Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities in Europe, and possiblythe world. There is something so cool, laid-back and welcoming about it that I keep going back there every summer. It's not just because it's so easy to get to from London. Paris is only 2.5 hours away by train and Brussels can be reached in just under 2 hours, yet beautiful as those two cities are, they don't hold the same appeal for me.
Here are a few things I particularly enjoy about this great city:
The canals, or grachts in the local lingo, are what makes Amsterdam a truly unique place. They not only provide a gorgeous backdrop for holiday snaps. You can get some food and drinks and hire a boat like many locals do- is there a nicer way to spend a warm summer evening? Or you can chill out by one of the canals on a sunny afternoon with a cup of coffee, reading a book or simply admiring the beautiful houses lining up every canal street in the city center.
Vondel park is a big park in central Amsterdam. It is the perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon - ether cycling or taking a stroll though it.
The Museum quarter is great for accommodation - easily reachable by tram from the Central Station, yet it quiet and residential, with a lot of nice cafes and restaurants. As the name suggests, it is also the area where the city's top museums are located. Amsterdam is home to some truly superb museums, such as the Van Gogh Museum and the recently renovated Rijksmuseum. Most Dutch museums are not free and you have to pay to get in, but it's well worth it. On my last visit to the city a few months ago I went to the Rijksmuseum for the first time and was really impressed. It's best to go early on a work day to avoid the crowds and it takes at least half a day to have a good look around all the floors.
Zeedijk street is only 5 minutes away from the Central station and it's packed with very affordable bars and restaurants, most of which have outside seating and are great for people watching. There is a Dutch expression for it, een terrasje pikken, which roughly translates as "to have a drink in an outdoor cafe". The great thing about Amsterdam is that even the most touristy areas are very popular with locals too, which makes for a really nice atmosphere.
When it comes to food, Dutch chips are really good, I am also very partial to a traditional Dutch snack called kibbeling - bits of deep fried fish served with a dipping sauce. It may not be the healthiest food ever, but it is delicious. Stroopwafels, caramel waffles, are world famous and go nicely with coffee. Then there are Eierkoeken, or Dutch egg cakes, you can pick up a pack of those in any bakery as a nice little treat. Did you know that the word cookie actually derives from the Dutch word koekje? I didn't, until a Dutch friend told me about it.
If you are staying in Amsterdam but fancy venturing out of the city for a day trip, Rotterdam and The Hague are both one hour away by train. You can also catch the 20 minute train ride to Zaanse Schans to have a wander around this traditional Dutch village. It has so much to offer you are likely to spend the whole day there - it has windmills, museums, shops and traditional Dutch farmhouses, where you can buy local produce and treat yourself to a cup of hot chocolate made from freshly ground cocoa beans.
All in all, I think Amsterdam is a truly special place. And the best part is, you end up discovering something new and fun to do there on each visit. I know I will probably be going back there again next year...
What's your favourite thing to do in Amsterdam? If you've got any tips or stories to share, please feel free to drop me a line via the Contact section!