It was a lovely morning in June, I was sitting at my kitchen table sipping on my gross but supposedly very healthy green juice, when I decided I wanted a change of scenery. So, I hit up my friend Pedja who studies in the Netherlands and reminded him that long ago he had mentioned I should come and visit. After he excitedly told me I would be more than welcome, I booked my flight and in a couple of days found myself in beautiful, picturesque Holland. My home for the time being was Utrecht, 20 mins by train from Amsterdam. I quickly realized that pretty much every major city is relatively quick to get to and easily accessible by a greatly functional railway system (kudos to you Netherlands).
(PSA: Unfortunately I lost a number of my own photos.. I really wish I could’ve shared them with you. The one’s I’ve found online will be credited of course.)
I arrived late on a Thursday and ended up having a super fun night catching up with Pedja while trying a couple of different Dutch beers. Next morning we took our bikes to the city centre where I got the best tour of the town. We visited Domkerk, aka St Martin’s Cathedral, that has a stunning garden/courtyard decorated in gothic style (that’s a lot of gargoyles staring down at you and the roses). Across the street is Domtoren, the church’s bell tower that was actually ringing (playing??) pop songs such as Sia’s Titanium.. Super weird, but fun to guess what Top 40 tune you’re hearing. Right through Domtoren is a passageway that leads to the main canal and shopping area. This is where you truly start to see Utrecht’s beauty. The gorgeous city has a number of hip cafes and restaurants to choose from and making a decision was tough, but, it was made.
Here’s my rundown:
Meneer Smakers Burgerbar
If you’re in the mood for burgers, Meneer Smakers is the place to hit up. I ordered the Mr Smakers, a 100% beef burger with grilled peppers, eggplant, cheese, and secret sauce. It was phenomenal. The meat was perfectly grilled, the bun slightly toasted, and the veggies on top complimented the aged cheese so well. On the menu you can also find lamb burgers, grilled chicken breast, salmon patties, as well as a variety of vegetarian and vegan burgers that really earns them the name Burgerbar.
This is a chain of restaurants you can find throughout the Netherlands however that doesn’t mean they make mediocre food. Treat yourself to a healthy lunch with a delicious quinoa and grilled salmon salad and avocado based juice. Add to that super friendly waitstaff that you might end up adding on Facebook, and you will not leave disappointed.
De Keuken van KEEK
Craving a scone? Pie, pastries, or cakes? Maybe a coffee to go with your sweets? De Keuken van Keek a quaint little organic bakery on the Oudegracht canal has it all. They also sell beautifully packaged cookies, biscuits, and granola for you to enjoy at home.
Blackbird Coffee and Vintage
Blackbird Coffee and Vintage is just what it’s name says – a cafe and vintage shop in one, or in other words – hipster heaven. This concept store is a great place for a chill coffee sesh with your friends where you can also buy the comfy chair you’re sitting on, or, any of the restored bikes they have in their cellar.
Utrecht is also home to some pretty cool vintage shops and specialty stores that you can find alongside the main canal – Oudegracht. I walked into a secondhand store that had an insane number of Levis denim jackets. If I was into thrifting this would’ve been heaven for me.
Another charming street you shouldn’t skip taking a stroll down is Twijnstraat. Here I stumbled upon Kazerij Stanelhoef, a gourmet cheese shop. Everywhere I looked I saw bright yellow and orange wheels of milky goodness and I couldn’t wait to try as many as I could. Luckily, the saleswoman was super nice and was very generous with her samples. If airlines didn’t have weight limits on their bags, I would’ve brought home 10 kilos with me instead of just 1…
The weekend was dedicated to Amsterdam. Now, I did love it here, don’t get me wrong, Amsterdam is stunning, but the city was filled to the brim with tourists. So if you’re like me and it’s important for you to get a more authentic experience of what life in that foreign country is like, then Amsterdam isn’t really the city for that. Utrecht on the other hand was so much warmer and welcoming with its homey atmosphere and friendly small town vibes. Still, I had a wonderful and memorable time in Amsterdam. The city is full of history and is buzzing with activity. It doesn’t seem like there’s ever a dull moment there.
My first day there and I was lucky enough to meet up with Pedja’s friends who go to Amsterdam University College and whose dorms were having a festival! It was so much fun, so well-organized I can’t even compare it to any events at school in the States. Students here have so much more freedom and are actually trusted by their college and professors. It was very refreshing and a good way to see how the Dutch party.
Dormfest had two stages and a very talented lineup of student performers, bands, and DJs that were playing music for everyone’s taste. You had stands where people were mixing cocktails, making vegetarian snacks, selling beer they brewed themselves… It was such a cool experience altogether but it made me crave a more relaxed Sunday filled with quiet museums.
