Destination of the Week: Amsterdam
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This week’s travel spot has got a little something for everyone: families, singles, culture buffs, biking fanatics, hippies, art lovers…you name it, this Dutch destination has got it. We asked Europe-based TPG contributor Lori Zaino to take us on a tour of Amsterdam!
WHAT TO DO
If you are into museums, this city has a got some of Europe’s best. Let’s start with what might be the most famous, the Anne Frank House. The actual site where Anne Frank went into hiding from the Nazis with her family, this somber and interesting experience is a must-see in Amsterdam. Make sure to give yourself time or try to visit at off times, because lines can be very long, but it’s worth it to get a glimpse of what life was like for a young girl whose story has impacted people the world over.
The Rijksmuseum, which reopened after a massive decade-long renovation in April, has a splendid collection of Rembrant, Vermeer, Steen and more, focusing mainly on Dutch art. If art is your thing, you will also want to check out the Van Gogh Museum which features not only a huge collection of Van Gogh (over 200 of his paintings, 500 of his drawings and 700 of his letters) but also works from other Impressionist painters like Manet and Gauguin, then for a splash of modern art, check out the Stedelijk Museum.
If you are going to Amsterdam with friends or to party – and who isn’t, at least a little bit – there are also museums dedicated to the over-18 set, such as the Sex Museum or the Heineken Experience where you can taste beer and visit several floors dedicated to beer-making, selling and advertising by this international giant.
Obviously a great reason to visit Amsterdam is the bike culture. However, I recommend wearing a helmet or being very, very cautious, if you plan to bike the city. The local bikers are usually in a rush and don’t take kindly to tourist stopping in the middle of the bike lane looking at a map!
Make sure to check with your hotel because some offer bike rentals and some even offer it free of charge. If you would prefer your biking to be guided, something I highly recommend is a bike tour, and I had a fabulous experience with Mike’s Bike Tours (also in Munich). This company offers different types of bike tours, all in English, from knowledgeable and friendly guides. I chose to do the countryside bike tour as I’d already biked around the city on my own, which is really neat because it takes you outside of the city to the countryside where you visit a typical Dutch windmill and a cheese and wooden Dutch shoe-making factory. I loved it and it was great to bike out of the city and see a little more of the Netherlands, something I never would have gotten to see if I hadn’t done the tour.
Amsterdam has more than 100 km of canals, about 1500 bridges and 90 islands. Obviously with so much water, there are many option for cruises. You could do a quick day cruise, an evening romantic dinner cruise, or even a pancake cruise (great for families!) where you can chow down on pancakes and ice cream during your tour. There is also a hop on/hop off style cruise, that will let you get on and off to visit tourist attractions, similar to the hop on hop off double-decker buses you see in many cities.
Short on cash? A free must-see is the I AMSTERDAM sign, located behind the Rijksmuseum. The letters are about 2 meters tall, with the entire slogan measuring over 70 feet wide. It’s a great photo opportunity, and you can stroll through the green park as well and see the tulips, if they are in season.
If you are looking for a more upscale experience, visit the trendy Nine Streets area in Jordaan, near the Anne Frank House. This area is loaded with cute boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, and more. It’s the best place to find those amazing, unique buys, the ones when you will go home and someone will exclaim, “Where did you get such a cute bag?!”, and you can smile smugly say, “Amsterdam!”
A whole lot seedier than the Nine Streets, but with its own charm, the Red Light District is a must if you are not traveling with children. For obvious reasons, this area is for adults only, but even just strolling through can be an adventure in and of itself.
Finally, if you are craving a bit of green, or a nice bike ride or stroll, visit Amsterdam’s main park: Vondel Park. Make sure to see the Picasso statue which is randomly placed in the middle of the park.
WHERE TO EAT
It’s not so much where to eat in Amsterdam as what to eat. Locals love their pancakes and crepes, and there are places all over the city to chow down on these “breakfast” foods, but all day long. Raw herring is another favorite of those in Amsterdam, and so is Hagelslag, which is a breakfast favorite of bread with chocolate sprinkles (strangely delicious!). Indonesian food is also a good bet, as Indonesia was previously a Dutch colony.
For traditional Dutch food, try The Silver Mirror. It’s known as one of Amsterdam’s oldest restaurants, dating back to 1614. Its classic specialties range from rabbit to pheasant to roast suckling pig. For a classical Dutch experience, this is the place to go. For pancakes and crepes, there are places all over the city, but I personally like Pancakes! Amsterdam. For a quaint lunch spot when you need a break from shopping, try the Cafe het Paleis. They also often have live music in the evenings. Finally, for a taste of Indonesia, visit the trendy Blue Pepper.
For higher end dining, try Restaurant and Nursery De Kas. In 2001, Michelin-starred chef Gert Jan Hageman bought the old greenhouse that belonged to Amsterdam’s Municipal Nursery and saved it from demolition. Now, it’s the Restaurant De Kas, and you can dine in the greenhouse or the gardens, weather permitting. The food served includes only the freshest ingredients, which as many as possible coming from their very own garden.
