My home away from home.
The best tips for Amsterdam – according to me
Outside of Gent (Belgium), where I live with my family, I spend most of my time in Amsterdam. I lived here for two years, before I fell in love with my wife Marieke. Although my days in Amsterdam are mostly filled with meetings and working late evenings, I do get to spend some time in town. So, these are the best tips for Amsterdam – according to me that is.
Why you'll love Amsterdam
Amsterdam isn’t really a real city, it is more a city with a village vibe. The way the city is structured and the fact that it’s districts/areas each have both a distinct feel and have enough things to do/eat/drink/see to be a village on its own, make Amsterdam an amazing city to visit.
For me, one of the best things is watching the canals at night, especially in spring and summer. That distinct summer smell, combined with the stunning lights, lighting the detailed and beautiful buildings along Amsterdam’s canals.
That is why I love Amsterdam.
My best omakase experience in Amsterdam
The Japanese habit of omakase (お任せ) when you’re ordering at a restaurant pretty much means, “I’ll leave it up to you”, inviting the chef to be innovative and surprising in the selection of dishes. I try to do it in every city I visit, and apply the idea behind to everything between how I pick my runs, how I pick my food, how I plan activities with my kids, how I explore cities and how I travel in general.
So, I tried this in Amsterdam as well.
My best omakase experience in Amsterdam is probably one of my best ever (after my first real omakase in Tanabe, Japan). I had dinner with my friend Mark, who now runs a remarkable campaign agency called Meute. We were having dinner rather late and by the time we entered the Italian restaurant where we had a reservation, we were the only ones in. I asked them if they could choose for us. As the waiter’s English wasn’t that good, he got the chef to understand what we meant to say. When he understood what we asked for, his eyes lit up and he started mumbling ideas. He got a nice piece of meat in the fridge, just got a new delivery of some of his favorite mozzarella, etcetera etcetera.
When he came back, we had the best Italian appetizers I ever had. The chef joined us every time explain what he made, how it reminded him of a recipe he once had from his grandma, or how this was his favorite dish. Not only the food was amazing, but the stories made it even better. Unfortunately, the restaurant has closed down since.
What to do in Amsterdam
- Amsterdam is organized in distinct areas, e.g. ‘De Pijp’, ‘de Jordaan‘, which each have enough cool restaurants, places and things to do. Rather than wasting your time in the city center on overcrowded and over-touristic areas (e.g. Dam Square, Rembrandt Square), venture out into these different areas and join in the pace of the locals. E.g. For almost two years, I lived in the Eastern part of the city near de Javastraat, which is an amazing vibrant multicultural area with its Dappermarkt market, amazing restaurants, etc.
- The NDSM Wharf, an old harbour site turned into office and restaurant area is a great place to spend some time. You’ll reach it with the ferry from Central Station within 10 minutes. There are some nice restaurants, some beautiful buildings and murals, some art galleries. In summer, there will be food-truck and music festivals from time to time.
- Artis Zoo is in the middle of the city and is a great place to spend a morning and afternoon with your kids.
Some additional tips for Amsterdam
- Amsterdam is easily accessible via public transport, especially the Metro. Try and plan/explore the city along the Metro city lines. E.g. when you have a hotel near the Metro line that connects the Northern and Southern parts of Amsterdam, you will be often very close/fast to your destination, while there might be hotels closer to the city center which will force you to take a longer walk and/or an Uber.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
I must have spent over 500 nights in hotels in Amsterdam in my lifetime. Hotel nights in Amsterdam are not cheap, but it helps to compare prices on the different booking websites (Trivago, Booking.com, …) and to know in which area you want to stay. I usually aim for areas that are cheaper but have great connectivity with the rest of the city through trains, metros and trams (e.g. Amsterdam Arena area, Amsterdam Zuid WTC area and even -to a lesser extent NDSM wharf) – more on that below.
- Probably one of my most favorite properties ever is the Kimpton De Witt hotel in Amsterdam (see my review post on my stays there). Certainly not cheap, but a truly amazing option if you really want to have a romantic weekend in town.
Then there are several areas of town that are just comfortable, usually, because the areas combine great hotels with some nice restaurants and great connectivity with the rest of the city through trains, trams and/or metro.
- One of my favorite areas to stay is the area near the Amsterdam Arena – there are plenty of hotels here (Holiday Inn, Marriott, Hilton, Holiday Inn Express and quite some smaller chains). The area is really well connected with the city center because of the train, bus and metro connections and the area is quite cheap compared to other ‘hub’ areas of the city (most notably the area around Amsterdam Zuid WTC).
