I spent last week in Amsterdam with my mother on a spring tulip-peeping mission. After a long rainy winter, the tulips were a bit behind schedule in the fields but there were still plenty in planters around the city and notably prevalent in the gorgeous Keukenhof Gardens, which is a MUST if visiting during their short two month opening — late March to mid May.
Besides the flower quest, we kept ourselves happily occupied with museum visits, a walking food tour, a day trip to near-by Haarlem, a flight in a 1940’s plane over the flower fields, and long walks through the city admiring the architecture and canals as we popped into whatever boutiques caught our eyes. Rather than a small hotel room, I booked a lovely Airbnb studio in the Jordaan neighborhood — LOVED this area!
I’ve put together a list of the things we did, restaurants we liked, and any other general info that I can think of that might help as you plan your trip to Holland. By the way, I always wondered why the country is referred to as both Holland and The Netherlands — Holland is similar to a state or county. So… Amsterdam is in Holland, Netherlands.
THINGS TO DO:
Keukenhof Gardens are located outside of Amsterdam and only open mid March to mid May. There are 7 million (!!) flower bulbs and 800 varieties of tulips planted here. The place is absolutely gorgeous. We planned to stay 2 hours and stayed closer to 5! We walked and goggled… one of those rare times where you have to pinch yourself, reminded of the incredible beauty of nature AND the joy of being alive.
It is open from 8 am to 7:30 — try to get there first thing in the morning or towards the end of the day, but plan on a 2+ hour visit as there is much to see here and it is BIG. We arrived at 2:30 on a Saturday and the place was mobbed. BUT, the sun was shining and the scent of hyacinths permeated the air all around us… life is good! We had hoped to visit Sunday morning but the sunny weather forcasted suddenly changed midday Saturday — now predicting rain and cold — so we ditched a daytrip to Delft and headed instead to Keukenhof.
If you can visit during the week, even better. Besides the gardens, one can rent bikes nearby and cruise around the surrounding fields. I also saw several restaurants nearby if you want to make a day of it.
Best way to get here? I’ve got differing opinions as it is not straightforward. We were already at Schiphol for our tulip flight, so we bought a combi ticket online from the Keunkenhof site — it included the bus ride — bus 858 — from the airport and entrance ticket. There was a line for the bus, but once it filled up another immediately arrived so rather painless. The location of the bus: exit the airport, make a right and walk all the way to end of the building where you will see a booth for Keukenhof. DO NOT go across the islands to the location of all the other busses. Keukenhof also provides combi tickets which include the 15 minute train ride to/from Schiphol/Amsterdam. Be warned… we waited in line 30 minutes for the return bus at the park due to the huge line. It seemed everyone else stayed til the park closed as well.
In hindsite, I wish I had just splurged for an Uber straight back to our apartment. Yes… it would have been pricey as it’s a 45 minute drive, but way more convenient, especially for my 82 y.o. mother who was a real trooper to deal with the long wait, 2 transfers and the walk from the train station. However, I’m not sure how many Uber drivers would be in the area as it is a small village. Maybe best to take the bus back to Schiphol and get an Uber there? We paid 28 euros when we took an UberX back to the airport for the flight home.
DC3 flight over the tulip fields
The flight leaves from Schiphol however NOT from the main terminal. Once purchased you are provided with directions to the check-in location — both parking and via bus. However… we just took an Uber from the main terminal rather than figure out the bus/walk. Easy peasy and dropped right at the building. Return Uber was just as easy. FYI, for airline enthusiasts, there is also a McDonald’s located near here — between the KLM flight center and Schiphol — which is ADJACENT to the end of the runway. It’s a very popular spot for plane peepers.
Walking Food Tour of Jordaan
One of the best activities of the week! A four hour walking tour with Eating Amsterdam, learning about the lovely Jordaan neighborhood while stopping to taste different Dutch specialties. Our guide was fun and very sweet, and the group — we probably got lucky! — were all quite interesting. Never thought I would like herring but it was fresh and sweet and oh so good… especially tasted alongside tulip vodka… yep. My favorite food had to be the poffertjes — something between a pancake and a doughnut — griddled with butter in a special pan with half-sphere indentations and served with syrup. Or maybe it was the hot fried cod with its perfect golden crust? Happy and satiated by it all; highly recommended.
