Breakfast in London. A leisurely train journey across The Channel. Views of pastoral northern France and Belgium. And arrival in Amsterdam, just in time for lunch. This is the beauty of European travel. Within a matter of hours, it’s possible to traverse the continent, discover entirely different cultures, languages, sights, and experience a range of culinary delights. Some people see their weekends as a chance for some much needed R+R. An opportunity to catch up on sleep or squeeze in a little hot yoga. I am not one of these people. I see two days free of obligations as an infinite opportunity for adventures. A chance to leave the familiar behind, and to broaden my mind through exploration and indulgent treats; one patisserie at a time. Randy Komisar famously wrote that “the most dangerous risk of all, is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want, on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” I couldn’t agree more. I have embraced this philosophy whole-heartedly.
“YOLO” is already somewhat of a dated term to most characteristically, short attention spanned millennials. But take a moment to ponder what it really means. For the more refined Gen X, and practically toddler Gen Z readers who might be scratching your heads at this point, the acronym stands for “you only live once”. It’s true, we do only have one chance at this life, one chance in this body, and one chance to enjoy this moment in history. So the way I see it, if you have two days to spare, embrace your inner bon viveur and pack a bag, use your time to get out of the house, to travel and indulge your senses. It would be rude not to.
Amsterdam, the capital of The Netherlands, is geographically one of the easiest European cities to get to. Bordered by Belgium and Germany, and nestled smack bang in the middle of France, the UK and Scandinavia, it can be entered by air, rail or sea, often very inexpensively. For some, its legal public trading of marijuana and prostitution are the main drawcards. For those not in the market for drugs and sex, Amsterdam has a myriad of other offerings. The Museum District houses dozens of Van Goghs, Rembrandts and Vermeers. Amsterdam is a foodies dream, with countless pastel-hued boutique cafes, trendy pizzerias, and kitsch dessert parlours. Then there’s the allure of its exquisite canal system and looming narrow houses with gabled facades, legacies of the city’s 17th century Golden Age.
Few bustling city sights are more photogenic than a beautiful car free, canal-side street, brimming with bicycles - of which Amsterdam can boast that it is plentiful. Cycling is key to the city’s character. It’s part of the Amsterdam way of life and the visitor experience, not to mention, the most practical form of transport for the landscape. Nothing says Amsterdam like a photo on your bike, in front of a tree-lined canal. It’s the ultimate “Amstergram”. Now I’m not saying the purpose of travelling is to take pictures purely to post on your social media, but rather to see beauty in another person’s everyday commute, to find pleasure in small details, to appreciate the unfamiliar for what it is, and to make memories that will hopefully stay with you forever. I’m incredibly fortunate that my job as a TV journalist allows me more time and opportunities than most to travel. I have always enjoyed taking photos and sharing my experiences with my friends, my family, and these days, a growing global online following (some of whom have now become real life friends and family). The influence of social media is powerful, it’s important that we always share things with good intentions and honesty. The most rewarding thing about posting the best parts of my life on social media isn’t the likes. It’s receiving genuine messages of gratitude, hearing that I’ve inspired someone to leave their comfort zone, or shown someone a part of the world they’ve now put at the top of their bucket list. This is the reason I gram.
So here it is, my photo diary and tips from a most enjoyable, undeniably hedonistic, two days in Amsterdam, shared with my dear friend Bri.
I suggest that the following material is best enjoyed whilst soaking up a glass of rosé, as you plan your next Netherlands adventure.
The Yays Crane Apartment is undoubtedly, the quirkiest accommodation in Amsterdam and it deserves to be shared with someone special. Tell your friend/partner/parent you have booked a beautiful apartment on the water. Do not tell them it’s in a crane! Trust me on this one, it’s one of the best surprises I’ve ever pulled off. After all, who in this world has ever slept in a real life crane before? The one of a kind Yays Crane Apartment is on the KNSM Eiland peninsula, on the Amsterdam Harbour. It’s perfectly located, in a quiet spot on the water, around 10 minutes bicycle ride from the centre of the old town.