- But still, the Amsterdam Zuid WTC area, especially since the opening of the North-South metro line, is an interesting area to stay. The Crown Plaza there is nice but sometimes a bit expensive because of the demand. Another really nice option is the trendy CitizenM hotel, which has small, but super clean and efficient iPad-controlled hotel rooms and super (but I mean really super) friendly staff.
- One of my other favorite areas is the NDSM wharf, which is easily accessible with a small ferry from Amsterdam central station. There are several hotels in this area, including a Doubletree by Hilton hotel that has amazing views over Amsterdam.
- A great rather new hotel is the super sustainable QO Amsterdam (also, see my review), which is close to Amsterdam Amstel station (next to Amsterdam Spaklerweg metro station). Apart from implementing a lot of smart circular and sustainable ideas (e.g. recycling water, smart heating, automatic hall lights), which is already more than enough reason to visit it, it is just a really good hotel.
- Not a favorite of mine, but with a great connectivity and usually great price is the area around Hoofddorp station. There is a Hilton and Holiday Inn there, as well as several other hotel chains. It is very close to Schiphol airport (only 5 minutes by train) and an additional 15-20 minutes by train to other key Amsterdam areas.
- Hotel Jakarta is a beautiful new hotel, “the greenest hotel of the Netherlands” (their own words). It has a subtropical garden in the atrium of the building and is a “sister” hotel of the iconic Rotterdam hotels SS Rotterdam and Hotel New York.
Where to get some work done in Amsterdam
In Amsterdam, I usually work from the offices of my clients, but now and then, I work from any place that will offer me decent coffee, wifi and a good work vibe. I love places with decent coffee and that allow me to get places fast (stations, airports, etc). I like the vibe and it helps me get to my next meeting fast. So these are my Amsterdam favorites:
- The sustainable multi-purpose space Circl at Amsterdam Zuid Station was a convenient place to meet while working for clients nearby. Good coffee, lovely teas and I kept coming there.
- The NS (Dutch Railways) lounges at Amsterdam Central Station and Schiphol Airport (operated by Regus) are two of my favorite places to get a lot of work done. The coffee is fine and free and the wifi is horrible, which makes it a great place for me to get some work done. I won’t get distracted too much by browsing the web (because the wifi is bad) and the coffee is nice, which makes it a great place to be. Often, it’s also rather quiet. Access to NS lounges is only with a 1st ticket or international railways loyalty pass (e.g. Thalys Gold/Platinum).
- The Starbucks at Amsterdam Central station at platform 2, has a balcony that overlooks the large entry hall of Amsterdam Central Station. A beautiful view on what’s happening at the station. Only in winter, the balcony is freezing cold.
Where to go out for a drink in Amsterdam
So many places, there are my favorites.
- Wijnbar Boelen has some amazing wines and is right in the middle of De Pijp, one of the most vibrant areas of Amsterdam.
- Casablanca is the kind of karaoke place where you’ll end up with colleagues after a party.
Where to eat in Amsterdam
In true omakase spirit
So many great places for food in Amsterdam. These are some of my favorites:
- Restaurant C Restaurant C cooks based on temperatures, an interesting take on preparing meals. Great cocktails, really nice service.
- Noorderlicht is a great place for a lunch if you’re visiting the NDSM wharf in the Northern part of Amsterdam.
- Cafe Modern is a great place in the Northern part of the city.
- Rijssel is always super busy and a great place for dinner.
- Foodhallen is a food court like you would find in many different cities. Although a bit overhyped, overpriced and often underwhelming, it is a really nice place to meet up with friends.
- Cafe Loetje has different outlets throughout the city and is a local favorite, predominantly because of their steaks. Good food, good price.
Go out for a run in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a perfect city for running. Either the city center with its canals and beautiful building or find one of the green areas surrounding the city.
- Arguably the most popular routes in Amsterdam are either running in/around the Vondelpark park in the city center or around the river Amstel and its bridges. Especially around 19h00 in the evening, sometimes it feels like queueing up.
- One of my favorite routes is in the far eastern part of the city near Amsterdam Arena stadium/station. It has a lot of green areas, lakes and rivers, which makes it an insanely beautiful place to run. It is rather easy to have 8-12–17 or even more km runs.