Travel Diaries: Amsterdam

It's been months since we spent autumn in Amsterdam, but until now I could still remember those sharp pangs of sadness hitting us hard the moment we realized it was time to go back home. Everything about this trip was totally bonkers and surely one of our most memorable vacations yet!

To say that I was feeling excited when we first landed in Schiphol Airport on that cold morning of September would be an understatement. I was also relieved, brimming with happiness, positive energy, and all sorts of nice rolled into one. It was our very first time to visit Europe, but perhaps the amount of stress and agonizing wait we had to endure prior to this big trip also made the experience even more momentous for us.

We spent four fun-filled days in Amsterdam trying our best to squeeze in as much activities as possible, and it was still not enough. So let me share with you the highlights of our trip and maybe this can somehow guide you too in case you're also planning to visit the land of superlatives anytime soon.

Where to stay
After quite a lengthy research, we finally decided to stay in Hotel Allure along Sarphatistraat. It's a pretty basic hotel, but the rooms are clean, have all the essentials, and it's in a quiet neighborhood that's also perfectly located across a tram, a train station, and a supermarket, which made everything so easy and accessible for us.

Hotel Allure is also walking distance from a small nice bakeshop called Bakhuys that became our morning go-to for a quick breakfast of freshly baked bread and other sweet deli. 

Day 1. Hello Amsterdam
Our first order of business after checking in the hotel was Dam Square, the main town square and undoubtedly the perfect introduction to the city. 

One tip: Try standing in the middle of Dam Square to be surrounded by Amsterdam’s architectural all-stars: the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, Gothic Nieuwe Kerk, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, the World War II National Monument, Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, and also the huge  De Bijenkorf store. It's hard not to get impressed by these landmarks which perfectly showcase the intricacy and vitality of some of the most historical Gothic and Neoclassical buildings of the Netherlands. 

This area is always bustling with people: mostly tourists, mimers and other street performers. Dam Square is also where you can see the most number of pigeons, which make for a great photo op! :)

After a bit of people-watching, we had dinner in 5&33 — a casual dining restaurant and bar located on the corner of Prins Hendrikkade and Martelaarsgrachtin Amsterdam Central. It's a little on the pricey side, but the stylish and upbeat vibe of the place and flavorful dishes (all meant for sharing by the way) more than made up for it. 

Marlo was also celebrating his 33rd birthday at that time, so the name of the restaurant couldn't be more spot on. Their staff also gave us free wine when we told them about the occasion. Win! :)


We then capped off our first night walking around Red Light District just to sate our curiosity. I know that some people can get scandalized by this part of the city, and although I do not recommend it to be honest, it was still fascinating to witness. 

One tip: It is absolutely forbidden to take photos around here, so if you don't want to get in trouble or pay an exorbitant amount of money, keep your cameras away while sightseeing around these parts, especially near the "display" windows.


Day 2. A Bit of Culture 
We woke up extra early the next day to beat the crowd and fortunately managed to get decent photos in front of the famous "Iamsterdam" letters in Museumplein, which I did not expect at all considering how much tourists flock to this side everyday to take an obligatory photo. Considered as the cultural hub of the country, Museumplein is home to three of the major museums in Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, and of course Van Gogh Museum.

During the winter months, this huge rink behind us actually transforms into one gigantic ice rink. With the Iamsterdam letters and Rijksmuseum as its backdrop, it’s definitely one of the most picturesque ice rinks in the city. Super gorgeous for sure!

One of the main reasons why I've always wanted to go to Amsterdam was to visit Van Gogh Museum. We spent around two hours inside marveling over his paintings. I've always loved Van Gogh's brighter and more colorful paintings, but the darker and more melancholic pieces he painted during his early years as an artist when he was still based in The Netherlands struck me the most.


Part of our bucketlist was to also experience A'dam Lookout's Over the Edge swing — apparently the highest swing in Europe. It was a totally exhilarating ride and to be honest, if not for my husband's loud countdown while we were swinging to distract me, I don't think I would have survived that without peeing my pants. It was insane and I still can't believe we did it!