Where to get cultured:
Museumplein is a must destination when coming to Amsterdam. This is where many of the cities main museums are located, and the spot where you can take a pic in front of the famous ‘I amsterdam’ sign. Also known as the Art Square, this vast green lawn right in front of the Rijks Museum is home to a lovely market where artists, photographers, jewelers, fashion designers, and the like, feature their work and products. As any real market, this one too has a great number of food trucks with some very attractive looking (and smelling) food.
Rijksmuseum – This architectural masterpiece is home to a large collection of Dutch art and historical artifacts dating back from the Middle Ages to present day. Each side of the museum has a gorgeous atrium full of natural light that reflects off of the marble floors. It really reminded me of the Metropolitan Museum in that way. The rest of the building however it truly it’s own. The second floor where you can find art from the 1600 – 1700 was my favourite. In this gallery you can see the famous Milkmaid by Vermeer, as well as the great Night Watch by Rembrandt. It’s incredible how many details you can actually notice as you stand in front of the towering painting. I sadly didn’t have enough time to see the entire museum (which I regret), but I enjoyed every corner of it.
Stedelijk Museum – I’m a person who can appreciate modern art, of course, but the selections at Stedelijk were simply too strange for me. I sadly didn’t get much emotion from the works I was seeing. But, as we know, art is subjective and one thing I didn’t like somebody will probably love.
I did however really enjoy the section of the museum dedicated to interior design and furniture making. I loved seeing the iconic Barcelona and Wassily chair in a museum, as well as a number of lamps, tables, plates, and silverware, all timeless pieces that I would to this day have in my apartment. I also have to mention the very modern design of the building that resembles a bathtub. You would think that’d be strange, but, actually, it works. Stedelijk also has a very cool gift shop/bookstore that is definitely worth browsing.
Van Gogh Museum – Vincent Van Gogh is one of my favourite artists. I love how much his style had actually changed over time and how much he experimented with techniques and paints. Although the museum was full and I was getting slightly crushed at times by the number of people there (Ok, I might be exaggerating), I was still able to fully enjoy some breathtaking art and learn so much about Van Gogh. I wasn’t aware he had such a strong bond with his brother Theo. This is well documented through hundreds of letters you can even listen to being read aloud which makes for a chilling and touching experience.
Anne Frank Museum – The walk to this iconic house is truly lovely as you get to stroll alongside some cute houses and cross some lovely canals. However, it is impossible to get in unless you’ve already scheduled a time well in advance. I was surprised to see how modern the house had actually become and how much a tourist trap it sadly is with a big cafe and giftshop on the corner. However, I’m sure the inside is a different experience.
Where to Eat:
Pluk is a charming busy little place in 9 Straatjes that is known as the destination for delicious healthy food. On their menu they have a selection of sandwiches, avo toast, salads, fresh juices and smoothies. While you wait for a table you can browse their homeware section downstairs and find some lovely mugs, kitchen towels, and pastel vases. On the counter next to the some baked goods that will make your mouth water, they also sell cute handcrafted cards with positive messages such as ‘throw kindness around like confetti’ or ‘goal digger’.
Bakers and Roasters
This is a cute and colourful New Zealand style cafe with some Brazilian influence. Known for their breakfast food, Bakers and Roasters is the perfect spot for brunch. You have an extensive list of egg dishes to choose from, or if you’re craving something sweet you can enjoy berry pancakes, french toast, or a delicious and refreshing granola topped acai bowl. That one definitely made my day!
Honorable mentions aka places I wanted to check out but didn’t have the time:
Thrill Grill, De Wasserette, Sotto Pizza, Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters
Where to Shop:
9 Straatjes – Located in the canal belt, these 9 picturesque streets offer a charming mixture of designer boutiques, art galleries, antique shops, vintage clothing stores, hidden cafes, but also hotspot restaurants. This is an ideal neighbourhood to get to know Amsterdam away from all the tourist spots.
Magna Plaza – Another monumental building in Amsterdam, once the main Post Office, Magna Plaza is now a shopping centre with upscale and budget friendly brands. It’s located near the Dam, one of the city’s biggest squares, that is surrounded by the Royal Palace, The National Monument, and Madame Tussauds interestingly. Die Neue Kerk (The New Church) is also on the Dam and is currently hosting an exhibition for the World Press Photo 16.
Kalverstraat – The main shopping street where you can probably find any brand you can think of. It is home to Topshop, Zara, River Island, Forever 21, Bershka, Pull & Bear, Mango, etc. On your way down the street you will run into Amsterdam Museum and it’s adorable alleyway passages.
Utrecht and Amsterdam are amazing cities and The Netherlands is an amazing country. I had the most wonderful time here and had met some fantastic people. I would like to thank my hosts for making my trip truly special.
I hope that you, my readers, have enjoyed my very long trip recap, and I hope I have sparked desire in you for a trip of your own. Of course, if you do visit, I hope my recommendations come in handy.