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Netherlands : Local Vs. Tourist – Our Amsterdam Winter Vacation

Like our tradition over the past years, we planned our winter vacation way in advance. If up until now we focused specifically on Eastern Europe because of budgets {you can find more about my considerations here}, this year, due to the increase in low-cost flights to a wider range of destinations in Europe – we managed to find a super cheap flight {$98} to a destination I didn’t even consider flying to – Amsterdam!

 


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Oh Amsterdam. What an amazing city I can visit over and over again. It’s my fourth time already choosing to travel there, and I totally fall in love with it all over again each time. In the past I traveled there twice during the crazy heat waves that struck Europe and another time at the beginning of winter – but our winter vacation this year was the perfect embodiment of winter wonderland. Perfect, white snow was the most gorgeous background for the city of canals and bridges and the atmosphere was different and magical.

Since we already went to the tourist attractions during our previous visits to the city, we dedicated our vacation this year exclusively to rest, hunt for good food places and finding the hidden gems.

We decided to split our long vacation between two places to stay – one, a 5-star hotel in a central location and very touristy, and the second, an exclusive apartment-hotel located in one of the less familiar neighborhoods of the city. This split not only saved us a lot of money {the full explanation is detailed in my free travel e-course!}, but it also gave us the best of the two worlds – the touristy and the local.

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Whether you love to be in the center of everything touristy, or whether you prefer to experience the city as a local – in this post you’ll find recommendations for great places to sleep, recommended places to shop, excellent food and attractions you might want to skip {based on past experience 😉 }.

 

STAY

 

The touristy option :

NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky

I stayed at the NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky on the first time I traveled to Amsterdam – and since then I wanted to go back there every time I traveled to Amsterdam, even just to enjoy the luxurious breakfast served at the hotel {look at the pictures and you’ll understand… by the way, it costs 30 euros in case you decided not to stay at this hotel but still don’t want to skip their fabulous breakfast}.

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If location is a deal breaker for you, and it’s important to you to be in the most central place – this is exactly the hotel for you. The NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky is located on the Dam Square, and within walking distance of the main shopping streets, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and almost all of the tourist attractions in the city {and if you don’t feel like walking, you can always catch a tram or bus which stop right across the hotel}.

The hotel, which started out as a coffee shop in 1866 and has become the largest hotel in the Netherlands, has been under major renovations over the last few years and became much more attractive thanks to the investment in the design of the hotel lobby, the restaurants and the rooms themselves.

We stayed in the Premium room which was very spacious and designed with a high standard {although you can still feel that it’s a chain and not a boutique hotel}. The room was equipped with everything you would expect to get at a 5-star hotel – a huge and comfortable bed {if there’s such a thing as too comfortable, then this was it 🙂 }, thick and pampering towels, robes and slippers, skin care products, a hair-dryer and of course – a Nespresso machine!

The hotel obviously isn’t cheap – because of the central location and because of the luxurious style, but after a lot of searching we were able to order it at a great price! 🙂

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The local option :

Yays Concierged Boutique Apartments

Since I was in this city many times, and I slept in a hotel, an Airbnb apartment and even a hostel {!} – I knew that this time I would like to experience the city more as a local, and less as a tourist. After all, the best way to get to know the city well is not to visit it, but to live in it!

This time our destiny was Yays Concierged Boutique Apartments – a chain of 3 hotel-apartments with a concierge service located in one of the coolest local areas of the city that you probably won’t find in guidebooks – the Zeeheldenbuurt neighborhood. I’ll explain in detail about the best shopping areas in the neighborhood later 😉

We chose the one located on Zoutkeetsgracht street, a super charming street, full of the city’s history {in the past all the buildings were used as factories for processing and storing salt and today most of them are used as residential buildings}.

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The first sentence that received us when we arrived at the exclusive hotel apartments was – “Welcome to the neighborhood”, and we immediately felt that we made the right choice 🙂

The concierge who welcomed us was nice and friendly and full of important information and tips about the area that can’t be found in any tourist guide of the city. In addition to the concierge service, which is available 24/7, while we did the check-in, we received a small booklet with a map with all the recommendations and addresses of restaurants, bars, stores and other cool things you can do in the neighborhood. In case you prefer – the hotel also has an app that will gather all the information in your cell 🙂 to sum it up – they thought about all of the little details in this apartment hotel, and I love it!

We stayed in an apartment called “One-Bedroom Apartment”, which was larger than a hotel room but still small and cozy and had all of the basic things you can find in a hotel {towels, linen, soaps, toilet paper and free Wi-Fi} and some extra facilities that make your stay in the apartment extra comfortable – washing machine, small fridge, dishwasher, kettle, Nespresso machine and a free bike rental. The only thing I was missing was the view of the canals… after all how can you be in Amsterdam without enjoying this perfect view every morning? The only apartments in the building with views were for four or six guests, and they were more expensive accordingly.

