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Houses, boats, and canals of Amsterdam

Last night, Gernot said something wise to me, as I was trying to reason him into eating just one floret of broccoli:

“Monica, we live in a world of alternatives.”

As you can imagine, there would be no greens in his immediate future.

With this in mind, I’ve written a quick guide to the highlights of Amsterdam in a choose-your-own-adventure style. I’m especially eagar to get started, as I’m craving breakfast right now…

Do you: Breakfast @ Scandinavian Embassy?

One thing that surprised me about Amsterdam was how Scandinavian it felt. The average shop or cafe is tastefully and minimally designed in Nordic style. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that you can scratch your Scandi itch in Amsterdam.

Breakfast @ Scandinavian Embassy Breakfast @ Scandinavian Embassy

Scandinavian Embassy offers a limited menu breakfast menu supplemented by fresh baked goods. Most notably, each breakfast has a suggested coffee pairing. Coffees come in a glass carafe with a stopper to keep the liquid piping hot. In a bout of decadence, we tried all three available coffees, and frankly I could’ve paired any of them with my breakfast and enjoyed it.

Opens at 7:30AM Monday through Friday, and at 9AM on weekends.

Or do you: Breakfast @ the Pancake Bakery?

Pancakes at the Pancake Bakery in Amsterdam

Did you know that Amsterdam is famous for pancakes? The city is packed with pancake shops professing to offer the delicious dish in a way that’s fitting for any meal of the day.

The Pancake Bakery has an extensive menu of pancakes, including pancakes themed by country. Ever wondered what a Greenland-themed pancake would taste like? Whether you want sweet or savory or just strange, this place has probably got a menu item for it.

Opens daily at 9AM.

Do you: learn the history of cinema at the EYE Film Institute?

On a very rainy afternoon, we hopped a boat to Amsterdam’s film museum, known as the EYE Film Institute. Located just a couple minutes across the canal north of Amsterdam’s New Market. Passengers loaded onto the boat with their strollers, bicycles, and motorcycles (some never bothering to dismount). Once docked, it’s only a minute’s walk to the instantly recognizable EYE.

EYE Film Institute

Without an entrance fee, you have access to the exhibit of antique cinema and photography equiment. Peek through a variety of glass into black and white photos of Amsterdam, watch short films, or learn about the mechanics of early film-making equipment.

EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam

For a fee you can also see a film or go into the current exhibit. Films are subtitled in English and range from domestic Dutch cinema to internationally renowned films. They also regularly show smaller feature films or classics.

Open daily from 10AM to 9PM.

Or do you: learn the history of genever at the House of Bols?

My friend and I stumbled upon the House of Bols after a failed attempt at getting into the Van Gogh museum late in the day. Conveniently located across the street, this self-proclaimed “Cocktail and Genever Experience” will teach you the history of Genever, a gin-like liquor, from the 1600’s until present day.

What I liked about the House of Bols is that it’s interactive. You’ll get to use all your senses to discover the history of genever.

Hall of Taste in the House of Bols in Amsterdam

In this hall, you can smell and guess dozens of different varieties of Genever, which is good fun to do with a partner to compare your answers with.

Sipping a shot at House of Bols Cocktails at the end of the self-guided House of Bols tour

Make a note of your favorites, as you’re entitled to several shots and a cocktail of your choosing at the end of the tour.

Open 1PM to 9PM.

Do you: Pick up tulips at the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s flower market?

In additon to the iconic tulip, we saw hundreds of varieties of flowers at Amsterdam’s famous floating Bloemenmarkt. If you’re looking to take home some tulips, you can buy a package of bulbs and plant them once you get home.

Cactus, succulents, and even a small army of carnivorous plants were also on the menu, so to speak, just waiting to be adopted into your home! The tiny venus fly traps were wrapped in a plastic case, so I’m not sure how they “feed” them regularly.

Amsterdam's Bloemenmarkt

Surrounding the flower market is a large shopping center and various tourist shops selling Deltware, the instantly recognizable white and blue porcelain.

