Things You Should Do and Tips For: The Netherlands and Amsterdam

Good morning! We recently spent a long weekend away in The Netherlands, which you can read all about HERE, and this morning I am going to talk about some of the tips/tricks that we learned and what I would recommend you do as well as maybe some things that are maybe a little over hyped.

As always, this will heavily depend on your own interest, how you are traveling, and the time of year that you are going. This is the first (and only) time that we have been to The Netherlands and we went to see two spots, Amsterdam and the Tulip Gardens. We were only there for 3 nights total, so we didn’t get to see everything that we had wanted to. We also traveled with our two young children, which as with Berlin, factored into what we did and didn’t do. I am going to do these as two separate sections, one for Amsterdam and one for everything else, that way if you are only interested in Amsterdam you can only read that part or if you are only interested in the Tulips you can only read that part. It is also too much and too different to try and consolidate into one long recommendations and tips section.

Recommendations for Amsterdam

It may seem overly touristy but take advantage of the boat rides along the canals. To be completely honest this is one of the best ways to get an overall look at the city, the canals, the different “high points”, but without all of the tourists. You aren’t fighting a crowd to look at a church or tower. It also gives you a unique point of view from what it would have been like in history.  If you take the train in, you can find plenty of options all along the exit of the station, as well as options all throughout the canals. Depending on what you are more interested in, you’ll find a boat tour that will meet those needs (we saw everything from a romantic cruise, to all about the alcohol, to a standard hear the history and nothing more). We didn’t originally plan on doing a boat ride, but our older son insisted, and it didn’t look too bad when we got out there.

I would also recommend heading over to Dam Square. This is the main town square and there is usually always something going on. From here you can get a good view of the exterior of The Royal Palace, see The National Monument, and the Nieuwe Kerk Church. There are also a couple other spots right off the square if you’re interested, Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. We did not go in either of those, but we did go inside the Royal Palace. I’ll be honest, The Royal Palace tour is not a necessity to a trip to Amsterdam. If you are interested you can certainly do it, but it is not like a “must see”. I really enjoyed it, but I am a royal fan and think that seeing different palace’s and other type of government buildings is really interesting.

A couple of the spots that I wish we could have gone to, that were on our list but didn’t end up being an option, were: The Anne Frank House, Foodhallen, and The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. I’ll get into The Anne Frank House in my tips/tricks, the Foodhallen is a food court that came highly highly recommended to us, and the Rijksmuseum as a lot of Dutch history that we wanted to learn about.

I’ll touch on one more spot as I feel like I need to make a note on this because to be honest, not a lot of people talk about Amsterdam without talking about The Red Light District OR the booming cannabis market/options. We walked through the Red Light District and I found it to be just like a regular stroll (in a weird way). Here’s the thing, first off you cannot take video or pictures in the District. This is to protect the workers that are there, and I can completely understand. These are regular people who are doing what it is that they do. Just because it is not something that we see every day, or something that may not be as popular or destigmatized in our area of the world, does not mean that they need to put in a spotlight situation. If you choose to stroll along the District, do not leer, do not linger, just be respectful. These are people just as we are, and they are doing what they choose and want to do.

 Tips for Amsterdam:

Tip #1: Bikes have the right of way and they will exercise that right of way whether you are aware of that or not. Amsterdam (and The Netherlands in general) has a huge biking community, it’s how the majority of their population gets around. Most places will have designated bike lanes, so don’t hover in those lanes and make sure that you are aware of where they are when there are no designated lanes.

If you want the true experience, there are so many different bike rental spots!

Tip #2: Make it an Adult Only or Girls Trip. This one is going to be a little bit hard to explain, or maybe it won’t, but I think Amsterdam would be so much different if it was just adults. I don’t say this for any “content” warning for what is in Amsterdam or for any lack of enjoyment reason. We loved (and do still love) taking our kids out throughout the world, exposing them to new cultures, places, people that they would not otherwise get to experience. HOWEVER, Amsterdam is so packed with people that you are spending a good amount of your time just shuffling along with the crowds and worrying about being separate from those you are with, until you get out of the main area. I think I worried a little bit more than normal with having our kids there.

