What comes to mind when you start planning a trip to Amsterdam? My guesses are the Red Lights District and coffee shops – after all, you can’t go to Amsterdam and come back without any stories, right? Definitely add the Van Gogh museum to the list – it will change your perception about him completely (for example, Vincent was actually very sociable, had a lot of friends and loved Japanese art…just a few random facts to get you interested!).
If, like me, you are not afraid to explore the city and find its true spirit, read on! First of all, Amsterdam is very small, so everything in the city centre is reachable within 20 minutes. Buses and bikes are available for a small fee, if you need to take a longer journey.
As this blog is primarily about gifts, let me show you what to bring back from Amsterdam, if you are planning to go there soon.
Ignore the big shopping streets around the Central Station. What you really need is the shopping district called De 9 Straatjes (“The 9 Streets”) – it’s very close to the centre, but is full of fantastic independent shops for any budget, from cute affordable jewellery to high-end art galleries.
Here I found the trendiest socks in a range of colours and materials:
Another big fashion trend, personalised jewellery, has a serious following in Amsterdam, so there is an entire shop, dedicated to charm necklaces and bracelets. Customers can make mix-and-match jewellery themselves or ask one of the shop assistants to help out.
For interior design lovers, there is a row of galleries and antique shops that sell items created by local artists. This lamp is a beautiful example of Art Deco style.
The one compulsory destination on the main Rokin Street is a store called P.G.C. Hajenius – the exclusive tobacco emporium, which is celebrating its 100th birthday in Amsterdam this year.
Ideal both for personal and corporate gifts, it has an extensive range of cigars from across the globe, luxury accessories and books. Each section of the store has tablets to browse history and origins of all items, making it the most educational shopping session you can imagine. Oh, and to top it all off, we were served by a female store manager, who proudly co-chairs the International Women’s Cigar Society (yep, there is one!).
The biggest surprise for us, however, was the quality of restaurants. Prices are at least 30-50% less than what you would be expected to pay at high-end London equivalents, so make sure you treat yourself to a nice meal whilst there.
My restaurant recommendations:
De Kas – masterful organic food, made from extra fresh produce (they grow all herbs and vegetables in their private greenhouses nearby). If you don’t have any food allergies, go for a surprise chef’s menu, which they pair with local wines. Book at least 1 month in advance.
Izakaya – a true gem, that’s booked up by locals for romantic dinners before any visitor gets a chance to discover it. Serving Japanese food with a twist, alongside supreme cocktails, the place is buzzing every night. The chef is ex-Nobu (London), who’s passion for originality shows in every dish. I also cannot recommend enough the Sir Albert Hotel which houses this restaurant – we stayed there for 4 nights and will sure be back.
Envy – unpretentious European tapas place, that got awarded Michelin’s ‘Bib Gourmand’ 8 years ago, and has held it firmly since. Try their seafood, like squid and salmon – the portions are small and are meant to be shared, so you can sample 8-12 dishes. An added bonus is a great selection of wines by glass.