Illinois Tourism & Travel

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What to See, Eat, and Do in Amsterdam

“Your country—it used to be better, but now I think it’s not so good,” said my Uber driver—politely, of course—as we zipped from the Hortus Botanicus over to the IJ River. I was in Amsterdam with my mom just a week after the leaked draft of the SCOTUS decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade hit everyone’s newsfeeds. Our trip had long been in the works (or, you know, whatever that means in Pandemic Times) and yet it came at a moment when I felt especially ready for some physical distance, and perspective, between me and America.

I had prompted my driver for his thoughts after spending the first half of our ride commenting on how damn clean his city was—I hadn’t spotted a single speck of litter, and the sidewalks lining every canal were covered with blooming potted plants and colorful rose bushes that crawled up painted brick facades. Oh, and there was hardly any traffic. No snarls of honking cars or plumes of sooty exhaust. Everyone, truly everyone, zoomed around on bikes.

So yes, I was feeling pretty charmed by Amsterdam that afternoon in the car. Which might come as a surprise to those of you who visited the city during your semester abroad and spent a hazy weekend getting stoned in the Red Light District and subsisting on a diet of French fries with mayo and Amstel Lights. If that’s your impression of Amsterdam, you’ve gotta go back now that you’re in your classy adult era. There are amazing restaurants, fabulous museums, and gorgeous things to look at around every corner. Bonus points if you go with your mom, though I can’t promise she won’t point out every handsome man she sees (the thing is…there are just so many of ‘em).

Here’s how to make the most of a mother-daughter trip to Amsterdam.


Full disclosure: The editor received a partially comped stay, a few meals, and activities while researching this trip.


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Where You’re Staying

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That would be the Pulitzer, and I’m taking no further questions at this time. If you look up the word “chic” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure you’ll find a pic of this hotel. Located on the Prinsengracht canal in the elegant Nine Streets neighborhood, the Pulitzer—an intricate labyrinth of 25 17th and 18th century canal houses—is both luxurious and hip. Considered to be Amsterdam’s oldest five-star hotel, it oozes historical charm (the courtyard garden will make you drool), but the permanent art collection delivers a hefty dose of cool.

Let’s talk about the art collection for a sec. First of all, it’s super eclectic. Nearly every inch of wall space in the serpentine hallways is devoted to something quirky and colorful. I’m told that in the Art Collector’s Suite hangs the renowned painting “Hals Brunch” by Thierry Brut. At six meters long (that’s nearly 20 feet, dear Americans), it’s said to bear a striking resemblance to “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci—but upon closer inspection, you’ll see that Brut included fixtures of modern life, like laptops, hamburgers, and cans of beer. Cheeky.

View of the hotel from across the canal

Sander Baks

My mom and I stayed in one of their “generous” rooms, which was probably the most spacious hotel room I’ve stayed in…ever? The ceilings were high, we had two massive windows overlooking the central garden that let in lots of natural light, and plenty of floor space so we could move about without fear of constantly tripping over each other’s suitcases. I have a thing for hotel bathrooms and this one did not disappoint—decked out in white marble, our loo also nailed that hard-to-do combo of elegance and modern design.

Also important: The endless supply of stroopwafel waiting for you after every turn-down service (keep on scrolling for a visual—basically you can’t leave Amsterdam without trying and Instagramming them).

I guess this comes with the territory, being the hospitality biz and whatnot, but everyone I encountered at the Pulitzer was exceptionally warm and welcoming. Against all odds, the concierge helped us push back a dinner reservation at a “beloved” (his words) restaurant at the last minute, and was always available to advise us on our itinerary. The staff at Jansz. (their light and airy restaurant) and Pulitzer’s Bar (the cozy glam cocktail spot) made us feel comfy and right at home (and, you know, full of martinis). Zero White Lotus vibes, whatsoever.

Last thing I’ll say about the Pulitzer lest you accuse me of gushing: It’s perfectly positioned so that you can walk ev-er-y-where. From our hotel, we walked to the Anne Frank House (5 minutes), the Rijksmuseum (20 minutes), Dam Square (10 minutes), and all over the cute streets of the Jordaan neighborhood. When we needed to travel farther afield, the concierge team was always around to hail us a cab, which would show up in less than 10 minutes.

Book a room

art collectors suite

Sander Baks

pulitzer amsterdam

Sander Baks

What You’re Seeing and Doing

  • I will be upset if you don’t make time for live music at Bimhuis. The massive concert hall is located right on the IJ river, and before you even step inside, the architecture and views will take your breath away. They have upwards of 150 shows a year, and you can search by genre on their website to find what you like. We saw the Harold López-Nussa trio, a Cuban master pianist who plays with his younger brother on drums, and it was phenomenal.
  • Touring the Anne Frank House is just as moving as you’d expect. Make sure to book your tickets ahead of time (I overheard one unhappy tourist announce to his travel companion that they were sold out for the entire month) and pick up an audio guide—it’s free.
  • Spend a morning wandering around the Rijksmuseum, and make sure to leave time for the gardens that ring the building. Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” is probably the most famous piece in the collection (you’ll know you’ve found it by the throngs of groups circled around the massive work) but I also recommend finding Willem Claesz Heda’s “Still Life With a Gilt Cup” in the grand central gallery, but only after you’ve read this story from the New York Times. (Yes, please call me Professor Heyman because I’m giving you assigned reading now.)
  • The Van Gogh Museum is an absolute must, and depending on your stamina, you could do it on the same day you visit the Rijksmuseum, since they’re right next door to one another. The collection is wildly impressive and beautiful, but hell is other people taking photos of every painting with their iPhones.
    tulips

