Amsterdam is a city I’ve always put on the backburner. Despite eagerly wanting to go, I never made it a priority in my list of destinations and so wasn’t expecting to be heading there anytime soon until an opportunity came up to go with my brother and some friends this summer. My biggest mistake in regards to this was not going sooner – I bloody loved it.
I spent three nights last week in the city centre, surrounded by amazing architecture, people and most of all – bikes. The culture is amazing and the cycling is one hundred percent something I could get on board with (since arriving back home I’ve been debating whether it would be possible for me to up and move there with my own vintage bike).
This is primarily a lookbook, and I pondered over whether to spread it into more than one post, but I want to share my Amsterdam outfits with you and a little slice of what we got up to. The weather was disappointing in comparison to what we’re experiencing now in the UK – clouds, torrential rain at times and a gusty wind that blew the whole weekend along quicker, with one sunny little day in between. I’m pretty grateful for the temperature, though, as I don’t think I’d fancy cycling round in a 30 degree heatwave! Plus, the outfits I had packed just about worked in adapting to the hot / cold patches with my trusty Levis denim jacket thrown on top of everything.
We stayed in the Hotel Sphinx (note ‘hotel’ – definitely a hostel) which was cheap and cheerful, if a little scary when clambering up the steep four flights of stairs when drunk. We had our own room which worked out well as this was more of a city break than a backpacking holiday to meet other people. The room was small but we literally only slept and got ready there (and ate snacks from the vending machine there) so it wasn’t a problem and the breakfast was basic but greatly welcomed each morning.
Biking is the most incredible way to explore Amsterdam. I have rarely felt as free and excited as I did when cycling round the parks and city streets on my hired bike (we got ours from Black Bikes and they were around £45 for three whole days starting from when we picked them up, and you can return them to one of the thirteen locations around the city). Getting to grips with riding on the other side of the road wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated either!
The relaxed atmosphere is intelligible from the moment you step foot from the airport, and it is weaved into aspects of day to day life; everything is just a bit more chilled than fast-paced Britain. While the streets are busy they are far more mellow; slower walking, no one bothers with bike helmets and the car drivers seem to put up with cyclists a hell of a lot better than angry road-rage Brits (guilty, but I’ll never scream at a cyclist again).
This gorgeous skirt from BDG at Urban Outfitters has featured on the blog before; it was a sale find last year and made a lovely autumn alternative to jeans and trousers. Now it’s the ideal summer cover-up when you’re not feeling like baring legs (I’m really into midi skirts this year and recently picked up a vintage one which I’m excited to share on here). The pastel stripes offer up a retro vibe, especially when worn with my silky white blouse and red lipstick. The ensemble comes together in a very Riviera chic style, classy and subtle, and surprisingly practical for riding a bike, and my Birkenstocks once again proved themselves as a comfortable but cool life-saver.
On Thursday night after settling in and finding our bearings we found ourselves in a very ostentatious Dutch bar called Ruk en Pluk to meet some local friends. The place was plastered head-to-toe with crazy tacky party decorations and hanging ornaments, the juke box playing a selection of remixed pop music in Dutch which created a wacky but fun party ambience.
Our Friday consisted mostly of vintage shopping, market browsing and wandering round the centre before immersing ourselves in the Heineken Experience (we didn’t do much in the way of typical tourist sites, but as beer loving Brits we couldn’t give this one a miss) which was a good laugh and served as our pre-drinks for a night out on the town. The Oosterpark was our main meeting point (the boys were in a different hostel on the other side of town) and became our personal favourite park where we picnicked and shared some beers.
Saturday morning was put off by bitter hangovers, so we had a late start and a delicious brunch of bagels, juice and coffee in cafe Bagels and Beans overlooking a canal on Keizersgracht. This was followed by another day of cycling and discovering new streets, new parks, including the beautiful Frankendael park, and basking in the unprecedented sun (guess who left the suncream at the hostel and burnt like a crisp…).
In the evening we dined at Burger ‘n Shake where I had honestly one of the best veggie burgers ever, bursting with halloumi and veg goodness. Saturday night led us to check out the bustling centre and, of course, the famous Red Light District, which was a strange experience! We opted for a few drinks in the end and endured a wobbly last cycle home through the pretty night lights.
I packed shorts in a silent prayer that I would get a chance to wear them, and fortunately I did when we were granted some sweet sunshine. The lace top is an oldie I found in a charity shop, usually taken with me to parties or festivals, but for summer it’s a great lightweight material and the pattern is intriguing. I love the scalloped edges and the way the lace reveals a bit of skin and bra underneath but is simultaneously not overly sexy. There’s just something about white lace and summer that go hand in hand, and this cements the fact that it doesn’t have to be a floaty, girly dress. The vintage shorts toughen it up a bit and make it suitable for city day-wear.
The Levi shorts are a massive testament to my wardrobe – I’ve had them three or four years and they always hold up, proving it’s usually the old favoured pieces that are staples to summer outfits and simply rotated with new accessories. The older they get the more tattered and frayed the edges become, but this only adds to the worn-in effect. Someone recently told me how ‘coordinated’ I am with colours, which I hadn’t really ever considered but looking again I do feel most satisfied when a couple of items match in some way – like my scarf and shoes do here.
I’m a big lover of vintage scarves and I like the crinkled texture and ombre colouring of this green one. I think it was about 50 pence from a charity shop, which are honestly a haven for a multitude of materials which can be cut up to your preference. I’m useless with hair so therefore super lucky that mine dries in beachy waves (my fringe is a nightmare but easily tamed with a roller and straighteners) but I have not got the attention span or skill-set to fiddle around with fancy hairstyles, so these are perfect for me to mix and match and brighten up a simple ponytail.
I think it’s easy to go away to big cities like Amsterdam and get sucked into mainly tourist activities and events, and not actually experience the real charm of the place for yourself. While we didn’t see many popular places, I’m really grateful that we did our own thing and saw Amsterdam from a more realistic perspective.
We didn’t feel like tourists (although we certainly looked like them by the way we rode our bikes) and set our own agenda, weren’t bothered about going out for fancy meals every night, stopped wherever felt right to us whether it be for a beer, a pizza or a sit down and chill out, and honestly that is the best tip I can give. Sometimes it makes all the difference to ignore the recommendations and simply head out and forge your own path.
We followed maps to get to certain areas, but always vaguely (mostly because our map reading skills were below average) and that gave a sense of freedom and satisfaction that you don’t achieve when doing things by the book.
Our final lazy morning / early afternoon consisted of glimpsing the I Amsterdam sign (one tourist box that did have to be checked) and sifting through the funky market stalls that surround it.
Layering is key for those milder summer days and this combo is a prime example. A white tee underneath a strappy dress will never not be one of my favourite, easy looks and Docs provide an even cooler element. This dress appeared on the blog last summer, but it’s a completely alternative outfit when styled up in such a different way. The small polka-dots are a refreshing break from the huge styles plastering the high street, and I like the way the halterneck is toned down by the white tee.
Amsterdam is quite possibly the best city abroad I have ever been to, and the first one I genuinely could see myself moving to and living in. Whatever happens though I know it’s a place I’ll undoubtedly be returning to in the near future.
ph. Ffion Smith / Dylan Matthews.