This is a large castle-like building which houses Dutch art and historical objects. I took the docent-led highlights tour which is rather short and sweet but it did provide insight into the history and actual architecture of the building which was interesting as well as hitting several paintings and concluding at Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, which is the most famous item in the museum’s collection. It’s possible to buy tickets online to avoid the lines. I added the highlights tour to our tickets for an additional 5 euros. Entrance is a bit strange — enter the tunnel passing through the museum where you will find the revolving doors.
Behind the museum is a small elegant garden. And beyond that lies a green space between the Rijks, Van Gogh, and the Stedelijk museums. We ate at one of the outdoor food vendors before heading to the Van Gogh Museum.
Van Gogh Museum
I LOVED this museum, and it was my favorite of the trip. Tickets are purchased online for a timed entry. Right now there is a special exhibition that I found absolutely fascinating — Van Gogh & Japan. Van Gogh never visited Japan but he was greatly inspired by Japanese block prints. Read more in the New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/arts/design/vincent-van-gogh-japan.html
Anne Frank House
Corrie Ten Boom House
Another house museum where Jews were hidden during WWII, but this one in Haarlem. The Ten Boom family were Christians who helped hide Jews in their home or locations outside the city. They also forged food ration tickets to help feed those hidden. I read Corrie’s book, The Hiding Place, in my childhood and was interested to see the home. Tickets are difficult to come by — they have 4 English led tours per day. The two morning ones are reservable though often filled up to 2 month in advance. There are two afternoon tours — arrive at least 30 minutes prior to stand in line as they only take the first 20 people, though our guide did allow a few more so that everyone could participate. A totally different experience from the Anne Frank House in that this is a small organization and a very personalized tour with a Christian perspective. https://www.corrietenboom.com/en/home
Haarlem day trip
Haarlem was a quick and easy train ride from Amsterdam — 15 minutes — and then a quick, pleasant walk into the city center (5 minutes.) Similar to Amsterdam in looks, but with fewer tourists and WONDERFUL shopping — both interesting boutiques and chain stores. Also, TONS of charming restaurants and cafes. Honestly, I’d even consider it as a base camp — we liked it that much. The main square is lovely, anchored by a large church and several other historical buildings, with lots of restaurants lining the perimeter as well. On Mondays and Saturdays there is a large outdoor market held in the square. Streets around the square — radiating in a wheel-spoke fashion — are flush with shops and more restaurants. I couldn’t believe the number of restaurants here! Not a lot to see in terms of sites — there is a wind mill that can be entered and a couple museums — but it would be a nice place to unwind after the crowds in central Amsterdam, and SO easy to get to.
We had fun shopping in both Amsterdam and Haarlem. Actually, we even shopped at Keukenhof — ordered some gorgeous tulips which will be shipped to us in September. We both purchased some Delft items from various boutiques in the Joordan neighborhood and also a cafe in Haarlem. Definitely shop around because prices vary for both handpainted items, antique items, and mass produced items. You’ll decide what you like and what you are willing to pay for it.
I was on the lookout for the KLM houses — small Delft houses filled with Bols (similar to gin) which are based on actual buildings in the Netherlands; they are given to the first class passengers. These are a collectible item — there is even an app to note which houses you own. I found them at a boutique across the canal from the Anne Frank House but they were 39 euros each — more than I was willing to spend. But then I came across them inside an antiques vendor warehouse, still in the Jordaan neighborhood — prices ranged from 7-20 euros for the most part depending on the rarity and condition I suppose. I bought 6 and hope to continue building my collection — preferably via a first class flight.
COS chain was near DAM square and I found 2 lovely tops. Love this store.
Finally, we purchased many food gifts. No cheese, but lots and lots of sweets! — stroopwafels and chocolate. Stach and Tony’s Chocalonely chocolate were my favorites for chocolate bars. Tony’s has a mission to help end slave labor, so you can feel ethically good by your purchase. You can purchase online in the US — click on the link above. Stach has beautiful wrappers and my favorite flavor — milk chocolate with popcorn and caramel.