Read up, pick a few places you want to see, draw out a quick map route (even if you don’t end up following it at all, it’s nice to have a final destination in mind when you head out in a new city), and get out and enjoy all that is to be explored. Yays provided us with a paper map, and a priceless little Amsterdam bible which they call the “neighbourhood guide”. It’s precisely that - a photobook listing all of the nearby local gems, including the best coffee shops, bars, book stores, florists, gyms and plenty of other lovely surprises. Amsterdam is a small city and it pays dividends to try living like a local.
I know better than anyone that Jetlag is absolutely the worst (prior to Amsterdam, I literally flew from London to Australia for two nights and then straight back), but don’t make excuses and let fatigue or drizzly weather get you down, make the most of your time. We used the Yays bicycles to speed around town, and had great fun navigating our way along Czaar Peterstraat in the rain. A stop at the local Dutch cheese shop Fromagerie Kef was a highlight!
Avoid the big the chains, Amsterdam has so much to offer, so ask around. One of our favourite restaurants was the cheap and cheerful D&A Hummus Bistro which was suggested by local shop keeper who said he eats here every day. With that kind of recommendation, we knew it had to be good!
We spent hours riding up and down the canals in search of the prettiest facades, choosing our favourite houses, and admiring the impeccably clean windows (I’m not joking, the Dutch take their sparkling windows seriously). For the record, my favourite canal was Herengracht street, where the oldest residential house in Amsterdam resides.
Amsterdam is such a friendly place and the kind people in this city can really make a trip memorable. When walking around you’re much more likely to get chatting to people, to stop in shops and to break for snacks. If you have a sweet tooth be sure to make a stop at Sweet Bob, the staff here are lovely and also generous with the taste testers!
When in Rome eat pasta. When in Paris eat snails. And When in Amsterdam eat waffles! There are loads of waffle and pancake houses in Amsterdam, serving both sweet and savoury varieties. We loved Wicked Waffles (formerly known as Brunchroom), which was suggested in our Yays Neighbourhood Guide. For you tea drinkers, they also do an excellent spicy, vanilla-cinnamon blend.
When I’m travelling, wherever I am in the world, I always try to catch the sunset and the sunrise. There’s something very special about having those golden moments to yourself. It’s also a particularly memorable sunset if you’re staying in a huge three-story crane apartment overlooking the water. Definitely one to remember!
The entire red light area is a sight to behold after the sun goes down. It can be quite shocking to see people sell themselves and their bodies in windows. Just like department store displays, only they’re living and breathing, and much more naked than any shop window I’ve ever seen (with a lot more mysterious sex toys surrounding them too)! While you’re in the area try not to gawk for too long unless you’re willing to pay, be respectful, and don’t take photos. Once the shock factor settles, it’s quite a fun, bustling area to walk through and appreciate for what it is. Legalised prostitution allows the sex workers to carry out their jobs in safe, legislated environments, where they don’t have to hide what they’re doing, or risk their security. This area is also full of cafes where marijuana joints and space cookies (cookies or brownies with a sprinkling of hash) are readily available alongside regular coffees and snacks.
Because Amsterdam! Stroopwafels aren’t just any waffles. A stroopwafel is a Dutch treat made from two thin layers of baked dough (like an ice cream cone, but less crunchy), with a layer of caramel syrup in the middle. Where else in the world can you order a sugary, caramel filled waffle doused in chocolate and sweets first thing in the morning? It has to be done. We loved our stroops from the charming Van Wonderen store. Delicious and utterly grammable.
The big tulip fields are about half an hour from central Amsterdam. Frustratingly, we just missed seeing them in bloom (the season is only 6 weeks) which was disappointing, but c’est la vie. Whether you make it for the tulip blooms or not, be sure to visit one of my favourite spots in the city, the Bloemenmarkt floating flower market. It caters to tourists, selling flower bulbs for gardeners, all types of souvenirs, fresh and silk flowers of all varieties.
This is one of the cutest cafes ever to exist, it feels like it was built purely to be instagrammed. The Avocado Show was suggested by one of my very kind Dutch followers and the food didn’t disappoint. The Netherlands is very on trend with healthy eating, vegan and gluten-free options, so even if you’re not a waffle glutton like me, there are lots of yummy places to check out.
Sophia Tran-Thomson is a London based broadcast journalist for BBC World News Television. Beyond her career in TV news, Sophia is also an intrepid traveller and a published photographer. Follow her travels on Instagram @curioussophia
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