Sidewalks in Amsterdam are an utter disaster. Locals on bikes travel at super speed, stopping at nothing and sparing nobody. Tour groups, terrified of said bicyclists, huddle together in clumps, a futile attempt to clear space. Oblivious gawkers wander down the middle, apparently unaware of everything. You might ask how, in such a city, one can expect to go jogging amidst the chaos?
While I admit it’s not easy, I can guarantee it will be one of the most rewarding jogs you squeeze in, in terms of the architecture and sights you will see.
Having been to Amsterdam more than a handful of times, I’m going to split this city guide into two! One for staying “Inside the rings”, so to speak – in the midst of it all. And one for staying Outside the Rings, a somewhat calmer experience.
By Train: Direct Trains run from many cities in Europe to the Amsterdam Centraal station. Check the Netherlands transit website for more information and schedules.
By plane: Both low-cost and main airlines have short and long-haul flights in and out of Schipol airport. Air Transat runs seasonal charter flights from Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. Easyjet has flights out of the UK for a steal, and the big airlines like KLM, British Airways, and Lufthansa offer many options from many locations.
- Weather: You may have heard that the Netherlands is grey, windy, and wet. It is. If you want to get in your jog regardless, pack a lightweight wind and waterproof jacket.
- Safety: There isn’t much safety concerns from the criminal standpoint, but I would recommend looking in every direction possible before crossing streets. Like I said before, there is a LOT going on in this city and the bicyclists are merciless.
- Fit Food: Yoghurt Barn, Dwaze Zaken, Kerkstraat 59, Haeske Claes
- Detox to Retox: Holtkamp, Brouwerij de Prael, De Blauwe Hollander, Lanskroon, Van Stapele
- Where to find good chocolate: Van Velze’s
NH Amsterdam Schiller is a hotel directly on Rembrandtplein – you could not be closer ot the action. If you’re like me and a member of RBC rewards, save up some reward points and book a stay for free. The hotel staff are lovely and the building is charmingly ancient and creaky. Besides that, the city is at your doorstep.
The day arrives typically – mist hovers over the iconic canals and the greyness of the sky extends infinitely. It’s tempting to roll over and curl under the covers, but I lace up my shoes, knowing the fresh air, the fast pace, and the introduction to the city by foot will do me good.
After a few minutes dodging tourists along the canals, I arrive at the iconic Museumplein – host to the famous Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum. It’s almost eerie, seeing a building you’ve seen a thousand times before on the internet, in newspapers, in guide books, and suddenly. . . it’s right in front of you.
Pass through the green space of the park and I reach the Vodelpark – doing a few turns here before heading back to the hotel. If you feel like a longer run, fill your boots – the park is large.
Run done, freshly showered, it’s time for breakfast! I stroll past the famous flower market before heading to Kerkstraat 59, a café located at the address . . . Kerkstraat 59 (oddly enough).
This great little find does simple food well – fried eggs with thinly sliced ham, freshly baked breads and tarts. The little bite of fudgy brownie served with my coffee is outstanding. And the coffee itself dark, strong, and earthy.
Fully fuelled, it’s time to see some of the city that I ran past earlier. The Van Gogh museum is a must-go for me – he’s one of my favourite artists. The museum prices are high in Amsterdam but worth every penny. Housing the largest collection of Van Gogh masterpieces in the world, hours can be whiled away drinking in the vibrant colors and bold brushstrokes so unique and identifiable as Van Gogh.
It’s time for a pick-me-up before continuing the museum marathon – stroopwafels at Lanskroon. Another very Dutch experience, stroopwafels are wafer thin cookies, sandwiched together with a layer of thick caramel. As tradition calls for, I put mine on top of my tea-cup, giving the steam a chance to do it’s magic, softening the caramel into a gooey delicious mess.
High on sugar and ready for more, I hopped over the red light district to arrive at the Dutch Verzetsmuseum (Resistance museum) in the old Jewish quarter of the city. A little known fact to me was how much effort the Dutch put into resisting the Nazi movement spreading to Holland. This museum provides a wonderful audio and visual storyline of individual people as well as the efforts overall – it’s extremely well-written and interesting.
After an afternoon of culture and learning, it’s time for a true culinary experience. De Compagnon is hidden within a crumbling canal house in the heart of the red light district. The unassuming entrance reveals a beautiful space, decked out in white and wood and smiling staff. An 8 course tasting menu was purchase via Groupon, one of my favourite sites for finding deals. We started small, miniature blinis topped with caviar and sour cream, paired with tall flutes of champagne, the fine stream of bubbles tickling our tongues for what was to come.
- Foie gras mousse in a chocolate tuille, with greens and white asparagus. Rich, creamy, and a little bit sweet.
- Seared dorada with purple potato
- A single juicy scallop with mushroom ravioli and broth. Paired with an Australian Sauvignon Blanc.
- Sweetbreads with veal cheeks and crispy cauliflower. Even organ meat haters will be converted.
- Potato foam with truffles. The surprising favorite of all. Simple yet bursting with flavour all at once – earthy, sweet, rich, creamy. Paired with a spatburgunder from Germany.
- Rocky Mountain beef with three types of onions
- Oak ice cream, an extra course thrown in for good measure.
- Citrus cake with vanilla ice cream and lemongrass cream, served in a banana leaf. Paired with an icy white dessert wine.
The whole thing was finished off with a flourish, little shots of strong espresso and chocolates. WHAT. A. DINNER.
After the previous night’s indulgences, some hotel room exercises are what the doctor ordered (try the Keelo app). Every little bit makes a difference! For breakfast, knowing the Dutch love their dairy, I headed for a healthy start at Yogurt Barn. Choosing the “greek” style plain yogurt and toppings of fresh blueberries and coconut, my system felt a little . . . fresher.
Come 11, it was time join Sandemans New Europe walking tour from Damm Square. This was my second time doing the Amsterdam tour with Sandemans, and I can only say good things. The knowledgeable tour guide, with sharp humour and an effective way of describing the city history without a hint of boredom makes the three hours fly by. Guides operate solely on tips and word-of-mouth, thereby making them highly motivated to make their tours everything and more. You can find New Europe tours http://www.neweuropetours.eu/
As I found yesterday, the afternoon brings the need for a cookie. Van Stapele cookie market sells out everyday and with good reason. Turning down the street, I’m met with the smell of melting chocolate, wafting out of the tiny shop. There is only one kind of cookie. There is no need for anything more. A lesson in knowing what you do well and sticking to it.
A dough of Valrhona cocoa, sugar, butter, and flour houses a melting white chocolate center – batches are baked frequently and so your cookie will likely be warm when you get it. Impossibly addictive and immediately inspiring me to buy a packet of 6 to take away – complete with instructions on how to properly reheat them for the full experience at home. Though I’m tempted to take a seat along the canal and eat my six cookies, I shop instead. The city is rife with cute vintage stores, local craft shops, and many a corner selling cheesy Amsterdam souvenirs. Back to the hotel for a cat nap and a break.
In the evening, with multiple options available, here are my top 5 favourite restaurants for traditional Dutch food and drink:
- Holtkamp Bakery: For a dinner on the go (if you had too many cookies or are in a rush), buy some Bitterballen at Holtkamp. If you’ve never tried bitterballen, you simply haven’t lived. Holtkamp is famous for them and rightly so. Pick some up to heat later or sample them as you walk, a hot and greasy snack requiring napkins and a smile.
- Brouwerij de Prael: Serving little more than beer and cheese, therefore, very Dutch. Some of my favourite local beers with great names to boot 🙂
- Dwaze Zaken: An interesting menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including traditional Dutch dishes like a sourdough bread sandwich with local mustard and smoked sausage, but also innovative items such as Moroccan fish tagine. Great list of local beers.
- De Blauwe Hollander: Serving Dutch pancakes at their finest. Closer in thickness to a French crepe than an American pancake, a freshly cooked golden brown cake is flipped onto your plate “plain”, with powdered sugar and caramel, or topped with some traditional options – Nutella, cheese, bacon, apples, and whipped cream. Not all together of course.
- Haesje Claes: Here you can get the traditional Dutch dish “Staampot”, a heart winter dish of mashed potatoes topped with vegetables or sauerkraut, meatballs, sausage, and bacon.
Fortified with food, having drunk my fill of beer, and it’s time for a train ride back to harsh reality outside the wonderful bubble that is Amsterdam.