“Enchanting” is the one word that best describes Amsterdam. Upon arriving, you will find the pretty Dutch houses banking the canals mesmerizing. When the lights come on at night, reflecting on the canals, Amsterdam becomes even more magical. This spring was my second trip to Amsterdam, and I’m even more enamored.
The Netherlands was the first country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage in 2001, with the mayor of Amsterdam performing the first marriage ceremony. There are more than 100 gay friendly bars, and the rainbow flag flies proudly throughout the city. In 2008, Amsterdam Gay Pride was chosen the Best Pride of Europe, taking place this year from July 29 through Aug. 6, 2017.
The Dutch pride themselves on acceptance and equality for all. Upon arriving, one of the first things you will notice is their friendliness. Speaking both English and Dutch, they are more than willing to help, and point you in the right direction.
Schiphol Airport is the main international airport of the Netherlands, and is very user-friendly. Signs are in English, and going through customs is very organized. Public transportation in Amsterdam is also very efficient and easy to use. I highly recommend taking the Airport Express Bus, which departs every 10 minutes from Platform B9 right outside the terminal. You can buy a ticket for five euros on the bus. The Airport Express Bus stops at most hotels in city center, arriving in about a half hour. You can also take a train to Amsterdam Central Station, which leaves from the airport every 10-15 minutes.
Getting around the city is easy with Amsterdam’s tram system. You can purchase a daily pass on the tram, and get on and off all day. Trams are numbered, and stops are mapped to get around the city. Just keep your pass, and remember to swipe out as you are leaving the tram.
Amsterdam is a city of bicycles, and the number of bicycle riders is staggering at first. The only peril is crossing the street, as bicycles have the right of way.
On this trip, my friend and I decided to stay at Hotel NH Amsterdam Centre, located in the Museum Quarter on Stadhouderskade, which is several blocks from the Leidseplein, making it a great location. The Leidseplein is one of Amsterdam’s liveliest squares with outdoor cafes and restaurants. It’s also a hub for many of the tram lines. You can have a drink outside, and watch the world of Amsterdam in all its glorious bustle.
The NH Amsterdam Centre was built in 1928 for the Olympic Games, and it’s a wonderful hotel. They have a fitness center, dining room, lounge area, and bar. They have great service, and the rooms are large by Amsterdam standards.
I wandered around the corner from the hotel to Overtoom Street. Overtoom is a major boulevard, and you can find all the conveniences you need. At the Marqt Overtoom you can find organic food, and goodies to take out. Wander further down, and explore the side streets for great shopping. There’s also a wonderful post office in the Plantage Book Store on Overtoom that will ship home your new treasures.
Across the street from the NH Amsterdam Centre is a charming gem for breakfast. De Vier Pilaren looks like a little house that Hansel & Gretel would have run away to. Dutch pancakes, which are thin, melt-in-your mouth crepes, are served with a choice of toppings, such as fresh fruit, lemon curd, Nutella, and powdered sugar.
After breakfast, hit the streets, because Amsterdam is a shopper’s dream! The Nine Streets, known as De Negen Straatjes, cross four canals in one of the prettiest neighborhoods in Amsterdam. Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht, & the Singel are the four canals which circle the cobblestone streets from the 17th century. There are vintage clothing shops, art galleries, spas, gifts, cheese, leather, shoes, and everything else in between. If you’re in the market for leather goods, handcrafted bags and wallets, visit Margareth M on Oude Spiegelstraat. When you get tired, there are cafes and ethnic restaurants of all kinds along with small local pubs, also known as brown cafes or “bruine kroeg” in Dutch, and are renowned for their dark wood and smoke-stained walls.
One evening we had the best Italian dinner at Casa di David on the Singel. Make a reservation, and ask for a table upstairs. With old brick walls, it looks out to the Singel canal and at night it’s captivating! After dinner, go for a walk around the canals. With the old gaslights, cobblestones, houseboats, and ironwork, you’ll forget you’re in the 21st century!
For an unexpected fun bar, take a trip via the tram or Uber to Bar Botanique in the east neighborhood. It’s a tropical 1930s style bar and restaurant, complete with palm trees in a very urban atmosphere. If you like fish, order the hake in a seasoned broth, you won’t be disappointed!
For LGBT action, head over to The Getto, it’s a great place to meet up with friends for dinner, and cocktails. Men, looking to have some fun? Head to Prik. You’re welcome. Everything or everyone else, go to Club Church where there is a theme for every night of the week, including naked bar Wednesday, and sex on Sunday.
The Hotel NH Amsterdam Centre is in the Museum Quarter, within walking distance of the Van Gogh Museum. It’s best to get tickets in advance and add on the interactive headset. The headset allows you to choose a painting, and hear the narrative about it. Van Gogh’s works are displayed chronologically, and you can see the progression of his style. I found it to be one of the best museum experiences, so allow for some time there. There is also a great gift shop!
Also in the area is Vondelpark. It is a beautiful place in the center of Amsterdam with 120 acres, you can stroll through it or rent a bicycle.
From any hotel in Amsterdam, it’s easy to take a day trip out of the city. Take the tram to Amsterdam Central Station, and from there you can take a train to any destination.
A great day trip is to Zaanse Schans, about 20 minutes by train. When you think of all things Dutch, you’ll find them in Zaanse Schans. The village is famous for their working windmills. You can climb to the top of a windmill, see how cheese is made, visit a chocolate factory, and walk through bucolic farmland.
Another favorite town is Alkmaar. You can take the 40-minute train ride to Alkmaar from Central Station. The train passes through the prettiest farmland as you leave Amsterdam.
Alkmaar is in the province of North Holland, and has the most charming residential neighborhoods, and medieval churches. The Grote Kerk Church of St. Lawrence is a famous landmark, and was built in 1470. Across the street from the church square is a great café with outdoor seating, the Grand Café Granada. The menu is in Dutch, and the waiter was nice enough to sit down and explain everything. Their goat cheese salad is the best!
When you’re back in the city, make sure you stop and see Dam Square. Dam Square is in the center of Amsterdam, close to the train station. It’s a great square bordered by the Royal Palace, and a 15th-century Gothic Church called Nieuwe Kerk, meaning New Church. It’s a bustling tourist spot, and there are always street performers.
The National Monument was erected in Dam Square in 1956, to honor those who were lost in World War II. The day we arrived was Liberation Day on May 5, which celebrates the day the Netherlands was freed from German occupation in World War II. May 4 is a solemn day of remembrance, and wreaths are placed at the foot of the monument. It was a very touching reminder of how precious freedom is.
Before leaving Amsterdam, stroll along the Singel canal, and enjoy the flower stalls. For a garden enthusiast, it’s paradise! There are tulips in every color imaginable, and even ones with fringed petals. Unfortunately, you can’t take the bulbs home on the plane, but some may be shipped back to the United States. Flowers are inexpensive, beautiful, and in abundance. To enjoy the floral experience, pick up a bouquet or three, and place them around your room. Celebrate you!
The best thing about Amsterdam is the vibe. It’s a relaxed city with never-ending charm and quaintness. Every cobblestone street keeps you wanting more. When you get back home, you’ll find you left a piece of your heart in Amsterdam!