Two of my best girlfriends were visiting me for a little over a week and we decided to kick off our adventure in Amsterdam. KLM runs a great flight from Nuremberg direct to Amsterdam that leaves at 6:00AM (ok that’s not the great part) landing at 7:20 in Amsterdam in time for breakfast. The great part is that early flight delivered me to Amsterdam with a full day to play and I could meet my girls at the airport arriving on the red-eye from Chicago. Even with the haziness from our early and overnight flights the excitement of seeing each other for the first time in almost a year made us feel like giddy teens meeting unsupervised at the mall for the first time. We grabbed our bags, a taxi and headed into Amsterdam to check in to our hotel and start our day.
Hotel Estherea is a beautiful seventeenth-century building located on the Singel, the oldest canal in Amsterdam. We arrived way before check-in but it was no problem storing our bags and treating ourselves to the coffee, tea and sweets bar in the hotel lobby. It’s not just an ordinary coffee setup…it is an absolutely gorgeous layout with a bird theme and even a life-sized bird cage chair (sounds strange but is totally cool). We immediately knew this was going to be a special place to stay. The location of the boutique hotel is perfect and it has a unique cozy yet trendy charm. We snacked a bit and then went for a walk to find breakfast and let the reality sink in that we we were all finally together in this amazing city.
We walked the canals and streets for a bit before settling into a quaint breakfast spot. Having a few hours to kill before our room would be ready gave us some time to chat about our plan for the next few days. Emily and Michelle are two of the easiest people to travel with and we travel very well together. We all have different interests but usually find mixing shopping, eating, drinking, a little art, a little history and a little nature makes everyone pretty happy. Here’s what we did for three amazing days in Amsterdam…
Food Tour in De Pijp
I planned a food tour in advance for the day we all arrived knowing it would be a good idea to have a plan in place as jet lag hit. One of our favorite things to do together is go on food tours. It is a great way to see the city, get insider tips and of course find the best restaurants. I like using Withlocals because they offer unique tours that you can cater to your own preference and pick you guide. We booked a three hour private tour and met our guide Sebastian at 2:00 by the Albert Cuyp Markt in De Pijp one of the biggest and most popular outdoor markets in the Netherlands. On our tour we did a cheese tasting, sampled Surinamese food, Stroopwafels, local herring, and Kroket from a FEBO vending machine. We finished our tour with a few cold beers at a “brown bar” which is a dark old local tavern with carpet on the tables and Dutch beer on tap. Our tour set the tone for our Amsterdam adventure and Sebastian was definitely entertaining and full of tips and city history.
A short ferry ride from the Amsterdam Central Station is the Noord neighborhood and an artsy and cultural hotspot called NDSM. It is a former shipyard located on the banks of the River IJ that hosts festivals and flea markets and a few trendy bars and restaurants. On our second day, the sun was shining and it was a gorgeous spring day so we hopped on the ferry in search of a fun boozy lunch and a little art. We easily found both. After spending some time wandering the warehouses (getting peed on by a hanging barbie but that story is way too long for this post!) and artists booths we found a table at Pllek. The restaurant overlooks the river, offers a super feel good vibe and serves local and delicious food. We thoroughly enjoyed our long slow lunch, soaking in the sun on the river bank and spending time in NDSM.
Shopping in De Negen Stratjes
One thing Michelle and I do very well together is shop. We can sniff out the best deals and cutest boutiques from miles away. Emily puts up with us and our hunt and is nice enough to go along for the ride. De Negen Stratjes (The Nine Streets) is in the historic canal district and packed full of galleries, boutiques, jewelry shops, vintage stores, cafes and bars. These nine narrow streets are a pure shopping delight offering a huge variety of styles and prices. There is a lot of great shopping in Amsterdam but if you are looking for something unique and not big box this is the area where you want to be. In addition, the cute cafes offer a nice pause to refuel and take in the energy of the neighborhood and watch the world go by.
Gs Brunch Boat
Seeing Amsterdam from the water is a must-do and there is no better way to cruise the canals than on Gs Brunch Boat. We booked the Noon cruise and were treated to 1.5 hours of yummy food, mimosas and experiencing the beautiful city from a different angle. Life honestly doesn’t get much better than cruising the canals in Amsterdam with your besties on a perfect spring day.
Heineken Brewery Tour
We had some free time on our hands so decided to do the Heineken Experience at the Heineken Brewery. I did a quick search and in minutes tickets were bought and we were in the queue. The museum is well organized and informational. To be honest, we were really just on the tour because of the promise of super fresh beer at the end. We did our best to read the signs and take in the history and did enjoy the hands on interactive experience. The tour ends going down several flights of stairs to a pub in the basement where super fresh, tasty, cold Heineken beer is served and we felt it was well deserved after reading confusing signs about hops, yeast and that sort of thing. If you have someone in your group that is really into the history of beer I am sure it would be very impressive. For our group who just likes cold beer it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours and mix things up a bit.
We weren’t able to check all of the boxes on our to-do list but I am not sure that would ever be possible with a city like Amsterdam. I fell in love with this intriguing city when I was a 21 year old University student studying in London and backpacking through Europe. Spending time again in Amsterdam reminded me of the free spirit kid I was with no worries walking the fine line of reckless behavior and the reality of my soon to be “grown up” expectations. At that time I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. Yes, of course it was super cool to hang out in the coffee shops, shop for mushrooms in the Smartshops and stroll through the red light district but even at that young and naive age I knew there was more to it. I fell in love again with Amsterdam over these three days exploring the city with my girlfriends. The food, drinks, art, architecture and canals mixed with the intrigue of the coffee shops, red light district and culture provides a perfect mix that all works harmoniously together. That is the beauty of Amsterdam and now that I am officially a “grown up” I can see it a bit more clearly.