Amsterdam in 36 Hours

The weather had been a pretty consistent light drizzle (and cold) in England, so when I arrived at my hostel next to Amsterdam’s Vondelpark and the girl checking me in said that the next day was going to be really rainy, I was jolted back to the reality that… different places have different weather patterns.

I popped out to walk around the area—I was starving, but left totally overwhelmed by not seeing any fast-casual type places. I was tired, I had cried at the security checkpoint at Gatwick—all I wanted was some food and minimal eye contact. I knew that I would hunt out better food the next day, so I wasn’t about to push myself to “do the local thing” that night.

I woke up way earlier than my dormmates the next morning. I only had about 36 hours in Amsterdam, so I needed to make my one full day count. I had mapped out a general itinerary and walking tour based partly on Instagram, partly on blogger advice, and partly on the word of a cousin who had lived there for a stretch. The hostel-included breakfast was awesome. It had a good mix of meats, cheeses, sliced tomatoes, and some breads, jams, and cereals. As I mentioned in my post about the link between food and travel, though I generally keep on the vegetarian spectrum at home, I’m cool with being more flexible on the road.

The forecast said heavy rain for the morning, with it clearing up by around lunch. This couldn’t have worked out better—I planned to see the Anne Frank house first, so I would likely be inside and miss most, if not all, of the rain.

Except that’s not what happened.

I got a wee bit lost when I was trying to find the Anne Frank House. I had forgotten to grab coffee at the hostel, so redirected myself to… a bar? It looked like a bar, but had a few different coffee options. I had been warned when casually conversing with a fellow hosteller at breakfast that not every place that said “coffee” on the sign is necessarily a traditional coffee shop. I wasn't entirely sure what that meant, and a little too scared to take my chances, I asked someone on the street to direct me to my java.

Caffeinated, I pressed on. And got lost. And by the time I made it to the Anne Frank House, the entry line was deep—like four large groups of septuagenarians deep. That’s when it started to rain… nay, pour.

So here I am: sopping, cold, and facing a hard choice. I could either walk around in the rain and still keep with my general itinerary—or I could go back to the hostel and be dry and inside. I sure as hell wasn’t going to let a little precipitation stand in the way of me actually seeing the city. Luckily the heavy rain only lasted about 45 minutes and then tapered off to a drizzle—and eventually it turned into a nearly cloudless afternoon.

I stayed in the Centraal/Dam Square area while I was drying off—I kept going back and fourth between the thoughts that “going to change would be a waste of my time” and “this cold/wet combo might be bad for my health.” Dry (enough) I made my next stop Noord. I had read in this post by WanderlustingK that there was some street art to see in that area and all I had to do was get on a free ferry. Sold. Free is my favorite price.

The ride to NDSM (there are two Noord terminals—my trajectory was the art) was only about 10 minutes. I was a little freaked out because there was no real infrastructure around where the boat let off and I was unsure if I had done something wrong—but in Karen I trust, so I feigned direction, and followed the crowd until I saw a huge multicolored portrait of Anne Frank, and I knew I was in the right place.

The art was really cool and what made the experience all that much cooler was that I was totally alone wandering around. I took loads of pictures and they can be found in my Amsterdam Photo Essay post, but here is one of my favorites:

I loved wandering around the NDSM area, but after about 45 minutes it hit the point where the windy, open waterfront became too much for me to handle, and I headed back to Cenrtaal. I had no real plan for the afternoon except to pick a direction to meander (other than the one I had walked in from). As I confidently yet aimlessly walked the streets, I took a series of turns and found myself in the Red Light District. I had no idea what I was wandering into until… it suddenly became very obvious. If evading eye contact was an Olympic sport, I would’ve placed bronze at worst.

Ok, to be honest it wasn't all that noticeable. Based on  my particular walking path a less observant individual might not have noticed--there is a lot to see when walking around that area. Like this....

I eventually meandered my way back up to Vondelpark so I could pop  into the hostel. Navigation sure drains the life out of your phone battery, eh? A quick charge and change of socks later, I made my next move over to Foodhallen. Again, this was not an original idea on my part. Another bloggerlady, Sarah from Lust til Dawn, is another Amsterdam-living expat that I follow- and with a quick scroll through her IG feed, the question of where I would have my linner (lunch + dinner) was answered.

