A fall weekend in AMSTERDAMSeptember
Beautiful canals, world class art museums, and cozy cafes make this a perfect city for weekend getaway
Europe is filled with beautiful, quaint cities but Amsterdam is absolutely one of the most beautiful and approachable, particularly for a short visit. From the moment you walk out of the train station the canals sprawl out in front of you with their notoriously tall, thin gabled buildings (built this way because taxes were based on the footprint of the building, not it’s square footage, so you could build up to your heart’s content). There is nothing better than walking and biking the canals, marvelling at the charming buildings, stopping for a coffee or beer, and seeing some of the best museums in Europe. Of course there’s a whole other side to Amsterdam’s reputation. The infamously legal red light district and ‘coffee shops’ are relegated to a few specific parts of the city, so you could miss this scene entirely if you so choose.
- Sight Seeing 100% 100%
- Food 70% 70%
- Ease of Transportation 95% 95%
- Activities 95% 95%
For such a small city, Amsterdam boasts incredible art. Between the Van Gogh museum, the Reiksmuseum, Rembrandt’s studio, and the Anne Frank museum, you could spend the entire weekend indoors. Don’t try to do them all. The Van Gogh museum is one of my favorite in the world. If you love art, you must go, if you don’t love art but still feel like you should hit up one museum, make it this one. The Anne Frank Museum is particularly affecting as you actually visit the home and ‘attic’ where Anne and her family remained in hiding for just over two years.
The Van Gogh Museum is one of my favorite museums in Europe. Not just because it’s filled with Van Gogh’s artwork but more because it gives a completely immersive sense of the life, fortunes, and mental state of the artist in real time as his paintings change and develop against the backdrop of his biography. You get a real sense of his inner anguish as letters to his beloved brother and benefactor Theo are interspersed with his paintings. It’s an amazing love story and tribute to brotherhood (Van Gogh famously only sold one work in his lifetime and died penniless, never knowing he would become a successful artist. His brother financially supported him and believed in his art for his entire life. Talk about patience). This museum is worth spending time with the audio guide, following along with the biographical details in tandem with the works of art. No, it doesn’t have ‘Starry Night’ but it’s probably the best museum dedicated to a single artist that I’ve ever seen (and that’s saying something, considering there’s a Picasso museums in every town). If you’re only going to make it to one museum, it should be the Van Gogh Museum.
But if you have time, and you love art as much as I do, I would wizz through the Reiksmuseum for the Hals, Vermeer, and Rembrandts. You can do this at a breezy pace to see some of the monumental Dutch art, and get a sense of what a rich trading center this was in the 16th century. Lace, delft china, and spoils from the Dutch East India trading company turn up in paintings throughout the collection lending a sense of the opulence and prosperity that characterised much of Holland. Finally, for art nerds who want to do it all, a visit to the Rembrandt museum is a nice counterpart to the Van Gogh museum. Here, we see a rich and famous artist’s home and studio with room for assistants and studio aids to help him with major commissions. His professional success is a stark contrast to the tortured genius living in near destitution that you see with Van Gogh.
Another ‘must do’ is the Anne Frank museum. Make sure to get tickets in advance as you don’t want to waste the day queuing (tickets are available on their website and book up fast. They are released 2 months in advance, but 20% of the tickets are reserved for same day release at 9am CET). It’s one of those places that is strange to finally see in real life because perhaps you’ve conjured an idea of it in your mind that’s been fixed for years (at least I had, ever since first reading the diary as a school girl). There are a million devastating details in the visit but Anne’s voice is bright and precocious and the museum is informative, intimate, and really well done.
Art aside, Amsterdam has one of the loveliest parks to stroll or cycle through (Vondelpark) with it’s relaxing beer garden at one end (de Vondeltuin), a perfect place to rest your feet and take in the fresh air. Both times I’ve visited Amsterdam have been in the fall and I think it’s one of the most spectacular cities for fall travel. There’s a definite chill in the air that warrants all the cosy beer and cheese restaurants and shearling for sale, while at the same time offering sun and fall foliage along the canals.
