First time in Amsterdam

October 9, 2015

The coach transfer from the ship to Amsterdam dropped us off outside the Victoria Hotel, directly opposite the station. After a short walk round the corner to our hotel, we left our bags and set off to explore.

The 5-10 minute walk towards Nieuwmarkt took us past the Rembrandt House Museum, and Café de Sluyswacht – a wonky old loch keeper house on the canal, that is now a bustling pub full of authentic Dutch character. Nieuwmarkt square was lined with traditional cafes and bars, great for people watching over a drink or lunch, but there were plenty of hotspots to grab a stroopwafel or churros on the go too.

Did you know the Café de Sluyswacht leans at a greater angle than the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

We ventured further into the heart of Amsterdam, crossing the tiny bridges over scenic canals until we found Dam Square and the Royal Palace. There was plenty to see and do in this area, Madame Tussauds, the palace itself and a big shopping centre – Magna Plaza. Rather than go any further on our first afternoon, we retreated back into the narrow streets, dipping into the unique shops and taking photos of the picturesque canals.

There are so many canal cruises to choose from, but we came across the Friendship Luxury Cruise, at the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 230 jetty which stood out as different from the rest. With comfortable seats and at a price of just 15 euros, we spontaneously climbed onboard.

We were served a bottle of wine, provided with blankets in case it got cold out on the water, and umbrellas for if it rained, but the best thing about the experience was the knowledge of the guides. As we sailed around the intricate canal network the guides rolled out fact after fact, with a real enthusiasm that could only come from a native of the city. It was also a great way to learn our way around, and something well worth doing early on in the stay.

Did you know the first Chinatown in Europe was in Amsterdam?

The following day we began with a walk to the Singel Canal, home to the only floating flower market – the Bloemenmarkt. A sea of tulips, sunflowers and a vast array of flowers I wouldn’t be able to name filled the market stalls, as well as cute little Dutch souvenirs and a great photo opportunity in oversized clogs. The buildings along here were also brimming with boutiques, especially cheese and traditional clothing shops, and a Christmas shop that would be perfect if you’re visiting at this time of year!

Did you know most buildings in Amsterdam have a beam and hook at the top, this is to lift furniture through the windows and into the upper floors of the high narrow buildings?

Completely by chance as we left this area to head towards Ann Frank’s house, we found the Begijnhof, a hidden treasure of Holland that I doubt we would have found if we had been consciously looking.

The Begijnhof is a secluded courtyard at medieval street level that was built for a group of Catholic women called the Begijntjes. We went through the old ornate passageway, and into the pristine courtyard and chapel – a quiet sanctuary away from the bustle and noise of the outside world.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the more modern end of the city, past the lit up bridges along the canals, and the crowds queuing for the Ann Frank museum.

Back to Nieuwmarkt for the evening, we had a reservation at a restaurant called In de Waag, a unique venue that used to be the old city gates. It was a great location in the market square, but also close by to all the bars that came alive after dark.

Sunday was our last day in Amsterdam, so we kept it relaxed in keeping with the locals. An ice cream from one of the many gelato shops was one of my highlights, as was another walk past the Bloemenmarkt for some souvenirs and Dutch cheese.

During the transfer back to the ship we looked through all the photos we took, and realised how much we saw and did, Amsterdam is perfect for a short break. The city has such a variety of things to do, and we didn’t even get near the Rijksmuseum or Vondelpark on this occasion – I’ll just have to go back.

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