Those who know where to look for bargains in this city of canals and gabled houses have always known that Amsterdam is a steal. A sense of frugality has long been entwined with Dutch culture. To make the most of your own money and time here, limit your hours in Amsterdam’s tourist-clogged center and make for mellow and quirkier outlying neighborhoods instead.
Exploring East Amsterdam
A walk through the tree-lined neighborhoods of Amsterdam Oost (East Amsterdam), just seven minutes by subway from the crush of humanity around Amsterdam Centraal, the central train station, will have you longing to buy one of the eccentric houseboats lining the Amstel River. Steps from the water, dine on French fare worthy of a Michelin star or two (at a fraction of the price) at Rijsel (52b Marcusstraat; 011-31-20-463-2142; rijsel.com; prix-fixe three-course menu, $36 a person*), tucked away inside a former 1960s home-economics school for women. Owners Iwan Driessen and Pieter Smits spotlight Gallic comfort foods, such as rotisserie chicken, cassoulet and chevreuil (roe deer). “We want to serve simple dishes prepared with a lot of care and love but without the oohs and aahs you find in modern molecular gastronomy,” says Driessen, the chef de cuisine.
From October through March, join in a Dutch winter obsession: ice-skating at the city’s largest outdoor rink, Jaap Eden (64 Radioweg; 011-31-900-724-2287; jaapeden.nl; entry and skate rental, $15). For one of the city’s livelier and more budget-minded street markets, head to Dappermarkt (Dapperstraat; dappermarkt.nl; closed Sunday) to taste North Sea specialties, like raw herring and piping-hot battered and fried fish chunks called kibbeling you can purchase for a couple of euros. Retro fans frequent Heel Phil (88–92 Eerste Oosterparkstraat; 011-31-629-201-684; heelphil.com), an affordable secondhand store. Many clothing and accessory treasures from the ’60s and ’70s are priced at around 20 euros (about $22). And make time for an Amsterdam wheat beer at Brouwerij ’t IJ (7 Funenkade; 011-31-20-528-6237; brouwerijhetij.nl), an organic microbrewery that sits in the shadow of an 18th-century windmill.
Going Deep in the Jordaan
The Jordaan, just west of the central station, is one of Amsterdam’s most famous neighborhoods. Tourists swarm here for postcard Amsterdam views—charming streets arching with narrow bridges, gabled canal homes that lean at impossible angles and the like. But despite the hordes, authentic Jordaan experiences can be had within a stone’s throw of the lines winding around the Anne Frank House. Tour the Jordaan’s hidden hofjes (interior courtyards) with fifth-generation Amsterdammer David de Slingeraar during a “Home Cooked Amsterdam” outing with Urban Adventures (011-31-64-367-2186; urbanadventures.com; adults $55, kids $14). After he shows you his ’hood’s highlights, de Slingeraar invites you into his home, an apartment in a 14th-century monastery, for a traditional lunch of pannekoeken (Dutch pancakes filled with Gouda, ham and goat cheese).
Pop into Indianaweg 10 (12 Tichelstraat; 011-31-64-023-5754; indianaweg10.com), just a few doors down, whose pretty leather handbags, baskets and hand-embroidered tops are sourced by globetrotting sisters Romy and Débra den Dekker from places as varied as Morocco, Indonesia and Guatemala. And at Lena (174H Westerstraat; 011-31-207-891-781; lena-library.com), another group of sisters joined by a friend pursue their dream of encouraging people to travel “with just hand luggage and a library card,” says co-owner Elisa Jansen. At their “fashion library” you can rent new and vintage couture clothing for an affordably stylish night on the town.
Plan to dress down, however, for the Jordaan’s Café de Twee Zwaantjes (114 Prinsengracht; 011-31-20-625-2729; cafedetweezwaantjes.nl), set on the picturesque Prinsengracht and in business since 1928. Co-owner Jos Dans can usually be found crooning classic Amsterdam ditties behind the bar (“We sing about divorce, heartbreak, she took my money, those kind of things,” he says). Sunday nights feature live accordion music and impromptu sing-alongs. And for late-night snacks in the Jordaan, visit Boca’s (30 Westerstraat; 011-31-20-820-3727; bar-bocas.nl; dinner for two, $28), a tapas restaurant popular with students thanks to inexpensive hapjes (small bites), such as mini burgers with foie gras and truffle mayo, bruschetta and bitterballen, a savory Dutch treat.
