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A Perfect City (Amsterdam)

Author: Karen P.
Date of Trip: December 2009

A Perfect City

Narrow cobblestone streets above wide canals, red-cheeked children in bicycle baskets, “coffee” shops, fantastic museums, cheese to die for. I don’t have to add tulips and a red light district, do I? You know I’m talking about Amsterdam.

And on a recent three-day visit, I was impressed.

Getting around. I come from a small town in North Carolina, where public transportation, if any, is the sporadic bus, so Amsterdam’s transport system blew me away: trains and trams are frequent, crowded, and on-time. Most people get around on bicycles — old shabby three-gear types with saddlebags and plastic flowers. Sitting upright, no helmet, wearing ordinary clothes, they haul groceries, kids, and friends while talking on cell phones and weaving around tourists. Next to the train station there’s a monstrous parking garage — the antithesis of the US parking garage — for thousands of bikes!

Museums. Numerous. In addition to the most popular ones: Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum (which houses paintings by Rembrandt and other Dutch artists), Stedelijk (modern art) and the Anne Frank House, there are museums for film, houseboats, tulips, vodka, handbags, and the Ajax football team. If you feel the need for something edgier, you can visit the torture, erotic, or hash museums. With limited time we decided to absorb the geniuses of Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Lines were around the block but we had bought our tickets at the train station which permitted us to walk right in. My only quibble: too many other people also absorbing genius.

Dining. It’s easy to find great vegetarian food in Amsterdam since there are so many ethnic restaurants. At Sampurna, an Indonesian restaurant next to the flower market, we each had rice with a half-dozen dishes: spicy, sauced, tasty! The next night we opted for something simpler — sauteed tofu at a Chinese restaurant. Our last night we found a little Ethiopian place, Walia Ibex, and shared a big platter laden with flavorful peas, greens, vegetables, beans, and salad that we scooped up with injera, a spongy flatbread. Yum. We drank Quinoa beer from bowls.

Canal Boat Tour. A good beginning to our visit, with an orientation and overview of Amsterdam’s remarkable canals: four concentric half-circle canals and many parallel radii canals. All these canals create islands, the need for bridges, and give Amsterdam its unique style, evidence of Dutch planning, ingenuity, and hard work.

Lodging. We stayed at Boogaard’s B&B and it was a wonderful experience. Peter Boogaard is a charming friendly fellow and a great cook. Also an angel, about which more below. On a quiet street a few blocks from the train station, Boogaard’s B&B is a typical Amsterdam home: narrow and vertical. On the ground floor is a sitting room and an eat-in kitchen where we were served breakfast. Above, the first floor is an apartment which is rented out. The second floor has the two B&B rooms, each with their own bathroom, and a common sitting area where Peter chatted with us and left warm apple cake. The third floor is Peter’s living area, and there is even a loft above that. Lots of steep stairs! We ate two breakfasts there: crepes with 42 toppings the first morning and quiche the second. We had to leave before breakfast the third morning, so Peter packed us a to-go breakfast of juice, fruit, and bread pudding. Yummm.

Caveats. The euro is so strong against the dollar (over $1.50) that US tourists bleed money in Amsterdam. In December, the sun rises at 8:30 and sets before 4:30. Don’t walk on the bike path.

Angels. They do exist, and they live in Amsterdam. On our second day, we were at the train station when my husband realized his wallet (containing credit card, ATM card, and driver’s license) was missing. His first thought was that his pocket had been picked — we had been warned to be careful of this, especially around the train station. He reported it to Lost & Found, and to the police at the station who requested that he return the next day for an interview. Our first angel was Peter at the B&B, who not only said not to worry about paying him — we could call him later with a credit card number — but advanced us a loan so we could continue to enjoy our Amsterdam visit. I shed a few tears at his trust and generosity. Second angel: after the hour-long police interview — detailed, documented, stamped and signed — we checked at Lost and Found. There was the wallet!!! Still containing money and credit cards!!! An honest Dutchperson, angel number two, had turned it in.

Would I do it again? Perhaps in the summertime, when we could sit outside a cafe and watch the tourists. Or in the spring, when the tulips are blooming. Or fall, for the jazz festival. We’ll rent bikes, visit small museums, try a few more ethnic restaurants, and keep a look out for angels!

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