inside. Don’t miss them.
- Bakkerij Egstorf – Last but not least, the spot for the best stroopwaffel in Amsterdam. The trick here is to wait for them to make fresh stroopwaffels – they do it at the front of this tiny shop, and getting a warm one straight from the iron is a particular brand of heave. Also, it’s cash only.
Big Deal Meals
- Restaurant De Kas – Far and away, my best meal in Amsterdam was at De Kas. Not only is it wholly in line with my ideal eating ethic – they grow 85% of what they serve in their greenhous and at their farm, and source the remainder from local, sustainable operations – but the food itself was immaculate. I went for their four course lunch, which was more like six courses with the amuse-bouche, and it was veggie-focused and absolute heaven. They have great Netherlands wines on their wine list for those looking to drink local, and the whole experience is in their greenhouse, so you feel the outside, inside.
- Balthazar’s Keuken – Runner up for best meal goes to this little, local spot. It has a homey, neighborhood feel, and the only decision you have to make upon arriving is if you want meat or fish for your main. The highlight here is the appetizer platter you receive to start the meal – it’s a compilation of little bites ranging from mussels with mint on toast (my favorite bite), to sweetbreads, to a ginger and beet gazpacho.
- Rijsel – In truth, I wanted to love Rijsel. It has city townhouse vibes, and the French-meets-Dutch menu looked fantastic at a glance. But everything was just…ok. Nothing was not delicious, but I came away wanting more. I’d skip this spot unless you’ve exhausted all other culinary options.
The only wine bar you need to know about
- GlouGlou – A wine bar so nice, I went there twice. This natural wine bar has an epic selection or organic and biodynamic wines, a tasty app selection including cheese boards and briny olives, and outdoor seating you can plant yourself with a glass and a book (as I did) on a sunny evening.
What To Do
- Sukha – The epitome of minimalist chic, and spanning the worlds of fashion, art and home. Don’t miss this spot. I certainly reveled in it.
- De Weldaad – Right next to Cafe Winkel 43, this inventive shop featured a mix of antique and new home goods, and had an incredible array of glassware and pottery that I had to restrain myself from taking home.
- X Bank – The concept store in the W hotel, this zany spot was just plain fun to wander through and marvel at.
- Atheneum Books – We all know that this girl never met a bookshop she didn’t like. Right on the Spui, a filled-in canal, this bookshop is the perfect haven for book lovers.
- The Frozen Fountain – I may have found my favorite modern photographer, Scarlett Hooft Graafland, on the walls of this beautiful home decor and art shop. Just go.
- De Hallen – As an extension of Foodhallen, De Hallen is a non-food market outside of central Dam. If you’re in this area, don’t miss wandering this glass-ceilinged walk, which features the Maker Market and Maker Store.
- Explore the Jordaan – Perhaps the most instagrammed hood in Dam, this beautiful canal-filled neighborhood is home to countless shops and cafes, and also is along one of Amsterdam’s prettiest canals, the Prinsengracht (“Prince’s Canal”).
- Foodhallen – The epic food hall located in De Hallen, it’s a great stop while wandering through the area. Whether you want oysters (there’s a raw bar) or a cocktail (there’s a spot exclusively dedicated to G&Ts), there’s something in here for everyone.
- Ten Katemarkt – My favorite outdoor market in Amsterdam, and the perfectly place to stroll through on a leisurely afternoon. Hit this up after visiting De Hallen and Foodhallen.
- Moco Museum – The funky contemporary museum in Dam, Moco is a whole lot of fun. It’s small and manageable, and you can be in and out in an hour. The permanent collection on the top floor includes everything from Warhol to Basquiat, but the real magic is in the rotating exhibits – I saw a fantastic exhibit on Banksy’s street art, and was introduced to the artist Daniel Arsham, who I absolutely loved.
- Gardens at Rijksmuseum – Although I skipped visiting the interior of this Dutch art museum, I did partake in a stroll through their beautiful (and free) sculpture gardens in the back. There’s some beautiful installations here, in additional to gorgeously manicured flowers, and a plethora of benches for taking a moment (or two).
- Vondelpark – Ah, the quintessential Dutch park experience. Vondelpark is absolutely huge, and is especially fun to walk or bike through during the weekend, or commuter hours, to get a sense of Dutch locals via people watching. Pack a picnic, or just stroll through during sunset en route to cocktail hour.