If you’re expatting in Amsterdam, chances are you’ll welcome more than a few visitors. A visit from friends and loved ones is like receiving a treasured gift. The gift is their arrival and the treasure is added as your time together progresses. They bring so much of what you miss from wherever “home” is. Whether family, BFFs or long lost relatives who’ve heard you’re in Amsterdam, guests arrive happy to see you with their own set of expectations of what to see and do in the ‘Dam along with their oversized suitcases.
For us, the fortuitous expats living in this amazing European city, we are relied on to help fulfill these expectations over photo-worthy romantic canal bridges, crossing hazardous bike lanes and through the most impressive art museums ever to be found. Balancing hosting and guiding while trying to ensure a memorable visit can be tricky and tiring. I’ve compiled a few strategies to help create a happy visit for both hosts and guests.
I used to think it imperative to greet every guest at the airport. Now, after being on my third expat tour, I no loner feel compelled to do so unless they haven’t traveled through Europe or is someone I really want to give a huge hug to (like my son arriving on his college break) after emerging through the kissing-Dutch-kids arrivals door. Instead, I offer detailed instructions to take an official airport taxi or the red Connexxion Schipol bus.
When guests arrive from an overnight flight, as with most arriving from the States, they may want to sleep after they arrive, or to jump right in and get out and about in the ‘Dam. I tend to steer folks close to home base on arrival day since they may be falling down from exhaustion come afternoon.
If you’ll be taking trams, busses or trains to get around quicker and easier, purchase some blue anonymous OV-chipkaarts (at the Albert Heijn or any major train station) in advance and add some starter trip funding. Purchasing individual tickets for each and every ride can suck up extra cash and time. And if you know you’ll have more visitors adding more treasure to your trove sooner or later, these kaarts will come in handy. The initial 7,50 euro is worth the investment to save you time and hassle. And your guests will greatly appreciate you thinking ahead on their behalf. Just remember to ask for the kaarts back before your guests depart. You can top them up whenever you need.
If you are a newbie expat, keep in mind playing tourist is thirsty work and can build up quite an appetite. Think about how much eating in and out your guests might want to do. If you like to cook like I do, and enjoy preparing meals, get some shopping done one or two days before they arrive. If you dread it, Deliveroo.nl, UberEats.com and the like, are just a click away. If you can, stock up on some fresh fruits found at any open market or green grocer nearby. If your guests are from the US they will appreciate the freshness of a large ripe orange complete with the stem and fresh green leaf still attached. They are a hundred times tastier than even a Florida orange (no offense to my Floridian friends). Also a little stash of stroopwafels, Dutch cheese and fresh bread are a nice introduction to Dutch treats and eats.
If you have been here awhile, you already have a few favorite restaurants you want to bring your guests to. When dining out, you’ll definitely want to order those staples visitors must try while here like bitterballen, one of the many Dutch beers, apple pie in the Jordaan, and maybe a rijsttafel dining experience. Booking reservations for dinner is highly recommended as good restaurants fill up fast, especially in high tourist season. SeatMe.nl is a great website for booking and also allows you to cancel easily should your plans change.
Now on to the museums. Chances are Van Gogh will be at the top of the list. According to the Van Gogh Museum, Vincent is the most popular artist in the entire world. Luckily, this is a relatively small well laid-out venue and a real crowd pleaser. It’s also in a fantastic area on the Museumplein next to the Stedelijk, the modern art museum that looks like a giant bathtub, and the world-renowned Rijksmuseum which houses the Dutch masters: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals and many more. All three have very nice restaurants to boot. The Museumplein is a MUST SEE offering so much to tourists and locals alike. In the winter there is the outdoor skating rink with music and a connected glass enclosed pop up restaurant. In the summer there are outdoor concerts, markets and horse shows. It is a constant green space of activity. In nice weather, stroll through the Rijksmuseum garden on the side opposite the iamsterdam letters.
You can also just relax with a book while sipping some champagne or espresso found at the little shop just inside the garden. A whole day could be spent on this plein alone. Be mindful that the Rijksmuseum is massive and time consuming. Moving through the floor housing Rembrandt’s The Nightwatch and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid could last hours. Hint, do the Rijks in late afternoon or evening as the crowds thin. When going to the Ann Frank House Museum, book a time slot online to avoid waiting in a two-hour line wrapped around the Westerkerk.
Once your major museums are checked off, you should have some other activities in your tour guide back pocket to avoid the aimless wandering through the Centrum. Checking iamsterdam.com for happenings in town (outdoor skating rinks, special art exhibits, a flower festival, etc.) is a good idea. I especially love it when I learn an outdoor market will be on the Museumplein I did not know about. I also like to surprise folks with an afternoon tea (at De Bakkerswinkel or The College Hotel – both in Oud Zuid or the swanky Pulitzer Hotel) to rest up and delight in some savory and sweet bites after walking all day. A jaunt to the lively open-air market at the Jordaan Lindenmarkt on Saturday is well worth the trip to experience the best nuts, flowers and cheese stands in Amsterdam. Scheduled down time as well as visitor alone time is highly encouraged. I also recommend trying to mix some spontaneity in your planning. Leave time to get lost, stumble on that gorgeous shop full of wares that needs investigating as you stroll along the Negen Straatjes, or watching that random Dutch person singing in a paddle boat in a canal in the Centrum. Guests may undoubtedly want to engage in the coffee house experience. Whether partaking or not, there are no shortages in this tolerant city. A canal boat ride at night is also a lovely way to see the city and bridges sparkle.
Always be mindful of the very possible fun deterrent…. Holland weather. Do not let this interfere with getting out and about. Weather apps are extremely reliable these days right down to the half hour, which is good, since weather here seems to change by the minute. Preparing for the day with waterproof footwear, jackets, layers, umbrellas, etc. can make or break your day. It rains a lot in Holland. It’s all fun and games while taking in Vincent’s masterpieces, but that can all turn to shit when you walk outside to a hail and rain storm without an umbrella, or at least a hood. Note – mention this to your visitors BEFORE they get there so they can pack appropriately. A good friend of mine reminded me to bring a decent waterproof jacket when I first came to Amsterdam last June to look for an apartment. It was the BEST piece of advice I received. And when noting heavy rain or crazy weather, that is the time for your indoor excursions.
I am a firm believer that outside adventure, even in the form of a bike ride or walk through the Vondelpark is essential to any visit. Fresh air, mixed with some exercise and doing like the Dutch do can leave a lasting impression, even if, at first, seems difficult or pushing one out of their comfort zone. Biking for many of us expats in Amsterdam can be extremely stressful at first (or always), but it is something that the Dutch do on a daily basis with ease (and aggressiveness). Throwing this into the mix can be a great way to spend some time and create some memorable moments, especially if you spot one of the hundreds of parrots that reside in the Vondelpark (no, this is not urban legend). There are bike rentals everywhere.
Whatever your plans, guests will marvel at the tall skinny houses leaning right or left, the constant flow of bikers and those menacing mopeds and the ease of Amsterdammers speaking English. If you have enough time, side trips to Haarlem, Leiden, The Hague and Delft provide experiencing even more Dutch culture. Don’t forget to look out the window of your car or train at the flower fields, windmills, and flat green pastures along the way. And always have enough money (suggested at least 20 euros for a roundtrip) on those blue OV-Chipkaarts for day trips so you aren’t barred entrance through as you run to make your train home.