In 2014, Lonely Planet Local Claire Bissell jumped on a plane to Amsterdam to be with her partner. She bought a bike, developed a taste for raw herring and never looked back. The Dutch capital is now the place she calls home, and she loves the city’s relaxed atmosphere, cycle lanes and never-ending choice of eateries.

The sun rises over Amsterdam's famed canals with old buildings in the background and an empty boat in the foreground
The sun rises over Amsterdam's famed canals © Standret / Shutterstock

The thing I love most about Amsterdam… is that it doesn’t feel like a capital city. The central area is very compact, and I love that I can jump on my bike and be on the other side of the city in under 30 minutes. It’s a really laid-back place to live and the central areas aren’t congested with traffic as most people travel by bike.

When I have friends in town… I like to take them to a bruin café (brown cafe) like 't Arendsnest. These traditional bars, complete with dark wood furniture, soft lighting and an abundance of antique clutter, make you feel like you’ve been transported back to an Amsterdam of old. Their warm and homely ambience makes them the perfect place to experience that gezellig feeling (a Dutch quality that roughly means cosy) with some friends, a couple of beers and a portion of bitterballen (croquettes).

My favourite place for shopping is… the IJ Hallen in Amsterdam Noord. This monthly flea market is the biggest in Europe and is located in a huge warehouse which overflows into an outdoor area. I can spend hours roaming the stalls, which sell everything from clothing to ice skates, all for next to nothing. Afterwards, I like to grab a drink or a spot of lunch at the nearby Cafe Noorderlicht or Pllek, before jumping on the free ferry back to Amsterdam Central.

Cookies for sale at Van Stapele Koekmakerij in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Don't miss the delicious cookies from Van Stapele Koekmakerij © Claire Bissell / Lonely Planet

For a treat I always go to… Van Stapele Koekmakerij. This teeny cookie shop, located in an alleyway between the Singel and Spuistraat, is the epitome of doing one thing and doing it well. There is often a line out the door, and you’ll find out why when you sink your teeth into one of their freshly baked dark chocolate cookies, complete with gooey white chocolate centre.

My favourite buildings in the city… are those built in the Amsterdam School architectural style. This movement was prevalent between 1910 and the 1930s and was influenced by expressionist architecture with a nod to art nouveau and art deco design. The beautiful brick buildings have decorative windows and doors, and I’ll often find myself stopping to take photos. You’ll find examples dotted all over the city, but one of the most impressive is Het Scheepvaarthuis (now the Grand Hotel Amrâth), built between 1912 and 1916.

The exterior of Warung Mini Ceintuurbaan restaurant in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Warung Mini Ceintuurbaan serves up hearty Surinamese cuisine © Claire Bissell / Lonely Planet

For cheap eats… I go to Surinamese cafes. Warung Mini Ceintuurbaan in De Pijp is one of the best and I can’t resist grabbing a bite to eat when I’m in the neighbourhood. I always opt for a bowl of saoto soup – a flavoursome broth of shredded chicken and bean sprouts served with a boiled egg and a side of rice.

When I need to get out of the city… I jump on my bike. Whizzing through flat farmland and along dykes is the best way to see the real Netherlands and enjoy some real peace and quiet. If you want to throw in some sightseeing, the traditional fishing village of Marken and the historic windmills of the Zaanse Schans are both reachable on two wheels.

A half-full glass of beer with the Butcher's Tears bar logo on it in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam has an excellent craft beer scene, including the esteemed Butcher's Tears © Claire Bissell / Lonely Planet

My typical Saturday in Amsterdam… is a lazy one. After a slow start, we like to head out for a relaxed breakfast or coffee at somewhere like Bocca Coffee. We usually go to the Ten Kate Market in Amsterdam West for groceries. It’s a small street market but we can pick up things like flowers, vegetables and cheese (a true Dutch essential) and reward ourselves with a portion of freshly-fried kibbeling (chunks of lightly-battered cod). The perfect evening is one spent with friends at a local brewery, like the Butcher’s Tears in Amsterdam Zuid.

If I could change one thing about Amsterdam… it would be the unpredictable weather. One minute you’ve got blue skies, the next you’re wondering why you didn’t bring a waterproof. Fortunately, the ever-resourceful Dutch have a handy app called Buienalarm (rain alarm) that alerts you when a downpour is due so you can plan your journey accordingly. Of course, sometimes there’s no choice but to jump on your bike, grit your teeth and cycle through the horizontal rain.

Lonely Planet Local Claire enjoying the King's Day celebrations
Lonely Planet Local Claire (right) out enjoying the King's Day celebrations © Claire Bissell / Lonely Planet

My favourite day of the year in Amsterdam… is King’s Day (Koningsdag). The city turns into one big party as everyone dons their finest orange outfits to celebrate this national holiday. I like to start with a meander through the Vondelpark, where children play instruments for donations and set up stalls, selling everything from homemade cakes to old toys. The real fun is to be had in the city centre where the canals fill up with boats, and streets come alive with music, beer and dancing. There’s no atmosphere quite like it.

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