Tip #3: Look at staying outside of the City Limits and taking the train in. Amsterdam is quite expensive and staying in a hotel in the city is very expensive. It is also, once again, full of people and traffic. We stayed outside the city in a little town and took the train in to Central Amsterdam. We were able to book a little cottage on AirBnB for a very reasonable price and it gave us a little breathing room. We didn’t have to worry about fighting traffic in a car or finding parking for the day. I am already a really big believer in public transportation, and this weekend away really confirmed that for me.

Recommendations for Tulips/Flower Season

As for how I would recommend you approach the tulip season that is going to depend on what you actually want to see. If you want to see just the Tulip Fields, there are a couple of different farms that you can go to. Lisse is the most popular spot and has the largest amount of options to see Tulips. MAKE SURE that you check my Tips out though, because there are some rules you will want to be available of. You can also see the Tulips just driving along the road and throughout train rides. I believe you can also see them from the sky, but I couldn’t confirm that.

We went to Keukenhof Tulip Garden, which is one of the more famous well-known spots for the Tulips. I knew that I wanted to see a bit of both the Tulip Fields AND the more manicured growing plots. Keukenhof has the best of both worlds for that. They boast about 7 Million Bulbs are planted and grown in their garden and I would believe it. Plus, believe me when I say there is something for everyone here. They have a kid’s area in the center where there is a playground, petting zoo, and park to eat at. There is also a maze for the kids to run through. There is a windmill that gives you a view over the fields, water, and gardens as well as two other overlook spots. Finally, you also have the indoor flower shows that follow along with themes for the year (one changes weekly). They have a unique planting and growing system that allows them to have blooms for eight weeks, so you have plenty of time to check them out.

My other recommendation would be to bike through the countryside. This is an excellent way to not only see the beautiful countryside of The Netherlands, but also see the Tulip Fields, the windmills, and be true to how the people get around. It is such a fun way to get around and see the country.

Tips for Tulips/Flower Season

Tip #1 (Possibly the Most Important One): DO NOT just go traipsing through the tulip fields all willy nilly to try and get the perfect picture or see them better. The Tulips are not only part of The Netherlands and the culture, but it is also a HUGE business for them. They work incredibly hard to grow and maintain the tulips and walking through the actual field itself ruins the flowers and the field. Only do this at the land owners permission (and if you’ve paid for it).

Tip #2:Go as early in the day as possible. No matter when you go or how you choose to see the Tulips it is going to be crowded. We went the peak weekend for the blooms, which also happened to be Easter Weekend and I didn’t feel like we were fighting the crowds until the very end of our time in the park. We went shortly after they opened and a few hours later everyone else seemed to start coming in. So, go early!

Tip #3:Just enjoy the beauty around you. I am a big one for documenting everything, taking all of the pictures, capturing every bloom and even I had to take a step back and just enjoy the sheer beauty around you. This is such a special place and time and honestly, not to get hokey, just take a step back from the camera/phone and enjoy the moment.

And on that note…

Those are all of my Things You Should Do and Tips for Amsterdam/The Netherlands! We do hope to go back and see some other area’s in the country one day, but this was one of the best trips we’ve taken. If you have any specific questions I will try to answer them in the comments below and if you have any of your own tips, please leave them below!

Berlin – A Long Weekend

Good morning! This morning I am going to talk {A LOT} about our recent long weekend trip to Berlin. My husband had his first 4-day weekend through is work and we felt as if it would be remiss to not go SOMEWHERE for the weekend. We debated between going to Berlin and Munich and Berlin ended up winning (obviously…). We did this a little bit last minute (although we have a bucket list of places to choose from, as well as a breakdown of potential amounts of time that we would need to feel comfortable traveling those places), but we booked the hotel and such only a few days before we actually left. I won’t go on too much longer as I have A LOT to tell you. I’ll be doing a whole “Things We Learned” post separately, so this will just be what we saw/did…which is still A LOT.

I will say, it is currently mid-March. This means rain, cloud cover, occasional snow and 40-50Farenheit temperatures. We had planned for this to happen and while the weather didn’t impede us from doing what we wanted to do, it is definitely a factor.

