Work was sending me to Amsterdam for a few days, so rather than just seeing a business hotel on the outskirts I extended it by turning up early and having a look around a few places. This was my first visit to the country but I plan to come back, so I treated it more as a taster rather than trying to see anything in-depth.
- 10th to 12th September 2022. Arriving Saturday afternoon and joining a work event late on Monday afternoon.
- I spent Saturday in Leiden, Sunday in Amsterdam, and Monday in Haarlem/Amsterdam. A slightly busy trip, but it was fine for a few days before hanging around in a hotel conference room.
- The weather was on my side with sunny/cloudy weather in the low 20s. Ideal for exploring.
Choice of where to stay:
- Accommodation in Amsterdam is stupidly expensive (and I say that as some who lives in Switzerland) so I looked for cheaper accommodation elsewhere. Utrecht, Haarlem, and Leiden are among the suggestions I have seen before. I found the best options in Leiden so went with that. As a bonus Leiden is only 15 minutes by train from Schiphol (I spent more time walking from my gate to the airport exit than actually on the train) and has direct trains to a number of places.
- Leiden to Amsterdam is 35-40 minutes and costs 20 Euros for a return. Not ideal if you want to spend everyday for a week in Amsterdam, but it suited my needs for a short weekend well.
- The frequency of trains is amazing. There was a train wherever I wanted to go pretty much every 10-15 minutes. Normally this is something you just see within big cities and their suburbs. I just turned up and always found a train leaving within 5 minutes.
- Commuting about by train offered some more views of the countryside which was nice (if freakishly flat). Seeing distant church spires and windmills was worth the extra faff.
- The only two things I disliked about the country were that the canal side is given over to parking rather than pedestrians, and the number of reckless mopeds using the bike lanes and pavements.
- The security line at Schiphol airport was still a mess after the summer of travel chaos. We arrived at 7am on a Friday and it took us 1.5 hours to get through to the departure lounge. A colleague who turned up later had closer to 3 hours and had to sweet talk his way forward to make his flight.
- English is spoken everywhere. I always ask rather than jumping straight in, but swear I got looks of ‘of course why did you even bother asking?’. Written Dutch looks like English and (slightly archaic) German had a car crash, so that I could follow at least (especially with the mental flexibility that Swiss German teaches you). Turning the TV on everything was in the original language with Dutch subtitles, which probably goes quite some way to explaining why the Dutch speak such good English.
- I have gotten too used to Swiss cafes/bakeries where you can probably find a coffee and breakfast at 6am. There were not many such options in the Netherlands, especially on a Sunday. Searching for a coffee shop on Google turned out to be rather ineffective for obvious reasons.
- When the cafes do open they do a damn good cappuccino. Especially compared to the bland variation that you usually get in the German part of Switzerland.
Leiden is lovely. It offers all the Dutch clichés of canals, little brick houses, and windmills. I highly recommend a visit if you are in the region.
I was especially fond of the alleys and canals around the St Peters Kerk in the south east of the old town area. Most of the old town is worth walking around and I didn’t manage to cover it all.
It isn’t super famous, but I have heard it suggested a few times. It is a major student city so it is filled with young people and felt very lively. There didn’t seem to be much tourist infrastructure (no weed museums etc.) and whilst I heard a fair bit of English on the streets it looked like the people speaking it were mostly students rather than camera wielding tourists.
I stayed at the City Hotel Rembrandt, which at 283 Euros for 2 nights was still not exactly cheap, but offered much more than the same price would have gotten me in Amsterdam. It was central and had a bloody great windmill pretty much right outside the front door.
I took the train to Amsterdam (40 mins) and just spent a day walking around. I didn’t bother with any proper attractions like the museums. I spent the day doing a slow counter clockwise loop of the city around the canal district, past the Anne Frank House, to the red light district and then back to the station.
I had been fearing that I would dislike Amsterdam as being a touristy hell hole. Especially after an afternoon wandering around Leiden the previous day. Thankfully it wasn’t that bad. Certainly it isn’t as charming as Leiden, and there are far more shops dedicated to cannabis related tack than any city should have. But mostly it was fine and away from the central island and red light district it was pretty quiet.
This was a Sunday so it was fairly quiet in general. The morning was filled with the rattle of roller cases from Stag dos heading home. The red light district is unsurprisingly rather quiet and not all that raunchy early on a Sunday afternoon.
I arrived at around 9am and headed for the canal district assuming it would have a few nice cafes. There weren’t all that many (and most didn’t open until later in the morning) in the end I came across the Cocoette which did good food and coffee in a rather pretty little building.
I ended up near the red light district in the early afternoon trying to find something to eat other than the endless fast food and Argentinian steakhouse options I looked at my map and saw Van Kerkwijk on a quiet looking side street and figured it would be a more interesting option. This was a really good choice, it was a lovely little relaxed family run Dutch restaurant with good food and reasonable prices. I don’t normally go on about restaurants – but the fact that this existed hidden away in a sea of bland tourist options was amazing.
I returned twice times with work during the week:
- Firstly for a dinner boat tour. Watching Amsterdam float past whilst you have access to an endless open bar is a rather nice way to spend an evening. Especially as we had a very spacious boat, the general tourist boats we went past seemed to be packed to bursting point. Amusingly the food was prepared in a fixed restaurant so during the meal we did laps of the block so that the captain could pull in and load the next course.
- Another walk around on Thursday evening was very different from my first visit. At night the red light district was crowded to the point of feeling like a theme park queue at times.
I needed to transfer to Amsterdam by the end of the day, so I took a direct train from Leiden to Haarlem (20mins), had a walk around, and then carried on with a direct train to Amsterdam (15mins).
Haarlem is MUCH smaller than Leiden and especially Amsterdam. It is still very pretty and has a bit of a different feel with far less water. Despite only being 15 minutes from Amsterdam Central there hardly seemed to be any other visitors.
Monday is a quiet day in Haarlem. The shops don’t open until midday on Monday, so most of the population apparently spends the morning sat in cafes drinking cappuccino
The one actual paid activity I did was to go into the St. Bavokerk church in the main square (3 Euro entry). This was an impressive building, but by far my favourite part was that the biggest and most prominent memorial was dedicated to a pair of hydraulic engineers.