A last-minute trip to Amsterdam mid-April – supposedly the best time to go if you want to see famous Holland Tulips in their full glory. Thanks to quick searches online and recommendations from Deepa, we tried and tasted some pretty memorable things during our stay. We opted for going around on foot and public transport (TD doesn’t like to bike) and we were able to do these things (and more) in a relaxed and enjoyable pace. This is in no particular order.
10 Highlights in 3-days
1. Keukenhof and Tulip Fields of Lisse
Tulips were the main reason we went to Amsterdam and the world-famous Keukenhof is the place to see them. The garden in Lisse is a mere 30 minute bus ride from Amsterdam and it is so beautiful it felt like I was walking in a dream. The Keukenhof is open from mid-March to mid-may, but they say the best time for tulips is mid-april and we were not disappointed, because the timing was perfect for us. Tulip blooming time can vary depending on the weather. Also if it is too hot the tulips wilt, but I was told mid-April is a safe bet. If you go too early or too late, you will see different flowers in bloom so it will still be very pretty. My photos don’t do any justice to the garden. You’ll need 3 hours to walk around, excluding travel time. Click here for more information on Keukenhof.
CAUTIONARY TALE: The only thing that wasn’t very nice was the Keukenhof express bus. Perhaps because the line was long, they were trying to get as many people as possible in the buses so we were packed like sardines. The conductor was yelling at us to move into the bus even if it was already standing room. What’s worse is the bus driver kept on speeding up and breaking abruptly so there were a couple of times wherein we fell on other passengers. As a result I twisted my ankle and it was not very nice to go around the Keukenhof with hurting ankles. This is not a big deal for me, but I felt very bad for the elderly people who were made to stand for the duration of unpleasant ride. In my opinion, we all paid the same amount for the ticket and it is not fair that some people sit while some people stand. There are enough buses and the trips go on all day so and they should make sure everyone has a seat. If not, then they should make sure at the very least that their drivers drives safely and smoothly. It is more an issue of safety and I hope they improve on it. I’d be willing to wait a few minutes more as long as they don’t overfill their buses. I’m sure they earn more by doing this, but it’s not pleasant for the visitors. The Keukenhof express is also not handicap friendly.
Right outside the Keukenhof are the gorgeous tulip fields of Lisse which you can explore on bikes, however we didn’t need to go far. Right outside the keukenhof was a gorgeous field and we took a few pictures before we left.
GOOD TO KNOW: The tulip fields are grown for their bulbs. The flowers will be cut off right after they bloom so some research is needed to make sure you don’t arrive to empty fields. Timing is different each year depending on the weather.
2. Stroll around the Red Light District
Amsterdam is famous for its RLD (Red Light District). It really was something else to see and each alley caters to different types of people. I am in no way making a judgement because I believe in traveling to broaden one’s horizons and to learn about and respect differences in cultures, points of view and practices. If you are too conservative or traditional then this activity is not recommended. There are some tourists bringing their underaged children to gawk at the girls in the windows. I think you will agree that activity is for adults who are mature enough to make their own decisions and aren’t as impressionable as children. Don’t you think?
GOOD TO KNOW: Taking photos of the prostitute is strictly prohibited and there have been instances of expensive cameras getting thrown into the canal so be warned!
Amsterdam prides itself… on its wholly liberal and tolerant attitude, embracing the fact that people may be into prostitution, soft drugs and pornography-and this is only human. So instead of criminalizing everything, this very upfront city wears its heart on its sleeve – what you see is generally what you get… However, now as a legal profession, the government ensures that all prostitutes are able to access medical care and work in better conditions by regulating and monitoring working practices and standards.
3. Canal Cruise Tour
The best way to see Amsterdam is on a Canal Cruise and thankfully a silver ticket in our Holland Pass could be exchange for a ticket to the 100 Hundred Highlights tour. There were other canal cruise options but this tour closed at 10pm while the others closed at 7pm. We went right before sunset so saw the canals in both light and dark. I found the evening portion interesting too because everything was lit up and pretty. It was kinda cool to peak inside the windows of the boat and canal houses and the residents didn’t seem to mind! The tour was informative in several languages and we learned about Amsterdam history, architecture, etc.
DIPLO TIP: Bring some bread, cold cuts, cheeses and personal-sized wine/drinks so you can have a lovely snack while sight-seeing.
There are many museums in Amsterdam but the Rijksmuseum is the must see, like the Del Prado in Madrid. I loved seeing Dutch masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt. I’m not a big fan of Van Gogh but his self-portrait was an experience to see up close.
We were posted in Indonesia for 4 years so I found it interesting to learn more about Indonesia under the Dutch colonial times in the section for Indonesian art and items, like the Banjarmasin Diamond from Borneo (Originally 70 carats and now cut to 36 carats). I also loved seeing the still life that featured banquet tables were so realistic to the most minute detail that they looked like photographs. #17thcenturyfoodporn!
5. Best Apple Pie in town at Winkel
I was excited to catch up with my super funny and witty friend Deepa so I was so happy that she, Marlon and Tala had time to meet up with us. As the Amsterdam resident, we let her pick the place and her answer was very quick: Winkel, best apple pie in Amsterdam. Whipped cream is a must. Diet? What diet?
