Written by Nicole Enberg Vaz
Long layovers tend to be a drag. No one wants to sit around and wait in an airport for hours, especially if you’re overseas, tired and hungry. En route to Italy, I found myself in this predicament when I was faced with an unexpected 9-hour layover in Amsterdam. Instead of waiting at the airport, I decided to take a chance, buy a train ticket and make the 25-minute journey into the city center. While it’s true that most European airports tend to be a bit further away from their commercial centers, Amsterdam is a delightful exception to this rule. Packed with delicious food, mesmerizing architecture and charming specialty shops, this KLM hub is a true gem. Both easy to navigate solo and on a budget, Amsterdam might just top my list as the ultimate layover city. Here are five reasons why:
#1: As one coffee barista explained to me, “It’s all about the pancakes.”
Amsterdam is known for their amazing Dutch pancakes. These crepe-like creations are staples throughout the city and several restaurants offer countless sweet and savory options to please any palate. If you are looking for the best, stroll up the street from the Anne Frank House to the Pancake Bakery, a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. From traditional apple and cinnamon to Thai chicken offerings, the Pancake Bakery hits the spot anytime. If you have time for one thing, this is a must.
#2: “The Dutch don’t have stairways, they have ladders.”
If you only have a few hours to burn and are tight on cash, take a long walk around the city center. From hand-painted street numbers and flower boxes to the beautiful, expansive windows and decorative doors, Amsterdam’s architecture is a treat to explore. The façade of each and every building is spectacularly unique. Take some time to digest your pancakes and wander along the canals where you will discover rows of dreamy homes fitted with charming, narrow doorways, detailed rooftops and hidden garden terraces. Bonus: Great photo opportunities.
#3: Bikes, bikes, markets.
If you have a long layover, act like a local and rent a bike. More bike friendly than pedestrian friendly, Amsterdam is a city built for two wheels. With bike shops located on every corner, it is easy to rent one for as long or as little time as you wish. Once you get off the train in the city center, you will see several larger bike shops with competitive daily rates. Feeling adventurous? Take your bike and explore Amsterdam’s neighboring gardens and vibrant outdoor markets, just a short ride away from the station.
Tip for bike riding foodies: Take time to explore the Albert Cuypmarkt, which is the largest and most popular outdoor market in the Netherlands. It operates six days a week and features over 300 stalls, offering everything from organic produce and clothing to Asian noodles and fresh caramel-filled stroopwafels. Albert Cuypmarkt is 100% worth the journey — the ultimate food lover’s dream.
#4: “A little culture never killed anyone.”
There are countless museums, galleries and parks to explore throughout Amsterdam. Limited on time? My personal favorite is the Van Gogh museum, which houses the largest collection of works by the famed painter. The works of Vincent van Gogh forever shaped 20th-century art world, making him one of the most iconic and revered artists of all time. Take time to stroll the bright and sunny gallery, which offers over 1,400 drawings, paintings and letters to ogle over. Other museum recommendations include: The Anne Frank House, Rembrandt House and the Rijksmuseum, a Dutch national museum focused on the art and history of The Netherlands.
Tip: Research the opening times of each museum and go early to avoid long tourist lines, especially at the Anne Frank House.
#5: Floral patterns.
The Netherlands is well-known for their impressive floral exports. Peer into any apartment window or shop in Amsterdam and you will almost certainly see a vase filled with fluffy pink peonies, tomato-red tulips or elegantly arranged rosemary branches. For the green thumb out there, the Flower Strip or ‘Bollenstreek’ is one of the most popular and unique sights in the Netherlands. Just an hour away from Amsterdam, this special region is an explosion of color in the spring and early summer months as countless flowers blossom. If your heart is set on seeing this impressive rainbow of daffodils, roses and bulbs, make sure to plan ahead. One of the most popular attractions is the famed Keukenhof flower gardens, which is only open for a brief seven to eight weeks a year.
Amsterdam is a city that truly offers something for everyone. Whether you are faced with a short layover or have a bit more time to explore, be sure to enjoy it! Make every moment count and take time to savor the journey, not just your final destination….