So, a solo trip wasn’t *exactly* on my agenda for my 30th birthday. In fact, I’d been looking forward to the ~big Amsterdam weekender~ I’d had booked with my best pal for ages. That is, until she realised her passport had actually expired – two weeks before we were due to leave. Finding an emergency renewal appointment in this crazy post-Covid landscape? Um… impossible.
Efforts to find someone else to join me at such short notice also proved futile, leaving me facing the choice of going solo… or not at all. I wasn’t happy. In truth, I’m actually a very independent person. I’ve been single for years. I’m used to – and mostly enjoy – doing things on my own. But the idea of jetting off to another country sans a pal to bounce off? Well, that made me feel anxious, if not downright daunted, tbh.
Is it weird to eat in a restaurant on your own?, I wondered. I’m 100 percent going to get lost. Will people look at me funny? People will DEFINITELY look at me funny!
I was stressed and tempted to bail. But with a swanky hotel stay already sorted and my Eurostar ticket pinned tantalisingly to the top of my inbox, I decided to feel the fear and do it anyway. As it turns out? It’s the solo travel life for me.
Getting the Eurostar to Amsterdam
Two weeks later I was racing through the French countryside on the Eurostar for the first time at 300 kmph, feeling both excited and apprehensive. It takes longer to reach Amsterdam from London by rail than by air – four hours in total – but the seats are comfy, there’s internet and customs and security are far speedier than at the airport (plus there’s way less chance your flight will be cancelled…). Travelling by train is much more eco-friendly than flying, too. All in all, I’d recommend it.
It was sunny as I hit the top of the escalator at Amsterdam central station and I felt my anxieties melting away as I made the 10-minute walk to my hotel. This city really is gorgeous. With 165 canals spanning over 100 kilometres, there are more waterways in Amsterdam than in Venice, and an impressive 1,281 bridges outnumbering those in Paris. Seasoned cyclists navigate the pretty cobbled streets, dodging tourists with ease. Bicycles jostle for space on every railing you can see; around one million for the city’s more humble 820,000 residents.
I was staying at The Dylan, a beautiful five-star boutique guesthouse tucked away on a cobbled courtyard right in the city centre, where I learned upon arrival that my room had been upgraded to a suite! I was whisked into one of its loft rooms; a gorgeous, expansive open-plan space featuring gabled ceilings with chunky wooden beams reaching right down to the floor – and, in the bathroom, the deepest, most luxurious bath I’ve ever seen. Solo trip life ain’t so bad, no?
Amsterdam city break: time for some sightseeing
After a lazy jaunt along breezy open streets lined with beautiful townhouses and dotted with joyously green leafy trees, I stopped for an al fresco lunch at Cafe Het Molenpad (a very Instagrammable Baba Ganoush open-faced sandwich) next to the water.
One thing about spending time alone: it gives you space to sit and contemplate in a way you can’t when you’re constantly chattering with your BFF. I watched tourists make their way leisurely across the canal on an eclectic mix of barges and speedboats. One poor local balefully filled buckets of water from his leaking boat and poured them over the side. A young man, relaxing with a group of friends, wolf whistled good-naturedly at a group of older women laughing together on the water. A couple sat on the porch of their townhouse, watching passersby in companionable silence.
This is lovely, I thought.
I spent the rest of the afternoon perusing De 9 Straatjes (the nine streets) area, so called as, naturally, it’s made up of nine interconnected streets that form the city’s main shopping area. Here, there are a wealth of indie boutiques, vintage outlets, trendy restaurants and cool arty shops to explore. I weave past ceramicists, racks of Ganni and vintage shirt dresses, cafes with cookies taking trips on ferris wheels in the window and a standalone Seletti store – although there were sadly no burger chairs present during my trip…
Eating out marked a point of anxiety for me as someone flying solo. I was really nervous about sitting in a restaurant on my own. A quick Google search reveals I’m not alone in this concern – dinner for one makes an issue for many. But… why? If you saw someone chilling solo, I’m willing to bet you’d be more likely to commend them for living their best life than automatically assuming they’re a friendless loser; and that’s if you even paid attention at all.
