Amsterdam: Bicycles, Coffee Shops & Brass Bands

I’d heard so much about Amsterdam that I felt as though I’d already been there and could already picture the bike-cladded streets winding around the canals. For years I’d been desperate to see the city for myself, so me and a few friends decided to head there for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday.

Amsterdam has an amazing transport system – car, bike, boat, tram, train or bus – you can take your pick! Even though we were staying a while out of the city centre, our weekend public transport passes were a fantastic way of getting around the city.

As we arrived quite late on the Thursday night, we grabbed some food for breakfast and a couple of beers and relaxed in our hotel apartment.

FRIday

In the morning we headed off to the the museum quarter with pre-booked tickets for the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. Having studied art at school, I was really keen to see his work in person and learn a bit more about his back story. One thing to note with attractions like this and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, is that most places require you to book tickets and a time slot in advance.

Having a time slot worked well with the Van Gogh museum and the floors feel very spacious, giving you lots of time to explore each section and read the information about each piece. I’ve been to a few big art galleries in the past, but this is the first gallery I’ve been to which focuses entirely on one artist’s work. And you can truly see why Van Gogh holds such fascination for many people. I was already familiar with his post-impressionist style of painting, but it was interesting to see the other art styles he experimented with over the years, such as pencil drawings and peasant character studies. I also particularly enjoyed the self-portrait section, as I feel as though it’s unusual for an artist, who you’d usually expect to distance themselves from the subject of study, become that study themselves.

We spent the afternoon exploring the city by foot, which I could honestly spend hours doing! The architecture is so beautiful in Amsterdam (reminding me very much of Paris at times) and there are so many cute cafés and shops to look around. We ended up venturing into one of Amsterdam’s infamous ‘coffee shops’, where you can enjoy legal marijuana. We picked one with a cat called Bowie who is pretty popular with tourists!

In the evening, we ventured out to De Pijp, a popular strip full of bars. As it struck midnight, we celebrated my birthday with some shots and sparklers before heading to a Jazz Bar called Bourbon Street Music Club. This is a fantastic venue if you want to get away from the busy, touristy bars and we joined a few locals dancing to an awesome Blues band.

Saturday

Despite being a bit hungover from the night before, we left the apartment bright and early to visit the Anne Frank House, as we’d already booked an early time slot. I knew that this visit would be tough, but I’d heard very good things about it. The museum didn’t look how I expected to from the outside, as I didn’t realise that they had built it around the original annex. The tour takes about an hour and you are provided with a free audio guide, which I found very informative and moving. There is no furniture left in the annex, but you do get a feel for the enclosed space that the Frank family shared with the van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer during their two years in hiding. At the end, you hear some accounts from Otto Frank and others survivors who had been close with Anne. It’s a sad but very moving experience, so I’d definitely recommend it. Upon recommendation of a friend, we then stopped by the pancake house outside the Anne Frank house to enjoy some traditional dutch pancakes, which were really delicious!

Then it was time to head home for a quick nap, before heading back out into the city centre. We took a little ferry from the train station to the A’DAM Lookout, a tall building with a panoramic view of the city. The cost to go up the  tower is quite expensive and you do have to pay extra to go on the swing. I didn’t realise that the swing slots also book up in advance, and as there was a two-hour wait, I decided not to do it. However, the view from the tower is stunning, and we enjoyed the rooftop bar and music in the sunshine.

Me and two other friends bought a bundle ticket for the tower and a canal boat ride afterwards. However, we spent 45 minutes queuing in the heat and as it was getting on a bit in the evening, we decided to head back to the apartment instead. It was a shame to waste the money, but I think you’re better off paying for a smaller, independent boat company, rather than going for one of the big ones. The smaller boats themselves also looked much nicer to ride on when it’s sunny, as the big ones we were waiting for all had roofs on.

In the evening we headed back to De Pijp for a Mastino Pizza, which we had read rave reviews about. I had a really tasty vegan pizza with vegan-style brie! As it was a lovely day and the restaurant is quite small, we took our pizzas to a nearby park and enjoyed them with a few bottles of wine. Later on, we explored the infamous red light district. I’d heard lots of stories about it, yet I still found myself feeling surprised and disturbed. We had a few drinks in one of the bars around there, but soon decided to head out of the district! We finished the night in a really fun club called Club NYX, which had a drag queen show on. The music and atmosphere was great in this club, but don’t be put off by people dancing right next to urinals on the second floor!

SUNDAY

On Sunday we decided to explore the city by bicycle and make the most of the hot weather. We cycled to Vondelpark, which has beautiful lakes and fountains. In the park, we also stumbled upon a Dutch brass band called Gallowstreet. They were so much fun and really got the crowd dancing. As well as being extremely skilled with their instruments, one member even used four different seashells to play music! The atmosphere was amazing and this was easily the highlight of my trip.

We enjoyed a pleasant cycle home before getting ready to head back out for the evening. After a few drinks in the flat, we got an Uber straight to a club that sounded like it had a good night on. However, once we paid loads to get inside, we found it to be completely dead and playing terrible music. I think that’s the quickest I’ve ever gone in and out of a club! We headed back to the apartment instead to take some ‘magic’ truffles, which you can buy from various shops in Amsterdam. I think they truly rounded off the Amsterdam experience!

I was sad to leave Amsterdam on Monday morning but I definitely intend to return in the future. While it’s close enough to travel to just for a weekend, there’s so much to do there that I think you’ll end up wanting to stay longer!

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