Visiting Amsterdam for the First Time
I just got back from spending three weeks in the mountains of Panama, with a layover in Amsterdam thrown in. This was my first trip to Amsterdam. The city came highly recommended by friends from around the world, so when I realized I could get a KLM flight right to Panama City from the Netherlands, I jumped on the occasion to spend some time in Amsterdam.
On and Off the Beaten Track: Amsterdam’s Picturesque Neighbourhoods
During my stay, I met up with the lovely Karen from Wanderlustingk, a fellow Instagrammer and blogger based in Amsterdam. There’s nothing like getting to know a new city with a local. We had brunch in the storybook-perfect neighborhood of the Jordaan, with its tidy streets crossed by Amsterdam’s iconic canals. Canal houses with red or blue shutters, cobblestone streets leading to wooden bridges, and bikes, bikes, bikes. These were my first impressions of the Jordaan, mentioned in many a guidebook for its aesthetic appeal as much as for its hip cafés and shops.
After brunch, we wandered over to Prinseneiland, an island just a short distance from the Jordaan yet far removed from tourist crowds. Here, the cobble stone streets continue, winding past tidy, typical Amsterdam homes and even a petting zoo. This residential areas gives you space to breathe – and offers plenty of scenic spots for photos.
In the afternoon, I explored the centre of Amsterdam. I had signed up for a guided tour but soon felt that I could cover more ground and take photos at my own pace if I ventured off alone. I quickly left Dam Square and looped back to the Red Light District – which, to be honest, was not quite my cup of tea, but at least I ticked it off my list. Next, I circled the Canal Ring until sunset, wandering down streets that seemed intriguing.
Top Spots for City Views
I’m a sucker for a good view. I stayed at the very modern DoubleTree by Hilton overlooking the harbour, a canal hop away from Amsterdam Centraal. My room had bay windows, providing sunrise views over the water (on the one day that there was actually sun!)
The crown jewel of the Hilton is the top floor SkyLounge. True to its name, you can sit and have coffee or drinks with panoramic views of Amsterdam at your feet. While the views are sensational and the atmosphere is sleek and chic, I was a bit disappointed by the food – I had a California roll that was very average. All the same, I would go back to SkyLounge. I definitely recommend it for the ambiance, music (there were live DJs, even during the day), friendly staff and of course, views. Especially if this is your first trip to Amsterdam.
Another great spot for views over the city is the top floor of the Openbare Bibliotheek. Opt for the escalators on the way up. You will be able to take in the white, minimalist design, interrupted only by polished wooden features. The top floor has a very complete cafeteria, if you fancy a quick snack or heartier meal. If it’s not too cold, you can sit out on the terrace. In the evenings, watch the sunset.
Quick Tips for a First Trip to Amsterdam
I’m quite pleased with my visit to Amsterdam, although I didn’t have enough time to truly get a feel for the city. One of the main pieces of advice I can give for a first visit to Amsterdam is to book your museum visits or tours in advance. I thought I could just rock up to the Anne Frank House and purchase a ticket onsite. But I realized that you actually need to buy tickets weeks in advance (rookie error). You can also take a chance and queue in the no-tickets line for the last two hours before closing, but the line is infamously long.
Aside from that, watch out for bikes! Some cyclists in Amsterdam are just as impatient with pedestrians as drivers are in many cities.
Logistics of Visiting Amsterdam
I took a direct train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Amsterdam Centraal, an easy 6.5-hour journey through the German and Dutch countryside. This was the first time I had taken a train for so long in Europe – or anywhere – and I consider it a little taste of my childhood dream to go on the Trans-Siberian. I spent a good amount of time in the restaurant car, sipping coffee and watching the scenery go by. I arrived in Amsterdam relaxed and ready for the next steps. The main downside to travelling from Berlin to Amsterdam by train is that the ICE doesn’t provide wifi of any sort, so good luck if you’re a tourist and don’t have data!
Verdict on taking the train? I may have to rethink my Orient Express fantasy if they don’t have wifi.
Once you get to Amsterdam Centraal, it is extremely easy to get around the city and out to Schiphol Airport, with a direct Sprinter train taking about 20 minutes.
For more photos of my first trip to Amsterdam- or perhaps to inspire your own – check out Louboutins in my Luggage on Instagram!