Amsterdam might be renowned for its seedy side, but the locals are too busy enjoying its cute wine bars and canal-side boutiques to notice. SheSaid Editor Julia Blanter lived there for four months and shares her favourite winter hangout spots.
Australians have a fascination with Northern winters, and a great many of us flock to Europe towards the end of the year to experience ‘a proper Christmas’. Some choose London and the never-ending lights of Oxford Street, or Germany for its Nutcracker-like Christkindlmarkt, or Christmas markets.
In between is Amsterdam, which morphs from a small European city into a big European village under the velvet hues of winter, with cycling paths and wobbly lanes linking you from one cosy cafe or canal to another. The giant Christmas tree overshadows the Royal Palace and if you’re lucky, a light sprinkling of snow will festoon the city with that fairytale-come-to-life magic. Of course, visit Anne Frank’s house (there’s no point telling you to get there early, the lines are always long) and please spend a morning ogling the Van Goghs. But then grab a mulled wine and an oliebollen, a hole-less donut that’s sold fresh and hot at fairs and markets, and lose yourself in this Dutch winter wonderland.
You may not be able to rattle off a famous Dutch dish (cheese does not count) and you’re probably not wearing a Dutch designer (although you do know Viktor & Rolf), but that just means there’s less things to ‘tick off’ and more for you to explore and make your own. Here are some of my favourites to start you off:
The Nine Streets house local designers, like Marlies Dekkers’ saucy lingerie and Dutchies’ limited edition, red velvet-lined leather handbags. Visit the area in the late afternoon: with the streets decked out in lights, the sparkles bounce off the Prinsengracht canal, and if you’re there close to Christmas, you’ll be swamped by locals carrying their Christmas trees home on the back of their bikes.
The Taart van m’n Tante
The colours and creations of this cake shop (“My Aunty’s Cake”) are straight out of Alice in Wonderland. A popular stop to warm up before rambling around the cute-as-pie De Pijp neighbourhood: it’s all about hot chocolate with huge wedges of cake here. I recommend choosing everything met slagroom – with whipped cream.
The moveable feast that is the Albert Cuyp market offers you and your grumbly stomach two options: stock up on picnic fare (immaculate cheese, salamis, olives and fresh breads) and brave the cold at the glorious Vondelpark, or enjoy the authentic Turkish fare at Bazar. It’s as delicious as the restaurant is stunning to look at.
Nothing warms you up like a cornet of freshly-cooked fries. Frites are an institution in Holland, and like coffee to Australians, everyone has their favourite place to recommend. While my absolute favourite is a 20-minute train ride away in Haarlem (and a lovely day trip that is), I join the line to get my frites fix at Vlaamse Fritshuis. Take your pick of sauces – I love Dutch mayonnaise but ‘war sauce’ always makes me laugh as it’s mayonnaise and satay sauce combined and looks like a mess!
Apologies to all chocolatiers: Puccini Bomboni make the best chocolate in the world, hands down. Plump fresh chocolate truffles line the counter and are worth the splurge.
You’ll see these cute little vishandels here and there, little fish huts specialising in herring and fried fish. They’re the perfect stop when you’re feeling peckish: a euro or two gets you a haring broodje, or bun with slices of herring, onion and pickle, or a serving of kibbeling, chunks of fried cod, or the best fish (minus chips) you’ve ever had.
The Nieumarkt area is where cool Amsterdam denizens hang out for brunch on weekends and where you’ll experience a pinch-me wintertime buzz. The area by the church is decked out with market stalls during the day (more of that bracing mulled wine) and at night, the street lamps streak the pavements in gold. Grab a pre-dinner drink at Cafe Cuba then pop next door for luscious, old-school fondue at Cafe Bern.
There are plenty of bars that claim to be “Amsterdam’s oldest” (Papeneiland claims to have been built in 1642), but as I’m more concerned about good beer and wine than historical accuracy, I’ll happily stop in this tiny corner pub for a glass of red.
Berenstraat 18, Amsterdam
Runstraat 27, Amsterdam
De Taart van m’n tante
Ferdinand Bolstraat 10, Amsterdam
Albert Cuyp market
Albert Cuypstraat, Amsterdam
Albert Cuypstraat 182, Amsterdam
Voetboogstraat 33, Amsterdam
?Singel 184, ?Amsterdam
Cafe Cuba and Cafe Bern
Nieuwmarkt 3 and 9, Amsterdam
?Prinsengracht 2, ?Amsterdam
Have you been to Amsterdam? What are your favourite places to recommend?
All photos © Julia Blanter 2011