Christmas is my favorite holiday! It’s also my boyfriend’s birthday and the time of the year when we split our time between his family and mine.
This year has been filled with both wonderful events and challenges, so I thought it would be the perfect time for a change and a little surprise. That’s how I decided that for a Christmas/ birthday present I would get tickets to visit my brother in Amsterdam. I’ve never been to Amsterdam before, so it was all new for both of us and although our main goal was spending time with my brother and sister in law, I admit I was a bit thrilled we had a couple of days to explore the city on our own.
Once we got there, the first and most lasting impression was just how nice everyone was. From the flight attendants who made sure everyone was comfortable and taken care of (I highly recommend KLM), to people on the street ready to give you directions at the first sign you might be disoriented, everyone is just so happy to help. I loved how everyone is very relaxed, but at the same time they pay attention not to bother anyone around, as well as help anyone who might need assistance.
Another thing I liked from the start was the transportation system. As you get out of the Central Station you are greeted by a bike parking area where there must have been hundreds, if not thousands of bikes. Then there’s everyone riding their bikes to the office, to the market, with a kid or two, in the rain or wind, it doesn’t matter! I loved how you have one card that you use for everything from trains, to buses, subway and trams, which is not such a novelty, but in some countries, including mine, this system has yet to make an appearance.
Tips for Your Trip:
- Make sure to plan your visit in advance, and book flights as soon as you can because prices tend to go up quickly; also make sure to include a checked in luggage because you will need layers for the moody weather and you will surely do some shopping at the outlets mentioned below.
- If you are on a budget, I recommend shopping at the supermarket for breakfast (Alber Heijn) since the prices are ok and for lunch you can easily skip the more expensive restaurants and try the street food.
- Rent a bike and explore the city and the markets. We didn’t rent a bike because it was too cold, although that didn’t stop the Dutch, but we surely will next time.
- Make sure to swipe the transportation card every time you get in AND out the tram or bus, otherwise you will be charged extra, as if you had traveled to the last stop.
- Weather can be very changing, we had both 12 and -10 degrees Celsius in a week, so layers are the best options.
- Don’t buy cheese at the cheese stores that are everywhere in the tourist areas. You can find the exactly same brands at the supermarket, or similar ones in the markets, at a fraction of the cost. And make sure to sample before buying, maybe you find out you are a fan of white truffles in your cheese and you hate the pesto one (like I do).
What to See in Amsterdam
The first thing I would recommend to do if you visit Amsterdam around Christmas is to visit Intratuin. They have the most wonderful Christmas trees to display the ornaments they are selling, as well as all sorts of Christmas decorations. It’s like a fairy tale, plus a great place for a little shopping, but don’t waste your budget here!
We spent our second day in Bataviastad, a big outlet with many brands: from Armani, to Ralph Lauren, Esprit and many others. It’s a lot of walking, and very windy, but definitely worth a visit. Esprit has some great offers, you could find shirts for 5 euros, dresses for 10 euros and jeans for 20, a total steal! There’s another Esprit outlet near the Biljmer Arena subway station where there’s a lot of shopping to be done as well. You get to use shopping carts like in a supermarket and for good reason, since prices are so good that it’s hard to stop at just one pile. I had to stop at 2 jeans for the sake of my budget, but you might not have to.
One of our favorite stops was the flower market. Even during the winter, and on a very cold day, it’s filled with gorgeous flowers, bulbs, roots, Christmas ornaments, and souvenirs. We bought tulip bulbs there as presents for our families, but what we probably liked most were the cheese stores around it where you can sample all sorts of cheese specialities, served with mustard and fig or apple chutneys.
It’s here where we had one of the best meals in town. We were rushing to pick up my sister in law from work, so we decided on a quick lunch. Luckily we stumbled upon Dutch Delicacy, a cheese shop where they also have sandwiches, breads and delicious cakes, as well as wines and a light filled little nook where to enjoy your bite. We had a pulled chicken sandwich that was only 6 euros and so good, a pesto and dried tomatoes bread that was kind of too pesto-y for me and a great banana bread, that summed up to about 17 euros.
Another stop to put on your list is the Albert Cuyp market. We were looking for a flea market, but this is much more. You can find a lot of Dutch cheeses at good prices, fresh fruit and fish, traditional snacks like fries with mayo, oliebollen – a doughnut prepared around New Year, stroopwafels and waffles. It’s here that we found the coolest shop where between some very interesting looking leather bags you could find all sorts of vintage home appliances. I must have photographed everything in there, so here are just a few of my favorite pieces.
We spent the rest of the time wandering the streets and canals of the city. We ate great taco and burrito at Salsa Shop and a delicious kapsalon at a little Turkish restaurant , the kind that you can find in any neighborhood. I later found out that kapsalon is actually a Dutch dish influenced by the Turkish community. We took tons of pictures with everything on Haarlemmer street, there’s a Brasilian supermarket near Kinkerstraat that’s worth a visit if you’re in the area, and you definitely have to check the central part of the city with all the museums and restaurants.
We didn’t visit any museums this time around as we knew we were coming back soon. We just wanted to enjoy our first visit and take everything in without having to rush from one place to another too much, but I have a long list for our next time.
The only thing I didn’t like about the city was the red light district. I think, like any first time tourist in Amsterdam, I was curious what all the hype was about, but once arrived there I got an overwhelming feeling of sadness. There’s nothing fun or cool to see. Just the sad reality of girls selling their bodies for cash. But this is not what Amsterdam is about, not for me anyways. It’s about happy, relaxed people on bikes, about gorgeous views, wonderful architecture and beautiful canals. It’s about flowers even in the winter, delicious cheese and great energy. It’s the place where I would always come back, on any season, because I know I would always love it!