I absolutely adore Amsterdam. It is so pretty with its canals and narrow houses, and life seems so chilled and relaxed with people walking and cycling around the city. I’ve been to Amsterdam twice before this trip, both on transit; and here I am, transiting in this city again for the third time.
The city of Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands; and home to the UNESCO World Heritage canals running through the city. This city is like no other — it feels like an open-air museum with its 17th century narrow houses, houseboats bobbing about and boats cruising along its canals, picturesque lanes with charming cafes, and art museums at every corner featuring masterpieces from the likes of Van Gogh and Rembrandt. And in Amsterdam, you can do what is forbidden in many other places.
All KLM flights transit at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. I had a 10-hour transit in the city, and that was ample amount of time to have a good day’s walk about Amsterdam. I took the train from the airport and arrived at the Amsterdam Central Station in about 15-20 minutes; using the 1-day Amsterdam Travel Ticket that costs €16 (~US$17). The pass covers transport to and from the airport, as well as unlimited travel in all buses, trams, metros and ferries operated by GVB in the city. It made traveling around really convenient.
Amsterdam Central Station and the Damrak
I arrived at the Amsterdam Central Station at about 11am in the morning. It was winter but the sun was up and shining; so I had a lovely morning stroll along the Damrak, the main avenue people walk on upon arriving at the station. The crowded street is several blocks long, and offers a first glimpse of the 17th century houses of Amsterdam. It was fun looking at the pretty displays by the windows, smelling the freshly baked pastries from the bakeries, and stealing quick glances into the narrow doorways of the many small hotels.
Patatje Oorlog at Manneken Pis
French fries is a standard snack food in Europe; but in Holland, it comes with a special sauce called the ‘patatje oorlog‘. It translates to war chips — and the fries come with a mix of mayo, onions and sate sauce (an Asian recipe of peanut, coconut milk and other spices). I got my fix at Manneken Pis along the Damrak — apparently they are voted Holland’s no.1 fries. The fries and special sauce were just the perfect comfort food for a sunny winter’s morning.
After walking the entire stretch of the Damrak from Amsterdam Central Station to the Dam Square on the other end, I made my way to Prinsengracht. The 10-minute walk brought me across the canals; and upon arrival, I got to admire the beautiful houses of Jordaan. The scenery with the canals here makes a lovely walk, and such pretty pictures. I loved standing on the edge of bridge and the banks just watching the boats cruise by. My first stop on this short transit was at Anne Frank’s House.
Anne Frank’s House
When I was young, I read Anne Frank’s Diary, so I wanted to visit the actual house where she and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II. The museum preserves their hiding place — the ‘Secret Annexe‘ at the rear of the 17th century canal house; and on the walking tour through the house, displays exhibitions on the daily life of Anne Frank, the people she hid with, as well as the turbulent times during the war. It was painful and heart-wrenching to see the photos and hear the stories of what they went through. The line to enter the house was extremely long during my visit, and entrance costs €9 (~US$10) for adults. Anne Frank didn’t survive the war, but her story lives on.
From Jordaan, it was another 10-minute walk back to Dam Square, where I took the tram towards Leidseplein (5 stops tram no.1,2,5). Leidseplein is a popular night spot, and during the day is packed; not with people, but with tons and tons of bicycles. The square and its side streets are filled with restaurants and clubs — and I was here to look for some lunch!
Lunch at The Pantry
While in Amsterdam, I wanted to sample an authentic traditional Dutch meal in a pretty Dutch restaurant. I read rave reviews of The Pantry online, and thought I’d head there for my Dutch lunch. The restaurant is located on one of the side streets of Leidseplein, and has such a cozy interior with its dimly lit lamps, as well as paintings and delft blue plates hanging on the walls.
For starters, I ordered the salted herring with onions and pickles; and for my mains I had the stamppot (mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables). I ordered a combination of the hutspot (mixed with stewed beef), the boerenkoolstamppot (mixed with kale) and the zuurkoolstamppot (mixed with sauerkraut), served together with a meatball. The main dish cost €13.75 (~US$15); and I absolutely enjoyed it. Service was wonderful too.
Leidseplein is about a 15-minute walk to Museumplein, where Amsterdam’s three major museums — the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum, are located. I spent most of my time visiting these museums on my last two transit visits to the city; but I decided to return to the square to take another photo with the I Amsterdam Sign.
I Amsterdam Sign
The I Amsterdam Sign is located at the back of the Rijksmuseum, facing the huge water feature in the middle of the Art Square. The slogan measures over 23.5m, with each of the letters standing at 2m tall; and is such a city icon that you can’t say you’ve been to Amsterdam if you haven’t taken a photo with it. I always have fun trying to get the best photo by climbing in, around and on top of the sign, trying to avoid as many people as I can. I’ve yet to get a shot all by myself — don’t think I ever will!
Visiting Amsterdam in winter meant that it gets dark by evening; so as soon as the sun started to set, I made my way back to Dam Square by taking the tram from Rijksmuseum (6 stops tram no.2,5). I still had time before my flight, so I decided to make a quick visit to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, also known as De Wallen. It is just a short walk from the Damrak, on and around the canals running parallel to it.
De Wallen (Red Light District)
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is known all over the world, where prostitution is legal. The infamous district is filled with scantily-clad women standing in front of glass windows, strip show signboards, sex museums, loud and noisy bars, as well as special ‘coffeeshops‘. Navigating the network of small, red neon-lighted alleyways around the area can be a little daunting — I encountered a group of raucous men who weren’t very nice with their words.
After my ‘interesting’ experience wandering about De Wallen; I walked back to the Amsterdam Central Station to catch my train to Schiphol Airport for my connecting flight out of the Netherlands. My 10 hours in Amsterdam was lots of fun… and, educational too.