72 Hours in Amsterdam - Our 2020 Birthday Trip
(This trip took place in January of 2020 before the COVID pandemic spread across the world)
Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities in the world. It's modern yet historic, has great food and culture, and has endless ways to play, eat, and explore the city. For our birthday trip in January of 2020, we decided to visit Amsterdam once again (my third time, Jane's second) for a quick 72 hour getaway and take advantage of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday for a quick trip abroad. Here's what we did...
Day 1 - A Hotel I Can't Wait to Return To
Anytime you are crossing the Atlantic, the flight typically leaves in the evening from the US and arrives the following morning in Europe. If all goes well and you get a decent amount of sleep on the flight, you can hit the ground running before the jet lag kicks in that evening. Unfortunately this time around our flight was delayed by 3 hours due to weather leaving Chicago, which meant thing didn't start according to plan.
Our view on approach into Amsterdam
When we arrive at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS) we quickly cleared immigration and customs and purchased our tickets on the regional train to get into the city. While the airport is conveniently located only a 20-minute train ride from the city, there is not a metro station so the regional train is the best option to get into the city center. We knew that our hotel was located close to Amsterdam Centraal, Amsterdam's Central Train Station, but it was across the river and we weren't quite sure how to get there. We (or at least my boat-obsessed self) were delighted to learn that there was a short ferry ride across the river to get us where we needed to go. The ferry from Amsterdam Centraal to Buiksloterweg runs frequently, takes only a couple minutes, and is totally free to use. It started to rain as we found our way to the ferry station but we didn't let a few raindrops enjoy the quick, scenic trip across the river to the hotel.
Sir Adam Hotel from the Ferry
We checked into the Sir Adam hotel, which is a music-themed property that is part of Marriott's Design Hotels program. I booked with Marriott Bonvoy points and used a soon-expiring free night certificate from my Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card (don't worry, we'll have an article dedicated to how to maximize your points and free nights). All in all, these three nights in the Amsterdam city center were an absolute steal at only 60,000 points. The hotel deserves it's own post, but in short, it was awesome! We were offered espresso beverages or tea when checking in, the staff was all incredibly friendly and helpful, the rooms were modern and all rooms included a record player and Nespresso machines. It's always a treat to be able to stay at a unique hotel and still use points for it, and I would stay at Sir Adam again in a heartbeat. (Just FYI, while the primary language in Amsterdam, Netherlands is Dutch, everyone we met spoke fluent English)
Sir Adam hotel rooms are small but modern and comfortable (Photo Credit: Sir Adam Hotel)
The jet lag crash hit us pretty hard that first day, but we were able to get settled into our room, showered, and then headed into the city to find some food. We were in the mood for something quick, easy, and Wok to Walk was just what the doctor ordered to cure our jet lag and rain induced lethargy. Wok to Walk is basically a little build your own stir fry shop which was founded in Amsterdam that has expanded to the USA. It was incredible (and it may or may not have came back later on in our short visit). With our bellies full, we headed back to the hotel to get some rest so we could get an early start on day 2.
Day 2 - Anne Frank House and Albert Cuyp Market
The Sir Adam hotel bed was nicer than ours at home, so we woke up refreshed and ready to get going, but first we needed a good breakfast. I had eaten at Omelegg during one of my previous trips to Amsterdam, and it was so good then that I had to show Jane. This little breakfast place is walking distance from Amsterdam Centraal and it always has a line but it
is well worth the wait. As the name might suggest, they specialize in Omelets and Egg dishes, so we both got omelets and cappuccinos and enjoyed their homey ambiance. (
Farm Boy Omelet at Omelegg
We departed Omelegg and took a streetcar to the Anne Frank House which is simply a must stop when spending any time in Amsterdam. Having read The Diary of Anne Frank in high school, it is surreal to see the small unassuming house along one of Amsterdam's many canals. Walking through the house there is an audio tour that paints a clear picture of the life that the Frank family endured while living in hiding. If you are a lover of history, and plan on visiting the Anne Frank House, be sure to book a reservation the night before, as there are limited slots and they go fast.
After an introspective walk through the Anne Frank House and the attached museum and it was time to find an early dinner. We hopped on the Amsterdam Metro and headed to Albert Cuyp Market,.
