It’s such a cliché, isn’t it? Smoke dope, get pissed, go to the Red Light District for an eyeful. Repeat. Visit Dam Square. Come away not thinking much of Amsterdam apart from ‘canals, prostitutes, gear’.
The War On Drugs – The Ocean Between The Waves
Sausages & wine
Cut The Crap
TonTon Club West
Such a misconception. If you can break out of the tourist hell surrounding the Dam and the Leidseplein, get away from the packs of kids aiming to get high, and head to the edges of the city – De Pijp, Jordaan, Westerpaark, Oude West – you can see the city for what it is. Eminently liveable. Quirky. Beautiful architecture. Friendly people. Some of the best food and drink in northern Europe.
We always liked Amsterdam after our hectic visit two years ago in a freezing cold November. Now, in sunny June, it cemented its place in our hearts as a city we simply adored. I kept saying ‘I could live here! I could live here!’ – conveniently forgetting I did live there, 30-odd years ago, when my dad ran a cinema chain and I went to the British School in Amsterdam.
Ah, but this is a city that has long memory and it welcomed me home with open arms. Dear Amsterdam. I can’t wait to go back.
TonTon Club West
A dream of a bar in the heart of Westerpark. Cheap drinks, decent Japanese food and vintage arcade games upstairs. Friday night and it was banging; Sunday afternoon and it was more mellow. There’s one in the centre of the city, too, but this was our fave.
The boozy equivalent of a Cadbury’s Caramel. Like, take it easy. Sit in the sun. Listen to the guy playing dancehall classics on his stereo. Drink wine. Repeat for a few hours.
Yet another bar in Westerpark (can you spot the theme?). Pacific Parc is a rebellious little corner of the green but it’s actually loads better than it pretends to be. Nice beer and some very good food. Just ignore the 17 year olds smoking and swearing.
Gin & Tonic Bar, Foodhallen
One of the world’s best bars apparently. We had no idea but, my God, the G&Ts were out of this world. Strawberry gin has to be the best invention ever. It’s a hike out (take the tram), but it’s worth it (more on the Foodhallen below).
Cafe de Poort
Typical. We were there in the dreary dull summer months when there’s no football on the TV. Because we bet this place is jumping when Ajax are playing. Footie memorabilia everywhere and big screens showing all the games.
Ignore the fact this is in the heart of tourist central. Because it’s stunning. Incredible food, good wines and the best cocktails ever. We sat in the garden for dinner and it was beautiful. Like being in another, more refined, world.
De Gouden Reael
Another find. And just opposite where we were staying in Westerdoek as well. Great beers and very good food. Slightly slap-dash service, but the great presentation and flavours made up for it. Plus we sat by the canal and eavesdropped on chic Amsterdammers discussing their love lives (well, I did. With my limited Dutch).
Ha ha, isn’t the name funny! Brilliantly the food served here - sausages, mainly, with loads and loads of great wines – is taken very seriously. Proper good portions, tasty and flavoursome. Oh, and there’s wine. Did we mention the wine?
Right in the heart of Touristland lives this veteran Indonesian (my dad used to come here for lunch when he worked round the corner). But it’s amazing. If you can afford it, get the rijstafel. If you can’t, get the nasi goreng. Both are incredible.
Fou Fow Ramen
The website is worth a visit for the best staff photo ever taken. The restaurant is worth it for the amazing bowls of ramen and the happy, smiley service. I didn’t even mind I got sprayed with Ramune fizzy pop by the waitress (hazards of the job).
Much better than Boxpark. Much. This is a collection of brilliant Dutch restaurants, and bars, all under one roof (a vintage tram shed). They do bitteballen, for god’s sake. And mini tacos. Just go, wander, enjoy the nosh and the vibe (much less posey than Boxpark).
I Love Vintage
I bought a dress here. I never buy dresses. But this place was so cool, so cheery and so cheap, I succumbed. Vintage and new clothes in here. Luvverly.
I Like It Here
Amazing T-shirt shop in the heart of the Jordaan. Some corking designs, fun badges, tote bags, sweatshirts… really cute stuff and it’s pretty cheap, too.
If Carling made shops, it’d be like this one. Men’s gifts, vintage, clothes, bags… basically if you have a well-heeled man in your life (don’t we all, dearie), this is the shop for him.
Art Gallery Eddy Varekamp
Amazing, incredible linocuts, stencils and prints. Some beautiful souvenirs and Eddy will ship them, too, so you don’t have to worry about them getting squashed on your EasyJet flight home.
Cut The Crap
Is it a record shop with a hairdressers, or a hairdressers with a record shop attached? Either way, it’s as cool as hell. And I love the Clash reference too, Joe Strummer fans.
What we did:
Walked. A lot. I did 26,000 steps on our first day in the city, which is second only to the 31,000 I did on my first day in Tokyo. We went to the Rijksmuseum to see the Night Watch and Vermeers and Rembrandt’s self portrait and so much art richness, I could have cried at it all. Then over to Museum Van Loon for an old canal house and tea (wine) in the secluded garden.
Instead of piling on to one of those giant boats that ply the canal with every other tourist, we opted for a smaller KinBoat which gave us beers and a personalised tour of the smaller canals. And then we wandered through the ‘9 Streets’ in the Jordaan, home to tiny shops and quality vintage (and not too many tourists).
But it was Westerpaark that became our playground. Bars and restaurants and more bars and hanging out on the grass and watching the world go by… bliss.
The War On Drugs: The Ocean Between The Waves
For the life of me, I can’t remember where I heard this in the city. But I got back to the apartment and downloaded it straightaway. It’s epic and swooping and melancholy and reminds me of the city each time I hear it.
What we bought:
Oh, I spent so much money. A vintage dress with flamingos on it in I Love Vintage. Pin badges from I Like It Here. Old Pink Floyd albums, stroopwaffels, spec… how the hell did I get it all home?
Where we stayed:
House Of The Dead / Crazy golf?:
Well, no. But TonTon did have Mario Kart and Time Crisis and Terminator and Street Fighter and vintage pinball machines… so… we were happy.