It may be one of our absolute favorite European cities to visit just for walking around. Weave in Vincent Van Gogh, whose brother’s collections of Vicent’s paintings make for a wonderful museum, the Dutch Masters at the Rijksmusem and the Hermitage, an evening cruise through the canals, brilliant tulips, cheeses, oysters at the farmers’ markets, and a weekend in Amsterdam is really all that we need to get our European fix.
Our favorite neighborhood in Amsterdam is the Jordaan. Narrow canals, streets of trendy shops and independent restaurants, bars, and stores, not far from Amsterdam’s city center, it feels a world away. Here we experienced farmer’s markets, vintage ceramics and paintings in small galleries, and families out and about. Originally a working-class neighborhood, this is where we’d want to live if we called Amsterdam home. For us, this is the first place we go almost as soon as we arrive in Amsterdam and get a proper shower from the overnight flight. A coffee and an Amstel please!
In the Jordaan, we plan our three days in Amsterdam. While we’re here, we want to take in as much art and culture as possible between some delicious food. So here we go…
Pro Tip. We’ve written about the city cards before, most recently in our post about Florence and the Firenze Card. Amsterdam too has a city card that makes being a tourist easy (the IAmAmsterdam card). We especially like this card for its usability on public transit as well as on the canal cruises. Beyond providing line-skipping access to dozens of museums including those that we might not visit without the card, it eliminates the need to think about whether you have exact change for accessing the trams and also allows you to see the city from a brand new vantage point — below street level. The price is reasonable for a three-day weekend.
Van Gogh Museum. This is a perfect museum to get a real feel for Vincent Van Gogh. But this museum may never have ever existed but for Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, Vincent’s sister-in-law, who was singly responsible for making sure the world knew about Vincent’s genius. Married only two years to Vincent’s brother Theo, and following Theo’s death, she was left with an apartment in Paris filled with a few items of furniture and about 200 then-valueless paintings and drawings of Vincent’s (along with an infant son she had with Theo). Instead of taking the advice of just about anyone who would give it to destroy the works, she moved back to the Netherlands and organized exhibitions of Vincent’s work. Subsequently, she translated and published a three-volume set of letters between Vincent and Theo, which created a mystique about Vincent that gave rise to the popularity of his works. Amazing.
This museum gives us some insight into the creative genius through a series of rooms exhibiting his best known works alongside his lesser seen drawings and narrated by letters between Vincent and Theo. We went on a first Friday of the month, in which the museum stayed open late with a DJ and cocktails.
The Hermitage. The largest outpost of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage, this may be one of the largest outposts of Russian art and history outside of Russia. Beyond these rotating Russian exhibitions (the one we saw was all about Catherine the Great), the museum also houses collections from other museums in Amsterdam, including the Amsterdam Museum (the art of the Guilds) and the Rijksmuseum (the Dutch Masters). This is a must-see Amsterdam museum.
The Rijksmuseum. Home of the Dutch Masters, the Rijksmuseum is the Netherlands’ national museum. Here are Rembrandt’s, Vermeer’s, and works of art by Frans Hals and Jan Steen, alongside other Rembrandt pupils. The museum is massive and crowded. Here again the Amsterdam card comes in handy to skip lines and enter at your convenience.
Amsterdam Museum. Located in the old city orphanage, this appears to be an overlooked museum, but overlooking it would fail to give Amsterdam its due. Here is where you learn the history of the Guilds and appreciate the men and women who made Amsterdam the city it is today. One of our favorite parts of the museum is the modern gallery in which a light and music program illuminates some of the core Guilds and their members.
The Tulip Museum. A modest museum set in the rear of a tulip shop, this museum offers 20-25 minutes on the history of the tulip. The museum showcases the quintessential flower of the Netherlands and tells the history of its native surroundings in the Ottoman Empire and the trade the brought it to Holland in the 16th and 17th century. The museum presents a fascinating economics tale of the boom and the bust. With The Amsterdam card, its a no-brainer to visit.
Arriving in Amsterdam is easy. Schipol Airport is convenient, well-signed, and only 30 minutes by train to the city center. Centraal Station, where almost all trains arrive including those from the airport is convenient at the center of the rings of canals and where the central Damrak River flows to the port. Buses and trams and bike racks are plentiful. So too are tourist information centers. We stayed just a few blocks from Centraal Station at the Art Hotel, which is a fashionable boutique with chic low lighting in the common spaces and unique art throughout.
We interspersed a few Michelin moments as well: the beef carpaccio at Ron Gastro Bar (locally sourced ingredients with an Asian flair) and fresh seafood overlooking the Amstel River at Bord’Eau Restaurant. And we did not leave Amsterdam without first joining a canal boat tour at dusk, which was a great way to see the city from a completely different angle.
Why we’ll go back: because its Amsterdam and to find the place where Tom got sick in one of the canals… (story shall remain untold).
Note: our trip to Amsterdam was in April 2016 and so circumstances may have changed.