48 hours in Amsterdam

Posted on 30 August 2011

After two years of living in Amsterdam, I finally feel like I know the city pretty well. My boyfriend and I have had many visitors during our time here and we’ve started to get our tour of the city down to a tee.

Amsterdam is a relatively small city and there’s a lot one can squeeze into just 48 hours, so if you find yourself in the city, with just two days to explore, here’s what I suggest you do:

First off, you need to hire a bicycle. The only true way to see and get a feel for Amsterdam is on the back of two wheels. It can work out to be much the same price as a 24-hour ticket for public transport, but it allows a lot more freedom and you’re bound to have a lot more fun.

MacBike is the most popular bicycle rental shop in Amsterdam but if you don’t want to stand out like a tourist on the ubiquitous red bikes, you can always find a smaller, local bike shop and hop on an old oma fiets.

Once you have your trusty steed, it’s time to hit the streets. First stop: Het Amsterdamse bos (the Amsterdam forest). This is one of my most loved spots in Amsterdam. It’s not a particularly well-known attraction, and I think few tourists will have heard of it, but it’s well worth a visit.

It’s about a 25 to 30 minute bicycle-ride from the city centre – allowing one to see a good deal of the city en route – and parts that most tourists don’t usually see. With almost 1000 hectares of wooded parkland, the Amsterdamse Bos is the city’s largest open space. It was established in the 1930’s as a large-scale attempt to provide work for the city’s unemployed, whose numbers had risen dramatically as a result of the 1929 Wall Street Crash.

During spring and summer, it’s a great spot for picnics and swimming; during autumn, the contrast of colours is spectacular and, in winter, the snow-covered landscape is quite magical. There’s also a lovely café-restaurant at the entrance to the forest, called Grand Café Bosbaan, and during the summer months one can sit here on the terrace over-looking the Bosbaan (a dead-straight canal, over 2 km long) and enjoy a pot of mussels and a bottle of cold prosecco. If you’re brave and like to swim, you can always take on the long stretch of water and put your swimming skills to the test. Be careful though not to upset the local fisherman flanking both sides of the canal.

Another favourite daytime recommendation is the Albert Cuyp Market, situated in the popular ‘Pijp’ district. This is regarded to be the largest open-air market in Europe, offering a huge array of food stalls, clothes stalls and other knick-knacks. We frequent the Albert Cuyp a lot to take advantage of the fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as to stock up on cheese and occasionally splash out on some salmon, scallops, tuna and prawns from the fish monger. When we take guests, we always suggest they try the fresh herring, stroopwafels and frietjes met mayonaise – all typical Dutch delicacies.

Once everyone’s sufficiently stuffed from all the goodies at the market, it’s time for a refreshing beer. With so many bars and cafés to choose from in Amsterdam, it can be hard to decide, but if it’s a nice day, I suggest trying the Amstelhaven. This is a great little café-restaurant located along the Amstel river (historically the main trade route into the Dutch interior), where one can kick back on the sunny terrace and enjoy a nice cold one along with some borrelhapjes (drinking snacks). The best ‘hapjes’ are: bitterballen (fried, round veal ragout balls served with mustard), kaastengels (fried cheese sticks) and old cheese or young cheese with mustard. Not far from Amstelhaven is the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge), the most famous and probably the cutest of Amsterdam’s many swing bridges and a good photo spot.

There are plenty of other nice cafés along the Amstel river and you can hop on and off your bicycle, working your way through all of them, whilst getting progressively more tipsy. It’s always a good laugh trying to navigate one’s way around the city after a few too many!

Next, it’s time for dinner. Proper wood-fired oven pizzas are hard to come-by in Amsterdam, but there are a couple of good ones if you know where to look. One that I can strongly recommend, and which is always buzzing with contented customers, is Da Portare Via, situated close to the Pijp district. If you’re not a veggie, I recommend the Tartufi con coppa di parma – a thin-based pizza with mascarpone, black truffle, coppa di parma, rocket and parmesan shavings, need I say more! I’ve had this many times with friends and after polishing off a large one each, we often end up ordering another as it’s just so good.

After dinner head into the Pijp itself, where there are many great cafés. If on the other hand you feel you’re ready to take on the Red-light Ditsrict, that’s an Amsterdam experience not to be missed.

