Romantic canals, tulips wherever you look and dubious entertainment that somehow is perfectly legal – Amsterdam is the kind of city that doesn’t need a long introduction. Or does it? When I paid a quick visit to Amsterdam earlier in March, to see Travelette Frankie’s new flat (and her baby bump) I was in not much of a mood for exploring – four days of networking at the travel market in Berlin kind of eats you up from the inside… All I did was eat (so much), sleep (even more), take short cycle trips through town and upset my bank account by shopping some fantastic vintage clothes. I hadn’t done a canal tour, didn’t buy a single tulip and we don’t even want to start talking about last item on my list above. I had a great weekend with a friend, but have I seen Amsterdam the way it deserves to be seen? I wouldn’t say so.

How happy was I when, later in the month, an email from Expedia floated into the Travelettes HQ, inviting us to test their booking tools and spend another city break in the beautiful Dutch capital. It didn’t take me long to decide on dates, grab a good friend by the hand and book us a trip to Amsterdam.

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We booked flights, hotel and some activities through the Expedia website – by booking all-in-one we even saved quite a bit on the price – and with the mobile app we had our travel itinerary always in our pockets. The only downside I would like to mention is that you can only book activities up to two days in advance. Because we arranged everything quite last-minute, we couldn’t book everything we wanted (like this foodie experience) – but that shouldn’t be a problem as long as you plan at least three days in advance. Because it is the 125th anniversary of Vincent van Gogh’s death in July 2015, the entire country is currently sporting the iconic sunflowers – if only on magazine covers and in street art. The traditional tulip is still predominant. Either way, we made van Gogh and art the focus of our weekend – along side finding gorgeous vintage shops and mouth-watering eateries. Here is our Travelettes Guide to Amsterdam.

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‘Old’ Art: the best museums

Amsterdam’s museums burst with paintings by the Dutch masters, like Vincent van Gogh. Seeing them all is barely possible, and also too much to take for my taste, so we limited our classical museum tour to two: Stedelijk Museum and Van Gogh Museum. Surprisingly Stedelijk Museum was not too busy on a Sunday afternoon, even though it is currently showing the largest Matisse exhibition in the Netherlands ever – who doesn’t love some block colours? Van Gogh Museum on the other hand is mayhem. We had booked our tickets in advance, so we could skip the line, which at 9am already had a respectable length. By the time we left the museum two hours later, inspired, but overwhelmed by the crowds, this line had turned into a chaotic crowd. The museum itself is very clearly structured, and I would recommend to work your way from top to bottom, as the upper floors tell you more about the context of van Gogh’s influences, contemporaries and also his suicide. Some of his most iconic paintings, like the sunflowers, the yellow bed and his self-portraits are exhibited on the lower floors. Bear in mind: the crowds will get there earlier.

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Flower Power Souvenirs

As beautiful as van Gogh’s sunflowers may be, tulips are the national flowers of the Netherlands – and also some of my favourite flowers. And as fresh-flower-shopping always makes me feel better, we decided to head to the Flower Market along the canal Singel. We were honestly a little bit disappointed by the lack of fresh flowers – most stalls sell bulbs for your own garden and kitschy souvenirs – but we got lucky and found some beautiful tulips waiting for us. €8 later and about 20 flowers were ours – a price unheard of in the UK. Back in our hotel room, we simply repurposed the bin underneath the desk – e voila – a bucket vase of flowers spreading its sweet odour in our room. April and May are the best times to pay a visit to Keukenhof Gardens, the flower gardens a little bit outside of Amsterdam. You can reach them by train, but should plan a full-day for it.

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I amsterdam

New York might have started it, but no other city rocks the ‘I love’-kind of campaign better than Amsterdam – it’s all in the name: I amsterdam is just too perfect. I’m not the only one with this opinion, and naturally the gigantic I amsterdam sign is covered in bodies all day long. To snap a cool picture either come early in the morning (Frankie swears by 8.30am) or late at night. Alternatively incorporate the selfie-mass-hysteria in your images and people-watch for the most creative selfie-crew.

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You want to ride a bicycle?

Amsterdam’s cycle paths can by quite intimidating to the unexperienced cyclist. Bicycles are everywhere, sometimes it felt like they are on top of each other, because otherwise they wouldn’t fit into the city. You should rent a bike, because it’s a great way to get around, and you feel more like a local. Just don’t get too over-excited. Any local will be able to tell that you’re not one of them by the way your steering your bike – you need a certain nonchalance to fool them into thinking you’re a local. Watch out for pedestrians at all times, especially in the city centre, as most of them forget about traffic in awe of the canals. Also, beware that scooters are allowed to use cycle paths – get out of their way, and let them zoom past you.

When I visited Frankie in March, she lent me a spare bike and we cycled along the Amstel, the quieter canals and through Vondelpark. It’s a great experience, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, if you don’t feel safe on a bike at all.

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New Art: the best galleries

Traveling with a video and sound artist, I could not pass up the chance of visiting some independent galleries around the city. First my friend took me to Flatland Galerie, a small space in the south of the city centre, very close to the Heineken Experience. The current exhibition shows the highly stylised photographs by Erwin Olaf showing women sitting and ‘Waiting’ – for what? You can use your imagination on this one. Further up north, in the area Jordaan, we popped by Annet Gelink gallery, a space on two floors (the downstairs ‘Bakery’ usually exhibits lesser known artists), showed a selection of pieces from the gallery’s history – the show had the suitable name ‘Back to the Future’. Around the corner we found Galerie Fons Welters, which only for its door is worth a visit. Inside were beautiful pyrographies by Albert Goederond and a video installation by Chinese artist Taocheng Wang. She visited the Dutch Wadden Islands in off-season and shows her experiences and images of the islands on five video screens – what does summer tourism do to such a place in winter? As a traveler I’d say this was my favourite piece.

