2 Days in Amsterdam – the perfect itinerary

After what I can only describe as an absolutely awful end to October and start of November last year, it was time to do something nice once I was recovered enough from my surgery to walk and get back to exploring. I wasn’t allowed to fly, so we had to choose somewhere we could get the train to – Amsterdam seemed a great choice with a train direct from London in 3.5 hours.

Amsterdam, the most famous city in The Netherlands, really packs a punch. It’s well known for its art museums, canals, free thinking and laid back nature – and of course, for its drugs and prostitution which are dealt with in a way different to the rest of Western Europe.

There’s so much to do in Amsterdam that you can’t see it all in 2 days, but you can get a feel for the city and see most of the major sites. I should also say that we timed our visit with the country being put back in to lockdown, but I was so sick of COVID affecting my plans (and I really needed the boost) that we went anyway.


Day 1 – A laid back start of Canals, Museums & History

A. Nine Streets

Start the day in one of the most beautiful areas of Amsterdam, the 9 Streets. This area is where all the best canal views can be taken, and they’re even more pretty in the early morning sunshine. Be sure to take in the view from Prinsengracht which is especially beautiful.

View of the canals as the sun starts rising
Prinsengracht at sunrise

It’s also a great area to grab some breakfast in a lovely corner cafe – Koffeehuis de Hoek served delicious food, freshly squeezed orange juice and a choice of teas and coffees. Pancakes Amsterdam 9 streets serves amazing Dutch Pancakes, or American Pancakes if you prefer those, and Pluk served the most incredible avocado toast and French toast. Drool.

B. Jordaan

Jordaan is right next door to the 9 Streets. It’s a great area to stroll around, as it’s full of narrow canals, lovely boutique shopping and good places to eat – Fabel Friet is a great place to try the tradition of Dutch Frites which are delicious with cheese and perfect for a lunch time snack. If you’re interested, it’s also home to the Amsteram Cheese Museum and the House Boat museum – did you know house boats in Amsterdam can sell for over 1 million Euros?!

C. Anne Frank House

A visit to Anne (pronounced Anna, not Ann like it is said in English) Frank’s house is a really important thing to do on a visit to the city. The house is where Anne, a young teenage Jewish girl, went in to hiding with her family and others during Nazi occupation in WW2. Whilst in hiding she wrote a diary about her hopes, dreams, fears and the reality of being in hiding. Anne and her family were betrayed and sent on the last train from The Netherlands to Auschwitz – where Anne and her sister were both murdered. Her diaries were saved, and later given to her Father Otto (the only member of the family to survive time in the concentration camps), who then published the diary – now the world renowned book.

Touring the house, you can see the rooms behind the bookcase in which they hid, including children’s height markings on the wall, posters Anne had up, and information about those hiding and those helping them. You can’t take photos in the museum, so these are just from the outside.

D. Canal Cruise

You can’t come to Amsterdam and not cruise along its canals. You can get The Circle Line cruise from right outside Anne Frank’s House for a 75 minute tour of the water. On the tour you go along all of the narrow and beautiful canals, as well as out towards the Maritime Museum and Nemo Science Museum. Our guide was funny and entertaining and we learnt a little bit about The Netherlands’ incredible need for water management.

E. Rijksmuseum

We’re not really in to art, but as Amsterdam is famous for its art museums we felt we should at least try the most famous – The Rijksmuseum. We spent about 2 hours walking around it taking in the paintings – there are works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and many other world famous artists. We also liked the special collections, for example there was a huge gallery of Delft pottery, an armoury of guns and a gallery of model ships.

F. Cuypers Library

Within the Rijksmuseum is one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful places, the Cuypers Library. The Cuypers Library is a research library and is the oldest and largest of its kind in the country and it is beautiful. You can enter the library on the museum’s second floor, or just get a view from the gallery on the third floor.

The stunning library

G. Dinner

After a busy day of sight seeing, there are endless choices for dinner. We chose to walk back up to Jordaan for dinner and to incredible Argentinian restaurant, Salmuera. The street food sharer for starters was incredible. Alternatively if you want Dutch food, OCCO Brasserie was lovely and the Indian food in The Madras Diaries was also tasty.


