After a second extended city break in Amsterdam, Liz and her husband are keen to share tips they picked up along the way to help others.
Our Approach to Holiday Planning
Our approach to holiday planning goes a little like this: we choose a destination, in this case, Amsterdam. Next, we look for reasonably priced flights. Then we sort out where we are going to stay, usually based on where we can get a good deal or maybe use some loyalty points. We read up on the destination and get an idea of the main attractions that we want to see while we are there.
These are all good ideas, but aren't we missing something? Where are we going to eat and drink? No trip, no matter how stunning the location, is going to be a success without refreshment along the way. Read on to find out how we fared and pick up a few tips as you travel with us.
Your Holiday Planning
In this guide, we start off at base camp and consider the food and drink options where we are staying, before heading out to explore some of the eating and drinking places in Amsterdam. Join us as we sample a little of what Amsterdam has to offer.
1. Make the Most of Where You Stay
- Executive Lounges
- Welcome Drinks
- Complimentary Snacks
- Drinks Facilities in Your Hotel Room
2. Do-It-Yourself Food and Drink
- Drinks and Snacks
- Alternative Use for a Redundant Minibar
3. Activities that Include Refreshments
- Canal Trips
- The Heineken Experience
4. Favorite Snack Places in Amsterdam
- Sonneveld Eetcafe
- Brasserie 3-5-3
- Treat Yourself at the Skylounge, Doubletree by Hilton
5. Favorite Restaurants in Amsterdam
- De Plantage
- La Casona
- Treat Yourself to a Rijsttafel
1. Make the Most of Where You Stay
Sometimes it's possible to be so focused on getting out and exploring a destination, that we fail to take advantage of the opportunities for refreshment at little cost in our accommodation. Here are a few to consider.
I have heard breakfast described as 'the best meal of the day'. A hearty breakfast can set you up for the day. We have often indulged in a big breakfast buffet and then had no need for lunch.
Does your hotel include free breakfast? Some brands, like Hilton, offer a complimentary breakfast to members of their loyalty program (Hilton Honors) with gold or diamond status.
Our night in the Hilton Amsterdam was complimentary (due to a credit card). The chance of a free breakfast in the restaurant was definitely too good to miss. One of the best breakfast spreads we have come across included a range of cereals, hot drinks, juices, fruits and yogurt, hot and cold savory options as well as bakery items. It was well presented with local touches like the giant clogs on the bakery section and little Dutch house models on the cold section. To top it all we were served a pancake with a sparkler in it, as our booking mentioned a wedding anniversary.
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Other hotels, like Holiday Inn Express, routinely include an all you can eat breakfast in the room rate. Our stay at Holiday Inn Express City Hall was booked using points. Breakfast here was not on the scale of the Hilton, as there were no hot savory options. But it offered enough in the way of juices, hot drinks, cold savory choices, cereals, bakery items, fruit, and yogurt to give us a good start to the day.
Do the Maths
It is worth finding out how much breakfast is at your hotel. If the cost is reasonable and the buffet is good, you might not need to buy another meal until later in the day. Paying for a hotel breakfast can be cheaper than getting breakfast and lunch out in Amsterdam.
Does your hotel have an executive lounge? If so, can you access it for free? Some brands, such as Hilton and InterContinental Hotel Group, have executive lounges in selected hotels. These can be free with the higher grades of rooms. It's always worth checking if you can get a free upgrade. Usually, you are in a stronger position the higher up the tier status you are in loyalty reward schemes.
Executive lounges vary greatly in their provision. Some offer hot drinks, soft drinks, and a few snack items. Others offer a timetable of edible treats throughout the day with alcoholic drinks available too in a timed slot.
Due to tier status, we received a room upgrade at Hilton Amsterdam. The room included access to the executive lounge on the 10th floor, which was a glass-walled area on the roof. Tables and chairs were set out, with a sofa group at the end. We could have taken a light breakfast up there. Throughout the day a selection of soft drinks was available from a minibar. Hot drinks came from a self-service machine. A range of savory snacks (vegetable crisps, salted crisps, nuts, and crackers) was left out in the lounge and there were apples and boiled sweets near the entrance.
Between 5.30 pm and 7.30 pm, a selection of spirits (gin, whiskey, vodka, and rum) appeared. Heineken and wine were left out 30 minutes longer until 8.00 pm. There were hot dishes of meatballs and mozzarella sticks in breadcrumbs with tomato sauce, mayonnaise, and sweet chili sauce.
