Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands (2022)

Peter and I landed in Amsterdam mid-day on a Friday and spent three nights in Amsterdam. We had two full days to enjoy the sunshine and unseasonably high temperatures.

We spent our first full day cycling through the tulip fields southwest of Amsterdam and we spent our second full day exploring Amsterdam city centre.

This trip was Peter’s first time visiting Amsterdam and it was my second visit. My first visit was nine years ago when I went on a girls’ trip with my friends Jessi and Sara.

Amsterdam was not my jam nine years ago but fast forward almost a decade and I feel differently about Amsterdam. It’s totally my jam nowadays! And we agreed that Amsterdam is a city we’d consider moving to if the right opportunity came our way.

The thing with Amsterdam is that location is almost everything. It’s a big city and though public transportation is efficient and plentiful, it can take a long time to get from point A to B (read: canals and bridges).

The buildings are as crooked as they look

Back in 2013, we stayed in the De Pijp neighborhood which I described at the time as being an up-and-coming residential neighborhood. Fast forward to the 2020s and I’d probably use the term gentrification to describe that area, as it were, back in 2013.

The long and short of it was that De Pijp was the wrong neighborhood to stay in in 2013 and I don’t think I’d be too far off in saying that, as a tourist, it is still the wrong neighborhood to stay in. It’s too far out from the popular tourist areas which means a lot of time is spent on public transportation.

Better-located accommodation, nine years wiser, less booze, and more sleep made my visit to Amsterdam in 2022 vastly different than my visit in 2013.

Netherlands/UK entry requirements

It wouldn’t be a travel blog post in the 2020s without mentioning covid entry requirements.

There was minor covid prep before we departed to the Netherlands. Per the government website, the Netherlands required every visitor to complete a Health Declaration Form before arrival. We completed the forms but were not asked by the airline or immigration staff for our forms.

I’ve since learned that as of April 20th, the form is no longer required when traveling to the Netherlands by air. We traveled by air on April 15th, so it’s unclear why our forms were not checked. I speculate that we all know that forms of those types, where a person self-declares that they don’t have covid symptoms are obsolete in this stage of the pandemic, so why bother checking them?

We were required to wear a face mask from when we boarded the plane in England until after immigration in the Netherlands. On our return flight to England, we were required to wear a face mask from when we scanned our boarding passes at Schiphol airport to when we landed in England. 

This face mask rule is incredibly illogical and my patience with illogical covid requirements is, admittedly, wearing thin.

At the airport in England, we were maskless and corralled into a small room as we waited to board the plane but as soon as we entered the plane, we were required to wear a mask. If there was covid to be spread – and there certainly was – it had already spread by the time we entered the plane.

On our return flight, we were surprised that we were required to wear a face mask because, generally speaking, airline face mask policies have been such that a face mask is required when the destination requires a face mask and England has no face mask policies.

Note: As of February 24th, 2022, all covid restrictions in England have been lifted, including the requirement to self-isolate when covid-positive.

Schiphol airport (arrival)

Our flight to the Netherlands departed almost an hour late. We set out on this trip intending to travel to/from Amsterdam by Eurostar (non-stop journey time is four hours) but there were no return trains for the day we were traveling and the price of a one-way outbound ticket was more than double the price of our roundtrip flights, so we were left with no other choice but to fly.

Immigration at Schiphol was fast because they did not verify our forms. A quick stamp-stamp and we were on our way.

After clearing immigration, it was a short walk to the train station where we purchased one-way tickets to Amsterdam Centraal station (don’t forget to touch in and touch out on the card reader poles for every journey).

We waited 15 minutes for the train and the journey time was another 17 minutes. Based on the train, the journey time can be as short as 13 minutes but the 13-minute trains run infrequently.

Protip: Need to pee? Toilets are free in the Arrivals halls and in the train station.

Accommodation

We stayed at the Hoxton Amsterdam and it’s not often that I say this, but we had no major complaints with the hotel. The hotel restaurant/bar, Lottie’s, is a different story, however.

We booked a Roomy room direct on the hotel’s website.

Our room was on the 4th floor (#419) and did not have a view but we requested a room that was quiet over one with a view when we checked in. This hotel room was possibly the quietest room we have ever stayed in.

The Hoxton was our second-choice hotel because there were a few online reviews that gave us concern about staying at this hotel.

First, there were recurring complaints about slamming doors by guests and housekeeping. 

Whilst it is true that the doors were not soft-closing, we did not hear a door slam during our stay, not even once. The hotel was fully booked so I can only conclude that we were surrounded by courteous guests who soft-closed the doors like we did. 

Second, there were complaints about cramped rooms and low-height ceilings. It’s impossible to know what type of room those reviewers booked but we booked the middle-sized room and we felt the room was large for a city hotel.

The ceilings in our room were double-height, making the room feel larger than it was. One minor gripe with the room was there was nowhere to set our luggage other than on the floor.

The bathroom (technically no bathtub) was a generous size with ample space to set toiletries. One slight annoyance with the bathroom was that the door was glass so when the light was on in the bathroom, the bedroom was also lit – not the best design for middle-of-the-night toilet breaks.

The location of the hotel was in the Jordaan neighborhood along Herengracht (loosely translated as men’s canal). With the exception of the long walk to/from Amsterdam Centraal station, the hotel was perfectly located for sightseeing and exploring.