Day 2 – The main tourist sites – Dam Square, Royal Palace, Museums and The Red Light District

A. Dam Square, The National Monument & Melly’s Stroopwaffels

Dam Square is the central hub of the city, and is right in the heart of the city centre. Around the square is the Royal Palace, Madame Tussaud’s, and the New Church, as well as some good shopping and nice places to eat.

Dam Square

Dam Square is also home to the National Monument which commemorates the casualties of WW2. Stop here for some breakfast and enjoy some of the shops, as well as heading to Melly’s Stroopwafels for a Dutch tradition as post breakfast snack. The tasty treats are totally delicious – you could go for original stroopwaffels, or get a flavoured one like white chocolate, marshmallows or hazelnut. Yum!

B. Royal Palace

The Royal Palace was once the Amsterdam Town Hall. However, when the French took the city in the 1800s, Louis Bonaparte (brother to the famous Napoleon) converted it in to the Royal Palace, which it has been ever since. You can now tour the Palace with an audio guide which takes around an hour. It’s really interesting to learn a bit more about the city and The Netherlands as a whole – its wars with the Spanish, French takeover, colonialism and modern day monarchy. Plus the building is beautiful and still used today for state visits.

Royal bedroom

C. Begijnhof

The Begijnghof is such a special place – founded in medieval times it is a beautiful courtyard full of tall houses which was once home to religious women who did not want to become nuns, but did want to live a religious life as a community. The last such woman died in 1970, but the houses today are still lived in by women only. I couldn’t help but think what a lovely community that must be to be a part of.

D. Amsterdam Museum or The Resistance Museum

The Amsterdam Museum is worth a visit if you want to find out more about the city. The Amsterdam DNA exhibition charts its history from the 1000s all the way up to the present day through a series of exhibits and an audio guide. The country has such an interesting history – The Netherlands was part of the catholic Kingdom of Burgundy (along with present day Belgium and Luxembourg), before it became Protestant and broke off to become the Dutch Republic. Since then, it’s had Napoleon (and thus the French) take over, independence through the House of Orange, prosperous ‘golden years’ largely as a result of exploitation in what was the Dutch East Indies & Caribbean (now Indonesia, Suriname, Curacao etc – which didn’t become independent until 1945), and then more recently, the WW2 Nazi occupation and present day trading boom.

Royal clothes

Another great museum option is The Resistance Museum. This museum documents the story of The Netherlands in WW2. It is focused on stories of resistance against the Nazis (and thus like so many other war museums, distances itself from supporting fascism). There is also a really interesting exhibit on the Dutch colonies (mainly Indonesia) during the war and their occupation by Japan. We found it fascinating and spent 3 hours here!

Both museums are well worth a visit though, so if you’re greedy like us and you have a bit of extra time in the city then go to both like we did!

E. Red Light District Tour

I never really know how I feel about these sorts of places. On the one hand, I don’t really agree with what is in effect commercialising sex, and find areas with lots of drunk people (ashamedly normally English) not a place I want to be. Equally, I can see the argument of making something that is happening in every city all over the world safer – with cameras and lots of people around, and also with making it less taboo.

A great way to experience the red light district in a positive way is on a tour – we did one with the amazing Mark from Amsterdam RLD Tours. He told us about the history of the area, the legalities, what it’s like to live in the red light district, and what it’s like to be married to one of the workers! He brought the area to life in a completely non sleezy, educational and interesting way.

F. A final delicious dinner

Finish off your trip to the city with a final great meal. You could try delicious Thai at Bird Thai Restaurant which served some of the best Thai food we’ve ever eaten and is just on the outskirts of the RLD.


Nostalgia

Aside from the itinerary, Amsterdam is the first place outside of England and Germany where I’ve returned somewhere. I first visited in 2011, a decade ago.

It made me reflect on how things have changed in both the city, and in myself – 10 years ago I had life in front of me, no commitments, just enjoying living in the moment. I figured I’d meet someone, have a family, get a great job. I didn’t really know who I was and the world was my oyster to find out. I realised that slowly over time that feeling has changed. I’m no longer 22, after all.

