Amsterdam: Moving Beyond Coffee Shops and The Red Lights

Every time I tell someone that I am going to Amsterdam for the weekend I seem to receive a specific knowing look;  that look that says they suspect I'm off to meet up with all of my most troublesome friends to pursue activities that are maybe nefarious in some areas of the world and not so much in others.

People think coffee shops, tourists, and maybe even a stop off at the Red Light District… and while those things may or may not be high on your agenda or things that everyone ‘must do’ as part of a trip, Amsterdam has so much more to offer if you just peek behind the curtain.

Amsterdam has been called the Venice of the North for obvious reasons – it’s charm and beauty rivals many of the so-called ‘great cities’ of Europe.  Furthermore, it can be accessed and enjoyed with significantly less hassle than its brothers and sisters.  (Have you ever tried to get across London at rush hour while trying to make a dinner reservation?  Ever risked life and limb on a Vélib’ in Paris to visit a museum? If you have tried either, then you know.  If not… don’t.)

Getting around is easy

Amsterdam is blessed by its size and location and benefits from a well thought out and well connected transport system.  Schiphol is one of the most well connected and most pleasant airports in the world.  Get there and either jump in a taxi or Uber or take one of the regular trains to Amsterdam Centraal Station – then start exploring. 

Once in the city, you can get from one end to another by foot or by one of the cycle hire options (of which there are many), so need not worry if you wander off a bit and then have to get back to the other side of town.  It turns out that nothing is all that far away.

See the main attractions, then explore beyond

Museums:  Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum. Anne Frank.  Do them.  Be prepared to stand in a line / queue and use resources like Google to see when what times are the least busy. If your focus is on museums (and there are many of them) – also consider the Musuemkaart.

The Canals: Free, and the best way to get to know the city. Pick a canal and walk along it until you see something interesting. Stop, look, experience… and then find another.  In the water you will observe hundreds of unique houseboats and entertaining canal traffic (you may even garner a wave from a local cruising by!), and peppered along the edge of the canal you'll observe unparalleled architecture, interesting boutiques, and a myriad of fun and affordable restaurants.  Our only warning: watch out for bikes when crossing the street, as you'll soon be run over by one if you aren't careful (there are more bikes per capita than any other country!)

The culinary scene has really developed over the past five years and AMS is now a food destination, however do not let this keep you from grabbing a paper cone of frites & fritessaus or a Febo snack. 

Stay like a local: pick the best then trust your host

There are tons of hotels in AMS… for every budget, and every intent (from the aforementioned nefarious to the top end luxe experiences).  Our preference?  Always pick the most authentic or ‘true’ experience, with a focus on the people.

On a recent adventure we were fortunate to come across The Weavery. From their website:  “Gezelligheid is an untranslatable Dutch word you will hear a lot in the Netherlands. Roughly translated it means cozy and pleasant.”

I do not know if we could sum it up any better actually. 

Bettina was a wonderful hostess and it was fantastic to meet her, her partner Driss, and their two little charming girls over the course of our stay. These hosts embody everything you could ever hope a B&B host would, and know how to create a level of comfort that makes you want to stay and explore..

The set up at the Weavery is for a boutique B&B experience, but without the full B&B obligation (ie you can be as ‘engaged’ as you would like to be).  Breakfast is served in their very well appointed and fun two rooms (and not in a communal setting with Bill from Virginia) and after a quick instruction on logistics you are free to come and go as you like.

Their location is also excellent - the highlights:

·         easy access from Centraal by the 16 tram and tucked in a fun canal ringed neighborhood

·         5 minute walk to the Museumplein

·         5 minute walk to the Heineken experience

·         a short walk to the fun shops and restaruants of De Pijp

·         a short walk to central AMS

·         near Prinsengracht and Keizersgraght – two of the canals to wander along

Bettina left us a snack, a map with some of her well-vetted favorites (local restaurants, shopping, and museums) and suggested we meet the next morning to catch up. We set off and followed her recommendations – grabbing a fun meal at Buffet van Odette  (which was so good that we went back again later in the weekend), checking out the AMS Light festival and popping into unexpected pizza shops and pubs along the way.

The Weavery itself is an original Amsterdam house – built in the 17th century to provide attractive housing to those in the textile industry. Bettina and Driss have restored it faithfully but also have further created a warm and inviting space with fully preserved traditional details coupled with a few elegant and modern touches. We felt like we were at home.

Our favorite modern touch had its roots in very traditional methods (of the Berbers).  The carpets throughout the Weavery are sourced from middle Atlas Morocco and support local village communities there – and help to preserve an art and traditional methods. This region of the world has special personal meaning to both Bettina and Driss, which makes the weaving of their own personal meaning/passion with the local AMS experience all the more meaningful. True to form, the rugs that are sold in their online store are available in not just patterns of their own choosing, but are also available to customize so you can purchase but weave in your own personal touch.

Our final pick: base your authentic Amsterdam experience at the Weavery – ask for their suggestions -  and tell Bettina and Driss that we sent you!