Exploring Amsterdam: a wonderful walking tour in winter

April 25, 2016 Explorer Gabor 0 Comments


Arriving on an early winters morning after a 14hr flight, I was cold, tired and excited to make my first visit to this great city.  To avoid jet lag I planned to stay awake all day and the best way to do that was outside in the chilly air...even if I wasn't dressed for it.

I've been to a lot of great cities and Amsterdam would have to be the most breathtakingly beautiful.   The combination of canals and history is priceless.  It is so clean and pretty, bicycles and cafes everywhere.  A European paradise.

My hotel for this trip was the Crowne Plaza Amsterdam City Centre.  Not exactly steeped in history or culture, but very conveniently located a few minutes walk from Dam Square and Central Station.  A modern hotel with free wifi, a comfortable bed, tasty food and good heating...everything to make a short stop in Amsterdam all the more comfortable in winter.

Bicycles and trams share the roads in Amsterdam
It was early February, the coldest month of the year.  The daytime temperature was around 2 degC, with the wind chill taking it well below zero.  I live in a subtropical climate - the most I need in winter is jeans and a jumper.  I picked up thermals and a beanie from Kathmandu at home and managed to find a pair of knitted gloves in Kuala Lumpur en-route to Amsterdam. How lucky was that!

If you are going somewhere really cold, do not wear knitted gloves, they won't keep you warm and you will spend the entire time with your hands under your armpits, which is very inconvenient when trying to take photos.  Your thick woolen hands can't unlock your phone or let you operate the camera.  No, you need to remove at least one glove to work the phone and camera, leaving you with at least one frozen hand most of the time.  Spend a few extra bucks and buy a leather pair, which I eventually did.

Dam Square and the Royal Palace
I arrived in Dam Square dressed in jeans, joggers, useless knitted gloves, thermals, t-shirt, jumper, my work coat and a beanie pulled down over my ears.  And I was cold.  Really cold.

The free City Walking Tour departed from a coffee shop at Dam Square at 11am.  The coffee shop was easier to find than expected so I grabbed a hot tea whilst waiting for the tour to begin.  We were divided into two small groups - English speakers and Spanish speakers - before departing on our 2.5hr tour.  The English group was a mix of British, Americans and Australians.

Exploring Amsterdam's Laneways
After a short overview on Dam Square and the Royal Palace, we set off on our tour.  Walking along the picture postcard canals, we stopped for cheese tasting and admired the beauty and history of the gable-topped narrow homes fronting the canals and laneways.

Tranquility abounds in the Begijnhof
This tour is a great way to learn the history of Amsterdam, stretching back to the 12th century. We were lucky to enter the Begijnhof, a sanctuary of small homes surrounding a quiet garden and chapel that dates back to 1307.  It's a very peaceful, tranquil oasis, not easily seen from the street and unless you were given directions, you probably wouldn't find it on your own.

Amsterdam is also home to some beautiful old churches.  Completed in 1630, the tower on the West Church is the tallest in the city, making this a good landmark to get your bearings.

The Snake House or de Slang
Amsterdam showcases some great street art on building facades, with the most famous being the Snake House.  Once occupied by squatters and now home to artists, it's a great example of the art that adorns buildings along Spuistraat.

Walking the city on a cold winters morning was actually relaxing, even after a long sleepless flight.   Most of my walking companions were great, with the exception of three 40-something British guys who were rude, obnoxious and stupid.  Stopping outside the Kumpkring Coffee Shop, a well known establishment where the menu includes over 50 varieties of marijuana, hashish and joints, they went inside to buy some product.  For the remainder of the tour our British companions were more interested in getting stoned and giggling uncontrollably than listening to the guide.

Amsterdam's Red Light District - more picturesque than porn
The Red Light District has been transformed in recent years and is now a mix of trendy bars and cafes. During the day we saw no girls in the windows here, but we did see them in apartment windows in other parts of the city.  Unexpectedly the girls we saw weren't doing anything sexy or alluring, most were reading books, smoking or having coffee.

The Red Light District is a popular destination for British guys to go for a boozy weekend or bucks night.  It wasn't unusual to see a drunken Brit staggering down the street, shirtless on a cold night. Drunken Brits, stoned Brits...seeing a pattern here?

Wandering around the city we also visited a flower market, which was just divine, and walked past Anne Franks House, with its queue of waiting fans stretching for blocks.  If you ever plan to visit this popular attraction, arrive early and be prepared for a long wait.

Amsterdam's Glorious Old Churches
My visit to Amsterdam was far too brief and I would have loved to visit many of the famous museums such as the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum.  I'm sure my kids would love to sample the gooey Nutella pancakes, which seemed to be sold in every laneway across the city.

The best bits:  Amsterdam is a city made for walking and cycling - it's breathtakingly beautiful.  The walking tour was free and the guide was excellent.

The so-so bits: It's a very cold city in winter.  Food and accommodation is a little expensive.

Amsterdam...definitely worth exploring further. Next time I'm taking the family and staying longer.

Looking for ideas and inspiration for your next holiday adventure?  Head over to read my Travel Tips then check out Travel Planning for tips on planning your next family vacation.

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