Just a five-minute bike ride from the Jordaan, Oud West (West Amsterdam) is another quarter where bargains abound. Young parents pedal their kids in the typically Dutch contraption called a bakfiets (picture a wheelbarrow attached to the front of a bike). Artists are opening ateliers left and right thanks to relatively affordable rents. Mashed Concept Store (168 Jan Pieter Heijestraat; 011-31-636-315-377; mashed-concept-store.com) showcases independent local designers and is the spot to score unique finds, like hand-forged scissors, handmade leather baby moccasins and lamb’s-wool blankets that make perfect winter throws. “This neighborhood is still kind of upcoming and quite cheap; it’s nice to see people living their dreams here,” says Fleur Caroline Wensveen, who makes silver and gold jewelry sold at Mashed. Cross the street to find Following Lucy (119C Jan Pieter Heijestraat; 011-31-20-489-9006; followinglucy.com), a women’s boutique where you can pick up affordable rubber boots for sloshy days. Near Bellamyplein, follow the tram tracks to Foodhallen Amsterdam (51 Bellamyplein; foodhallen.nl; no phone), an industrial-chic space inside an old tram depot. “There’s not really a food-truck scene in Amsterdam, but I kind of see this like food trucks,” says American expat blogger Scott Hartbeck of the worldly collection of stalls selling French steak sandwiches, New Zealand meat pies, Turkish falafel and Belgian fries. There’s a central bar, and prices for food and drink rarely rise past the eight-euro ($9) mark.
Holland’s fourth-largest city, Utrecht, is just 25 minutes by train from Amsterdam. And it briefly stole the spotlight (not to mention some of the crowds) from the capital in July 2015, when it was the Grand Départ city for the Tour de France. Utrecht’s laid-back student atmosphere, canals with sidewalks right alongside them that are reached by steps leading down from the street (something you won’t see in Amsterdam) and compact city center make it an appealing day trip.
“It’s a city with a village vibe, with all the canals, medieval buildings and gezelligheid of Amsterdam,” says Utrecht resident Hilde Kievit, employing the essential Dutch word that roughly translates as “coziness.”
Get the best views of the beautiful city center by climbing 465 steps (sorry, no elevator) to the top of the 14th-century Gothic Dom Tower (9 Domplein; 011-31-30-236-0010; domtoren.nl; entry fee, $10 a person). The tallest church tower in the Netherlands, it’s around 368 feet high and houses a spectacular 17th-century carillon.
Cozy cafés and shops abound along the Zadelstraat, which descends from the Dom toward the train station. Shop for fun cycling-inspired souvenirs, like bike-wheel pizza cutters and colorful saddle covers, at Keck & Lisa (38 Zadelstraat; 011-31-30-240-0000; keckenlisa.nl). And browse among Mohamed Redjimi’s Middle Eastern wares—wooden boxes from Syria, intricate brass lanterns from Turkey—at L’Etoile de Constantine (4 Zadelstraat; 011-31-30-231-8993; letoiledeconstantine.nl).
For a lively dinner shared with a crowd, make your way to Restaurant Blauw (64 Springweg; 011-31-30-234-2463; restaurantblauw.nl; dinner for two, $78) for a rijsttafel, a feast made up of tiny dishes that celebrate the diverse flavors of Indonesia, a former Dutch colony. Then finish your evening at ’t Oude Pothuys (279 Oudegracht; 011-31-30-231-8970; pothuys.nl), a music café reached by stairs leading down to the Oudegracht, Utrecht’s main canal. Musicians perform live jazz, blues and rock, and candles glow on worn wooden tables in the supremely gezellig, and decidedly Dutch, surrounds.
RCI affiliated resorts near Amsterdam include:
Comfortable lakeside villas in the Dutch countryside. 47 Looweg, Loo-Oldebroek
Member Review: “It’s a lovely setting with great walking paths.”
Nature lovers can spend their days hiking through the woods around the resort. 30 Hoge Bergweg, Beekbergen
Member Review: “There are plenty of bikes available for rent.”
Adventurers, be sure to visit the nearby treetop walkway, then recharge in the on-site sauna. 4 Aelderholt, Aalden
Member Review: “Five stars for the location, the amenities and the fun our kids had.”
There’s no shortage of activities, thanks to an on-site bowling alley, tennis courts, indoor climbing wall and archery range. 6 Boshoffweg, Eerbeek
Member Review: “A beautiful and quiet setting.”
Cozy apartments with balcony or patio, and plenty of amenities. 1 Leuvenumse Beek, Biddinghuizen
Member Review: Not yet rated
Be sure to plan day trips to the nearby islands of Schiermonnikoog and Ameland during your stay. 28 Skanserwei, Anjum
Member Review: Not yet rated
RCI TipDid you know Amsterdam is a popular cruise port? RCI subscribing members can save up to $1200USD per cabin on select sailings with standard exchange. For RCI Cruise terms and conditions and more information, visit cruiserci.com.**
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts in Amsterdam include:
A 172-room East Amsterdam hotel in the former headquarters of deVolkskrant, one of Holland’s largest newspapers. Rooms have oversized windows and rainfall showerheads, and there’s a rooftop sauna and hot tub. 150 Wibautstraat; 011-31-20-261-2100; volkshotel.nl; doubles from $150 a night
The Amsterdam Canal Hotel
Stylish rooms with canal views in a central location on the Lijnbaansgracht. 253 Weteringschans; 011-31-20-234-5630; canal-hotel.nl; doubles from $165 a night
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- **RCI Cruise is administered by an independent third party under contract with RCI.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Winter 2015