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V for Vintage Shopping

Amsterdam is a vintage shopping paradise – I had already realised this when visiting Frankie in March, but this time we dug even deeper. Two areas in particular are heaven for vintage shoppers: De Negen Straatjes in the west of the city centre, and the area around Albert Cuypstraat in De Pijp south of the city centre.

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De Negen Straatjes are nine little streets (hence the name) between the canals Prinsengracht and Singel. The area is famous for its abundance of little boutiques, cool cafes and lunch places, bars and restaurants, and of course vintage shops. Some of our favourites were Bij Ons Vintage on Reestraat and Episode on Beerenstraat, but I’m quite sure we didn’t find all of them. Even though not vintage, a boutique worth mentioning for its beautiful designs was AnnLiz on Reestraat. I fell in love with a dress I might be able to afford one day.

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De Pijp is the trendiest part of town; this is where everybody wants to move – read: try to spend as much time here as possible! Albert Cuyp Market on Albert Cuypstraat is a long street market, where you can find all kinds of delicious treats, for example Frankie’s favourite poffertjes. But back to vintage – I loved the vintage shops in this area. At Het Kaufhaus I got a flawless fake-fur jacket and old-school leather satchel – the shop looks like a cool boutique, but the prices are still very low for such beautiful vintage items. Another great shop is Kiloshop De Pijp. The first Kiloshop opened at Waterlooplein, but De Pijp now has its own branch. The shop is cafe and vintage shop in one, and you pay most items by weight. Awesome, particularly if you are into kimonos, is Carnaby Street directly on Albert Cuypstraat.

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Where to Eat

Now, let’s finally talk about food. Frankie has introduced you to her favourite Dutch foods last week, and her article came just in time for us to find out about Bitterballen – they truly are delicious little things!

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Due to our early van Gogh adventures on day 1, and a reasonably early flight on day 3, we only really had one morning to ‘waste’ on a leisurely breakfast. We opted for a healthy breakfast at CT coffee & coconuts – scrambled eggs on avocado toast and a healthy green juice are perfect to start the day. The cafe is the new hot s*** in the area – central De Pijp of course. The atmosphere screams surfer cafe, with light colours, many plants and coconutty elements all over. Expect to wait for a table for about 10 minutes, and to share your table with other brunchers.

Our favourite lunch spot was REE 7 in De Negen Straatjes, a cozy little cafe with interesting, but delicious sandwich creations and, of course, tulips on the tables. I had goat cheese, rhubarb and tomatoes on a dark bun served with cashews and honey – sounds weird, but was amazing!

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In true traveler mode, dinners were our most important meal of the day, and we celebrated each of them with pleasure. We hoped to follow a recommendation we received from the Travelettes Facebook group and head to Cannibale Royale for some meat. However, we hadn’t booked a table in advance, and our bellies revolted upon hearing about the 2 hours waiting time. We asked the waiter for advice and went for burgers at Snappers instead – the perfect recommendation. Chunky, messy burgers, delicious beers and low prices considering that we were smack-bang in the middle of the city centre on Reguliersdwarsstraat.

A few doors down, we enjoyed a pricier, but nevertheless mind-boggling feast of enchiladas and tacos at Rose’s Cantina, an atmospheric Mexican restaurant with green walls and friendly as hell staff. If you want to stay for dinner in De Pijp I can recommend De Groene Vlinder, which looks like a pub but also serves amazing food. This is where we tried Bitterballen and Kipsake, two Amsterdam classics you shouldn’t miss either. For burgers head to The Butcher, a tiny burger joint on Albert Cuypstraat. Just ignore the gigantic cow hanging in the window…

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A special mention goes out to Cafe Chris – the oldest pub of the Jordaan area. It opened in 1624 and the interior looks pretty much like you’d imagine a 17th century beer house to look like. It’s so cozy, the beer tasty and the guests mainly locals.

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Where to Stay

We couldn’t have dreamt of a better hotel than Wyndham Apollo Amsterdam for our short trip. It lies in convenient walking distance to Van Gogh Museum (roughly 20 minutes with a couple of bakeries on the way to grab a coffee to go) and the train station Amsterdam Zuid (about 15 minutes) – the journey from the airport took about 30 minutes in total. The two, in my opinion, best features are its location right by the canal – yes, from our room we overlooked the water, and the restaurant/bar has a sunny terrace – and proximity to De Pijp. In 10 minutes we stood in the middle of Albert Cuypstraat and could vintage-shop until our credit cards were breaking. The hotel is on the pricier side, being 4-star and all, but any hotel in Amsterdam will be pricy, you might as well treat yourself.

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Psssst!

By tweeting the hashtag #VanGogh2015 you can participate in the ‘Flock to Unlock’ campaign hosted by Expedia and the Dutch Tourism Board – for a chance to win a trip to the Netherlands! Find out more here (here for English).

Amsterdam took my heart by storm – and it was indeed quite windy, which made the departure from Schiphol airport even harder. Luckily, Frankie wasn’t there to show me around this time, which means I will have to come back to dig even deeper and discover more hidden gems in this very (and righteously so) touristy city. I hope you enjoyed our Travelettes Guide to Amsterdam and found the one or the other thing to put on your bucket list! Do you have any more suggestions?

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Kathi’s trip to Amsterdam was supported by Expedia.de
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner