How lucky we are in London to be so close to some of the world’s coolest cities, and be able to set up time away, like a weekend in Amsterdam, just across the water.
We’ve discovered some of the very best experiences in Amsterdam that you can take advantage of on a weekend city break – have a read for our itinerary.
A weekend in Amsterdam for couples
Amsterdam is a city with a reputation.
While we did discover the best place to get high (above the city, you cheeky things), on our recent winter weekend in Amsterdam for couples city-break, we fell a little more in love … with the city, too.
Winter in Amsterdam can be a little harsh, as we experienced in the pitch black at 6pm on Saturday night.
We pushed slowly against the wind, hail slapping us hard in the face as we pressed one slow step at a time forward along the side of a bicycle highway towards our hotel.
There was a very real concern that someone wouldn’t see us among the construction and the weather and knock us down.
At the end of the shortcut we’d naively taken along the waterfront towards Aitana Amsterdam, I felt quite exhilarated about surviving. I couldn’t help but relate to the scene in Clueless where Cher, Dion and Murray are able to pull over safely after a brush with death-by-Californian-highway.
To be honest though, the weather was about the same as London in terms of chill factor, and if you’re rugged-up, winter in Amsterdam for a traveller is just fine!
The other bonus about this time of year is that you can secure lovely accommodation for a fraction of the price it is in summer, and the city isn’t as busy either (although I wouldn’t say it was quiet).
A weekend in Amsterdam for couples: best travel experiences (especially in the winter)
I’ll address the elephant in the room now – yes, you can buy weed here, it’s well-known for that.
But, Amsterdam is so much more than some of it’s seedier (sorry…) areas, although no judgement there!
Amsterdam is full of all sorts of fun – and it’s just so beautiful, interesting, chic, delicious, as you’ll see in our vlog below…
In the first instance, we can’t recommend highly enough the I Amsterdam City Card – we have used it twice on visits to the city and it’s excellent value for money, including transport and entry to most attractions, a free canal ride and discounts in many stores.
Learn about Amsterdam’s interesting history through its national drink, Genever, and a cool sensory experience at the House of Bols (with free cocktail!)
Step back in time to discover how the wealthy set lived (this was an incredibly rich city and important trading port just a few centuries ago) by exploring one of the mansions open to the public with the past on display. We enjoyed Museum Van Loon
A canal cruise, included with your I Amsterdam City Card, or hop on board one of the many options available when you arrive in town – day, evening, dining – whatever takes your pleasure. But do definitely see Amsterdam from the water!
Then see the city from the opposite perspective at A’DAM Lookout, which features restaurants, bars, a panoramic sky deck and Europe’s highest swing (and a disco elevator to the heavens, that’s fun!).
Do you have questions or tips of your own? Do let us know in the comments.
Amsterdam is one of our very favourite cities so we’d love to have a conversation with you about it… you can find us on social media too.
Amsterdam is famous the world-over, but often not for the attributes it deserves to be recognised for. Travel television series, Globe Trekker, sums up the city’s wider-known fame as being all about “sex, drugs and bicycles”.
While it is true that this is one of the only places in the world where prostitution and smoking marijuana are both legal, Amsterdam is also one of the most charming cities in Europe, with plenty more on offer!
Additionally, this city − capital of the Netherlands − undoubtedly leads on a world scale when it comes to green living, energy efficiency, and ditching the car in favour of cycling, which equates to no end in benefits for people and our planet.
Just don’t j-walk, or you risk being the recipient of unhappy head-shaking from a highway of cyclists coming at you from all directions (this I know from personal experience).
I’d only very briefly stopped in Amsterdam previously, and this time round − on a crisp and chilly winter’s week − I finally had the chance to properly explore, and wow, am I glad I did!
If you’re longing for a taste of Europe but only have a few days, Amsterdam is your answer. On the practical side, it’s extremely easy to get around; simple to navigate by foot, or catch a ride on one of the trams that scale the main streets branching away from Central Station (Amsterdam Centraal).
Amsterdam is modern, cosmopolitan, reasonably priced compared with other capitals in the region, and by all accounts, safe.