Last but not least, Lottie’s, the hotel restaurant/bar is something that should be skipped. We had an après sightseeing cocktail in the bar area on two occasions and, out of convenience, we ate breakfast in the restaurant before heading out on our day trip to Keukenhof.

Service is the main problem at Lottie’s even though there always seemed to be plenty of staff. The service is slow, 20 minutes for a coffee, slow.

Jordaan neighborhood

We had one full day in Amsterdam city centre and all of our time was spent in the Jordaan neighborhood. We walked miles upon miles that day and managed not to be hit by a cyclist, car, scooter, tram, etc.

Car lanes, bike lanes, tram lanes, pedestrian crossings

So let’s talk about the walkability of Amsterdam for a moment.

Amsterdam is walkable but –

  • there are a lot of cobblestones
  • there is a lot of road construction, specifically on canal bridges
  • the sidewalks are narrow or there are no sidewalks or sidewalks blend in with streets
  • the streets are chaotic due to cyclists, cars, trams, other tourists, etc.
Cobblestones are a killer for wheelie bags

To walk in Amsterdam means that you always have to have your wits about you. Every intersection is a beehive of activity. Cars, trams, and cyclists are coming at you from every direction.

Peter wished his head could spin 360° because that would be the only way he could know for sure that he was not going to struck by a moving object.

I remember telling myself “hesitation kills,” meaning, if I took one step off of the curb to cross the road, there was no turning back because ‘back’ may have meant there was a cyclist that had moved between me and the curb in that split second.

As a pedestrian in Amsterdam, I left wishing for a car-free Amsterdam in the future.

The Jordaan neighborhood is packed with shopping, restaurants, and pubs/bars. It’s also incredibly picturesque whilst at the same time being incredibly difficult to capture its picturesque-ness in pictures. There’s always something in the frame you don’t want to be there – cars, trees hiding buildings, tourists milling about, etc.

We started our day by walking to the most northern canal, Brouwersgracht (loosely translated as brewer’s canal), and ended up walking as far south as Leidsegracht.

Sometimes it felt like we were walking in circles but I don’t think we walked the same canals more than once.

The city was full of tourists the weekend of our visit. It certainly felt like pre-pandemic levels of tourism but in chatting with a local barista, she said that they are not yet back to those levels.

Protip: Get up early and tour the city pre-10am when the streets are empty and quiet.

The weather during our stay was perfect. The mornings and evenings were chilly but the afternoons were warm. In the afternoons, we ditched our jackets and soaked up the sunshine anywhere and everywhere we could find a bench or cafe table outside.

There was an hour-long period when we got lucky and sat on a bench along Prinsengracht and watched canal boats cruise by below our feet.

How is it possible to have lower ground floor apartments when the canals are at lower ground floor level?

I can only speak for myself in that I contemplated a canal cruise but ultimately decided it was too much effort to walk to the other side of the canal, buy tickets, and wait for the next available boat. So we remained on the bench and continued people-watching and being content with having our vitamin D batteries charged.

And while perfect weather is 99 percent upside, the downside is that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to find outdoor seating at pubs, cafes, and restaurants. This was the situation we found ourselves in all weekend but not being able to find an outdoor seat at a pub prevented us from day drinking which, in turn, prevented hangovers!

Jordaan and the Nine Streets area are tourist attractions in their own right. To do these areas right is to spend a full day walking the canals, visiting cafes, popping into the boutique shops in Nine Streets, and enjoying a cocktail here and a beer there. Let yourself get lost.

Dutch culture is easy, minus their love of mayonnaise.

It’s laid back. It’s unpretentious. It’s my cuppa tea. And as a bonus, tap water is free and poured without even asking. What’s not to love?

What we’d do differently

What would we do differently if we were to do our weekend getaway to Amsterdam over again?

First, we’d buy train tickets via the 9292 app versus at the machines at train stations. When buying tickets via machines, a 1€ fee is added to every single-use OV chip card.

We purchased four train tickets during our stay in Amsterdam, two tickets from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal station and two tickets from Amsterdam Centraal station to the airport. Each ticket cost €4.70 + 1 fee which increased the train fare by over 20%.

Second, I would have opted for a large backpack or duffle bag versus a cabin-size wheelie bag. Amsterdam is full of cobblestones and train tracks and tall and short curbs which made wheeling my wheelie bag a hassle. In fact, there were sections of our walk to/from the hotel where I clumsily carried my bag because it was easier.

Eat, drink, and shop recommendations

Finally, here are a few recommendations for Amsterdam.

Note: Tap water is free and is almost always automatically poured at cafes, bars, and restaurants!

Business nameTypeNotes
FoodhallenFood hallA massive food hall with every type of food imaginable + beer and cocktails
Pulitzer’sCocktail barVery skilled bartenders who make great cocktails
Flying DutchmanCocktail barReservations recommended
De PizzabakkersTakeaway restaurantExcellent super-thin crust pizza
Cafe De KlosRestaurantNo reservations – first come, first serve so get there early to avoid long wait times
Protip: Large portions; one portion (e.g. ribs) is enough for two people.
OmeleggBreakfast restaurantNo reservations – first come, first serve but the queue moves fast
Hummingbird CoffeeExcellent espresso
Luuk’s CoffeeCoffeeExcellent espresso, off the beaten path

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