Red Lights and Rembrandt: 48 Hours in Amsterdam

48 Hours in Amsterdam

“He was with us in the taxi to the airport. But he hasn’t made it. I can’t phone him because this iPhone I woke up with – well, it isn’t mine.”

So came the words from the row in front of us on our homeward bound flight. And a Bradley Cooper-esque voice echoed around my head.

Amsterdam has him now.

Mr Holiday Addict and I couldn’t help but quietly chuckle.

You see, we’d had a very different weekend to those boys we shared our journey home with, and swiftly moving to the top of my “I could move here tomorrow list”, Amsterdam has so much more to offer than the stag-do lads would ever have you think.

Two days is never going to be enough to really get to know a destination, but it’s enough to get a real flavour.


Lovely Amsterdam.

For our stay in Amsterdam, we chose a hotel in the museum quarter. It meant we were nowhere near lads-weekend-central, and were perfectly placed for everything we planned on seeing and doing. But what did that include? Well, here’s what our weekend was made of:

The Rijksmuseum

This was one attraction we knew we couldn’t miss. I remember watching the news after the museum had reopened following its multi-million pound refurbishment. It was then that we really decided to make our Amsterdam weekend actually happen.

A stunning building worth admiring in its own right, the Rijksmueum is home to a glorious collection including masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer. It was busy on  Saturday, so it might be wise to pre-book, though in truth we never queued for long. And even though there were plenty of people milling about, an afternoon of museum mooching in a new city is often just what I need to bring my brain a bit of peace.


The stunning Rijksmuseum


Coming face to face with one of the world’s most famous paintings.

A Family History

After we emerged from the Rijksmuseum, we just started wandering back towards the centre of the city. We fancied a beer and spotted a little bar on a corner. What we found was a place where the walls really did talk. Old family photos faded by the years were everywhere – even on the ceiling. There were little babies who probably weren’t so little anymore, family portraits, pets, sports teams. And where there were no old photos, there were new ones. These walls still had tales to tell.

Bar walls that talk

If walls could talk…

I wish I knew what the bar was called so I could send you there, but the truth is that the details didn’t seem important as we whiled away the hours, watching the world come and go. From the lone old woman with the red lips and red wine, to the twenty something jogger who stopped by for a glass of water before running off again – we saw a glimpse of Amsterdam’s life story here, and we liked it. Very much indeed.

Photos on the Ceiling

Even the ceilings could tell stories…

The Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum was a real highlight of the weekend for me. Bright and early on Sunday morning seemed a good time to visit, before the queues got too long. Once inside, the opportunity to take photos was limited – but you’re here to immerse yourself in Van Gogh with your eyes, not through a lens, and sometimes it’s a relief to put your camera away and just enjoy the experience. Following the journey of such an iconic artist’s life through his work was a real joy. If you let them, these paintings will speak to your soul.

Van Gogh Museum

Outside the Van Gogh Museum – not as fancy as the Rijksmuseum, but don’t be fooled! There’s treasure inside.

The House of Bols

Given my belief that no city break should feature culture without a side dish of cocktails, our next stop was a short hop across the road to the House of Bols. Telling the story of the Dutch spirit Genever, which ultimately led to the birth of the gin we know and love, this museum was a drink of history.

Bols are now renowned for their flavoured spirits, and in here you get the opportunity to see what floats your boat taste wise before enjoying a couple of samples in the swanky bar later and a Genever based cocktail made to suit you. Of course there was much merriment on our part when Mr Holiday Addict ended up with a fruity, pinkish concoction, while as he so eloquently put it, “You’ve ended up with something James Bond would drink.”

What can I say?

House of Bols

Sniffing out the perfect cocktail!

Cocktails in the House of Bols

After all that history – time for a drink!

De Pijp

Walking in the Sunday afternoon sunshine took us from the museum quarter to the the De Pijp area of town. Filled with bustling cafe bars and galleries, I think this must be cosmpolitan Amsterdam at its best. Everywhere in this neighbourhood looked buzzy and inviting, with a distinctly welcoming local vibe. So much so, that we stopped for a spot of lunch and attempted to pretend we lived there, just for a little while. Later, we met up with Frankie of As the Bird Flies for a drink and some lovely chatter – she really does call this end of town home.

De Pijp

De Pijp – the perfect part of Amsterdam to spend Sunday afternoon.

The Red Light District

I’m lost as to what I think about Amsterdam’s red light district really. I wondered what roads had taken these women towards being the equivalent of mannequins in shop windows, advertising nothing but themselves. Of course, you can’t take photos here – and you shouldn’t. But don’t feel uncomfortable about visiting the area as a tourist – it has its own value in terms of historical importance and there are tours if you’re interested in how it all came to be. Then you can draw your own conclusions.

