Leaving for Antwerp and Amsterdam in early October - what to do there?
September 17, 2019 7:59 PM   Subscribe

Assume I know about Amsterdam's hash culture yadda yadda yadda already. If I only get this one chance to visit Belgium and Amsterdam - I want to hear what you absolutely love about it if you live there or have extensive travel stories. And OF COURSE I want your best beer and frites rec's, please and thank you.

Things I'm interested in: art, culture, quiet places ideal for people-watching, and I love walking everywhere when I visit a new city/country/part of the world.

Major bonus points for local travel etiquette and cultural respect tips while travelling in this part of Europe.
posted by Lipstick Thespian to Travel & Transportation around Belgium (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
quiet places ideal for people-watching

In Amsterdam, we enjoyed the hell out of plunking our jetlagged selves down at one of the outdoor tables at Blauwe Theehuis in the Vondelpark for about three two hours and just...people-watching. This was in mid-May, so outside of peak tourist season.


I mean, most people will tell you this, but still...the Rijksmuseum was pretty amazing. They don't call them Dutch masters for nothing. Don't miss out on the opportunity to go.

This video from this post might give you and idea of walks that appeal to you (it starts with the Vondelpark): Walking the parks in Amsterdam ( Vondelpark - Rembrandtpark - Erasmuspark - Westerpark)
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:07 PM on September 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

My tips for Amsterdam:

Visit the restaurant Blue at the top of the Kalvertoren shopping center. This is one of the few tall (like, six-story) buildings in central Amsterdam, and the restaurant has amazing panoramic views of the whole city. You don't have to eat there—can just grab a beer (or maybe even just do a quick lookie-loo, though it's worth sitting down for a spot).

If you like craft cocktails, Door 74. If you want to enjoy beers at a chill bar where you will hear mostly Dutch (rather than English), In’t Aepjen.

Exceptional dining at Seafood Bar (exactly what it sounds like) and Long Pura (Indonesian—get the rijstafl, lit. "rice table," and consider the vegetarian version). Good fries at Mannekenpis.

Rick Steves has three different audio walking tours of the city. I highly recommend all of them. Don't be afraid of the Red Light District tour.

As far as travel etiquette, if you're coming from the U.S. (as was I), you're unlikely to encounter many issues as long as you're friendly and polite. Almost everyone in Amsterdam will speak English, and no one will take offense to you starting a conversation in English (contra, say, Paris, where you always want to ask, in French, if the person you're talking to speaks English).

Oh, and watch out for bikers! No matter how bike-friendly your hometown is, Amsterdam has about a billion more bikes on the streets. Have a blast, and let us know how it goes!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:28 PM on September 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Anne Frank House requires advance tickets, and they sell out early (many early October dates are already gone). They release a smaller batch of tickets online the day of, which you can try for if you can't get them in advance. But if you're interested in going, I'd try to get tickets now if you can.
posted by zachlipton at 10:58 PM on September 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Jeruzalemkerk in Amsterdam is a bit of a walk (or tram ride) from the central district, but it's very beautiful in the Amsterdam School style, and faces on a plaza which has (or had the last time I visited) a really nice cafe with excellent food and outdoor seating; you can eat or drink in peace and enjoy the architecture and the passersby. Not crowded.
posted by huimangm at 12:33 AM on September 18, 2019

Amsterdam: the Vlaams Friteshuis in the Voetboogstraat seems still to be the best in town (and better than many fries I had in Belgium).

And Indonesian food! Tempo Doeloe in the Utrechtsestraat needs reservations these days. Back in my time it was an always-full walk-in Toko with excellent stuff.

I do love the Van Gogh museum because it's not too big/overwhelming. If you're into ships and stuff, there's an interesting Scheepvaartmuseum. The zoo (Artis) can be nice in October, as can be just-walking-through-town (perhaps avoiding the touristy center-of-the-center, even if the Nieuwmarkt is pretty cute these days. For people-watching, find yourself a terrace somewhere along one of the canals; Single/Herengracht/Keijzersgracht/Prinsengracht are in my taste more relaxed than the old center).

If you're into classical music at all, try to get yourself a seat for something/someone playing in the Concertgebouw: the hall sounds fabulous.