Before dessert we also had to have Bitterballen and Dutch beer, Amstel. I had the Radler – YUM. The apple pie is a must try. It’s not too sweet, not too rich and so delicious we savoured each palate-tickling bite.
6. Indonesian Rijsttafel at Blauw
After a year of leaving Jakarta, we’ve missed Indonesian food. Where better to get it than in the Netherlands? The best way to enjoy as many Indonesian dishes as possible in one meal is to order Rijsttafel and the best place to get it is at Blau Restaurant. Considering the Dutch-Indonesian ties I wouldn’t be surprised if is the best Indonesian restaurant I will ever try in Europe. Enjoying Indonesian food Rijsttafel-style is basically a Dutch invention and it means “rice table.”
This place is a little pricey and reservation is a must especially if you are more than 2 people. We decided to take a risk, but came to the restaurant late (past 9pm) and we were able to get the last table for 2 in a corner.
We ordered 1 Rijsttafel to share with 1 extra prawn satay and a bottle of their Rose (it is perfect with the spicy fare) and paid around 70 Euros. Still not bad considering the quality and quantity of the food. We really enjoyed our meal and were the last ones to leave because we ended up chatting with one of the Indonesian waiters. I didn’t expect to get such amazing Indonesian food outside of Indonesia!
7. Organic Brunch at Le Pain Quotidien
To have better value for money we did not avail of breakfast at our hotel, instead we looked for good options for brunch. When I searched for amazing brunches, one place caught my attention, Le Pain Quotidien. Their fresh, organic and local menu sounded amazing and I agree with the positive reviews!
I don’t usually like salads for brunch but their salads were such a yummy treat.
Their freshly baked great were quite good, and made even better by their house brand Brunette Belgian Hazelnut Praline Spread! I loved this spread so much that I bought a bottle to take home. Move-over Nutella! I love having it on french toast.
The Dutch loved their patat or Vlaamse Frieten. And the best place to get them according to trip advisor is Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx. Don’t ask me how it is pronounced. =p I was expecting a long line but because we got there right before closing time then there was absolutely no waiting time.
In English we refer to them as French Fries, but the French can’t take claim for their invention. Sadly, neither can the Dutch. These bad boys were born to the Dutchie’s favourite neighbour: Belgium and were coined “french fries” by
confusedworldly American WW1 soldiers after the language spoken – and not the country.
What makes Dutch fries different are the mind-boggling variety of sauces, the favourite being mayo, which doesn’t taste like normal American mayo as we know it. We tried their famous Samurai (spicy mayo) and curry (sweet curry ketchup) sauces in separate cones. Both were extremely delicious and as a potato-lover with a weakness for french fries, I can say that this has to be one of the best I’ve ever tried.
I would recommend getting a small size for the Samurai. It has a strong and rich spicy mayo flavour so you might not want to have too much of it. This sauce can also be quite messy. The sweet Curry sauce was quit addictive so I didn’t mind having a medium cone. So glad we were adventurous and tried something other than ketchup on our fries! Maybe next time I’ll try it in peanut sauce haha!
GOOD TO KNOW: The secret history of French Fries
9. Try Surinamese Food
It was my very first time to hear about Surinamese food from Deepa and Marlon, and we were lucky there was an open restaurant nearby on the Sunday that we met. Suriname is a tiny country in South America which was once a Dutch colony (like Indonesia). The Dutch brought over laborers from Indonesia, India, and China to work on their plantations and the combination of their different cuisines adapted with the local ingredients came to be known as Surinamese food. Also like the Indonesians, there are many Surinamese who are now residing in the Netherlands, so you can enjoy their food without traveling all the way to South America.
TD and I are always game to try something new at least once so we got takeaway from a place nearby, where they usually take-away Indian food from. It was a Sunday and the place they usually get their Surinamese fix was closed. To be quite honest I had a hard time remembering the names, but you can check for Surinamese restaurant recommendations here, here and here. I love Indian food and roti so I un-surprisingly enjoyed having takeaway Surinamese in Deepa’s lovely balcony.
10. Baked goodies at Simon Meijssen
Bread bakers since 1910, they sure know what they are doing at Simon Meijssen’s. We are so lucky that this bakeshop was right across the hotel. I can’t rave enough about this quaint little bakeshop. Everything.. and I mean everything… we tried her was so good that after croissants for breakfast, we packed up 3 paper bags of sweet and savoury baked goodies for our train ride to Berlin. Good thing too or we would have starved throughout our troublesome trip home.
They had some foccacia for tasting with olive oil (which they also sell), which convinced me I needed a loaf to bring home. Their croissants are simply fabulous. Best ham and cheese croissants I’ve had to date.
If you have a sweet tooth, you might also love the hazelnoot schuim-gabakje (roasted hazel nuts in a mocha cream cake) and the valrhona chocolate explosie. How can you go wrong with any dessert made with valrhona?
Other useful links:
- Currystrumpet.com – Life in Amsterdam through the eyes of my friend Deepa
- Amsterdam Tourist Information – Travel guide to Amsterdam features information on hotels, apartments, sights and entertainment in Amsterdam and all the Netherlands.
So there you go! My top 10 highlights in Amsterdam! Have you ever been? I’d love to hear some of your unforgettable experiences, big or small, in the comments section below.