There is something special about Amsterdam in springtime. The Keukenhof gardens are open for a couple of months, as the tulips paint the landscape in brilliant colours. The city is on party mode all through April in anticipation of Holland’s biggest holiday – Queen’s Day, on the last day of the month.
If you are in Amsterdam for only a couple of days, here is how to get the best of it. First, buy the 48 hour IAmsterdam Card, which allows free public transport and entrance to key attractions, discounts at some restaurants and even on bike rentals. Pick it up at the main tourist office opposite the Amsterdam Centraal railway station. Also pick up a guide to Keukenhof gardens. Or, since Amsterdam is cyclist heaven, hire a bicycle for the duration of your stay—choose from one of these options recommended by the authorities.
Once you’re set, here’s how you can make the most of your two days in the city.
9am: Start your day with a leisurely breakfast at an open air café on the Leidseplein (translated, Leiden Square), watching the city slowly come to life.
10am: Head to one of the many fabulous museums in Amsterdam for a morning of high culture. Choose from the Van Gogh Museum or the newly renovated Rijksmuseum. The two are located close to each other, so you can quickly take in the highlights of both.
1pm: Have lunch at one of the Indonesian restaurants that the city is known for. Order the Rijsttafel (Dutch for ‘rice table’), which is a meal of several, tiny side-dishes accompanied by rice.
3pm: Pose for photographs on the iconic IAmsterdam installation (some tourists try to climb on top of the letters for that quirky photo) and then make your way to the sprawling Vondelpark for a walk in the spring sunshine. If you are feeling particularly sporty, join in a raucous game of football that is sure to be on at several places in the park.
4pm: Walk or bike your way along the main canals of Amsterdam that form a ring in the inner city—the Prinsengracht, Keijzersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan. The canal ring is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites and celebrates its 400th year in 2013. There are beautiful old buildings lining both sides of these narrow streets and several canal-side cafés to nip into for a quick coffee.
6pm: Take an open boat ride on the canals, which comes with a guide and usually lasts for an hour. This is a great way to see the city and know a bit of its history.
7pm: Devote the evening to beer quaffing at a pub of your choice; you can never go wrong with beer in Amsterdam. Our recommendations are the ‘t Smalle, a distillery set up way back in 1780 near a picturesque canal (Egelantiersgracht 12), and In De Wildeman (Kolksteeg 3) famous for its Dutch and Belgian beers. And if you must, then take a stroll around Amsterdam’s (in)famous red light area, De Wallen. It is in Amsterdam’s old side, in the vicinity of the Oude Kerk (Old Church). Be sure not to point your camera at people or shops there since it is frowned upon.
8am: Grab a quick croissant and coffee on the run and make an early start to the Keukenhof gardens. Devote the entire morning to tulips and all the other attractions of Keukenhof.
1pm: Try some local specialties like Bitterballen—minced beef fried with a coating of bread crumbs at a brown café, so called for its darkwood panelling (and not because of the ‘substances’ they deal in, as some people think).
2pm: Take a lazy saunter through the floating flower market on Singel canal and the Albert Cuyp street market.
4pm: This is a must-do for any visitor to Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House. It is a grim reminder of the city’s Nazi history. Note that entry here is not included in the IAmsterdam card and that it may not be suited for small children. Buy your tickets online to avoid the long queues.
5pm: Pick up a helping of poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) and patat (fries) and sit at Dam Square watching buskers ply their trade. Or, walk around the shopping haven of Negen Straatjes or “nine streets” around the canal area, filled with pretty boutiques, art galleries and vintage stores
7 pm: Have a quiet dinner at Hap-Hmm for Dutch food “like grandma used to make” and at prices that make you hum with happiness. The restaurant is justly popular among both locals and tourists.
More on tulips
No visit to Amsterdam in spring is complete without a trip to Keukenhof gardens just outside the city. The garden is open from 8am to 7.30pm (till May 20 this year) and it is best to arrive early to beat the crowds and get the most of your morning. Buy tickets for a boat ride around the gardens as soon as you arrive, since these are very popular and tend to get booked fast. Apart from the thousands of tulips in myriad colours, Keukenhof has other attractions like rows of daffodils and hyacinths, greenhouses for orchids, play areas for children and cafés dotted throughout. There are buses to Keukenhof from Schipol airport (easily reached from the centre of the city by bus or train) and it is best to buy a combination ticket online before you go.
Originally published on the Conde Nast Traveller website on April 30, 2013
Also read: It’s tulips time in Amsterdam