Local living: 48-hours in Amsterdam
By Yanar Alkayat
As a traveller there’s nothing quite as good as exploring a city as a local – hanging out in districts away from bad steakhouses and dawdling tourists and discovering hidden gems only those in the know talk about. So when I had 48-hours in Amsterdam with a friend for a relaxed weekend getaway, it was only the really authentic hotspots that made it on our to-do list.
First stop after landing was citizenM hotel Amsterdam on Prinses Irenestraat located in the borough of Amsterdam-Zuid just opposite the lovely Beatrixpark – one of the city’s most beautiful green spaces. This trendy international hotel has two locations in Amsterdam – one at Schiphol Airport (a great spot if you have time to kill before or after a flight and need to catch up on work/sleep/food/drink – delete as appropriate) and our bunk for the weekend, on the southern tip of town.
CitizenM is designed with the modern traveller in mind – there is no formal concierge desk, but a speedy self check-in station instead, with staff on hand to help if you get stuck. There’s a buzzing 24-hour bar and food area where guests can hang out and a large lounge, filled with an eclectic array of design furniture and cultural novelties, drenched in natural light to relax, eat or work in. There’s a noticeable laid-back vibe, partly thanks to the fluid design of the hotel allowing you to come and go as you please.
The rooms are compact and cleverly designed. The bed is famously slotted into the whole width of the room from wall to wall giving you maximum space to sleep. The toilet and shower are comically stationed inside cylinder doors making it look like you’re on a podium. While there’s frosted glass from the inside of the loo and shower, you can see straight through from the outside so if you’re staying the night with someone we just hope you know them very well! And if you don’t, you soon will…
48-hours in Amsterdam
The hotel is less than 20-minutes walk from the popular east-end district of de Pijp where side streets lead onto more pretty streets with places to eat, drink and do. If you are in town for a few days, it’s worth picking up an Iamsterdam card which gets you on the bus, tram and metro for free and includes entry into many attractions and museums in the city as well as a complimentary canal cruise (a must – even if you’re not being a tourist this weekend). There’s a mix of people, cultures and cuisine so it’s easy to spend hours or days exploring every nook and cranny. Every corner has a cute boutique or spot to sit alfresco (something the Dutch do very well – even in winter), as well as yoga studios and juice bars dotted here and there. The Cold Pressed Juicery on 9streets (there’s also a flagship store on the Willemsparkweg 8) is a good spot to wake yourself up, with cold pressed juices, superfood smoothies, power shots and plant-based raw foods in a super stylish setting. I recommend The Sinner, a nut-caramel-coconut concoction smoothie, which was utterly irresistible!
Come evening, de Pijp area transforms into a lively district to wine and dine with people spilling out onto streets in front of bars and cafes. Be warned though, later into the night bars get so crowded inside it’s a crushing, shoulder to shoulder battle to get to the bar. But it can work in your favour if you pick up a new friend or two as we did. Thanks to a little networking we found ourselves on the guest list of The Butcher on Albert Cuypstraat, a burger joint by day and top secret bar tucked away at the back behind closed doors. Be warned, if your name’s not on the list you’re not going in so booking in advance is essential.
Whether you decide to head east or west from the city centre there’s an abundance of foodie choices, all of fairly high quality. As a vegan I was on the hunt for places that can cater for dietary requirements. Across Europe this can sometimes be tricky but Amsterdam had us spoiled for choice. Those with less specific food requirements will have no trouble at all. By chance, we found Wijnbar Boelen & Boelen, a fabulous French-inspired wine bar and restaurant in de Pijp which is often featured in Amsterdam’s best wine bars to visit. Even though it had nothing suitable on the menu for me, the chef was kind enough to create something bespoke which always gets my thumbs up, especially when it’s as delicious as this was.
For weekend brunch we used our trusty Iamsterdam card and took a tram to Mook Pancakes, which seemed to be a popular place to meet friends and indulge. The menu would put any pancake fan into a state of overexcited hyperventilation with gluten free and vegan options to keep fussy friends happy too. The backdrop of white walls, tumbling green plants and an open kitchen also ticks the style box and offers a firm reminder of Amsterdam’s cool vibe. If you’re after something less sweet, try Pho91 on Albert Cuypmarkt. This independent Vietnamese cafe features known classics with a modern twist using fresh and locally sourced ingredients (quite often from the market outside its doors).
Shopping for treasures
Using our trusty Iamsterdam card again, we managed to visit a string of vintage shops around the city and found a treasure trove in each. Our favourite was Marbles Vintage & Design on Staalstraat where there are gems from every era as well as a large selection of handbags and coats.
If you are in town for a first time visit, of course Amsterdam has so much to offer tourists. Choose from the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House to the Hash, Marihuana Hemp Museum and Venustempel (the world’s first and oldest sex museum). For us, this time it was nice to ditch the guidebook and explore the city as a local. For food, drink and unique finds, you’ll find even more to see and do each time you visit.