6 hours in Amsterdam


Wooden tulips for sale in Amsterdam's flower market

Wooden tulips for sale in Amsterdam’s flower market

If you take the P&O Ferries minicruise from Hull to Amsterdam, you’ll be dropped off in the city-centre at 11am and picked up at 5pm. You might be thinking that doesn’t leave you with much time, but follow my tips and you can enjoy six hours of heaven in the Dutch capital…

It’s quite possible to spend your mini-break in Amsterdam by just visiting the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank’s House and the Heineken Experience (and if it’s raining that could be the perfect itinerary). But the city is made for wandering around on foot, stopping at pavement cafés and generally soaking up the laid-back atmosphere. It may have a seedy reputation, but Amsterdam is surely one of the most romantic cities in the world.

The coach will drop you on Prins Hendrikkade, in front of Centraal Station. The first thing you’ll want to do is get a map – there’s no time to dither. If you’ve not got a guidebook with you, you can pick up a free map from the tourist information office (VVV) on Stationsplein.

Head down the main road, Damrak, towards Dam Square – the place that gave the city its name, as it was here where the River Amstel was dammed. Although breakfast is served on the ferry before arrival, you might fancy a quick coffee and cake at one of the bars lining the square. We sat outside at Majestic Café and watched the world go by, taking advantage of the blankets and patio heaters.

Coffee in Dam Square

Coffee in Dam Square

Continuing down Damrak, you hit a street called Rokin and eventually a canal with the same name. From here you can take an hour-long cruise on a canal boat for €9 – an excellent way to get your bearings, see the sights and learn some history and quirky facts. For instance, did you know one car a week drives into the city’s canals?

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After the tour, head for Langebrugsteeg – a narrow lane off the Rokin canal. There is an inordinate number of little cakeshops here, but De Laatste Kruimel (The Last Crumb) got our vote with its dizzying selection of pastries and breads in the window. We had an amazing chocolate brownie each, which we ate on the way to our next stop, the flower market.

The best cake shop in Amsterdam?

The best cake shop in Amsterdam?

The Bloemenmarkt runs along the Singel canal south of Rokin and sells bulbs, tulips, Christmas trees and seeds. It seemed as popular with tourists as locals – a fact not lost on stallholders who, aware that they wouldn’t sell too many flowers to holidaymakers, make a roaring trade in brightly coloured wooden tulips.

The area around the flower market is a bit of a tourist trap and is full of shops selling Dutch clichés. We didn’t bother with the clogs, but popped into Henriwillig to sample some edam and gouda cheeses – this shop is really generous with the sizes of the portions to try before you buy.

Amsterdam’s biggest park, Vondelpark, is not too far away – a brisk walk down the busy Leidsestraat. Named after local poet Joost van den Vondel, there are ponds, parrots and a constant stream of cyclists.

The gates to Vondelpark

The gates to Vondelpark

After our stroll around the park, we fancied a sit-down so headed back to Leidseplein, Amsterdam’s busiest square full of bars and clubs. I’d never tried Jenever, the Dutch Gin so thought I’d never get a better chance. When in Rome and all that. We sat outside at Le Pub, warmed with blankets, heaters and potent booze. Although the drink was something I’d never have again, I’d quite happily have stayed peoplewatching in the Leidseplein bars. It’s also the place to go to see street entertainers – Amsterdam’s Covent Garden.

Leidseplein in the winter

Leidseplein in the winter

Conscious that time was creeping on, we reluctantly left Le Pub and followed Prinsengracht back towards Centraal Station. This canal is lined with elegant, gabled houses and is also home to Royal Bagels and Muffins – our final food stop before our evening meal on the ferry back to Hull.

We couldn’t leave Amsterdam without having a walk through the Red Light District, and that’s where we found ourselves before our coach pick-up. The area is as seedy as you can imagine, but perfectly safe – we followed two Dutch policemen who were on horseback patrol through the streets. Groups of lads and dirty old men were just about outnumbered by Japanese tourists.

There are plenty of pubs in the Red Light District, and as there was still time for a beer, we popped into Café de Stoof for a cold glass of draught Heineken with a big frothy head, while watching the transactions beside the windows outside.

As we headed back to the coach, we reflected on our six hours in Amsterdam and said we’d definitely do it again. If you fancy it too, bring walking shoes, a map, plenty of euros (this town is not cheap) and an empty stomach for all that cake and booze!

Bikes by the canal

Bikes by the canal

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Categories: Belgium and NetherlandsTags: , , , ,

25 comments

  1. Sounds like you had a full day. I thought Amsterdam in 6 hours was a bit of a challenge so whimped out and went to Delft instead!

  2. Bags me not to be in one of those weekly cars, Richard! Thanks for the warning. I won’t go near one. This is an excellent guide. It is amazing what you can cram into 6 hours, and I’d get even more in because I wouldn’t spend so much time cramming food. (maybe the alcohol) This is very doable from my part of the world and I’ve never seen Amsterdam, so I’m putting this in my favourites and living in hopes. Merry Christmas to you and the Missus.

    • Cheers Jo – have a good one too! When you think about it, when you’re away you tend to only do sight-seeing from 11-5 anyway, then back to the hotel to freshen up and have a night out. This way you can do that, but just head back to your ferry cabin instead. Hope you get to Amsterdam one day soon – no excuses now!

  3. Fab guide Richard, which I shall refer to when I eventually make it to Amsterdam. Hoping to do that this summer when my daughter returns from five months in the Alps. Have a lovely Christmas and wishing you lots of travel in 2013 🙂

  4. You should try the jenever with a pint of lager, the Dutch call it a headknock, which is quite appropriate

  5. Impressive amount to fit into 6 hours there! I did less in a three-day trip, though I did have dreadful laringitis and spent most of it sleeping. I’ll have to give it another try sometime. My mum and I were the only tourists who bought a load of tulips from the Bloemenmarkt though and carried them home on the Eurostar!

  6. Wow! You really managed to cram in so much. You should work for P&O, do they have an “in-ferry” magazine? This article would be great in their magazine or on their website to promote how much you can fit in with one of their cruises.

    DFDS ferries do the same thing from Newcastle and this is the route I usually take to reach Europe when I do not fly because it is more convenient to travel this way from Edinburgh than via London. Amsterdam has great rail connections to the rest of Europe- this is how I visited Prague, using the “Phoenix” sleeper train.

    One tip is that there is a wonderful old style grand cafe inside Amsterdam Central Station. It is a lovely place to sip a coffee and admire the goregous interior.

    Those cakes look amazing!

    Thanks Richard, I enjoyed reading this and all the eating and drinking tips.

  7. Update: Amsterdam booked for June 🙂 Will def be testing the gin but not sure about the ‘headknock’!

  8. I did some of what you did and more last month in May for 3 days. A really terrific and extraordinary city. Loved every minute of it.

  9. Thanks for the guide.. Just to be cheeky, how much money did people find they needed for the day?
    I’m planning it in a couple we weeks and want to make sure I get the best out of it.

    • I went four years ago, but seem to remember it wasn’t a cheap city. You’d probably want a meal, a snack, a few beers and a canal cruise plus a few pressies from shops. Maybe €50 per person? If you’ve got time, you could apply for one of those loadable € debit cards so you don’t get ripped off with fees, and you can use the card again next time you’re away. I’ve used CaxtonFX card before which was good.

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