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The Yays apartment-hotel is an excellent option for those who want to enjoy the best of both worlds – staying in a very clean, cool and very equipped apartment, and receiving concierge services and a place to store luggage.

 

SHOP

 

The touristy option :

Who said that you don’t go to Amsterdam to do some shopping? Not me! If you ask the thousands of tourists that pass the two main shopping streets of the city every day, Nieuwendijk street and Kalverstraat street, I'm sure that they’ll agree with me. So it’s true that popular fashion chains like MANGO, PULL & BEAR, ZARA, BERSHKA and others can be found in Israel, but on the main shopping streets of the city you can also shop at Urban Outfitters and Primark which are every Israeli shopaholic’s wet dream… and besides, everyone knows that part of the fun when you’re abroad is the shopping, right?

Worth knowing #1 : End of the season sales in Amsterdam are twice a year – the summer sales start at the end of July and the winter sales start at the end of December {so we still got to enjoy the cheap and great shopping!}.

Worth knowing #2 : When shopping for over 50 euros in the same store or chain, you can get a tax return at the airport. Ask for the relevant form when you get to the cashier and when you get to the airport go to the customs which is next to the EasyJet counters.

Keep in mind that the counter is staffed only during the day and you’ll have to show your shopping there – so keep that in mind when packing. During the night, you can leave the form in an envelope, signed, in the box at the counter.

tips for things to do in amsterdam travel - Hedonistit.com

 

The local option :

If you’re sick of the international chains, or if you also want to buy things that are a bit more special – these alternative shopping streets are perfect for you.

During our previous trip to Amsterdam we were especially excited about the special DE 9 STRAATJES, which is where we rented the Airbnb apartment; This time, thanks to our stay at the Yays apartments, we discovered a new and stunning area!

Haarlemmerdijk street and Haarlemmerstraat street in the Jordaan area are fun and pleasant to walk around and just soak up the atmosphere of the locals in the city, but not only that. Both of these streets are studded with a variety of interesting and beautiful boutique stores that will make fashion and design lovers feel good all over, cozy cafes, restaurants and bars and even the city’s oldest cinema called “The Movies”.

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You should know that on Thursdays the stores on these streets are open until 21:00 (9 PM), so you should try planning a full evening of fun, combining shopping and dinner or an outing to the local pub.

The two shops I liked most in the area and actually think are worth visiting are Six & Sons and Restored. It’s so much fun that each of these also have a website and ship worldwide!

tips for things to do in amsterdam travel - Hedonistit.com

 

EAT

 

The Pancake Bakery – Pancake Restaurant –

This cozy pancake restaurant that is located a short walk from Anne Frank house is known by almost everyone, but it's not a tourist trap. The restaurant which is decorated in a traditional Dutch style, had a special and magical atmosphere from the moment we sat down there. Don’t expect to get a pile of fluffy pancakes, but a local and thin version, reminiscent of a crepe {also in terms of size, so keep in mind that these are sharing dishes and therefore the prices are very reasonable}.

The restaurant's menu includes dozens of types of pancakes, both sweet and savory, in traditional versions like maple or chocolate or more innovative ones like a cheese and ginger pancake or pancakes with different kinds of meat.

The restaurant is open every day from 9:00 AM until 21:30 at night – you shouldn’t miss this! 🙂

 

 

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Foodhallen

As a foodie and a lover of food markets, the Foodhallen in Amsterdam was one of my favorite attractions of this trip to Amsterdam! The market, which is built in an old train station, was renovated in a young and cool way, and is the home of dozens of special food and drink stands – from hamburgers, to seafood, pizzas, traditional Dutch food, a special gin and tonic stand, a stand with beers from around the world and more.

Apart from the fact that it’s an indoor food market {which is an important matter on snowy winter days}, the atmosphere in the market is lively, entertaining and it’s just fun to go between the stands and create your own tasting meal alongside great drinks.

If you don’t like waiting in line you should arrive on weekdays until 18:00 because the evenings and weekends are very busy 🙂

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The Butcher 

The Butcher is a small chain of restaurants specializing in high-quality hamburgers. We were in the small branch near the Albert Cuyp Market and enjoyed excellent hamburgers assembled from fresh ingredients, top-quality meat and not less important, a super fresh bun! We tried both types of French fries – the regular and the sweet potato, and they were both crispy and seasoned perfectly.

By the way, they have a stall in Foodhallen as well 🙂

tips for things to do in amsterdam travel - Hedonistit.com

‪Ter Marsch & Co‬

Ter Marsch & Co is a steakhouse that also serves very tasty hamburgers. In fact, most of the hamburgers on the restaurant's menu won awards in the Netherlands and beyond it 🙂

This also involves hamburger dishes from fresh ingredients and quality meat, crispy and tasty fries and homemade mayonnaise that doesn’t disgrace the Dutch tradition.

tips for things to do in amsterdam travel - Hedonistit.com

Stroopwafel

Anyone who was in Amsterdam came across the traditional stroopwafel cookies – two round pieces of crispy waffles, and in between a thin layer of sweet caramel syrup. They’re everywhere – in supermarkets, souvenir shops, cheese stores and as a topping on hot drinks in many cafes in the city. There’s no doubt that it’s an addicting cookie in any situation, but if you haven’t eaten one prepared on the spot at a stroopwafel market stand in the Albert Cuyp Market – you don’t understand what you’re missing!!