We left for Berlin early Friday morning and had decided to drive there, but then park the car and rely on public transport while we were actually there. It’s about a 4.5-5 hr drive for us (including stops) and that was a decent distance for both us and the kids. They were able to be occupied for most of the drive by everything outside and they napped for a little bit. It was a pretty easy drive, just a hop on the autobahn and away we went.

IMG_0279

My husband had done a bit of Expedia shopping around and settled on the Kastanienhof Hotel. This was such an incredible hotel to stay at. A little on the pricey end, but it’s also Berlin, so it could be a more inexpensive option. We got a “suite” option which had a separate little bedroom set up for the boys that we could close the doors on at night for sleeping. We had a good-sized bathroom and a little minibar set up. The best part is the hotel is right next to a pick-up point for the Streetcar, so it works perfectly.

We spent Friday afternoon/evening at the Berlin Wall Memorial. This is a notorious spot in the wall, which bisected an apartment building, park, and was one of the original crossing points, the wall has portions that are still intact and portions that were picked at when it “came down”. This is a running theme throughout quite a bit of Berlin. There are portions of the wall still up in a quite a few areas, both museum/historical and just regular spots. Across the street from the tower/wall you can head in to the Documentation Center and up to the overlook. The overlook gives you a good look from above at what the wall was like. There is an exterior and interior portion, with a tower in the middle.

IMG_5373.jpgOnce we finished there, we headed out for dinner at a local hole in the wall barbecue joint, Chicago Williams BBQ (which was delicious) and then back to the hotel for some sleep. I will say- just on this first day we had walked just over 2.5 miles, and this was our “light day” (we walked a total of around 20 miles through the whole weekend and I don’t know how many flights of stairs).

IMG_5413.jpg

The next morning, we woke up somewhat early after a night of…”sleep”…amongst the city sounds of Streetcars, Bikes and regular cars outside our window. I am not opposed or even mad about this, it was just something that we had to spend that first night adjusting to. Saturday morning, we decided to head over to another hole in the wall restaurant, this time a bakery for a quick breakfast before heading out for a day of exploring. We had lofty plans for the day and even the forecasted rain wasn’t going to stop us.

IMG_0352.jpg

We started at Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie is probably about the only crossing point you’ve really heard about in terms of crossing at the Berlin Wall. It has seen demonstrations, stand offs, escape attempts and was demolished in a full formal ceremony. Now they have the building for the checkpoint where you can take pictures (they even have a couple actors that you can pay to take pictures with) and a full museum across the street. The museum covers a brief history of the wall, but focuses mostly on different escape attempts, including vehicles and such that were actually used, and people that are closely tied to the Berlin Wall. This was a must see on our list.

The second must see on our list was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe/Holocaust Memorial. I had heard about what walking through this memorial was like and let me say, words cannot begin to describe it. The site is filled with concrete slabs of varying height and there is an underground area that lists out the names of the murdered Jews of the Holocaust. It has a cold, sobering almost inhuman affect as you walk through it. It feels like a cemetery, but the slabs do not have any notations (like tombstones would) which I think adds to the sobering affect. It can be a bit overwhelming when you think about the actual facts and numbers, but this is one of the most well-done memorials I feel.

Since we were in the area (and needed a bit of an uplifting view), we headed over to one of the biggest tourist spots in Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate. It certainly did not let us down as we fought around people, street performers, and cars to take a look. It was totally worth the fight. From there we decided to walk down the road a little bit and take a look at The Soviet War Memorial. This commemorates the Soviet soldiers who fought and died at the Battle of Berlin in Spring 1945. You can walk through the memorial and into the Tiergarten on the other side. With the Tiergarten you can walk the paths and head over to the Reichstag Building Deutscher Bundesta- Plenarbareich Reichstagsgebaude). This building has a long and storied history of being built, fires, wars, divided country and reunification. It currently houses the Parliament of Germany and if you would like to tour the inside, you will need to purchase a pass/ticket and go through background, etc. Think of it along the lines of The US Capital or White House. It is an official government building.

 

1231152903949824964_IMG_0581.jpgThe last place we stopped at on Sunday was the Fernsehturm Building (or the TV Tower). Built in the 60’s and at 368 meters, this is the tallest structure in Germany, and it serves a couple of purposes. It serves as the location for TV and Radio, but also has a viewing platform at 203 meters up and a restaurant at 207 meters up.

