Amsterdam December 2017:
Our Favorite Sights, Sounds, Smells & Snacks
Our 4-day Amsterdam getaway this December was incredible. In our previous post, we gave you the quick review of our hotel and flight package, and some fun tips, tricks and lessons learned. This post will give you a detailed review of our favorite things. Check out our 2-minute video reviews below:
As we mentioned in the Quick and Dirty post, the Iamsterdam Card is everything you need to plan a perfect 4-5 day trip in this small, but active city.
We did the math and if we had paid at each individual museum that we went to and for a canal tour, we would have paid about 120 Euro/ea, which is about 122 USD. With our Iamsterdam Card, we paid $92/each for more museums than we could visit, a canal tour, and UNLIMITED Tram rides. The tram is HUGE because it would have been at least 22 Euro/each if we wanted the same 96-hour unlimited deal.
Every evening, we pulled out our map to determine which museums we should group together, based on proximity, for the next day. This nightly activity of planning for the following day was actually a lot of fun because it tested our growing knowledge of the city. This became our nightly staple and gave us just enough structure, without causing us to feel overwhelmed.
In addition to the museums listed below, check out the Rembrandt Monument and bronze-cast Night Watch replicas in Rembrandt Square (Rembrandtplein).
We stumbled upon some fun artist and flea markets during the day in Rembrandtplein. It was perfect for picking up authentic souvenirs.
The best way to see the city is at night when it is lit up.
The best way to see the city is at night when it is lit up.
Also, Devon found these Dutch Cats (eye-roll).
On our first day, we took our map to the hotel concierge, who suggested that the best place to start would be Dam. We had absolutely no idea where we were going and had made no plans. It was perfect! The tram was easy to find, and just with our eyes open on our first ride in, we were able to see a few of the museums we wanted to go to over the course of our trip.
We got off the train in Dam, which seemed like the most central area for shopping, and just walked...
In our first go around, we tried the ever famous fries and mayonnaise, entered our first coffeeshop, and got a feel for the more commercial shopping area of the city. We decided to use the Canal Tour that was included in our City Pass.
That was potentially the smartest unplanned move we made. It was amazing to experience the city from the water, and it was super helpful in our understanding the city layout.
A note about museums:
Here is the full list of 15 Museums and how we grouped them during our 4-days in Amsterdam. Keep in mind that we did not experience a single line at ANY museum and that is likely because of the time of year.
* denote our must-dos
Jewish Historical Museum- This was our first museum, so we were pretty bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. This museum archives Jewish history, culture, and religion within the Netherlands, and is also located just one block from the Portuguese Synagogue. It is located in the Jewish Cultural Quarter, which is full of delicious eats and quaint bakeries.
Portuguese Synagogue*- This is our first MUST-DO. The architecture of this 17th Century synagogue has been preserved, and it is still used today. Even in our modern society, this synagogue is heated simply by candles and body heat. Around the perimeter of the synagogue are many rooms that serve a variety of ritual preparation purposes. Women still come to the bathhouse to cleanse themselves post menstruation….
Rembrandt House Museum*- This museum was exactly what we love; a passage into someone else's history. The Rembrandt House maintained much of the pieces and structure that it did during Rembrandt's lifetime. There was also a secondary exhibit going on that covered the incredible artistic accomplishments of two of Rembrandt's most gifted, but under acknowledged pupils, Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck. In the top level of this lavish home, we were able to see where these students apprenticed under Rembrandt.
Our Lord in the Attic Museum*- This was our #1 FAV. Once again, we traveled back in time to the Protestant Reformation, during which Catholics were forced to find alternative and private spaces to practice their religion. Three homes owned by a Dutch Bourgeois make up the secret church that law enforcement turned a blind-eye to.
Oude Kerk*- So we THOUGHT we were just visiting one of the oldest and largest churches in the world...we were uninformed about this CREEPY AF art exhibit. This exhibit focused on how one is forgotten over the decades and centuries following death. Morbid stuff. The large stones on the floor are actual grave markers, and the coats…well, you can watch us lose our sh*t in our "Dutch Witch Project" style video below.
Day 3Rijksmuseum (purchase in advance)- We were expecting to have this one on our must-do list, because everyone else says you MUST do the Rijks. But after a day of more intimate museum experiences, this modern museum was overwhelming. Despite feeling lost in the many large galleries here, we did get to see Amsterdam's most famous work of art: Rembrandt's Night Watch (De Nachtwacht).
Here is the most touristy selfie of us taking a blurry selfie with the famous painting in front of other tourists, who are also taking a selfie with the famous painting.
Van Gogh Museum*- This site is right next door to the Rijks in the Museumplein area. This almost didn't make our must-do list for similar reasons to the Rijks, but ultimately we enjoyed learning more about this most brilliant artist whose history was both fascinating and painful. It blew our minds that Van Gogh's fame occurred only after his suicide, which was due exclusively to the efforts and passion for his art by his brother and sister-in-law and, years later, his nephew.
Cromhouthuis (Biblical Museum)- This canal house was confusing; full of both odd and decadent collectors' items and religious possessions. The first few floors focused on the extravagant life of entertaining by the Dutch elite. The portraits and home decor in this home were stunning. The upper floors featured a collection of Christian and biblical objects that had been acquired by the Cromhout family.
