5 New Things to Try in Amsterdam

What is there not to love about Amsterdam? (Besides the obvious: the weather sucks.) Cheese, tulips, museums, all-night raves, and everyone’s favorite herb can all be found in this international city disguised as a dollhouse. Here are some new ideas for your next trip to the Dutch capital:

1. The Begijnhof – Right in the middle of the popular and noisy Spui student neighborhood lies an oasis of calm. The Begijnhof is a hidden inner courtyard that was once a cloister for nuns. Open to the public between 8:00am and 5:00pm, pop in to see the original buildings of this historic neighborhood.

2. The Jordaan – Traditionally a Jewish ghetto, it’s now the place where my cool younger cousin wants to go. It’s artsy with galleries and beautiful renovated buildings, typical Dutch pubs, and cute boutiques. If you’re lucky you can sneak a peak in the hidden inner courtyards of the older buildings.

3. The Hema – Ok, this is hardly a new suggestion for anyone in Holland. The Hema is a staple, one of life’s constants. It is a department / grocery store with whatever you need and tons you now want, from fresh Dutch cookies to bedding to adorable kids’ clothes – all with simple, striking Scandinavian design. Kind of like Target, but classier (it’s European). Don’t skip the cafeteria – the food is bangin’, especially the pastries.

4. Episode – It is hard to find a better city for vintage shopping than Amsterdam. You’re bound to find a few second-hand shops in every neighborhood but my favorite is Episode, with floor-to-ceiling finds from the ’60s to the ’90s. Their in-store line of repurposed leather pants and silk rompers are hard to beat, though everything is quite affordable. They have 3 locations in Amsterdam and a few around Europe.

5. Restaurant Haesje Claes – This is the part where I tell you about the new organic restaurant with the hipster chef transforming Dutch staples with molecular gastronomy, right? Wrong. That is probably already on your to-do list. I’m gonna tell you about real Dutch food. Unfamiliar with their cuisine? Well, you’re not missing much. But really, besides cheese and pancakes, the Dutch don’t really have a culinary claim to fame.

Unless you count the potato. The boiled potato is to The Netherlands what rice is to China. Always boiled, never baked or scalloped, and if you are expecting more than salt and pepper, you are asking too much. However, when the Dutch get real fancy, they mash it with kale.  My favorite Dutch dish is boerekool met worst (kale with smoked sausage – the potato part is assumed) and I found it at Restaurant Haesje Claes, also in the Spui district. Come here for its cozy wood interior and hearty, traditional meals that make you feel like you’re at grandma’s house.