IMG_0434

We picked the very wrong day/time to go up to the observation deck as the fog was coming in just before we went up, but we still enjoyed a decent view. The longest part of the timeline was waiting to go up. We finished the day with dinner at a restaurant right near our hotel and then headed almost straight to bed afterwards.

Sunday started out as a beautiful day. We wanted to make the most of the sunshine, so we headed out early for breakfast and then planned to go over to the East Side Gallery. For breakfast my husband had found this little bakery on Trip Advisor that he decided we needed to go to.

Called Zeit Fur Brot it had the most delicious variety of Cinnamon Rolls I’ve ever had. They are huge, heaping with both icing and cinnamon, but not too sugary sweet, baked right there in the shop fresh throughout the morning (you can watch them do this as well which is really cool). This is hands down a MUST stop place (in fact my husband went and got them to go on Monday morning for us).

After a delicious breakfast we hopped on the underground (and then a bus) and headed to see the East Side Gallery. This is a mile-long portion of the wall that has been painted by various artists. It showcases artists from around the world and some of the paintings are quite moving.

It was so beautiful and truly showed how you can take something that is such a horrid piece of a history and turn it into something good. The way this has been repurposed is wonderful. It also sits right on the water and once we were done walking (and while we were trying to figure out our next stop) we sat and watched the water, the birds, and the storm come in. It was so relaxing and a nice little moment.

Noting the incoming rain storm, we decided to head over to a museum, this time The Topography of Terror which (I think) is the only museum dedicated entirely to World War 2. The landscape has both Berlin Wall remnants AND WW2 building remnants which was very interesting to see. This site was where the most important institutions of the Nazi’s were located. It served as the headquarters of the Gestapo, the Leadership and Security Service, and the Reich Security Main Office. The museum goes through the specifics of the command and people that were involved in these offices as well as facts about the Nazi rise to power, their actions, and their downfall. You can walk through portions of the build site on the outside.

7297860356480843521_IMG_0542Our second to last stop we made on Sunday was to the Berlin Victory Column. This is actually not the original spot of this particular monument; the Nazi’s had moved it from its original location to where it now stands. At 66 Meters (almost 67) the open-air viewing platform is dizzying, not to mention the thin circular stairs that you climb to get to the platform itself.

 

-1694393697050839084_IMG_0549

From the platform you can see all across Berlin and we got a much clearer view of the city. There is also a lower platform (much much lower) that gives a nice all-around view as well. As terrified as I am of heights (and the almost panic attack I had on the tiny platform), I really think that this is a spot to visit! The view was unforgettably beautiful even on a cloudy day.

3040987143947964619_IMG_0563

We stopped over at the Berlin Cathedral to take a peak. I really enjoy seeing cathedrals, with their massive domes and bells that ring every hour. We weren’t able to go in due to a service starting and dinner rapidly approaching, but we were in awe of what we did see.

-3894708180345114520_IMG_0604.jpgOur final morning in Berlin we decided to make a last-minute decision and head to one of the animal attractions that Berlin boasts of. We figured this one would be solely for the kids (although we got a lot out of it too) and it would be a good energy release before the long drive back home. We didn’t go to the Berlin Zoo, rather we opted for Tierpark. We had several reasons for this, I think this one is the bigger more spread out option and it took us out of the city a little bit. We picked the right spot.

Let me be clear, we spent 3 hours here and didn’t even see a fraction of the animals that they have. Not only do they have a large {mostly} open air zoo, it also serves as a park, and they currently have several baby animals. We saw so much mother/baby animal bonding going on it was too much for my momma heart to take! I can’t even begin to tell you how incredible the little bit of time we spent here was. Not only do I highly recommend it, but I would caution you to budget a whole day for it.

That about sums up our Berlin Weekend!I know this was a LONG post, but we just did so much, and I wanted to share some information about each of the spots that we went to. I’ll be sharing my own recommendations and tips in a separate post coming soon. I also have a video up on Facebook that shows some clips of our travels. I hope you enjoyed seeing Berlin through our eyes.-1279016770161338670_IMG_0552