Interrail Journals #1: Amsterdam City Break


Hello, there fellow travellers, fancy joining me and my brother for a 2-week long journey across Europe?

Fair warning: This is not your typical, full-on backpacker-style Interrail –which we have done a couple of years ago-, but it sure is jam-packed with random (un)fortunate events, great learning moments and some seriously good food and art… And as with all good things, it starts with an Amsterdam city break!

Amsterdam has such a special place in my heart: I don’t think I have ever felt so at home in a city where I’ve never lived.. or can’t even speak the language. From lovely walks by the canal to foodie heavens, quirky antique or coffee shops, it’s a city that has something for everyone. And one that keeps on giving: It seems there is always something new to see/try/discover in Amsterdam.

If it was just me and Mister, our holiday would probably involve a mix of sightseeing, going to exhibitions, getting lost in the mazy streets of Amsterdam until we found the perfect brunch spot or some kind of unique piece for the living room. However, as I was accompanied by my brother with a no-more-than-2-museums-per-day-please kind of attitude this time (who also happened to be visiting Amsterdam for the first time and relied on me to come up with a great start to our Interrail journey, no pressure, right?), we needed to tweak our route a little bit.

So, out went the Van Gogh Museum and in came the Heineken Experience (which actually turned out to be pretty great, but more on that later)!


Day 1

After a super early flight, we land at Schiphol Airport slightly tired but super excited for the journey ahead. (Side note: Schiphol Airport is definitely up there on the list of airports with the best connection links. The train station is literally built inside the airport and going to the city centre (Amsterdam Centraal) takes mere 20 minutes and costs around 3 euros.)

Once in the centre, a brief walk from the main station (Amsterdam Centraal) takes us to our hotel in Rembrandtplein. Our room is tinier than usual (central Amsterdam hotels are not exactly known for spaciousness unless you’re willing to pay pretty bucks for a boutique one) and lacks a wardrobe, so no recommendations here. But it is incredibly central, and that is exactly what we need to explore the city on foot.

Pancakes and Flowers

We start our walk at Pathé Tuschinski Cinema, a beautiful Art Deco building right around the corner from our hotel and move on to Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s famous floating flower market bursting with colours.

Don’t let the bloom in the name fool you though. This little stretch of the Singel canal is not only for flowers. If you’re not big on gardening, you can always leave your green-thumb companion(s) here and check out the other side of the street full of gift/cheese shops… that’s Gouda? 🙂

Pathe Tuschinski Cinema
Pathe Tuschinski Cinema

Pathé Tuschinski Cinema

an Art Deco gem

Bloemenmarkt

Although we have only been to two places so far, my ever-hungry brother informs me he is starving already, so a trip to Pancakes on Berenstraat is a must! This cute little (with particular emphasis on little) place always has such a huge queue on the outside, and waiting times can easily vary from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours.

Poffertjes, little Dutch pancake puffs

Luckily, their success means they now have a cool new branch (10 times bigger and only 5 mins away from the original one), right around the corner from Anne Frank House.

Speaking of

It’s worth reminding that the tickets to Anne Frank House are almost always sold out for the day/week. So, booking a couple of months ahead of your visit, especially around holiday periods, is highly recommended. Just to give you an idea: We tried to book our tickets at the end of May and it was already sold out until mid-August. If you can’t plan that far ahead and don’t mind waiting, you can start queuing outside late in the afternoon (around 5-6 pm) when the queue tends to move faster. Also, don’t be alarmed if the queue snakes around Homomonument, all the way to Westerkerk. That’s how it usually is on any given day.

Walking Around the Old Centre

After the pancakes, we walk up to Dam Square, the heart of historical Amsterdam. While not my favourite part of the town, this vibrant square with the Royal Palace of Amsterdam (Koninklijk Paleis van Amsterdam or Paleis op de Dam), the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk), the National Monument and plenty of restaurants and shops/department stores, is still worth a visit. Plus, it’s a stone’s throw away from the lovely little street of Nes with a gorgeous little gem of a wine bar, Wijnbar Bubbles & Wines.