The Mouse Mansion
I’ve never seen ANYTHING like this! It’s the most adorable museum, bookstore and art studio filled with incredibly detailed miniaturized scenes of a world of mice. In the Jordaan neighborhood, not too far from the Tulip Museum. Totally worth a quick stop-in EVEN without kids just to enjoy the windows and scenes inside. If you have young children, they will love it — and it’s all behind plexiglass so no worries about them destroying mouse world. Looks like they have studio time for children as well. No entrance fee. Lots of books based on the Mouse Mansion. http://www.themousemansion.com
De Silveren Spieler
Favorite restaurant of the trip. Housed in a building dating back to 1614. Beautiful interior, warm and extremely professional service, and modern Dutch cuisine by a young chef. Tasting menu only on the weekends. This was like a Michelin star experience at bargain prices. Also, interesting history to the restaurant — during WWII, it was a tavern owned by an Austrian woman who despised Hitler. She helped hide an extended Jewish family in the attic for 4 years! It’s possible to do a wine pairing, but we did not try this. Instead I tried a bold Argentinean Chardonnay (2009 Bodega Catena Zapata) with the first courses and then a German red (2010 Ziegler Spatburgunder, Kabinett Trocken) with the meat course. Both were excellent and I noticed they were included in the pairings as well. https://www.desilverenspiegel.com/
Hummus Bistro d&a
Yum. Yum. YUM! Cute, small and casual restaurant in the Jordaan neighborhood. Hummus obviously the specialty — served with chickpeas, meat, or veggies on top and the BEST flatbread. We tried hummus with roasted cauliflower (a special) and also the shakshuka (baked eggs in tomato sauce) with feta and spinach; both very good but I was more partial to the hummus dish. I would have been VERY happy eating here several more times. http://dna-hummusbistro.com/
Small Italian place near our Airbnb that was well-reviewed on Yelp. We lucked out and got a table arriving before 6 on a Sunday evening. Lots of families here at this time. The tables turned around 6:30; kids left and couples or groups arrived. We split a salad with grilled vegetables and ricotta salata; mains included spaghetti carbonara and margherita pizza. The pizza was good though a bit bland — probably should have tried one with interesting toppings. The carbonara was DELICIOUS. Bill came to 58 euros with a bottle of wine. http://luccadue.nl/
Cafe De Reiger
After touring the Anne Frank House, I checked the Yelp app for nearby restaurants and found Cafe De Reiger in Jordaan neighborhood. The small restaurant is a charming space with wood floors, warm lighting, and an attractive old bar in the front room. The bartender greeted us and gave us the choice of the front room with the bar or the back room — we picked the back room as it was a little more lively at the moment. Everything on the refined pub menu appealed to me and I was set to order a fish until I saw the steak and fries arrive at the adjacent table — we both ordered this instead. Steak was cooked perfectly and the fries were hot, crisp, and salty, served with a creamy pepper sauce. I ordered a bottle of red wine as well, though I cannot remember which one… it was quite good though! Looks like a great place for a beer lover. They do not take reservations.
Small casual Vietnamese place near our Airbnb on Haarlemerstraat. Nothing amazing but very good pho. It was perfect for us for a late dinner after Keukenhof when we were tired, my mom starting to feel a bit sick, and soup sounded perfect to both of us. Fresh, hot, and tasty… plenty of condiments to provide more spice and seasoning. Take-out available, too.
Gourmet shop down the street from my Airbnb on Haarlemerstraat, though they have several locations throughout the city. Ok… BEST chocolate of my life!! If you come across one, make sure you pick up some of their beautifully packaged chocolate bars. The popcorn peanut butter was my favorite but all that I tried were amazing. Good stroopwafels, too! http://stach-food.nl/
Excellent coffee in Jordaan near Haarlemerstraat. http://www.tokiho.amsterdam/
I stayed in a VERY lovely studio apartment in Jordaan on Haarlemerstraat. GREAT location, and the hosts were both kind and interesting. I LOVED this neighborhood and would definitely stay here again or somewhere else in the neighborhood if it wasn’t available. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/17252191