The main spread consisted of focaccia, topped with cheese and tomato, ham, melon, mozzarella and tomato, Gouda cheese, biscottis, breadsticks, tomatoes in oil, asparagus hearts, and butter beans. Desserts were chocolate and creamy toffee sauce, sponge fingers soaked in coffee, and chantilly.
If you don't qualify for free access, some hotels will charge a fee. It's worth checking what's available and doing the maths to work out whether it represents good value for money.
Some hotel brands, like those in the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), offer welcome drinks vouchers to loyalty rewards members. Our rule of thumb is that if two alcoholic drinks are offered, take them, as their value exceeds any points you might get instead.
Sometimes check-in staff forget, so don't be shy in reminding them if you qualify due to tier status. It is worth cheekily requesting two vouchers, as many will give them.
When we checked in to the InterContinental, Amstel Hotel, Amsterdam, the welcome drinks were forgotten. An enquiry at the reception desk soon corrected this. As it happened there were issues with the service in the saloon, so we were given more vouchers. On day one we had two house wines with snacks, on day two we had the two most expensive drinks on the menu. All for nothing.
Some hotels, especially the more upmarket ones, like the InterContinental brand, leave complimentary snacks and drinks out for guests. If you come across this in your hotel, feel free to help yourself.
Near the leisure pool in the Amstel Hotel, we found jugs of water, cranberry and orange juice, a facility for making hot drinks, a bowl of fresh fruit, dried vegetables, nuts, and dried fruit.
Drinks Facilities in Your Hotel Room
We are used to having the option of making hot drinks in our hotel rooms. It saves a lot on buying tea and coffee, especially at hotel bar prices. You might compromise on quality, as instant coffee is not the same as freshly filtered coffee but you save on the cost. Sometimes a more luxurious hotel brand will provide a coffee pod machine in rooms.
Many mid-service (3-4 star) hotels have emptied or removed the minibars altogether, but some still remain and we have yet to stay in a 5-star hotel without one. Usually, charges are exorbitant and drinks and other items can be tracked as they are removed. Unless we have been advised that the contents are free, we leave well alone. That way there are no nasty surprises at checkout.
Be aware also of any drinks left out in the room. The Amstel had an interesting selection of alcoholic drinks and snacks near the tea and coffee, but the price list was eye-watering. Sometimes hotels will try to charge for bottled water too.
Fear not, if you are starting to think that you might go hungry and thirsty in your hotel room. Read on for some solutions.
2. Do-It-Yourself Food and Drink
A little self-catering, while you are away, helps to save costs. This is obviously easier in a rented property with cooking facilities. But it's also possible when you are in a hotel. Here are a few cost-saving suggestions:
Consider bringing shelf products, like cereal, from home. Take disposable bowls, plates, and cutlery. Alternatively, find a local supermarket near your hotel. Buying supplies here will be cheaper than hotel prices.
Drinks and Snacks
Cereal bars and fruit are a good standby in your bag when sightseeing, as is bottled water. A local supermarket is a cheaper source than buying all your snacks out. You can make big savings on alcohol too. A can of beer or a bottle of wine comes at a fraction of the price of what you would pay in the bar.
If your budget is tight or you prefer a relaxing evening in, it is possible to purchase the elements of an easy to put together a meal in the supermarket. Choose a nice prepacked salad, drinks, and desserts and take them back to your room. Disposable plates and cutlery are a useful addition to your luggage for this purpose.
If your hotel does not have drinks facilities in the room, consider taking your own travel kettle and some tea bags. Peppermint tea is a standby with us, as this refreshing hot drink does not require milk.
Alternative Use for a Redundant Minibar
Remember the minibars in the previous section? If it's empty but cool, there's no reason why you can't store your own drinks in there. You might even be able to squeeze a few in with the minibar contents, where it is in use. Take care with food though, as the temperature is probably not reliable for safe food storage over a long period.
3. Activities that Include Refreshments
It can be a bonus when sightseeing if food or drink is included in the cost of an activity.
The majority of visitors to Amsterdam will take a trip on the canals to see the city from the water.
