Europe, Travel

How To Spend A Winter Weekend In Amsterdam

Thailand left me with a major travel bug. Despite visiting Tenerife and Berlin before my trip, I just couldn’t end the year without seeing one last city. With my friend turning 30 at the beginning of December, it was the perfect opportunity to get away for a long weekend and one last trip before 2017 came to an end and Amsterdam was our top choice.

We stayed in the newly opened Monet Garden Hotel for three nights, which is centrally located around a 20 minute walk from the main train station yet a quick hop from the metro stop at Waterlooplein. It is ideally located for all the main city centre attractions and neutrally decorated with great lighting, ample plug sockets and a coffee machine, which is perfect for that early morning pick me up. I’ll write a full review soon.

Due to the city centre location we didn’t have to use much public transport but the IAmsterdam City Card includes free public transport on most routes as well as free or reduced entry on lots of attractions including the Rembrandt House Museum which is around the corner from the hotel.

Amsterdam is a canal side city with beautiful tall brick buildings lining the roads. There is a laid back vibe to the place which goes beyond the legalised cannabis and sex trade. The people are friendly, the culture rich and the history lengthy. Normally I would try and pack in as much as possible in a weekend but, as the snow hit on our second day turning the streets to slippery mush, we didn’t get around as quickly as I would have liked. I’m still really pleased with what we saw and did, and it just means I’ll have to go back to see all the things I missed another time.

What To Do

Anne Frank House was top of my list for places to visit as I am fascinated by all things World War 2 and read her diary in one sitting. The Anne Frank House is a not for profit organisation who work tirelessly to preserve the location where Anne Frank hid from the nazis and wrote her diary. Her father Otto was closely involved in its development and was a member of the board of governors before his death in 1980. Visiting Anne Frank House not only gave me a glimpse of what her life was like, but also allowed me to visualise what life was like during the war. The house is so small and the anecdotes shared had my eyes filled with tears the entire time. Ticket entry includes an audio guide meaning you can navigate the house at your own pace to take it all in. At just €9 it is a must see and a real eye opener if you are into history.

Venustempel Sex Museum is the world’s first and oldest sex museum which looks at sex through the years. It is a little cheesy and doesn’t take long to go around but it is light hearted fun and the images from the 19th century are certainly eye opening! There are some interesting photo opportunities and lots of laughter as people take in what they are looking at.

Because of the weather we struggled to walk along the canal paths but, had it been a little more mild, we would have taken in the Light Festival which takes place every December. Over 40 pieces of illuminated artwork from artists all over the world lights up the canal system. You can take a walking tour to see the festival or take to the water on a cruise for a really unique viewpoint. The pieces we saw were so pretty and walking is free, making it super budget friendly.

Another fun museum to visit is the Red Light Secrets Museum in the heart of the Red Light District. It is the world’s only museum dedicated to prostitution and gives you a real insight into the life of a prostitute in Amsterdam, how much they earn and how many clients they can expect to see in a night. The museum is held in an old brothel where a prostitute was murdered, so it is a little eerie but so interesting especially in a city where prostitution is legalised.

The Heineken Experience was much more fun than I was expecting. I don’t like beer but learning about the company, how the beer is made and all the interactive areas of the Experience were great fun and you can get involved, trying the hops before they are turned into beer and then trying the beer itself. There’s three drinks included in the ticket price and no rush for you to leave either. They come round with traditional Dutch snacks, bitterballen, which are like deep fried balls filled with a smooth meat sauce. They were so tasty and I don’t think we would have tried them had we not been offered them here so it was a real bonus. We had a great time at the Heineken Experience and I’d certainly do the tour again.

The Heineken Experience is right on the border of the De Pijp neighbourhood and I’m really sad that the snow stopped us exploring the area further. I love getting out of the main tourist areas of a city and there are lots of neighbouring areas of Amsterdam that have something different to offer. De Pijp reminds me of the Northern Quarter in Manchester with its cute little cafes, stylish eateries and independent shops. This sign is possibly the most instagrammable in the city too!

What To Eat

Because of the snow we didn’t manage to get out to some of the food and drink places I had researched but we did find some cracking little spots near to our hotel and the museums we visited. Mook Pancakes is next to the Waterlooplein tram stop and such a quirky little place. It has a laid-back vibe, much like the rest of Amsterdam, with their pancakes made from wholegrain spelt flour with no added sugar. Their juices are fresh and satisfying, a breakfast here will set you up for the day and fill your tummy with nothing but good stuff.

Cafe Brecht is a vintage haven and was the perfect little place to shelter from the snow as it got heavier! Named after German writer Bertolt Brecht, the whole place has an arty feel with seasonal drinks (I had a hot mulled cider with a cinnamon stick to stir) and sharing platters of cheese, nuts, meat and nibbles. We spent ages here just chilling out and enjoying the atmosphere before venturing out in an attempt to slide back to the hotel.

We stumbled across a more traditional Dutch restaurant after drinks in the Red Light District that hit the spot where comfort food is concerned. Rembrandt Corner had a really cute light system on the table that turned red when flipped over, alerting the wait staff that you needed attention. I ate this tasty Stamppot which is mashed potatoes mixed with a type of vegetable, in this case spinach. It reminded me of when my Gran used to chop up beetroot into my mash so it turned pink. It was served with a huge meatball and sausage with a rich gravy that was a perfect winter warmer of a dish.

We had a lovely time in Amsterdam and I will definitely go back for the friendly welcome, the tasty food and those spectacular buildings that I took far too many pictures of. Next time I will spend more time in the outer neighbourhoods as well as taking a train out to Edam and the windmills. Oh and it’ll be in a warmer climate, so I can see the tulips! Surely there’s no better excuse.

Credit for the Anne Frank House image to photographer Cris Toala Olivares. I visited Anne Frank House as a guest and was kindly given an IAmsterdam City Card to help me explore the city more widely.

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