From an adventurer’s perspective, this city is just lovely, no matter what the season.
The medieval centre (where you’ll spend the majority of your time as a visitor) is built upon romantic canals (Amsterdam is often referred to as “Venice of the north”) and features over 1500 bridges.
The old centre boasts glorious cathedrals, as well as colourful warehouse buildings lining the water’s edge, most of which were built a few hundred years ago to accommodate a thriving shipping trade during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. America’s greatest cities barely existed when this place was humming along back in the day, and in fact, Amsterdam was home to the first stock exchange, paving the way for modern Capitalism.
Today, the Canal Ring (dug during the 1600s) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to a few lucky land-owners who carry on centuries-old traditions of living large in such a posh and picturesque neighbourhood.
Image courtesy Amsterdam Tourism
Within the city centre you’ll be blown away by the sheer beauty of the architecture, flowers are everywhere, and thousands of bicycles are hooked up to quaint bridges brimming the canals. The whole place oozes history, and it’s pretty to boot. It’s easy to want to take a picture at every turn, but worth remembering to put the camera down for a moment to simply soak up the scene.
Shopping centres are housed in lavish structures dating back 200 years or more; and the pinnacle for a traveller − Amsterdam Centraal − an absolutely spectacular Neo-Renaissance building which has been open to the public since 1889, should be appreciated under both sun and moonlight.
This spot is a helpful ‘central’ landmark to make your way to and from when exploring the city; of note too, is the tourist information office situated across from the station’s entrance.
Image courtesy Amsterdam Tourism
Unmissable and unique attractions include the Van Gogh Museum, among many, many other extraordinary museums and showcases, depending on your tastes; Anne Frank’s House where she wrote her famous diary during World War II, exhibitions and shows − there really is something for everyone.
The curious among you should veer left off the main strip heading away from Centraal, where you’ll meander into the infamous but not-so-intimidating Red Light District. And if you’re wondering about the “coffee shop” phenomenon here but you’re not into smoking pot, you could always give what’s called a “space cookie” or muffin a go. The staff in coffee shops here are renowned for being helpful and knowledgeable – they want you to have a good experience – so ask any questions you like, and they’re sure to advise on appropriate quantities and any details you should be mindful of. Like anything that involves risk though, if you want to try (and to be fair, “when in Rome”… or Amsterdam), GO EASY, and ensure you are with trustworthy people.
Image courtesy Amsterdam Tourism
Aside from the self-guided wandering (or cycling) and visiting of famous attractions of your choosing, we highly recommend exploring the city via one of the many canal boat options; by day or night, it’s a sublime and interesting way to pass the time and learn more about this dreamy destination.
Foodies can rejoice too, because there is a lot to choose from, and many good meal, happy hour and cocktail specials scheduled around the city. There’s plenty of quirky sweet shops, waffle stands, and hot chips everywhere.
Cheese is a big deal, and rightly so − it’s fantastic! Every few streets you’ll happen upon a cheese specialty store with samples; it would be rude not to try. We thoroughly enjoyed the hour-long Reypenaer Cheese + Wine Tasting.
This mini-workshop provided a nice opportunity to learn about the process of cheese making, why it’s such a prominent industry in the Netherlands; how to match certain types of cheese with wine varieties, and of course, to taste-test. We stocked up on some vintage Reypenaer before leaving too, but it was devoured rather swiftly.
There are three ways Amsterdam should be absorbed − at street level on foot or by bike, water-level on one of the easily accessible canal experiences, and gazing down upon it all from a sky bar, martini in hand.
One of the most popular and easy-to-find (adjacent to Centraal) is SkyLounge at DoubleTree by Hilton, and anyone is free to pop up for a beverage to enjoy as the sun sets across the Northern Hemisphere.
Image courtesy Amsterdam Tourism
Tourist attractions aside, if all you want to do is wander, shop, take photos, eat and drink, that’s ok too, because you’re inevitably going to soak up this beautiful city’s energy anyway.
In Amsterdam, it’s just as enjoyable chilling out as it is filling a day by ticking off a vast list of must-see attractions. Amsterdam offers the traveller a wealth of culture, new experiences, and delights for all the senses. All you need to worry about is the difference between a café and coffee shop… only one sells coffee.