The 'All-Inclusive' Option
Some companies, like BoatAmsterdam.com, offer 'All-Inclusive' drinks. If you were thinking of stopping somewhere for a drink anyway, especially an alcoholic one, this could be a cost-effective option. As well as a range of soft drinks, the onboard bars offer cans of beer and a basic wine selection. Your intake is limited by the lack of toilet facilities onboard and it would be unwise to overindulge, especially whilst on the water. After all, nobody wants an early bath in a canal due to intoxication. But it's definitely worth doing the maths and considering the options.
Other companies offer onboard bars on a pay-as-you-go basis. Out of the main tourist season, on a quiet day, you might be able to haggle for a free drink. These bars include spirits and mixers, so a free drink can be worth it. Beware though, tabs are kept and you could be hit with a hefty bill at the end of your trip.
Canal Cruise with a Meal
You could really push the boat out and take a canal cruise that includes a meal on board. This might be an option if you are celebrating a special occasion or want an especially memorable experience in Amsterdam. Check out reviews and compare deals to find the trip that suits you best and book in advance.
The Heineken Experience
Occasionally, some attractions offer a sample or free drink included in the admission cost. One such place in Amsterdam is The Heineken Experience.
I was not a beer drinker at all when we first visited Amsterdam in 2007. So I was a little surprised when my husband suggested visiting the Heineken Experience. But, on a drizzly day, I was soon persuaded that an indoor attraction would be a better idea than exploring Amsterdam in the rain. I was also informed that the reviews were good.
Located in the first Heineken brewery dating back over 150 years, the Heineken Experience takes visitors on a journey through the beer-making process and the development of the brand, ending with a glass of Heineken. I certainly learned a lot and enjoyed the experience more than I expected. My husband appreciated the beer at the end, especially as he drank most of mine too.
4. Favorite Snack Places in Amsterdam
If you minimize frivolous spending using the earlier tips, it should leave a little room for sampling a few local snacks. Here are two cafes that we came across whilst sightseeing.
As the name suggests, eetcafes serve good food at slightly below restaurant prices. They tend to offer lunchtime snacks and an evening meal. Some even provide full three-course menus at a reasonable cost. Dishes have become more adventurous in some eetcafes and there is generally a choice of vegetarian dishes. Kitchens tend to close early so you need to eat before 9.00 pm.
Located on the corner of Egelantiersgracht and Tweede Egelantiersdwarsstraat and within sight of Westerkerk, we came upon Sonneveld Eetcafe one lunchtime. Attracted by its red and white striped awnings on two sides, we decided to investigate further and ended up pausing on the sunny terrace for a toasted sandwich and a beer, as we looked towards a canal.
The cafe has an interesting history, having gained its name from a former resident, Wim Sonneveld (1917-1974), a Dutch cabaret artist and singer. Pictures of him decorate the walls of the cafe. Sonneveld set up 'Blijvend Applaus' with other musical artists. This foundation owns Eetcafe Sonneveld and gives donations to former artists in need.
No visit to the Netherlands is complete without sampling the appeltaart. We enjoyed ours with a cup of tea at Brasserie 3-5-3 on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, conveniently located around the corner from The Amsterdam Museum. Quirkily arranged on an acute corner, we found a sunny spot at a table outside to enjoy a teatime treat and rest our feet.
The apple pie, as many of us would know it, seems to feature on every dessert menu in Amsterdam. No two versions ever seem identical, so it's a good excuse for sampling several.
Treat Yourself at the Skylounge, Doubletree by Hilton
Having saved money, using the earlier tips, you might be tempted to treat yourself to a more expensive drink with an experience. If this is the case, it's worth considering a visit to the Skylounge at the Doubletree by Hilton, just east of Centraal Station.
By day you can access the outside terrace on the rooftop of the hotel. The drinks don't come cheap and choose your seat carefully for the best view, as some seating is quite low down. The best views and photos are from a standing position.
By night the Skylounge becomes a pleasant cocktail lounge, a popular place to see the sunset over Amsterdam.
We went up there one morning. It was quite busy, so we took a few photos, admired the view, and left without being noticed. Probably not the best way to do it, but always a possibility if you don't want to pay the inflated drinks' prices.
5. Favorite Restaurants in Amsterdam
No visit to a foreign city is complete without sampling the local cuisine. Due to its trading history, we discovered that Amsterdam is a culinary mix of restaurants catering to different tastes. Here is a selection of restaurants that we visited.
Wanting to find typical Dutch food, we asked the advice of hotel staff at Holiday Inn Express City Hall. We were directed to 'De Plantage', which turned out to be the restaurant at the city zoo. We arrived on a Friday lunchtime to find that we had to wait for a table in the stylish bar area at the front.
