There’s an intriguing charm about Amsterdam’s reflective canals and winding stone lanes. The sounds of the city are enchanting; ringing bike bells, local chatter, and music flowing out of open cafes. In fact, it’s so intriguing that it’s easier than usual to lose yourself among streets that are seemingly identical and wind up on the other side of the city in about 25 minutes. We say this because that’s exactly what happened to us (more than once) in this unique town.
Amsterdam is known as a progressive city, tolerant of otherwise taboo professions like prostitution and marijuana dispensary. But even greater than that, it’s a city with it’s arms open wide, welcoming to any and all beings of the world. There is always something new and interesting to stumble upon as you twist and turn through the streets. From bustling food markets, to three-story vinyl cafes, to notorious Dutch superstores.
We found an amazing hostel called StayOkay Vondelpark on the south end of the city center. And let us tell you, it was much more than okay. StayOkay sits in the perfect location, right next to the entrance of the beautiful and expansive Vondelpark. It boasts an incredibly helpful and hospitable staff (thanks Marta and Rob!) offers free breakfast, and has a buzzing bar with a poppin’ happy hour every night where we met so many other travelers-turned-friends.
Our mornings usually began with complimentary breakfast followed by a jog through the park past rustic sculptures, autumn leaves, and gushing fountains. Then we’d get ready, strap on our oh-so-subtle non-touristy backpacks (sarcasm alert) and were on our way! We were surviving on Wi-Fi where we could get it, so a sense of liberation and spontaneity enveloped each day’s journey. We usually had a few bookmarks saved on our maps, so we’d just set off in a random direction until we reached whatever treasure awaited us! It was a fun game of guess-and-check since we didn’t have cell phone data. We’d often forget what the actual destination was under the starred pinpoint on our GPS and would have to be pleasantly surprised once we got there.
I’m usually someone who relies on planning when I really want to cover ground in a new city. I like to have my days mapped out, with specific time stamps for visiting this museum, that park, or trying out that super hip restaurant. Our method of exploring Amsterdam, however, taught me to let go of the reigns a little and to enjoy every moment as it passed, following my intuition and letting my curiosity guide me. And trust us, this is the perfect city for going with the flow.
All of our favorite experiences and hot spots simply happened because we took off on foot each day, open to any adventure that awaited us! Here’s what we found:
Do you ever just feel like you want to sip coffee while exploring a multi-level never-ending collection of vinyl, books, and art? Is that even a question? Go to Concerto in city central and get lost among the sips and sounds. Misako and I were there together and lost each other for a good twenty minutes. Can your record store do that?
Okay, maybe this one was recommended to us by the amazing management team at StayOkay, but WOW is it worth checking out. We took the five minute ferry across the river to Noord, the most Brooklynesque area of the city. It is home to the architecturally stunning EYE museum, the A’DAM Lookout, and the NDSM-Werf. At the Werf, you can usually find quirky shops and restaurants pieced together in an industrial lot right on the River-IJ. However, the Amsterdam Dance Event was occurring the same week we chose to visit, so many of them were shut down in preparation for the evening’s big events. That didn’t stop us from stumbling upon what may be the most heartwarming view in town.
Pllek is hard to find. Why? It’s literally a shipping container. If it weren’t for the name painted inconspicuously on the side of a bright yellow crate, we’d have never found it. To enter, you have to walk around the corner of what looks like a huge stack of metal containers ready to be loaded onto a freight ship. If you’re lucky like we were, you’ll spot a group of super hip folks next to a discreet door. Walk in and prepare to be hit with sensory overload. The wide open and high-ceilinged restaurant has a full wall of windows opening up to the river. Turn around and there are two sets of stairs to a loft with tables and couches where more casual visitors dine and sip cocktails. Pllek has a relaxed rustic vibe counterbalanced with polished decor and staff as sleek as their effortlessly cool reputation. We sat on a couch in the loft enjoying Bloody Marys and a sunset view to die for. Afterwards, you can catch the ferry right back to Centraal Station and feel like your afternoon was a sparkly warm daydream.
You know that feeling when you’ve been walking all day, you’re tired and hungry, and just want a warm stroopwafel to fall out of the sky and into your mouth? Yeah, we didn’t know that was a feeling either until we sniffed out the Albert Cuypmarkt in the De Pijp area of Amsterdam. It’s a huge stretch of street dedicated to vendors of all sorts of specialty foods, culturally diverse treats, vintage clothing, and live music. If you find yourself in De Pijp between 9am and 5pm Monday through Saturday (I’m purposefully not giving you an excuse to miss it) get your cute Dutch face to Albert Cuypmarkt and treat yourself to a stroopwafel!
A perk of wandering without Wi-Fi is it forces you to look up and be present on your explorations! I serendipitously met a new friend while strolling through Vondelpark one afternoon and he invited me to his neighborhood; Rembrandtpark. He taught me a Qi Gong lesson in the grass, situated between ducks on glistening pond, a small farm with grazing goats and sheep, and a handful of playful dogs, one of whom took a pass at stealing my jacket. This park is perfect for a picnic with friends, a pickup game of frisbee, some solo meditation, or a glamorous nap.
Not to be confused with Pllek. You know we have to include a health food place in our list, being the stereotypical Angelinos we are. Misako found this one near the Jordaan neighborhood and it was like walking into herbivore heaven! The menu boasts a mouthwatering array of smoothies, acai bowls, avocado toast, and healthy baked goods like carrot cake and banana bread. It feels like you’re sitting in a fairy treehouse, and tastes like it too.
So when you visit Amsterdam, skip following an itinerary and follow your heart instead. You won’t be mislead.
*Bonus find: Oresti’s Taverna in De Pijp. If you want to treat yourself to a romantic & authentic Greek meal crafted and served by Oresti himself, make it top priority to visit this restaurant. He remembered me from a visit with my family five years earlier!
If you are only in Amsterdam for a weekend, make sure you know the top things that you should be crossing off your bucket list! While visiting Europe, why not see more? StudentUniverse has the best deals for cheap flights within Europe.