I knew walking in that Foodhallen was not going to be the cheap choice. I was ok with this considering I was in Amsterdam for such a short time that spending a little more on meals wasn’t going to break me. I had a lovely dinner of tacos and a gin and tonic. Ok, two gin and tonics. By the time I stood up to leave, the overwhelming desire to find dessert had crept up on me.

My whole day had been leading up to this moment. I had walked miles to earn it. After linner, I wandered through Jordaan to force digestion to make space for what was to come. Then I finally navigated my way to Winkel 43 to get my apple pie. Again, this was another find from WanderlustingK’s post; and yet again, a smashing success. This was good pie. Like… “I’m American and have my Nan’s scratch-made apple pie for Thanksgiving every year but this might be a competitor” good.

After pie I was consumed, I walked an indirect path back to the hostel to squeeze in a bit more. I had decided to go back to hostel at the old-lady hour of 8:30pm since the next day I had only a few hours the next day before heading to the airport.

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Day two was an early one. I was up, fed, and out before 8am. I had found a coffee shop called Dam Good Coffee with good reviews that offered take-out coffee, so I set that as my trajectory. Its not that I was desperate for the coffee, but more like using that as a destination, it encouraged me to walk a completely different path than the ones that I had walked the day before. I find that on days when I don’t have a real location-aim, setting one thing I want to eat or drink really helps me map out my day. I wandered through a shopping area and had no idea that right before I made it to my coffee stop, I would pass by the Royal Palace Amsterdam. That was neat and unexpected end to my time in Amsterdam.

Coffee in-hand, I wound my way back up to the hostel, grabbed my bags and shipped off to the airport. The End.

I do want to add that although my time was scattered and didn’t follow any typical tourist itinerary, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have an obsessively curated map.

  • What are some of your favorite places in Amsterdam?
  • If you had to recommend ONE thing people see or do in Amsterdam, what would it be?
  • Have you visited other cities in the Netherlands?
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Posted in Budget Travel, City Guides, Europe, Travel and tagged , , , , , , .


  1. I want to go to Amsterdam so bad!! It sucks that you had to deal with the bad weather, but it looks like you were able to get some awesome photos without people in them!

  2. Favourite countey and of course always my fav city in Europe. But we never get anything more than a day in the city and it is always limited to the tulip fields, madurodam and the canal cruise and still I would fall for it again and again… Beautifully described by you. and I love those photos of the building near the canal

  3. I love this post! Sometimes just wandering and soaking up a city (literally in your case!) is the perfect thing for such a short break. I’ve only done a small bit of Amsterdam but this definitely makes me want to revisit soon! Thanks for sharing your short but sweet trip 🙂

  4. I was living in Amsterdam for a while and I loved it to bits. One of my favorite parts of Amsterdam is Oost. Lot’s of cool cafes and always something going on. NDSM is cool as well.
    Thanks for reminding me the amazing time I had there.

  5. There are two things I love most about Amsterdam: the hidden street art and the beautiful architecture! So glad that you included photos of both in your article. Sounds like you had a fabulous time in Amsterdam even with a little drizzle.

  6. I had less time in Amsterdam, but did enjoy quite a lot! My favourite thing was Anne Frank’s Haus. It was so humbling and I was so glad I waited in the lengthy line to see it.

  7. Amsterdam has so much to do and it gets so hard to choose. The last time we were there we were torn between the sights in the city and those around it. Saving this for the next time we head that way

  8. I love that you found such cool street art and had it all to yourself. Amsterdam weather can be pretty tricky. I was pretty lucky to have gotten a spell of great weather one JUNE when I went, but really it was a toss up. The food certainly made up for it, healthy and varied and lots lot Street Food events since it was sunny and summertime. Wandering led me to some incredible spots and that’s always my go-to method when I’m in a new place.

    • Thanks, Ari! Yeah I now add “check the weather” to my pre-departure routine lol. I was super lucky that it cleared later in the day. I do feel like aside from the pie and Foodhallen, I didn’t get to explore the cuisine much. Next time I need to get to the Anne Frank Haus and eat more local food!

  9. You did pretty well on this trip. I tried out the coffee shop experience and found it abit odd but was also just one of things on my list.

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