After a few minutes, we were directed to a table in a large conservatory restaurant. Expecting to find Dutch dishes on the menu, we were surprised to discover a menu influenced by Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean. It was an interesting and mouthwatering selection and we did find some warm salted meat from Amsterdam with homemade pickles and horseradish sauce. Washed down with the local Amstel beer and finished off with apple pie, it turned out to be a filling meal, though not quite what we had anticipated.
De Plantage offers different menus throughout the day from breakfast to evening meals. It's a pleasant enough setting, but a little like the noise of a school dining room when it's busy. It would combine well with a visit to Amsterdam Zoo.
A library might not be the obvious place to go in search of a meal, but Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam, the city's central library, offers a range of reasonably priced meal options in its modern cafeteria, Babel on the 7th floor. Split into three parts, it hosts the City Bar, the Amsterdam Food Court, and the Open Kitchen and boasts a menu based on the many different cultures in Amsterdam.
There's no table service here in this no-frills eatery, so take a tray, wander around the well-lit areas and select your meal options. Our salmon, fries, and salad were made to order by one of the chefs and well-presented.
Located on the Oosterdok, east of Centraal Station, the OBA's terrace on the 7th floor has great views over Amsterdam, which few restaurants can rival, certainly for this price. Whether you are looking for a snack or a main meal, there are enough options here to suit most tastes.
Admission to the terrace, if you want to head up there and just take in the view, is free. Babel is usually open between 10:00 am and 10:00 pm. Check the website for details.
If you like a good steak, you will find that there is no shortage of good Argentinian steak houses in Amsterdam. Wandering slightly off the main street, near Rembrandtplein, we came across La Casona on Utrechtsestraat.
As restaurants go, it doesn't have a big frontage but La Casona has a pleasant interior in a South American/Spanish design. Early evening midweek it was fairly quiet and we were pleased with the quality of our steak, fries, and a side salad, all served up on a wooden board. Just the ticket after a day's sightseeing.
Treat Yourself to a Rijsttafel
Before our first trip to the city, a friend said to me "If you go to Amsterdam, you must have a rijsttafel". She explained that a 'rice table' is an Indonesian meal of rice along with an array of side dishes. With this advice in mind, we came across Puri Mas, on Lange Leidsedwarsstraat. It was a short walk from Leidseplein, a focus for bars, cafes, restaurants, and other entertainment venues.
Rijsttafels are not the cheapest meals to order, but I would highly recommend one as a tasty, filling, and worthwhile holiday treat. With a little research, you should be able to find a restaurant slightly off the main streets, that can serve you up a feast.
There can be no better recommendation for a restaurant than having such a good first experience there that, on your next visit to the city, several years later, you seek it out to revisit. So it was for us with Puri Mas.
From the outside, the appearance of this restaurant was subdued. Our eyes were caught by the menu, but as the restaurant was on the first floor, there were no overzealous staff to beckon us inside. We were fortunate to get a table on our first visit early on a midweek evening in the spring.
We were immediately struck by the high standard of service that we received. Clearly, this was a popular restaurant, but staff were attentive to our every need and took time to explain the various dishes, of which there were several. There were different combinations of dishes available for set prices.
Our experience was so good that we kept the restaurant card with its details, looked it up, and booked a table at Puri Mas over 10 years later. Often returning somewhere can be disappointing, but our second meal at Puri Mas was as excellent as the first.
A Sad PostScript
Unfortunately, we will not be returning to Puri Mas. Whilst researching this article, I came across the following message posted on their website in 2020:
"With a heavy heart we have decided to close our doors. We look back on 30 beautiful years with precious moments thanks to our dear customers, suppliers, colleagues and family. It has been our privilege and joy to have served you all these years. We wish you and your loved ones all the best!"
Puri Mas Family
"Thinking of you, brings a smile to our faces"
Food and Drink in Amsterdam
There is no shortage of tempting places to eat and drink in Amsterdam. You are rarely far from a cafe or restaurant in this scenic city on the water. Don't let your budget restrict your enjoyment. Use the tips at the beginning of this article, to make your Euros stretch further so that you can treat yourself. Sample the food and drink in Amsterdam without breaking the bank and enjoy your trip.
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- InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam, a Thorough Hotel Appraisal
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Liz Westwood