Image courtesy Amsterdam Tourism
Pick yourself up an IAmsterdam City Card for ease of access to all attractions, discounts on dining, inclusive hop-on-hop-off travel on all city transport, and a bonus canal ride. More at iamsterdam.com
Found a fun bar playing 80s and 90s dance music, Big Shots; be mindful, in many bars that advertise you can smoke weed, generally you can NOT smoke tobacco (go figure).
Wok to Walk is found around the city and makes yummy stir fry and noodle dishes for a reasonable price.
Fantasy abounds – check this shop out, I love it! “Fairy shop, Amsterdam” – Chimera
What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam… mainly because I can’t remember what happened last night. Just kidding Dad!
We arrived in the Netherlands yesterday evening, checked into the lovely Lake Land motel – an ideal economical option in a picturesque area (Monnickendam) just outside of Amsterdam (capital of the Netherlands), on the convenient bus route for 110, 114 and 118 in and out of town (€4 each way).
Following a delicious buffet dinner, we were back on the coach by 8.30pm, headed directly for Amsterdam – no time to waste in a city like this! We all followed our guide, Ali, around for a brief city walking-tour where she pointed out key areas we needed to know about including the Red Light District and the Coffee Shop strip which (I thought) both ended up being more ‘touristy’ rather than ‘dodgy’. Rain hindered our evening a little, and so everyone dispersed to check out various bars and shops. Inevitably we were all separated, mainly because of all times it was Gay Pride here this weekend, so understandably busy.
Cooper and I have to praise a couple of our favourite new Amsterdam discoveries (for any of you considering a visit):
Cafe/Bar Old Town (1012 es Amsterdam Red Light District) www.oldtownbar.hyves.nl, for its awesome ‘old school’ 90s soundtrack (think CnC Music Factory, MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice…) plus funky Latin grooves. We even scored a free pint of Heineken!
Look out for Euro Pub in the main square too – their cocktails are divine and the dance/pop soundtrack perfect for a Saturday night out.
We’d also give props to the friendly, helpful staff at Route 66 Coffee Shop ;-)
Regardless of the late night, we woke up refreshed this morning, helped along by another great meal at Lake Land. The sun finally outshone the rain today and we merrily enjoyed cheese production and clog-making demonstrations, explored Volendam – a quaint traditional fishing village that has maintained its romantic character and design for over 600 years, and snapped many a pretty photo (including a cute tour-group shot) at Zaanse Schans Windmill Village – some windmills here over 400 years old! All this divine exploration set to a soundtrack of Whitney Houston’s greatest hits that someone was nice enough to pop across the coach sound system today – I’ve always been partial to a bit of Whitney. The images speak for themselves, so enjoy browsing.
The afternoon was ‘free time’ to play again in the city of Amsterdam so we could better explore by foot, bike, bus or boat in daylight its famous canals and colourful buildings. The city is easy to navigate as it is very small (similar to the Netherlands, in fact – you can drive across the whole country in about two hours). It’s a cool place which not only offers interesting alternative lifestyle representations (it is renowned for being very liberal, shall we say), but also many galleries and beautiful historical buildings. Central Station is just one example of stunning architecture in Amsterdam, and then of course you have the likes of Anne Frank’s home, bless her.
We learned that the country actually gained wealth in the 1600s as it ran half the world’s shipping and was simultaneously experiencing a culture boom – all continued until World War II which literally devastated the place, but thanks to tourism and a booming tulip trade, this beautiful part of the world is not doing too badly now. It’s very pretty here indeed, the people are actually really funny, and it’s been a pleasure to visit and photograph. Just beware – bikes are everywhere and visitors can easily miss them! Ouch!
But, time to sign off for now. Heading to Berlin tomorrow… and I’m oddly hungry for some of Amsterdam’s yummy French Fries.
Welcome to Travel Live Learn! We are Sarah + Cooper, Aussie expats living in the UK with our Westie dog, London, along for the ride. Our most popular content here is about pet friendly travel, house + pet sitting, and designing a life as expats or digital nomads wherever in the world you want to be.