Open most days 9AM - 5:30PM, except Sundays when it opens at 11AM.

Or do you: take a canal tour?

There’s hardly an or here — there’s no alternative to taking a canal tour while in Amsterdam. Only on the water is it possible to experience a proper view of the city. You’ll learn about the limited houseboat real estate, when and how the canals were built, and other intruiging bits and pieces of Amsterdam’s history.

Seven bridges of Reguliersgracht in Amsterdam

Pictured above, the Seven bridges of Reguliersgracht can be seen from the Herengracht and hailed as the most photographed sight in Amsterdam. I’m not sure that I could even see all seven with my glasses on, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Taking a canal tour in Amsterdam Photo by my travel partner, Hannah.

Don’t make the same mistake that I’ve made on basically every boat tour I’ve been on — arrive early! Location in the boat is the most important thing that will let you see and hear everything (and take pictures unhindered). As usual, the rain can play a big factor in how enjoyable the tour is, but most of the boats in Amsterdam are prepared for rain anyways. As you can see, my boat was completely covered (and this was in the middle of summer).

Canal tours are running constantly, and your hotel, hostel, or host will be best able to arrange one for you.

Do you: drink a belgian beer @ Café Gollem?

For the beer aficionado, Café Gollem is practically a playground. With a varied tap of 14 beers and over 200 bottled beers, this beer cafe leaves little to be desired. Our barkeeper was friendly and generously offered his help with navigating the colossal menu, all the while in perfect English (as is very common amongst the Dutch). Into the evening, this bar is cozy and lively, but not uncomfortably crowded.

Owing to its highly central location, Café Gollem is an easy stop after a day of Dutch activities.

Beer taps at Café Gollem

If you’re a belgian beer fan looking for something adventurous, try the Pauwel kwak (pictured below, left). Served in a distinctively shaped glass, this beer was purportedly consumed by the 19th century coachmen who came by the Pauwel kwak’s tavern and brewery. The wooden stand was designed to keep the beer upright as drivers bobbed along cobblestone streets. At over 8% abv. you might also need some help standing upright after a few of these!

Pauwel kwak beer at Café Gollem Sample of dutch cheeses at Café Gollem

Another one of Café Gollem’s highlights is the cheese plate, starring Dutch cheeses, bread, olives, and an equally sticky and delicious apple spread.

Opens at 4PM most days of the week, noon on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Or do you: Go for exclusively local brews @ Brouwerij ’t IJ?

Possibly the best known brewery in Amsterdam, Brouwerij ’t IJ is a dream in nice weather (which is admittedly not the norm in Amsterdam). On a sunny day there is no better place to enjoy a local brew than within view of this Amsterdam’s largest windmill. You heard me right. It’s the biggest.

There’s a reason this spot almost always shows up on guides to Amsterdam by locals!

Windmill at Brouwerij 't IJ Beer coaster at Brouwerij 't IJ

The beer menu is available in both Dutch and English, making it especially easy to navigate this menu. They’ve got seasonal beers, always-available beers, and limited edition beers — all of which are brewed at their brewery in Amsterdam.

Drinking a beer at Brouwerij 't IJ

Brouwerij ’t IJ also has a cheese plate, amongst other pub snacks, so no matter which beer spot you pick, you won’t go without some gouda.

Open at 2PM, closes at 8PM every day of the year.

Looking for more?

Get there yourself! Traveling to Amsterdam is extremely easy, owing to the busy Schiphol International Airport. You can also reach Amsterdam by train from practically anywhere. We took the train from Paris (which would also lend itself to a stopover in Brussels if you have the time).

Amsterdam loves bikes

About the author

Hi there! I'm Monica, an American expat living in Germany for nearly six years and using every opportunity to explore the world from my homebase in Berlin. My goal is to capture my memories in photos and posts that show how easy it is to start from scratch and travel the world by working abroad.

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