Located just down the block, in the same garden area as Restaurant De Kas, try the Restaurant Merklebach. It’s located in what used to be the old coach house of historic manor Huize Frankendael. Head Chef Geert Burema has a fascination with the slow food movement, which is reflected in all the food served here.
Riva restaurant is located right on the Amstel River, offering beautiful views, free parking, and fabulous food. The cuisine style is modern Dutch international. Try the fillet of wild boar or the pumpkin and quinoa fritters while you enjoy the incredible river views.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is about 12 miles southwest of the city and handles nearly 50 million passengers a year. It is the hub of Dutch carrier KLM, so many travelers tend to arrive on the country’s flagship carrier. KLM flies to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Washington DC and New York and Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal in Canada.. The airline is a member of SkyTeam, so you can use your Delta miles (although Delta services Amsterdam from several more US cities as well including Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Seattle, Portland and Minneapolis). You can also sometimes score discounted Flying Blue promo awards from rotating North American gateways for up to half off the usual mileage amounts.
However, you have several other airline choices depending on your alliance and carrier and can reach Amsterdam from both the US and other European hubs with carriers like Alitalia and Air France in SkyTeam, United and Lufthansa in Star Alliance, and British Airways in Oneworld. The airport is also serviced by several low-cost carriers including Easyjet and Germanwings.
The arrival and departure halls are located in the same building as the Schipol Plaza shopping center where you can catch transportation into Amsterdam. The direct rail link from Schiphol to Amsterdam central station is the fastest and most convenient way to get to the city center. Trains run every 10 minutes from platforms 1 and 2 and cost just € 3.60 ($5) for a single journey. Avoid the lines and € 0.50 surcharge at the ticket office by having change on hand for the ticket machines.
Connexxion airport shuttle buses depart every 10 minutes with service to more than 100 hotels throughout the city. Tickets cost € 15,50 ($20) one way, € 25 for a return ($35), and can be purchased inside the main arrival plaza. The tickets can be purchased at the Amsterdam Shuttle Desk in Arrivals 4.
Taxi and Limousines from and to Amsterdam start at € 45 ($65).
Radisson Blu Amsterdam: This hotel is centrally located in walking distance from many of Amsterdam’s main tourist attractions and overlooks one of the city’s famous canals. The 252 guestrooms and suites are decorated in a minimalist style and offer free WiFi. In the superior rooms, guests can enjoy a Nespresso machine. The hotel has a fitness center, sauna and solarium. Beware that a spot in the hotel’s parking garage will cost you 55 euros ($74) per night. You can dine at one of the two restaurants, Restaurant Palmbloom or Pastorie Bar. Room rates start at 240 euros per night $324 in early December, or 50,000 Gold Points. (Note: paying with Gold points was not available for several dates in early December).
The Park Plaza Victoria is another hotel option which is considered to be a bed and breakfast. More options include the Park Plaza Vondel Park, Artotel Amsterdam, Park Plaza Airport, Park Inn Airport, Radisson Blu Airport, and the Park Plaza Utrecht (which is outside of Amsterdam).
Hilton Amsterdam: Located canal side and within walking distance to the old city center, every room in this hotel offers city views and is decorated in typical Dutch style. Each room also comes with a work desk, LCD TV and free WiFi. The hotel has been the winner of the Green Key award for their dedication in being sustainable. The Hilton Amsterdam offers a work center, babysitting, gift shop, bike rental, solarium, fitness club and sauna (extra fee may be charge for health club use), and pets are allowed for a fee. Parking is 35 euros($47) per day. Dine at the Half Moon Lounge, Issimo, or the award winning Robert’s Restaurant. This hotel is a HHonors Reward Category 8 hotel and room rates start at 189 euros ($256) or 60,000 HHonors Reward Points for an award night.
Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam: Perched canal side and in the city center, the luxurious Waldorf Astoria has 93 guestrooms, lofts and suites, each featuring a 40-inch flatscreen TV and a Nespresso coffee machine. Each room also has free WiFi. The hotel has an indoor pool, fitness center and spa offering a variety of facial and body treatments. There is also a courtyard in which you can relax with a cocktail. Eat at Peacock Alley, The Restaurant or the Vault Bar. Only valet parking will be available and it’s priced at 65 euros ($88) per day. This hotel will be opening for reservations in the spring of 2014.
There is a variety of other Hilton properties available in and around Amsterdam. Try the Double Tree Centraal Station, Hampton Amsterdam Arena, Hilton Airport Schipol, Hampton Inn Airport, Hilton Garden Inn Leiden, Hilton Hague (located about an hour from Amsterdam) and the Hilton Royal Park (outside of the city).