    Street market tulips

    Rosa Heyman

    strawberries

    Strawberry szn

    Rosa Heyman

    • Please allow me to rec one more museum, Our Lord in the Attic. Truthfully, it doesn’t really feel like a museum at all, and that’s because it’s actually a 17th century canal house where one enterprising fellow (aka a wealthy merchant) built a Catholic Church in his attic. At the time, the Protestant city government had outlawed practicing Catholicism in public spaces.
    • You can’t not stroll through a street market while in Amsterdam. They’re prime places for fresh stroopwafel (I’m talking *hot off the griddle*), people-watching, and buying fun little trinkets you probably don’t need. Albert Cuyp Market in the De Pijp neighborhood scratched the itch for us.

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      • I hope this goes without saying but you’re going on a canal boat ride. There are loads of options—you’ll be able to name them all after a few hours in the city—but we did a happy hour cruise with Friendship Amsterdam and it was lovely.
          • My lil green-thumbs must visit the Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. Sunny and peaceful, it’s a lovely place to sip a coffee and commune with nature without ever leaving the city proper.
            hortus botanicus in amsterdam

            The Hortus Botanicus

            Rosa Heyman

          • Lighthouse Island! I will use an exclamation point because this was a major trip highlight. The gist is you hop on a ferry by the Lloyd Hotel, enjoy a tasty picnic and drinks during a ~45-minute ride through the bay, and then dock on a tiny island for an amazing meal served either in a bunker or a glass greenhouse, depending on the season. I got the impression that it was a Dutch “special occasion” activity—my mom and I were the only Americans—in part due to the fact that we struck up a conversation with a nice couple from the Hague who had purchased tickets years ago. Yes, the pandemic had caused the bulk of their delay, but the only way you’ll nab a seat is if you book tickets at least three months in advance.
            lighthouse island

            Lighthouse Island

            Rosa Heyman

            lighthouse island

            Also Lighthouse Island

            Rosa Heyman

            Where You’re Eating

            I didn’t really know what to expect from Dutch cuisine before I arrived. My mom kept on talking about this pub snack called “bitterballen” that involved deep-frying meatballs, and I had read that it was tradition to dip fries in “pindasaus,” a satay sauce that sounded a whole lot like peanut butter to me. My cholesterol and I braced for impact…

            …And then I had some of the loveliest, freshest, most vegetable-forward-iest meals. Here’s a hit-list of the best restaurants we visited in Amsterdam:

            • BUFFET van Odette Filled with stylish Dutch people and funky art, this is my ideal kind of restaurant. Their menu changes season to season, but we had the house-made focaccia, ravioli with ricotta, lemon, and chard, the lamb shoulder, and my favorite, lemony white beans with red rice. Very much felt like a spot that Alison Roman would approve of. Sit inside for vibes, or outside for canal views.
            • Restaurant de Kas This was that “beloved” restaurant I mentioned earlier. Their whole thing is “harvested in the morning, on your plate in the afternoon,” and it shows. The restaurant operates inside a greenhouse-like structure—picture lots of plants, soaring ceilings, and loads of natural light—which sits on the edge of a park in Oost. We had “Dutch Negronis” and then the five-course vegetable-heavy tasting menu. Very lovely.
            • OCCO at the Dylan Hotel Have you ever thought to yourself “I’d be really into high tea…if it was…wine?!” OCCO at the Dylan heard your prayers, and put together a super chic wine-tasting and amuse-style bites menu to be enjoyed in their beautiful courtyard. If you want to feel luxe for an afternoon, make a reservation.
            • Jansz at the Pulitzer The Pulitzer’s restaurant appeared to attract a crowd that extended beyond just hotel guests. Credit for that might go to the airy interior and the elegantly modern Dutch menu, or specifically, the peanut butter sundae. Honestly, my money’s on the sundae.

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              If you’re looking to grab a quick bite, I’d also recommend any of these casual spots: Cafe t’Smalle near the Anne Frank House, Cafe Luxembourg in Het Spui, and Restaurant Café von Puffelen for your bitterballen experience. Also, you have to stop in at least one “brown cafe” (named so because of the tobacco stains that have permanently altered the color of the wall) for a beer while you’re there—these spots are apparently where locals go whenever they’re in the mood for a casual drink.

              Random (but very important) tip

              Watch out for bikers! I collided with a biker in the first 30 minutes of my trip. Look both ways, and then look both ways again. They won’t stop or slow down for you.

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