After walking the manically busy streets of the Red-light District, you may feel you need to duck into a calming environment, and if a refreshing beer is what you’re after, then head for Brouwerij De Prael – a real hidden gem, tucked away down a quiet side alley in the heart of the Red-light District.

If the night gets late and you feel like carrying on the party, head towards Leidseplein (one of the main entertainment districts) and to Paradiso or Melkweg. Paradiso is a real institution in Amsterdam – originally a church, it is now one of the hottest rock venues in the city. One can also see live bands at Melkweg. Last year we even saw one of our favourite South African bands Boo! playing there. On Saturday nights from about 23:30 or 00:00, there’s the popular Gemengd Zwemmen (mixed swimming) alternative dance sessions, where you can let loose and dance away to classic rock and indie hits until the wee hours of the morning.

The next day you may be feeling a little jaded and in need of a good, strong coffee. Head to Brandmeester’s, near Vondelpark for your caffeine fix and then take a leisurely stroll through Vondelpark – Amsterdam’s largest and most beautiful park. Inside the park and housed in a grand 19th Century building is the Nederlands Filmmuseum; this is a great spot to catch a film if the weather is poor.

The museum district is only a few minutes walk away from Vondelpark, so meander over and visit the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Musem and the Concertgebouw (Concert hall). You’ll probably also want to take some photographs at the popular ‘I amsterdam’ letters.

If it’s summer, enjoy a nice ice-cream by the shallow pond on Museumplein. In winter this freezes over and becomes a pretty spectacular ice-rink, with the Rijksmuseum and Concertgebouw as backdrops on either side.

If you have the time and inclination to stand in a long queue, then the Anne Frank House is obviously worth a visit. It is situated on the Prinsengracht, one of the main canals making up the so-called Canal Belt or grachtengordel, along with Keizers and Herengracht.

The bohemian Jordaan district is close by and one can meander through the eclectic negen straatjes (nine streets), which make for good shopping, towards the Spui – a square in the heart of the city. Here you can find a mysterious door which transports one from the hustle and bustle of the city centre to the surprisingly tranquil environment of Begijnhof, one of Amsterdam’s oldest inner courts dating back to 1389. As the name suggests, Begijnhof used to be a Béguinage – a collection of buildings used by Beguines (Roman Catholic lay religious communities).

End off your time in Amsterdam at one its many bruin cafés (brown cafés), which are as much a part of the city as its canals. Brown cafés are pubs with a very casual and laid-back atmosphere. The name comes from the cafés’ dark wood interiors and their smoke-stained walls. As has been aptly mentioned in an article called “What are brown cafes?”, most of them epitomize the Dutch term gezelligheid, a word that is tricky to translate into English but roughly means friendly or welcoming.

Well, that about covers what I would call a good time in Amsterdam. There’s obviously a lot that I haven’t mentioned but if you’re a bit strapped for time and have only 48 hours to enjoy this remarkable city, then these are the activities that I can recommend. And as the Dutch say: “geniet ervan!” (enjoy!).

Grand Cafe Bosbaan: De BosBaan, Bosbaan 4, 1182 AG Amstelveen, Tel: 0031 (0)20 4044869

Albert Cuyp Market: Albert Cuypstraat 217, Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 678 1678 “Ž Amstelhaven: Mauritskade 1, 1091 EW Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 6652672

Da Portare Via: Frans Halsstraat 63, 1072 Amsterdam

Brouwerij De Prael: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 30, 1012 GD Amsterdam

Paradiso: Weteringschans 6-8, 1017 SG Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 626 45 21

Melkweg: Lijnbaansgracht 234a, 1017 PH Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 531 8181

Brandmeester’s: Van Baerlestraat 13, 1071 AM Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 5720811 :

Nederlands Filmmuseum: Vondelpark 3, 1071 AA Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 5891400

Rijksmuseum: Hobbemastraat 21, 1071 XZ Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 6747000

Van Gogh museum: Stadhouderskade 55, 1072 AB Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 570 52 00

Stedelijk musem: Paulus Potterstraat 13, 1071 CX Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 5732 911

Concertgebouw: Concertgebouwplein 10, 1071 LN Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 671 83 45

Anne Frank House: Prinsengracht 267, 1016 GV Amsterdam, Tel: 0031 (0)20 5567105    

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