Andaz Amsterdam: This much-anticipated 122-room boutique hotel is located near a trendy area of town just a short walk from the Anne Frank house and city center. The hotel offers free WiFi and local calls in all guestrooms, and is pet friendly. A nice touch: the Andaz offers complimentary non-alcoholic drinks in the mini bar in your guestroom. All guestrooms have oversized desks, natural toiletries, robes, a full length mirror and a Geneva Sound System with iPod dock. The hotel offers spa services and has a 24 hour gym and sauna. Bicycle rental is also available. Enjoy local, seasonal food at the Bluespoon Restaurant or the Chef’s Table. Room rates start at 290 euros ($393) per night or 18,000 Hyatt Gold Points for an Award Night in December. There were some blackout dates where you could not use points in December.
Another Hyatt option is the Hyatt Airport Hotel.
Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam: This luxury hotel dates back to 1897 and overlooks the beautiful Amstel river. The 79 guest rooms and 25 suites are furnished with Dutch period furniture and feature a mini fridge, coffee maker, stereo and a scale and bathrobe in the bathroom. Wifi is free for IHG Reward Club members and 25 euros ($34) from non-members. Pets are allowed at 60 euros ($81) per night. This hotel has a fitness center, a spa, and a 15m heated indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, Turkish bath, horizontal shower and rainfall shower. Dine at the Amstel Lounge, A Bar, and finally the famed Michelin Starred restaurant, La Rive. The Intercontinental Amstel is also part of the Green Engage program, which means it’s dedicated to protecting the environment. Room rates start at 268 euros ($363) per night or 40,000 points in early December. There were some blackout dates where you could not use points in December.
Renaissance Amsterdam: Just a quick walk from Centraal Station, this hotel has 396 rooms and 6 suites. Rooms are equipped with WiFi, an alarm clock, coffee machine, down pillows, and a safe. Pets are not allowed and parking is 50 euros ($68) per day. The hotel has a fitness center and convention center, which is actually located in what used to be a 17th-century church. It’s called the Koepelkerk and is an interesting spot to hold meetings, as it’s actually the cupola part of the church. You can dine at Scossa for Italian food, Kopelcafe for traditional Dutch food, or 2B lounge and bar for light bites. Room rates start at 169 euros ($228) per night, or 35,000 Marriott Reward Points for an award night in early December.
Pulitzer Amsterdam: TPG himself stayed in this hotel in December 2011 and you can read his review here. The Pulizer is comprised of 17th and 18th-century canal houses, and each of their 230 rooms and suites are unique. All rooms and suites come with a 32-inch TV, mahongany work desk, suede armchair and signature toiletries. WiFi costs 19 euros ($26) per day. The hotel has a gym, meeting center and its own personal art gallery which is open for guests to explore. The Pulitzer has it’s own boat “The Tourist” which is available for rental and canal cruise for an added cost. There are four dining options: the Espresso Bar, Pulitzer’s Bar, Restaurant Keizersgracht 238 and Wine Salon De Apoktheek. Room rates start at 255 euros ($343) or 12,000 Starpoints for an award night in early December.
Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card® from American Express cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
De L’Europe: This stunning hotel is located on the banks of the Amstel River. The hotel actually started as an inn in the 1600’s, and now has 111 rooms and suites. Working alongside the Rijksmuseum, the hotel has handpicked replicas of Dutch paintings to feature around the hotel. Guestrooms have extra closet space, a work station, and some rooms have a balcony. The hotel will open a fitness center and spa at the end of 2013 (as of November 21st, 2013, neither of these have been opened yet according to their website but end of 2013 is still predicted). Currently in- room massages are available until the spa is open. There are a variety of dining options available: Freddy’s Bar, Hoofdstad Brassierie, Bord’eau, Promenade, and Het Terras. Room rates start at 291 euros ($393) per night in early December.
Sofitel Legend: This 177 room hotel boosts a rich history-it was once a convent and later City Hall! Off the 177 rooms, 52 of these are luxury suites. The hotel has a great location right in heart of the city center.All rooms come equipped with the Sofitel Mybed, free wifi, a Nespresso Machine, a work desk, and a safe. The hotel has a spa, indoor pool and fitness center. Dining is available at Bridges Restaurant, Bridges Raw Bar, Library OR, and The Flying Dutchman. Room rates start at 276 ($371) euros not including tax for a night in early December.
Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, British Airways Visa Signature Card, the Hyatt Credit Card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Sir Albert: This trendy boutique hotel is located in the “Latin” Quarter of Amsterdam near to all the tourist attractions. The building used to be a diamond factory, opened back in the 1860’s. All 90 guestrooms and suites have a pillow menu, rainforest shower, work desk, iPOD docking station, an Illy coffee machine and a Sir Albert’s Goody Box. Wifi is also complimentary. Sir Albert Hotel also features the City Street Spa and will soon be opening their own gym. Enjoy meeting with friends in the study/library, which is a sophisticated room you have cocktails in, or dine at the high end Izakaya Japanese restaurant. Room rates start at 219 euros ($295) in early December.