The Ellie & Co team of two recently took a weekend break to Amsterdam for a concert and do a bit of exploring. We ate our body weight in pancakes, drank wine by the canals, and spent most of our time wandering the pretty narrow streets hunting out local treasures and hidden gems. Here are some photos if you’d like to see!
(↑ Hello from me on my Amsterdammer bike…)
I mean, I knew Amsterdam was bike friendly, but I had no idea just how many bikes there would be. There are literally row upon row of bikes everywhere… people cycle to work, to restaurants, to the park, to meetings, to picnics, to go shopping, to do everything… so obviously we joined in.
As a cat person, a trip to KattenKabinet – museum of cats! – was high up on the agenda. It’s set in a beautiful 17th-century merchant’s house by a canal, founded in 1990 by the owner of the property, Bob Meijer, as an act of remembrance for his own departed cat, John Pierpont Morgan.
Meijer and his family still live in the upper floors of the house, with the lower floors dedicated to works of art, some by unknown artists, with others by the greats such as Picasso and Rembrant. Even if you’re not into cats, it’s worth going just to see inside the house.
The collection spills into the garden where you’ll find lots of old advertising posters…
Of course the museum would not be complete without the real thing – Meijer owns five cats which roam around the museum, greet guests and doze on the antique furnishings. We managed to spot two of them.
When I got home, I read about The Catboat a sanctuary for cats on a houseboat, which I’m bookmarking for the next trip. Apparently, you can turn up, give a donation and play with the resident cats for a bit.
Next up was a trip to Amsterdam’s botanical garden, which I’d been intrigued about ever since I read that it opened in 1638 to serve as a herb garden for the city’s doctors and pharmacists. Cool, eh! The palm house is a sight to behold.
The best bit is walking through the greenhouses filled to the sound of birdsong, the temperature designed to mimic different climates depending on the plants growing inside. One of them is so humid you feel like you’re on holiday in the rainforest. The perfect place for escaping the Amsterdam crowds.
One afternoon we found ourselves stumbling on this incredible old cinema in central Dam. Pathé Tuschinski was built in 1921 and is still open for business today. Its spectacular interior mixes Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles and is perfectly preserved from the day it was created, give or take a little TLC.
I couldn’t stop staring up at the ceiling and imagining movie night here in the 1920s. You can turn up each day between 9.30 and 11am and pay 10 euros for an audio tour, or you can just have a walk around the auditorium – even onto the stage and into the boxes – like we did.
Of course, no Ellie & Co style city break would be complete without a little detour along some of the city’s side streets, especially those in Jordaan, filled with all those lovely merchants’ houses you see everywhere in Amsterdam you can’t help imagining yourself living in.
Loved this mini library outside one home…
As I walked around, I couldn’t help thinking that Amsterdam felt much smaller (in a good way) than I had expected; the narrow streets with townhouses are beautiful. And there are so many canals – more than Venice! (Side note: did you know that the canals freeze over in winter and you can go ice-skating on them?) I loved walking along them looking at the houseboats and imagining what it would be like to live on one, or even just stay on one.
Until I get to do this, I went to the Houseboat Museum for a snoop around one and get the feel for what it would be like to live on one. I loved the cosy 1970s interior.
One funny thing about Amsterdam are the public toilets – metal structures peppered around town – which the men can use even though passersby can see their feet and faces. Obviously Dan had to investigate… handy, he says.
When it came to eating, we had breakfast in our hotel, and had a couple of favourite spots for dinner including this one, tHuis Aan de Amstel. It’s a little way out of the city centre, but made a great bike trip and is worth it for the food, the rose wine, the setting on the canal, the sunset view, the design – everything. We liked it so much, we ate dinner here twice.
It’s housed in an old family home from the 1960s which was once neglected but has been restored. There’s a big terrace outside for sunny days and evenings. Inside it feels more like a luxurious living room than a restaurant and is a maze of dining rooms inside spread across FOUR FLOORS furnished in thrift-store finds… obviously I went to investigate.
Almost forgot the most important part – the food. I could never make it as a food blogger as I usually start eating before I remember to take a picture, but this time the food was so pretty I needed no reminder.
Another favourite spot was a little cafe-bar on the water called t’Smalle, where people in boats pull up and jump off a pre-dinner drink. And giant plates of cocktail snacks.
One evening, when we weren’t too full of cocktail snacks, we explored the Red Light District, and walking over Stoofsteeg bridge we came across an entire group of swans!
When it came to shopping, I loved this fantastic place called De Emaillekeizer. It started out selling enamel ware, like house numbers and name boards, teapots, plates, jugs, cook pots, but sells so many other curiosities such as West African handicrafts like rainbow baskets, beautiful beads, mats and bags.
Coincidentally, I also found out that it imports its lovely wares and stocks one of my favourite Brighton stores, Blackout Shop – ironically the most colourful shop in Brighton and the kitschiest shop in the world.
Then there was this shop, De Weldaad, I struggled to prise myself away from. I could have gone totally nuts in this shop if I had a home in Amsterdam – it stocked everything from blankets and cushions to old Indian front doors and the odd vintage haberdashery trolley!
Perhaps the most random shopping experience on our Amsterdam trip – if not anywhere I’ve ever been – was at Flesch Records.
The place to come for all your vinyl needs, and where owner Herman Verkoop, always dressed in traditional Volendam costume, also sells fabulous old record players, valve amps and radios – as well as fruit and vegetables. Herman was dressed casually on our visit, perhaps the lederhosen was in the wash, but he wouldn’t let me take a photo of him. Ah well, we bought some apples anyway. *Clogs display only.*
Oh, I almost forgot our hotel. I love staying in hotels in old restored buildings and had my eye on Volkshotel set in a former 1960s newspaper HQ, but it was full for our dates, so we ended up at Hotel Arena set in a former orphanage, which was super stylish and located in East Amsterdam – by a canal of course! – an area offering a nice escape from the craziness of the central part of the city. It faced a big leafy park and wasn’t far from a good cafe and a cool local bar.
Next time though, I’d like to stay on a houseboat. There are so many to choose from on great spots lining the canals, some quirky, others sleek and modern. It would make for a fun trip. Here are some to browse on AirBnB, here.
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed following along on our trip. Until next time Amsterdam!
Our Amsterdam address book
Kattenkabinett, Herengracht 497
De Hortus, Plantage Middenlaan 2A
Pathe Tuschinski cinema, Reguliersbreestraat 26-34 1017CN
Houseboat Museum Amsterdam, Prinsengracht 296 K
tHuis aan de Amstel, korte Ouderkerkerdijk 45
Cafe t-smalle, Egelantiersgracht 12
De Emaillekeizer, 1e Sweelinckstraat 15
De Weldaad, Noordermarkt 35-36
Flesch Records, Noorderkerkstraat 16
Hotel Arena, ‘s-Gravesandestraat 55
Coffee Bru Espresso Bar, Beukenplein 14
Bar Bukowski, Ooesterpark 10