One thing you shouldn’t do, however, is let this one side of Amsterdam convince you that the city wouldn’t be your cup of tea. Or coffee. And by coffee I mean the other thing Amsterdam is known for. Red lights and that particular variety of coffee shop are easily avoided. Trust me.

But what do you think? Does my weekend seem like enough to give you a taster of what Amsterdam is really all about? I hope so and I sincerely hope you’ll give the city a visit if you haven’t been already.

Pin it!

Now, to round off our trip I’ll leave you with a red-light inspired video which accompanies the song that I couldn’t get out of my head the whole time we were in Amsterdam. It doesn’t really fit, but so what? A great song is a great song, and as I really did leave Amsterdam on a high, let’s end in the same fashion here (no coffee shop required).


  • Lula Belle says:

    I think this definitely gives a good flavour of Amsterdam & good to know you can avoid places if you want to.

    It does look a lovely place.

  • Agness says:

    When I’m back in Amsterdam next time, I will definitely make it to he House of Bols! What was your daily budget for Amsterdam (if I may ask)?

    • Clare says:

      The House of Bols was definitely fun! I’d say with museum entry and food and drink (beer and wine with dinner), we spent about 70 euros per day each. Our hotel rate included breakfast and we had one big meal out and one snacky meal. We didn’t dine anywhere too fancy.

  • Lucy says:

    Oh like the House of Bols and De Pijp recommendation, am definitely thinking about tagging along when Damien goes out there for work in September and did the museums before so good to have some new things to see.

  • Amsterdam is something else 🙂 Also love how compact it is! Done the museums before but may be time for a return to some 😉

  • Sammi says:

    I am in love with Amsterdam, I have considered moving there so much. One of my friends lives there, and I can follow her conversations in Dutch, often. I didn’t go to the Rijksmuseum when I was there- it was still being refurbed and there was no discount to the cost, so I decided against going. Plus, I’m not a real art lover- I only spent an hour in the Van Gogh museum, and that was plenty. I just felt comfortable, relaxed and safe there. It wasn’t like any other city.

    • Clare says:

      The Rijksmuseum is definitely worth visiting when you’re next there – I think the spectacle of the building as well as the art make it worthwhile. I definitely agree with the comfortable, relaxed feeling of the city. It was lovely.

  • Love that you showed the other side of Amsterdam, Clare! It has so much more to offer than the Red Light District. I was in awe of the Van Gogh museum, truly a gem. Did you make it to the Anne Frank House? It completely blew me away. They have kept it so close to how it was in the 1930s-1940s, it is eerie. You have inspired a return trip even if just to make it to House of Bols! Glad you had a great weekend!

    • Clare says:

      We really wanted to visit the Anne Frank house, but the queues were around the block which was a real shame. I thought we might be ok but I’d definitely be booking online next time we visit.

      We did have a great weekend though, Thanks Bridget!

  • Upasna says:

    It sure sounds like you had a lovely weekend Clare.
    I’d love to visit Amsterdam some day, but since a trip to Europe is just an annual event at best, I think it might take a couple more years till I get around to it. 🙂

  • Julie K. says:

    The collection at Rijskmuseum was awe-inspiring, much larger than I had anticipated. I was thoroughly impressed! The one thing I found to be somewhat irritating was the number of visitors taking photos of the exhibitions — many of them rude and obstructive… I don’t really understand the whole photographs of paintings thing.. it ruins the experience for others and all in all doesn’t make much sense. If you want to look at a picture of the painting, you can easily find it online and actually enjoy it whilst at the museum.

  • This article is unique because you showed both sides of the coin – congrats! I visited Amsterdam many moons ago and cannot wait to visit it with my kids this time : )

  • Yes, this article is unique. I really like what you say regarding the red light district: “Then, you can draw your own conclusion”. I am a French photographer, I am living in Amsterdam since more than 3 years and I consider Amsterdam as a bib pattern to the world. Come to visit Amsterdam and feel the security… Because of the tolerance politics? It should be…

  • Kerry says:


    I am planning a trip in Amsterdam in July and was just wondering where you feel the best area to book a hotel is?

    Thanks 🙂

  • amsterdamian says:

    there’s so much more to see in Amsterdam then the Red Light district! you should have another city break and see the rest of the city (the Canal Belt, Jordaan neighbourhood, Amsterdam Noord, Prinseneiland, the parks and so on)!

  • Paul says:

    They organise guided bike tours at the windmill park Zaanse Schans and around very close Amsterdam!

  • sergei says:

    Good article about Amsterdam.

  • Leslie Brlec says:

    Keep up the great work. I love this site.

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