Noteworthy historical organs are in the Oude Kerk, Waalse Kerk and Nieuwe Kerk; check out when they are being played. There are also often Early Music concerts in the Waalse Kerk (and around town...).
posted by Namlit at 1:58 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

In the art/ culture/ quiet places category, there's thePlantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp. Very much worth a visit if you're into books at all.
posted by damayanti at 4:30 AM on September 18, 2019

Almost everyone in Amsterdam will speak English, and no one will take offense to you starting a conversation in English (contra, say, Paris, where you always want to ask, in French, if the person you're talking to speaks English).

I always asked "Do you speak English" (in Dutch), and literally everyone I asked spoke perfect English, plus some gave me a funny look like I'd asked if they breath oxygen. Some people just spoke English to me before I'd even said anything, perhaps because I was obviously a tourist.

The Stedelijk (modern art museum) is worth checking out, they have different exhibits on plus their standard collection. We saw Studio Drift when we were there which was amazing.

The canal tour company Flagship was really good (has orange signs/orange-shirted crew). We took a 1-hour tour from near the Anne Frank house.

Also near the Anne Frank house is a "cheese museum" (read: cheese shop) - has a lot of samples to find your favourite type of gouda.

The Botanical Gardens are quite compact but good for wandering around for half a day. Has some cool rainforest/desert habitats in giant greenhouses.

Oh, and watch out for bikers! No matter how bike-friendly your hometown is, Amsterdam has about a billion more bikes on the streets.

Always look both ways crossing the streets! One-way roads are two-way for bikes. Pay attention to bike lanes (and don't step into them without looking). Listen out for bike bells warning you of oncoming cyclists.

Something else to watch out for: The ubiquitous grocery store Albert Heijn only takes cash (and Maestro cards). Usually they have an ATM in store though. Conversely, we found at least one restaurant that only took cards. So make sure you have both methods of payment on hand.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:12 AM on September 18, 2019

The Rembrandtshuis - the house where Rembrandt lived and worked.
posted by hat_eater at 5:24 AM on September 18, 2019

Antwerp: The Plantin-Moretus is amazing. It is actually a 400 year old printing house with printing presses and loads of type and even the shop where they sold books. Really blew me away.

Amsterdam: I live here. For tourists that are not into crowds, I usually point them to the Rembrandt House - the house where Rembrandt lived and worked and to the Attic House - a house with a church built into the top floor but the whole house itself is impressive.

Also try hopping on a (free) ferry from Centraal and check out NDSM.
posted by vacapinta at 5:32 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I assume you are taking the train into Antwerp, but if not, you should still go inside Antwerpen Centraal because it has a beautiful interior! Antwerp also has a nice zoo and it is right outside the station.
posted by soelo at 8:08 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you have more than a couple days for Amsterdam, consider taking a side trip to another Dutch city - there are so many rewarding places within a quick train ride. Haarlem and Utrecht are only 20 minutes away by train and have a very distinct feel from Amsterdam, their own unique cultural attractions, and will be much less touristed.
posted by Gortuk at 8:32 AM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

ctrl-f Ghent, huh, nothing yet, here goes:

The first time I was planning a trip to Belgium, I wanted to go to Bruges (Brugge). But somebody told me, "Eh, take a day trip there if you like, but spend more time in Ghent - use that city as your home base."

Ghent has got the whole medieval-city feel to it, but also very modern - it's a college city. It also has Europe's largest car-free city center, just a large area of squares with thousand-year-old churches/cathedrals/castles connected by cobbled roads for trams, people, bikes. It's bustling and wonderful and feels like a very alive city full of absolutely wonderful public space. Spending a long evening on The Graslei is prime sunset-watching, people-watching, beer-drinking, frites-eating.

By comparison Brugge felt like medieval disneyland - a horde of tourists walking from the train station to the city, the city just full of tour groups, and then emptying out completely at like 4PM. it wasn't the quiet backwater from the movie; it was still lovely, but just a little too tourism-focused for my tastes.

tl;dr, though, that advice was fkn terrific.

next time I go to Belgium, though, I'm going to make sure to bring a bike, head to Oudenaarde, and ride up some of the hellingen famous from the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
posted by entropone at 10:33 AM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

The ubiquitous grocery store Albert Heijn only takes cash (and Maestro cards).
The one at Centraal took our MasterCard today, and it seems to be self checkout only.
posted by soelo at 3:10 AM on October 15, 2019

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