The Netherlands is the birthplace of the Heineken beer so we had to do the Heineken Experience, which turned out to be unexpectedly interesting. Not a beer fan myself, but the attraction was a nice way to cool down after an exhilirating A'dam lookout experience. Keywords to motivate anyone: Free beer. Enough said.


For dinner we checked out Foodhallen in Bellamyplein. It used to be a historical tram depot, but was renovated into a swanky food market possibly meant for hipsters and millennials judging by the decor and aesthetics.

One tip: Don't expect an easy and quiet dining experience after six on a weekday because it gets super jampacked. The grandma in me almost had a nervous breakdown with all the pushing and the noise. But why still go? It's the best place to go people-watching and sample a variety of both local and global cuisine.


Day 3 : A Day of Adventure
No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without experiencing the Amsterdam canal cruise. We bought tickets for an open-boat tour and boarded on the spot just right across Museumplein. The trip took about an hour to finish and aside from being educational, we got to see some parts of the city that we won't be able to discover on our own.


The Anne Frank  House tour is my favorite out of this trip for a number of reasons. This touching and very emotional journey back in time is a real must-see when in Amsterdam.

One tip: Book your tickets months in advance because they get sold out pretty quickly. Also make sure that you arrive before your booked time slot in order to get in because the queue to get inside the house is really long.


While reading up reviews on the best places to eat in Amsterdam, we chanced upon Pancake Bakery and decided to have lunch there since it's only walking distance from the Anne Frank House. 

The place has a very homely feel and their pancakes are like out of this world huge. We ordered their savory and sweet pancakes so we can sample both and truth be told, it's hard to choose a favorite because both are equally scrumptious. But more than the food and the ambiance, what truly stood out  for me is their very friendly staff who went above and beyond to help us out.  When one of them overheard that our battery's completely empty after taking a million photos during the cruise, they volunteered to charge our phones and powerbank in their kitchen while we enjoyed our food. The waitress even recommended to us some places in Amsterdam to explore. :)


Admittedly, this trip was not without any hiccup (as expected). We ended up missing the bus going to the countryside to see windmills and tulips fields because we were such slow eaters and even slower walkers. I guess it's bound to happen. I still take comfort in the thought that when one is in a very beautiful place such as Amsterdam, one tends to slow down his pace to get to take in and enjoy the moment more. No room for regrets there.

So as an alternative, we decided to check out De Gooyer instead, which was recommended by our guide from the canal cruise earlier. It's the tallest wooden windmill in the Netherlands and listed as a national monument. There's also a local pub in here called Brouwerij t'Ij where we enjoyed a round of great beer and sampled some cheese and Dutch sausages on the side.


Day 4 : Finale
I'd like to refer to our fourth and last day in Amsterdam as a chilled-out finale. Aside from buying small souvenirs for our family back home, we purposely didn't schedule any other activity so we can sleep in, walk around, and just relax before we head out to Belgium.

We had a light breakfast from a small kiosk called Rembrandt Van Gogh in Museumplein, shopped for souvenirs along Leidsestraat, and walked around the city center aimlessly while sipping hot chocolate and planning a brandnew itinerary for when we visit Amsterdam again in the near future. What can I say? This city will definitely make you want for more.


One last tip: Get yourself a GVB multi-day ticket upon landing Schiphol Airport. We got a ticket that's valid for 3 days (or 72 hours) which costed around €17.50, a lot cheaper than buying single journey tickets and saved us so much time too. This ticket gives you unlimited travel on all GVB routes, regardless of distance, both day and night. It's very practical and only becomes valid the first time you check in. 

Amsterdam was a dream, and damn how my heart wept when it was all over. 

I have read somewhere that "it's better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times" but as much as I want to say that visiting Amsterdam once in your life is enough, I just can't, because I don't think one visit can ever give justice to this very beautiful city. Planning to come back here for sure!

What's your favorite city?

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