Stretching two full blocks through the Nieuwe Pijp area of Amsterdam, the street market has been serving groceries, food, and shopping six days a week since1905! We walked the market and got some soup dumplings from a Cantonese dim sum stand, Fish and Chips from an English storefront, and some souvenir chocolates from a chocolatier. The market really is a testament to the wide cultural diversity of the city.
Key to success at the Albert Cuyp Market? Come hungry
Day 3 - Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
After another great night's sleep at the Sir Adam, we headed to De 9 Straatjes or The 9 Streets to do some shopping (and of course, eating). This area, southwest of Amsterdam Centraal, came as a recommendation from the Sir Adam front desk, so we spent a few hours exploring countless shops, boutiques, and cafes. One highlight was a cheese shop with colorful wheels of cheese all over the wall, which is a classic Amsterdam experience. The owner graciously gave us samples of a variety of cheese flavors, including red pepper, wasabi, and truffle. After getting our fill of all the samples of cheese, we left with a few cheese wedges to bring back home.
We went through a lot of cheese in that cheese shop in De 9 Straatjes
I had eaten many stroopwafels on United Airlines flights while transiting all across the USA, but there is nothing like a fresh made stroopwafel made right in front of your eyes. We found a shop showcasing some with chocolate covering and a variety of toppings in their window. I went for the classic, with simple caramel pressed between two waffle cookies. Jane went
all in, opting for a stroopwafel dipped in chocolate and covered in cookie crumbles. We were in heaven as the cookies were still warm and gooey after being freshly made in front of our eyes. We got a few souvenir tins to bring back for family, friends, and coworkers.
We hopped on a streetcar once again to head to Museumplein for some photos. This area, similar to the museum campus in Chicago, is where you can find some of Amsterdam's best museums, including the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, the museum of the Netherlands. We've explored the museums in previous visits, and highly recommend spending time in there! Next was the Heineken Experience!
The Heineken Experience is in the beautiful original brewery building not far from the city center of Amsterdam. The 1.5 hour tour of the building takes you through the history of Heineken, the beer brewing process, and a variety of interactive attractions to learn all about it's brand. Jane's favorite part was the stables where they care for the horses that once were a key part of Heineken's supply chain (though now their role is primarily ceremonial). My favorite part was certainly the two free beers you get as part as part of your admission at the end of the tour.
Our journey through the finer things in life on day 3 culminated in a dinner reservation at Casa Nostra, yet another excellent recommendation from the Sir Adam staff. The main hook of this restaurant is the chef, who sits at the front window and makes fresh Orecchiette pasta by hand every evening. We enjoyed the quaint atmosphere of the restaurant, split a bottle of wine and enjoyed some of the best pasta we've ever had while reflecting on the wonderful trip we had so far. Seventy two hours goes by so fast, but luckily we had one more activity planned...
Where the magic happens at Casa Nostra
When we arrived in Amsterdam we noticed that there were displays of what looked like light exhibits all around the city and the canals. Since it was already the middle of January, we thought it was strange to see the Christmas lights still illuminated, so we did some research and found out that we had arrived during the final weekend of the annual Amsterdam Light Festival. One of our goals was to do a canal cruise and what better time than at night to look at all of the art pieces scattered throughout the city. Our canal cruise included a 90 minute excursion around the city, free blankets, as well as warm mulled wine. The captain took us around to his favorite pieces, telling us the backstory and making sure that the mulled wine kept us warm. It was an absolutely wonderful way to cap off the trip, and a good reminder to always check for local events occurring during your trip when traveling anywhere.
One of the Amsterdam Lights Festival exhibit from our canal cruise
We had a magnificent 72 hours in Amsterdam, and after three separate trips to this wonderful city, I still look forward to my next visit. Getting to experience the daily ferry ride from the hotel into the city center was such a unique experience I felt like I was seeing the city for the first time once again. Walking around any random street in Amsterdam, it simply oozes charm, with scenic cobblestone lined bikeways, streets lined with little outdoor cafes, and an impressive amount of cultural and culinary diversity, the city just makes you want to pick a direction and explore and eat your way through it. If you find yourself in Amsterdam, skip out on the raucous nightlife of the De Wallen red light district and instead take in the true beauty of the city.
See you soon, Amsterdam!