Royal Palace of Amsterdam

Passing through local speciality stores such as Condomerie (always with a stag/hen party or curious photographers outside), we walk towards Amsterdam’s beautiful Oude Kerk and stop for a quick caffeine kick at Quartier Putain. This little cafe with an apt and cheeky name has been an Amsterdam staple for me over the years, particularly for its delicious apple pie.

Condomerie
Oude Kerk
Make sure to stop at Quartier Putain for some coffee and pie of the day!

A Church Like No Other

Still full from all the pancakes and poffertjes we ate earlier, we skip the apple pie this time and head to Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder as per my brother’s (I must admit, rather surprising) request. Walking through the narrow corridors of this beautiful 17th-century house from the Dutch Golden Age is an absolute pleasure, but nothing can quite prepare you for the climb up to the entire Catholic church in the attic… in pink.

This was a “schuilkerk” (clandestine church), in which Catholics and other religious dissenters from the 17th century Dutch Reformed Church held religious services as they were unable to worship in public.
Tiles for days!

Afterwards, we walk through the New Market (Nieuwmarkt) area, down by the canal through Red Light District (which is still quiet at this point) and make our way to Begijnhof, a calm oasis in the middle of Amsterdam, next to Spui with its beautiful bookshops and restaurants.

Begijnhof

Tired from our early flight, we head back to our hotel to get some rest before our well-deserved dinner in beautiful light-soaked Amsterdam.

If you would like to follow in our footsteps:


Day 2

Waking up to a warm July morning, we decide to start our day with a quick picnic in the park. After a quick trip to the Albert Heijn and Kwekkeboom on Reguliersbreestraat to pick up some nibbles (nothing fancy), we head southwest.

A walk through historic Spiegelkwartier, a neighbourhood for all things arts and antiques, and past its crown jewel Kramer Kunst & Antiek takes us to the passageway of the Rijksmuseum where we are greeted with classical music performed by some of the most talented street musicians. Now at the heart of all Amsterdam’s museums (Museumplein), we tip our hat to talented Mr Van Gogh before we continue to Vondelpark.


The Heineken Experience

After a light breakfast and some carefree walking, we leave the park behind to head to Heineken Experience for our booked time slot. But not without dropping by &Klevering Zuid on Jacob Obrechtstraat first for a quick interior design fix.

As the Heineken Experience is something my brother is really looking forward to, we opt for the VIP tour which comes with:

  • A dedicated tour guide,
  • A bottle with your name on it, and
  • Access to a hidden bar experience where you can try five different beers paired with Dutch cheese, as well as the rooftop with spectacular views over Amsterdam.

(Of note: The rooftop is quite busy, so I guess all tours end there regardless of the type.)


De Pijp

Having drunk our own weight in beer at Heineken Experience, we decide to walk to the nearby Albert Cuyp Market for a nibble. This is where countless stalls from all around the world come together. It’s also where I try and immediately fall in love with a dish called the takoyaki, a cheap and cheerful Osakan delicacy made of flour batter with bonito fish and kelp bouillon and served with teriyaki sauce, Japanese kewpie mayonnaise, Katsuobushi (fish flakes) and seaweed powder, while my brother tucks into waffles.

Takoyaki

Later, we wander in Sarphatipark and walk past stylish eateries (some of the previously tried and tested ones for brunch being CT Coffee & Coconuts and Omelegg) and small stores in De Pijp neighbourhood before we go to Arles for a late lunch.

With its refreshingly light, modern and affordable menu paired with an extensive wine list and an elegant yet somehow still casual setting (I particularly fell in love with the mini courtyard with grapevines), Arles truly ticks all the boxes for us:


Craft beer, anyone?

After our meal, we jump on a cab to head to Brouwerij’t IJ, a small brewery with a lovely outdoor terrace that I had heard so much about. The beers themselves are not mind-blowing per se, but the place is definitely worth a visit for that lazy afternoon spent under the sun in a beer garden watching the world go by vibe.

…And to raise a glass to our lovely little Amsterdam city break, of course – Proost!

If you would like to follow in our footsteps:


Next stop: Brussels!

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