I sucked it up and headed to Bird Thai Cafe, a bustling little place next to the red light district with average food but pleasant prices, where I soaked up the vibe and planned my agenda for the next day. About 10 minutes in, I felt entirely comfortable. Indeed, a seasoned solo traveller friend told me that eating alone is one of her favourite parts of taking a trip. Her logic is indisputable: anything that makes concentrating on your food – arguably the best part of any day – easier can only be a good thing.
Amsterdam city break: falling in love with solo travel
In the morning I put some highlights on my Insta stories, when my phone vibrated with a reply. Coincidentally, a friend of mine also happened to be in Amsterdam with his girlfriend, and asked if I would like to join them for the day.
At first I felt relief; that same comforting feeling that hits you when you’re scanning a bar full of strangers until you lock eyes with your friend. But the next 48 hours stretched out ahead of me; sunny, the light hitting the water on the canal, ready and waiting to accommodate me in whatever I pleased. Frankly, I was good on my own – one day in and already a solo travel convert.
I declined my friend politely and turned my attention back to my agenda. First up, I’d head over to the museum quarter, before visiting the flower markets and stopping by the Royal Palace before returning to the hotel bar for a cocktail or two… perhaps taking a detour via the red light district if I feel like it…
Things to do in Amsterdam: our solo trip weekender guide
Amsterdam city break: Where to eat
For lunch, I tried Cafe Het Molenpad before Bird Thai restaurant for a generous portion at a decent price. Down an unassuming side street you’ll find the intimate Italian joint Pizzaria La Festa, where you can pick up a tasty post-sightseeing pick-me-up. I’d also recommend the Foodhallen; a cavernous space with various trendy stalls – I went for a huge chicken pitta drizzled with various unhealthy sauces.
If you’re after something a little more luxurious, try The Dylan’s own restaurant Bar Brasserie OCCO. A burrata paired with fresh crisp tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil was *chef’s kiss* as were two punchy cocktails, one smooth with a sprig of rosemary, and one pink and very fizzy.
And for dessert? Head to Van Stapele Koekmakerij. This cookie shop is essentially an Amsterdam institution at this point, selling just one type of cookie and closing once the last one has been sold. Expect to queue! I waited 20 minutes (but it’s worth it).
Amsterdam city break: What to do
Amsterdam isn’t all sex, drugs and bars – it has a huge arts scene, if you’re looking for something a little more ~cultural~. Head to the Van Gogh museum for the world’s largest collection of his pieces in one place, along with the sprawling Rijksmuseum, which covers a phenomenal breadth. Amsterdam is home to the Anne Frank House – but be sure to book ahead to avoid disappointment; it won’t accept walk-ins. There’s also a houseboat museum on the water, where you can get a firsthand experience of boathouse life. Lastly, the cheeky sex museum will give you a giggle for an hour or so – who knew how much penis-themed crockery existed?
if you’re green-fingered (or are looking for a suitcase-friendly gift for a friend who is), you will find every variety of bulb or seed you could ever need at the Bloemenmarkt (flower market), along with vibrant fresh bouquets depending on the season. Did you know? 77% of all the world’s flower bulbs come from the Netherlands. Pick up some tulip bulbs to take home! The Albert Cuypmarkt, the Netherlands’ most popular outdoor market, is also worth a stop, with 260 stalls selling everything from cute summery clothes to luggage and a variety of tasty street food.
To indulge in some 17th century grandeur, a trip to the Royal Palace should be top of your list – but check the opening times before you go; it’s not open to visitors every day. Of course, there’s also the Red Light district, with its pretty streets and variety of cheeky sex shops to visit, should you be so inclined.
Amsterdam city break: hotels in Amsterdam
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