The homemade version which is sold at this stand for decades transcends all store-bought cookies – it’s huge, warm and just perfect.

Just look for the checkered red and white flag when you get to the market 🙂

tips for things to do in amsterdam travel - Hedonistit.com

Bridges Restaurant

Bridges Restaurant is located in the luxurious hotel Sofitel Amsterdam The Grand, which is already a good enough reason to visit it but it’s certainly not the only reason. The restaurant was crowned just a few months after it opened as one of the best restaurants in the Netherlands and received its first Michelin star in 2013 thanks to the meticulous food and great service. The restaurant’s rich menu consists mostly fresh fish and seafood of the highest quality, but you can also find meat and vegetable dishes which are equally excellent. For the full post about this restaurant click here.

tips for things to do in amsterdam travel - Hedonistit.com

ZOET & HARTIG

A small and charming café on the shopping street Haarlemmerdijk, I spoke about earlier. At the front of the café there’s an impressive showcase filled with goods and shelves filled with small and sweet gifts and special houseware items for sale, and at the back of the café are only five tables next to the open kitchen which feels really cozy and homely. Apart from cakes and sweets, the café also serves salty dishes like omelets and sandwiches. I didn’t taste the salty dishes, but I have no doubt that they are equally as good as the sweet ones.

If you love high quality chocolates and big homemade cakes, which not only look good but are also insanely delicious, you have to go there.

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SAL

I already wrote about SAL in my previous post about Amsterdam. Once again, we didn’t skip an insane meal, including no less than two sangrias, two types of ceviche, 4 empanadas, salad, a 3000 gram steaks, cheesecake and amazing dulce de leche cheesecake – and yes, it was just the two of us it’s just that good!ֿ

It’s definitely a must for anyone visiting Amsterdam.

tips for things to do in amsterdam travel - Hedonistit.com

 

SKIP

1. The Heineken Experience – super touristy, and honestly, it wasn’t great at all. Maybe only if you REALLY  love Heineken 🙂

2. The Albert Cuyp Market – for some reason that is unclear to me it’s considered one of the oldest, biggest and popular market in Amsterdam. I was there twice – last time we visited Amsterdam in the summer and once more this time, in the winter, and in both cases I was very disappointed. It’s relatively very small and has a few food stands and a lot of cheap clothing stands. It’s worth going there just to eat at the amazing stroopwafel stand, but don’t plan on being there more than 15 minutes.

3. Madame Tussauds – a super touristy attraction everyone is familiar with. Even if you haven’t been there, I really don’t think it's worth the money… unless you’re very obsessed with celebrities. Besides, there are much better things to do in Amsterdam 🙂

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Know more interesting things to do in Amsterdam? Tell me in the comments 🙂

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10 Responses

  1. Hi,

    Bit late after your post and I really liked it. Coming from Amsterdam but living in London please go once there on the 27 of April (unless thats a sunday then 26 of April), we celebrate Kingsday the whole country is off and on the streets and canals dressed in orange. If you stay around go for a apple pie, the world best apple pie you’ll ever gonna eat, at winkel go early because you have to que!! Amsterdam is pretty but do you know there is a train to Haarlem to avoid even more tourists what makes it even more the dutch feeling or Zaandam to de zaanse schans very very dutch! If you wanna go just pop me a message and will let you know!!

    Amanda

    1. Sounds like I have to visit London again! maybe next year 🙂
      I’ve been to Amsterdam 4 times already and never visited the outskirts of the city.. you make me really wanna do it next time I’m around!!

  2. Great blog. The information shared is awesome. Amsterdam is my uncle’s favorite place. My uncle says that winter time is the best time to go for vacations to Amsterdam. I can’t wait for winters after reading about Amsterdam. Hopefully, soon I’ll be in Amsterdam.

  3. Wow such a colorful blogpost 🙂
    Love non touristic ideas because I also travelled more than once in Amsterdam 🙂 loved everything about this city

  4. Great post! I’m now thinking about checking out YAYs for a stay. What did you think of the location overall? Is it walkable to the center or would we need to use public transportation most places? We enjoy walking and have the NH Centre booked, but YAYs looks intriguing. ?

    1. It’s not central, but I actually like it that it’s far less touristic!
      You can definitely walk if the weather is nice, but it’s good to have the option of public transportation available near the apartment…

  5. This is awesome information!!!! I’m a Canadian Travel Agent and in July of 2021, will be taking a group on Vikings Grand European with a 2 day Pre-stop in Amsterdam.🤗✈️

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