We spent a week in Amsterdam house- and pet-sitting. Generally, when we take care of dogs, our time to tour an area is limited. But our little charge at this sit was much happier being at home and even preferred to skip walks except when taking care of business. Her owners referred to her as a cat-dog, and the nickname was certainly fitting when it came to the effort and time required to care for her.
We didn’t need to limit our time out, but since we were staying within 20 minutes by tram of any of the places we wanted to visit we also didn’t have to be gone that long to experience many of the delights of Amsterdam in a week. Between trams, walking, and ferries, we covered a lot, even without bikes, which is the standard mode of travel. Our housesit was also very near to two big and popular parks: Vondel Park, which goes on for blocks and includes cafes, playgrounds, and a concert venue (with free concerts during the summer–pre-book online); and Rembrandt Park, which is a beautiful green space with ponds and fields and off-leash dog-walking areas.
On our first day, we trammed back up to Amsterdam Centraal, the central train station, and then plugged into a Rick Steves City Walk audio tour to guide us as we wandered through many of the central city highlights.
Just outside the station a lagoon area is completely blocked off as it is being reconstructed. And we found that, throughout the city, there was road and track construction everywhere. Machines were used to lift up all of the cobble stones in a large area and, when the underlying work was complete, they were being re-laid by hand in attractive patterns. It was great to see the maintenance and upgrades being done, but it did reduce access to some areas and impeded the flow of pedestrian, cycle, transit and automotive traffic.
While on a search for a washroom, we discovered Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch original founded in 2005. During later research, I found that there are thousands of places one can purchase these chocolate bars in the USA, but I’ve never run across them in Canada (that doesn’t mean they’re not there, but Tony’s website doesn’t show any store locations in our home country and a Google search provides only a few possibilities). The chocolate store (below a colourful chocolate-themed restaurant) offers so many combinations of chocolate and add-ins (including custom ones) that it was difficult to choose just one (so we chose two).
We bypassed all the tourist souvenir shops, walked past the old and new stock exchange buildings and onto Dam Square where the city began around 1250. Amsterdam was constructed out of the marshy delta at the mouth of the Amstel River. The land was drained with water diverted to canals, dikes were built to protect the area from tidal surges, and millions of pilings were driven into the soil.
Dam Square is bordered by several buildings of interest. The Royal Palace (originally built as the town hall) is now one of four residences of King Willem-Alexander. The New Church (De Nieuwe Kerk, built in 1409) is a royal church where all important royal events take place, but it also hosts public events like the current World Press Photo 2022 exhibition. An old Peek & Cloppenburg store from 1914 now houses Madame Tussaud’s wax museum.
Following our audio-guide Rick’s instructions, we visited canals, the flower market, squares and shopping streets. It was a great introduction to the city.
On another day we visited the museum quarter, specifically to go to the Van Gogh Museum. If we return to Amsterdam, we’ll certainly visit more of its over 50 museums. In the same part of town are several other beautiful cultural buildings bordering a giant green field crisscrossed by pathways.
The Jordaan area is pretty and worth a wander through. We followed the second of three Rick Steves audio tours to visit this neighbourhood filled with canals, cafes, little shops and pretty buildings.
You can visit Amsterdam Noord across the IJ waterway by taking any number of free ferries from the ferry port right behind the Amsterdam Centraal station. We went to the NDSM area, which allowed us to do a bit of sightseeing along the 15-minute ferry route, checking out waterfront structures like the Eye Film Museum and the A’DAM Lookout (once a Shell office tower). Farther along the canal, NDSM is a former shipyard now being creatively developed with shops, cafes, bars, condos, workspaces, and the Straat street art museum. Warehouses that used to be shipbuilding and repair facilities still look like the original warehouses but inside the buildings have been reworked into very individual spaces for creative companies. The fully graffitied external spaces often host festivals and events.
A frequently cited must-see in the city is the Albert Cuyp street market. It is a daily market in the Oude Pijp (or Noord-Pijp) part of the city and seems to be frequented by the area’s residents. If we were staying closer to the neighbourhood, we would very likely use it, but we wouldn’t put it on our own must-see list. The second photo below is of a standard residential block in the city. Note the arms reaching out from each roof with hooks on the end. These buildings do not typically have elevators but almost all have the ability to string a rope through a hook like this to haul goods up to the windows.
Not far from the Albert Cuyp market street was the Brouwerij ‘t IJ brewery, known for its good beers and fair prices, as well as being housed in a historic windmill. Tasting flights were by far the most popular order when we were there.
We visited the red light district one afternoon and followed Rick Steves’ third Amsterdam audio walking tour. It was a great way to demystify the area and understand a bit of the history. It’s interesting, perhaps ironic, that much of the area and its activity circles around the Oude Kerk (Old Church). As well as museums (Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum, Erotic Museum, Red Light Secrets Museum), there are clubs, shops, canal-side coffee shops (ones like the Bulldog Cafe that offer a special marijuana menu and other standard ones offering the usual coffee shop fare), and a daycare. Touring in the afternoon with Rick providing audio guidance was not uncomfortable at all. Tourists are the norm–there are even canal boat tours through the area.
On our final day in Amsterdam, we ate lunch at a canal-side cafe near our housesit and spent a pleasant hour or two watching boats come and go. Larger boats sometimes caused a bit of a traffic jam as they waited for the bridges to open and let them through. When the bridges are up, bicycles pile up on either side, waiting for their chance to cross once again.
- Entry fee: Van Gogh Museum (book online) €19 per adult.
- Transportation: We had purchased an anonymous OV-chipkaart for each of us when we were in The Hague two months earlier. For all of our tram and train travel we just topped up the funds on the card periodically and scanned in and out of every transport vehicle. We used the NS app to plan our travel (though Google Maps works quite well, it messed us up in a couple of cases where there was construction on the tracks and tram schedules were altered).