10 years later and life didn’t pan out as I expected (when does it, for any of us). BUT I did meet someone, build more meaningful relationships with friends and family, get a great job which I enjoy, I’ve travelled a lot and seen some wonderful places. I didn’t have to stay in a hostel on this visit, I stayed in a really nice hotel. In the last decade I’ve lost a lot of hope in ‘perfect’…but I’ve gained a huge understanding of what makes me happy, who I am, my resilience, my empathy… and ultimately I’m a better person for it.

The me that visited Amsterdam this time wasn’t the same me that visited a decade ago. I think that’s probably the way it should be, but the 2 wonderful women I came with 10 years ago are still my best friends to this day, so the important things remain.

With my (still) best friends 10 years ago in Amsterdam


Nostalgia aside, what do you think of Amsterdam? Have you been to this amazing city or is it on your list of places to see? If so, I hope you liked the itinerary and got a few helpful hints. And if you have longer in the city, then also consider day trips to:

Stay safe and happy travelling everyone.

A final shot of Amsterdam’s canals

48 Comments

  1. A very informative post Hannah and so nice to see you there ten top years ago as well. Iโ€™ve visited Amsterdam a couple of times but not for awhile and enjoyed the city on both occasions and would be happy to return. Iโ€™m so pleased that you managed to get there when you did and travelling by Eurostar can be very relaxing for a change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much Marion, I appreciate you reading and commenting as always. I agree Amsterdam is a great choice for a place to return too as there is so much to do there and as with any major city, there are changes all the time too. The Eurostar was lovely actually, it felt a COVID-safer method of travel than flying as well I have to say ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. I had a whirlwind of 72 hours in Amsterdam, and part of it was spent on a day trip to Keukenhof, so much of my visit was rushed. I didnโ€™t get to visit the Cuypers Library, which frankly Iโ€™m mad at myself for: I MUST go here should I return to the city! Stroopwafels are the ultimate guilty pleasure, and we have to thank the Dutch for invention such a decadent dessert! ๐Ÿ˜›

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    1. Oh wow, that is exciting to have visited Keukenhof, but totally agree there’s so much to do in Amsterdam it’s hard to fit it all in. The Library is so special, so I really hope you get to see it one day ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Such a great post about one of my favourite European cities. Valters cousin lives in Amsterdam and over the last decade we’ve made countless return trips yet somehow I haven’t yet visited the Royal Palace and Cuypers Library – they both look absolutely stunning. I am glad to hear you were able to find a way to travel to Europe without flying – it’s certainly one of the perks of living in London. Aiva ๐Ÿ™‚ xx

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  4. I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times over the years as I have family in the northern part of the Netherlands. It’s such a charming city. Looks like you hit up many of the highlights, both in terms of attractions and the food. It’s amazing the variety of food you can order on one of those Dutch pancakes.

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    1. Oh wow that’s amazing to have family in The Netherlands and to have been able to explore some of the country. Oh the pancakes were incredible, though I’m a sucker for simple sugar and lemon ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks so much for reading.

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  5. Iโ€™ve never visited Amsterdam but would like to. This sounds like a great itinerary to see the highlights of the city. Glad you were able to sneak in some travels in spite of COVID.

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  6. Thanks for this excellent window into my old stomping ground Amsterdam. You definitely ticked off most of the main sights and lord, the food, you certainly didn’t hold back. I used to cycle through Prinsengracht every morning on my way to work for daily move news writing and voice over recording. Glad to hear you didn’t shirk away from the Anne Frank Huis, sobering stuff. Stroopwafels! I shudder to think how many of those I consumed in 4 and a half years. Wonderful photography Hannah, as we’ve all come to expect, the Hitler bust was new to me, so thanks for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh it’s amazing you got to live there for a while, what an incredible place to have experienced in more depth. Oh yes, we went all out on the food. After being in hospital and having to watch my diet with the medication – I went for it hahaha! And thank you for your compliments on my photography, it’s about the only creative bone I have in my body ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a great day, hope you’re enjoying England.

