Amsterdam has been on my list for ages, and given that it’s less than an hour away, it’s madness that I haven’t been before. So it was about time I rectified it!
It came about almost by accident. We’d arranged a trip to Antwerp with a few friends (which I’ll write about in a later post), but we realised it’d be pretty tricky to get there from Norwich; at least six hours’ worth of travelling and hundreds of pounds spent. But a flight to Amsterdam from Norwich airport? We’d be there in no time, could spend a few days there first and get a quick train down to Antwerp afterwards.
And it worked perfectly! I got to tick another place off the bucket list and hit two countries in one trip, and in even better news, it was over Valentine’s Day. The chance to explore a new city with added romance? What’s not to love? I couldn’t wait to get out and explore this buzzing capital city.
Sir Albert and De Pijp
First, the hotel, which was perhaps the biggest surprise and got our trip off to the best possible start. I booked our stay at the Sir Albert Hotel through Secret Escapes – it was my first booking through this platform but it certainly won’t be my last – and we were blown away by it. The atmosphere, the service, the rooms, the little extras, the cocktails and the food – everything was impeccable.
It has its own Japanese bar/restaurant, Izakaya, which we tested out on our first night. It serves the best gyoza I’ve ever tasted (wagyu and foie gras – I was in heaven!), and in the mornings it transforms into a stylish breakfast space, complete with prosecco on ice, naturally. I’ll write a more detailed review about the hotel at a later date, but suffice to say, we were impressed.
Not only was it the trendiest hotel we’ve ever stayed in (I’m not even sure we were cool enough to be there!), but for me, the location was just perfect. Right next to a canal in the heart of the De Pijp district, it’s on the outskirts of the city centre but within easy walking distance of the museum quarter – seven minutes away, to be precise – and on the same street as one of the biggest markets in Amsterdam.
So, on our first morning we headed out to explore the Albert Cuypmarkt in search of fresh poffertjes before we made our way to the museums. A definite success.
Exploring the city
One of my favourite things about exploring a new city is embarking on my own personal walking tour. I find it’s one of the best ways to get a feel for the place, and that’s no truer than when you’re in Amsterdam. Our walk to the museum quarter gave us our first glimpse of the city at large, and it didn’t stop there.
The lovely cobbled streets were made for exploring, and the city as a whole is ridiculously easy to walk around – and the more central you get, the more canals you see. I knew that canals were a key part of Amsterdam, but I still hadn’t prepared myself for quite how many there were!
Considering it’s a capital city, it isn’t too sprawling either – we managed to walk from the De Pijp district to the museum quarter, the station and the centre of town in a single day, including plenty of stops along the way. My feet are still recovering, granted, but it can be done.
If you’d rather give your feet a rest every now and then, the tram and bus systems are pretty decent too (the UK could learn a thing or two!). Regular, quick and efficient, we had no trouble getting where we needed to on the few occasions we gave the trams a go.
A word of warning, however – beware of bikes! They’re everywhere, and they seem to have right of way at all times. The ringing of the bicycle bell is basically the background music of the Dam. That said, the city is built for biking, so if two wheels are your thing – they’re not mine, FYI – you can easily hire one. Probably at your hotel (the Sir Albert had plenty of bikes available to rent).
The Valentine’s dinner
The restaurant I’d picked for our first Valentine’s Day as Mr and Mrs was directly opposite the hotel, in perfect staggering distance after a few glasses of wine. And the food at that restaurant? Amazing! Floreyn served up a beautiful tasting menu of four courses, taking care to note my shellfish allergy, and every plate was exceptional.
From the sausage carpaccio tasters to rollmops with horseradish ice cream, the cauliflower prepared five ways (who knew?) and the pigeon breast, all the way to the delicate speculaas gateau with blood orange sorbet – it was a masterclass in modern Dutch cuisine, fine dining without being pretentious, with plates that tasted as good as they looked (and filled you up, too).
The service was lovely, attentive yet comfortingly informal, and I’ve discovered a new love of South African sparkling wine. All in all, the perfect celebration.
I loved Amsterdam. We spent our few days there exploring everything, from the big tourist hotspots to the quieter side streets, and we didn’t even touch the sides. Of course, the city isn’t perfect – I was a little disappointed by the inner-city parts that were overtly stag party central, British-style bars lining the streets, but I fell in love with the rest of it.
It was pretty busy, even in February – the famous Iamsterdam sign was constantly surrounded, and we were lucky to get a ticket to the Anne Frank house – but people in the city seem to have a much more relaxed pace of life. They’re friendly, helpful and rarely rushing. I love the more continental bar scene over there, too; stopping for a quick drink and a catch up with a friend, before hopping on your bike to head back home.
Now that I’ve had that first visit, I know exactly what I want to focus on next time – more canals, more museums and more exploring the outer neighbourhoods. More pit-stops in bars and cafes (not coffee shops, as I’ve learnt there’s a definite difference between the two) and testing out more restaurants. More Heineken, more cheese, and definitely more poffertjes.
Full disclosure: this post contains a referral link to Secret Escapes