Anne Frank House* (can ONLY purchase on-line, in advance). IF THIS IS THE ONLY THING YOU CAN DO IN AMSTERDAM, DO IT. This is the most bone chilling, visceral experience we can imagine. We initiated our tour in a sterile and modern looking museum building. Once you reach the Secret Annex, it is required that all phones and cameras go away. Lenni was able to snap a quick picture of the bookcase through which the Frank family traveled behind to get into the Annex. To walk the floors and staircases of the eight people who resided here in silence for two years, to stand in their rooms, and to look at the carefully preserved bedroom wall covered in magazine photos by Anne, was truly humbling and moving.
One Note: We had some trouble finding this museum, as it is a very different area from anywhere else we had previously explored. It turns out, it is just behind the GIANT Westerkerk Church.
Amsterdam Tulip Museum- Alright, this was silly. We actually could not have been less interested in how tulip pollination contributed to tulips becoming synonymous with Holland, but the gift shop was really cute! We don't have a picture, so here is a picture of Devon and his cat.
This museum mostly focuses on cultures that contributed and influenced Dutch culture. There was a sweet music history gallery, a runway for African Fashion, and our favorite: BODY ART galleries that chronicled the cultural and artistic trends of using the body as a blank canvas for expression. Really neat and refreshing stuff!
National Holocaust Museum- This museum was much smaller than we expected it to be, and it is apparently in the process of expanding. It offers intimate accounts into the lives of those who were victims during the Holocaust. The exhibit that was featured focused on the stories of the children of the Holocaust. This museum also offers an expansive digital exhibit to search individual victims and their stories.
The theatre platform and roof have been removed, and between the original brick walls facing the open sky is an obelisk standing as a reminder of all who were lost in the Holocaust. The surrounding walls where theatre goers used to sit is filled with wooden tulips and notes of remembrance. Just behind these walls is the courtyard. Within the building (the original lobby), you can watch several documentary style films, and see the scale of devastation on displayed list of names of the 102,000 Dutch killed in the Holocaust. Between touching these brick walls and walking the tiny patch of green courtyard, our experience was similar to that at the Anne Frank House.
Amsterdam Museum- We were pretty burnt out by the time we got to this museum, but it is fun, modern, and laid out in a funky format. Here you can learn about how Amsterdam became the world's largest bike city, its history as a leading trading city, and how far it has come as a free-thinking culture. There is also a great interactive kids area!
Begijnhof (Chapel and English Church)- This is just outside the Amsterdam museum. This courtyard is lined with beautiful private homes and historic buildings. Enter the Church and Chapel for some solitude...it is almost like the busy city disappears within their walls!
Sounds: There is fun street music everywhere! Stop and listen. Devon and I had never heard a saxophone sound like the one featured as the background music you hear during this argument we are having about tipping.
Smells: Weed. Weed wafts everywhere.
If you are looking for a cool coffeeshop, check out De Dampkring (as featured in Ocean's 12 with Brad Pitt). It had a knowledgeable "bud-tender" AND offered some pretty awesome freshly squeezed juice options for non-smokers, who just want to be a part of a chill atmosphere without partaking.
Snacks: The number one question we have been asked about Amsterdam has been, "What is Dutch food like?" Well, the truth is, it's nothing that special.
You've got your meat and potatoes, often doused in
HOLLANDAISE sauce (get it..HOLLAND-aise…), and as our server said, Dutch meatballs are just meatballs made in the Netherlands (they do NOT come in marinara sauce, but with mustard, as pictured).
Fries with different flavored mayonnaise are all the rage when it comes to snacking, and Dutch pancakes are really just rolled up flapjacks smothered in ice-cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce
Lenni is Gluten-Free...womp, womp.
and...Gluten is EVERYWHERE...and "gluten-free" menus are not a thing here (probably because their food is cleaner than the crap we put into ours and therefore people don't have these allergies). The few times we tried to inquire to servers about this, we ended up just receiving more bread..sooooo...be careful.
Unfortunately, only Devon could indulge in the gluten-y Dutch dessert goodness of waffles, pancakes, and churros covered in a variety of deliciousness.
Fortunately, Lenni loves a good oversized omelette stuffed with Dutch cheese and "tiny coffees" (americano, espresso, cappuccino), so she was all set!
- Tips...tipping was SUPER confusing for us. With Devon's background as a server, he struggled with the common practice of NOT tipping, or only leaving some spare change on the table instead of a 20% tip. We actually received some SHOCKED reactions from those we tipped heavy handedly before we fully understood how this worked. We did some research and learned that in Europe, restaurant servers are paid a living wage and do not rely on tips the way servers in the states do...but this was still hard for us.
Which brings us to....
- You, the diner, set the pace for you meals. Unlike the attitude in the American restaurant service, in which quick turnover is key for tipping, it is considered rude in Europe to bring the diners the check before they ask for it. In some restaurants, it was up to us to go to the cashier when we decided we were done. We had to watch a few people do this, but once we understood, we were able to relax and linger as long as we felt comfortable.
- Eat outside in 30 and 40 degree weather! Almost all outdoor awnings in this city are FULLY heated!
Ok that sums it up Amsterdam, folks. Look for our upcoming posts about Disney and Greece 2018! Until then…