As you might have spotted on my Twitter or Instagram, we spent a few days last week over in the Dutch capital, Amsterdam, to celebrate my 24th birthday. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as the most you ever hear about Amsterdam is bikes, coffee shops and the infamous Red Light District – but it was so, so much more than that! We booked the trip on a whim about three weeks before we left; I was worried I’d have nothing exciting to do on my birthday and so we looked at European city breaks for a cheap getaway – and Amsterdam was a bargain!
We flew out of Gatwick on Tuesday evening after work, and a mere forty-minute flight later landed at Schipol airport. The airport led straight into a main train station, and after we purchased a three-day travel pass (€25), we headed off on the train to Amsterdam Centraal station. Once we got there, it was another hop onto a tram to take us to our hotel, the four-star Hotel Carlton, situated beside the famous flower market at Rembrandtplein. We were given a top-floor apartment with a balcony(!) so we spent the first ten minutes just taking in the view across the city. The hotel was much more central than we’d imagined – pretty much the perfect location. After we had familiarised ourselves with the hotel, we went for a stroll to take in our surroundings, along the canals and down some pretty little side streets, before tasting some cocktails in a nearby bar and heading off to bed.
The next day was my birthday, and with nothing planned, we decided to wander and see where we’d end up. We missed the hotel breakfast thanks to a luxurious lie-in and card/present-opening, so we went on the hunt for brunch, via the flower market, and wound up finding a seriously stylish little bistro, Cafe George. I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post but oh my, the food was delicious!
After that, we spent the afternoon wandering and exploring as much as we could find; visiting the cutest little shops in the famous Nine Streets area, treasure hunting in the best vintage stores, and picking up some waffles along the way (oh god, the waffles!). I was just amazed at how beautiful the whole city was; the gorgeous houses lining the canals were just dreamy – I could totally see myself living there. And the canals were everywhere, broken up by pretty little bridges smothered in the most colourful flowers. And the bikes – EVERYWHERE. I am now so seduced by bikes that come payday, I am resolving to spruce up my little Raleigh so I can pedal about all over the place too. The city reminded me of the west end of Glasgow – like I needed another reason to feel homesick.
We walked around some very picturesque parks and took in all of the incredible views along the canals, before retiring to the hotel for a break (read: a two-hour catnap for me, and two hours researching restaurants for Lewis). We eventually found the perfect restaurant, Za Za’s, for my birthday dinner, and headed out for some pre-dinner cocktails. Again, I’ll talk more about dinner in another post, but it was a gorgeous restaurant and the perfect way to celebrate! The restaurant knew it was my birthday and couldn’t have been more accommodating – this place is highly recommended! Here’s a little snap they took of us at the table whilst singing ‘Happy Birthday’ – cringe but so cute.
Thursday morning dawned, and we actually made it up and out in time for breakfast at the hotel. It was a great spread – everything you could want, from pastries, cakes and doughnuts to toast, eggs and bacon, and of course, that great Dutch staples: caramel waffles. Breakfast heaven. We checked out of the hotel and left our luggage behind, to enjoy our final day of sightseeing.
Again, with nothing planned, we just decided to wander and see what we could find. We were quite adamant that we wanted to avoid the touristy stuff – queueing for hours in the summer is just no fun, and I prefer to really live like a local when I visit new cities, and really integrate into the culture. So I can’t provide you with any recommendations on the museums or attractions, but I’d advise against visiting in midsummer – the queue for the Anne Frank House was two hours long!
We started out by walking to De Pijp, a famously trendy area, where we’d dined the night before. I liked the look of the bars and shops so it seemed like a great place to start. I went digging in an incredible vintage store and found a couple of treasures to take home with me; the vintage stores in Amsterdam are some of the best I’ve ever visited! And there were so many beautiful shops and cafes, as well as an enormous street market.
We decided to explore the famous Jordaan area, which was absolutely stunning and so us; it was filled with a whole heap more of quirky, stylish boutiques and shops, and so many restaurants and cafes. We kept taking coffee breaks as the weather was so hot (someone might have burned their shoulders…) and found a gorgeous cafe aboard a canal boat to take lunch on, where we could watch everyone else sailing up and down the water beside us. It looked like fun – but a little too much like hard work! I preferred being an onlooker, with a delicious salad and a glass of wine in hand. Much better!
Amsterdam was just filled with so many incredible shops; we found so many things that we wanted to take home with us (damn hand luggage allowance…) but I’ll share some of my favourites in an upcoming post. If you’re into your interiors, it’s the place to shop! We did pick up a few cute little bits where we could find space for them in our suitcases, and I picked up a whole lot of interior inspiration for the flat too..