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  7. Fascinating read on a city I’ve always wanted to see! And your pictures are so lovely! So glad you were able to get away and explore. I’m getting so tired of starting to make plans but then feel one restriction or another blocking the path. And I really loved your look at who you were then compared to who you are now. I think back to who I was in my 20s and what I would say to that younger version of my self. It would probably involve something with a chuckle and a sympathetic smile listening to all the great plans and ideas but knowing that it would end up nothing like that. But way leads to way and we all find our own path. I hope you have a great weekend and I’m looking forward to reading your next installment on The Netherlands ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Ahh thanks Meg, I really hope you get to visit one day ๐Ÿ™‚ I totally agree on the making plans and then having to change them, it’s so up in the air that we’re starting to just book things last minute only. We set aside a week/weekend to go somewhere, and then a week before, COVID test and go where we can. It’s quite exciting that way! Oh I agree totally on my 20s, I had no clue haha! Thanks for reading and have a great day ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. The Netherlands were always on our list to visit โ€ฆ the canals, the food (oh those stroopwafels) and maybe also because their language are very similar to ours (Afrikaans). This is such a lovely post Hannah โ€ฆ the combination of โ€œthe nowโ€ with โ€œthe thenโ€! And how is it possible that you still look the same (actually more beautiful) than 10 years ago ๐Ÿ˜ฒ.

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    1. Oh yes I’m sure you’d love Amsterdam, and especially with the language connection. There is so much to do there and it’s really worth a visit with so much history and all the beautiful canals. Awwwww you are TOO kind to me, I look and feel much older!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  9. Great post. You covered a lot of ground in two days! We were there in 2014 for a week and loved it! Fantastic city. We did a bike tour into the countryside along one of the dikes and spent a day in Leiden! We were amazed at all the folks biking, the dedicated bike lanes, and a few cars. The bike parking lot at the train station ( 3 levels) was the largest we have ever seen. We look forward to a return visit. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh a week is such a great amount of time to have in the city, I really wish we’d had longer to be able to see more of the surrounding areas. The bike lanes and bike culture is amazing isn’t it, and so environmentally friendly. It’s much more common in Europe I think than the US – but then I guess that makes sense given the distances are so much shorter so easier not to have a car. Thanks so much for reading and have a nice day ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. Thanks for getting up early for the beautiful shots of the canals and pointing out some fabulous places for activities and food. Amsterdam is on of my favorite cities for all of the reasons you covered in the post. It is a great city for walking (just watch out for bikes while strolling around) and biking. I read that they maybe planning to relocate the red light district.

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    1. Ah thank you so much for reading John, really appreciate it and I’m glad you enjoyed it ๐Ÿ™‚ I didn’t know about the red light district potential move, I wonder how that would impact the city!

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  11. You really found so many interesting places in Amsterdam! I love the tall, narrow, colorful buildings and their reflections. I was there many years ago for just a day. It was so moving to visit the Anne Frank house and think about those terrifying times and how they had found a safe place for a while. I donโ€™t generally take photos inside buildings, especially museums and galleries. It doesnโ€™t seem right to me, since you pay to get in, and itโ€™s their art or story. As an art lover, I spent a lot of time in Rijksmuseum, so many famous paintings to actually see in person, the brushstrokes and colors that make them come alive.

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    1. Thanks Ruth, it was a really interesting city to explore. I agree on the Anne Frank house, it was a really sobering moment and made me reflect on how lucky we are to live as we do. I really enjoyed the Rijksmuseum and am not an art lover, so I can only imagine how much you took out of a visit there. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, have a lovely day.

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  12. I visited Amsterdam in 2016 when my mom and I did a Viking River Cruise that started there. We tacked on a few days in the city ahead of the shipโ€™s departure. We saw lots of the things you highlighted here, but certainly not everything. The good news: I got stroopwaffels! The bad news: How did I miss the cheese museum?!?!

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    1. Oh cool, I’m so glad you got to visit in 2016 – that was sensible to tag a few days on in advance of the cruise. Stroopwaffels are just incredible aren’t they, especially the freshly made ones….you’ll just have to go back for the cheese museum haha! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for reading, have a great day.

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  13. What a lovely post, Hannah. Iโ€™m glad you enjoyed one of our favorite cities in the world. We fell in love with it when we were living in Khartoum, Sudan and needed some R&R. When you live in the desert, going somewhere surrounded by water is a dream. Then a few years ago we lived there for several months and fell in love with it all over again. Thanks for a beautiful reminder. ~Terri

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    1. Oh I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and I totally agree it’s an amazing city and definitely one of my favourites so far. It must have been amazing to live there for a while and get to know it in depth. Thanks so much for reading Terri, have a great rest of your weekend.

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