The first long weekend I ever visited Amsterdam, I managed to rent a bike, see the Van Gogh Museum, the Reiksmuseum, Rembrandt’s house, and the Anne Frank museum in between a few mediocre pub meals (beer and fondue), some great coffee, and the lovely Saturday market at Noordermarkt. I also took a canal cruise which is a must. It was doable (particularly if you keep a kind of 8:30/9am to midnight schedule as I often do when I really want to tear through a town in a short amount of time). However, the second visit to Amsterdam, once I’d ‘done the things you need to do’ was a lovely and different experience. It was one of those ‘weekends as if I live here’ which is the best luxury of living in London where you can pop over to European capitals on the reg. I walked and cycled up and down the canals, I focused more on finding a few great meals, discovering new shops, and taking in the beauty of fall at a leisurely pace.
Where to Eat
Amsterdam can be beer and cheese heavy if you just wander in to pubs without a little guidance. On my first visit, I didn’t do much research in advance and felt like my mediocre meals reflected that. Since then, I’ve had more memorable meals and a list of places I’m looking forward to trying.
1. Restaurant Floreyn – elegant setting with innovative modern cuisine that uses local ingredients. The tasting menu is a real deal for the quality of the food and presentation. We had the three course €38 menu with wine and cocktails and I don’t know that I could have eaten any more (they also have a 5 and 7 course option). This was a really memorable meal that didn’t break the bank.
2.G’s– ‘a really nice place’ according to the menu. This super popular brunch spot has benedicts and brunch staples, a huge menu of fresh made bloody mary’s, and a gangster rap theme. Need I say more? They have three locations (including one on a canal ‘brunch boat’). Reserve in advance as the wait can be ridiculously long. This is a really fun weekend place to go with friends.
3. Coffee and Coconuts – this beach shack, Australian/SoCal style cafe has fresh juices, coffees, and coconut water in a buzzy hipster setting filled with beautiful people. It’s one block from G’s in de Pijp in case you didn’t reserve and need a place to wait it out.
4. Café de Wetering– this low key cafe was recommended by my Airbnb host as a place to go for their infamous spritz. It was like an aperol spritz, but using a local Amsterdam vermouth instead that’s amber in color. I came, sat outside on the prime people watching bench, and happily sipped my spritz in the late afternoon.
5. Café Restaurant de Reiger – this is the place for a traditional Dutch pub meal. Last time I arrived at Amsterdam’s train station, I walked here, sat ouside in the sun, and was enjoying crispy pan seared fish, thick french fries (with mayo of course), and a glass of white wine within half an hour of arriving in the city. The perfect start to a weekend in Amsterdam.
6.La Oliva– This lively tapas restaurant in the heart of Jordaan serves authentic pinxtos and northern Spanish cuisine with impeccable ingredients in a lively setting. Great if you want a break from Dutch cuisine.
7.Drupa Coffee Roasters – Very good coffee in Jordaan.
8.Van Stapele Koekmakerij – Follow the line outside (it moves quickly) to this cookie shop where they only make one thing: a dark chocolate cookie with a white chocolate center served hot, gooey, and perfect.
I still want to try:
2.De Kas – Out of the way but this greenhouse venue with modern Meditteranean fare came highly recommended by friends.
3. Door 74 – The cool, cocktail bar that all my friends in Amsterdam have told me to visit.
4. The Seafood Bar Spui – This is apparently THE place for fresh seafood. The modern, bright ambience looks nice as well.
5. Hoppe – One of Amsterdam’s oldest cafes, this place looked good for the ubiquitous beer and cubes of cheese combo.
6. Winkel 43 – Apparently famous for their apple pie. Conveniently loated next door to the Noordermarkt so I’ll have to stop in next time.
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