1. Assume the role of Bilbo Baggins. Here's the thing about Amsterdam: Good food, cute cafes, and amazing bars are about as plentiful as bikes here (which is a LOT in case you've never been to Amsterdam). So accept the fact that you are not getting anywhere fast in this town and by the time you get to breakfast, you will have already had first breakfast, second breakfast, third breakfast, and probably stopped for an additional pastry or two along the way.
2. Speaking of: Bikes. Everything you ever thought about Amsterdam and bikes is true. They are everywhere. And I mean, everywhere. One of the days it started pouring and we took shelter in our warm houseboat to drink wine and eat cheese and crackers and look out and think how glad we were not to be in the rain. When lo and behold, we saw quite a few people riding their bikes. In the rain (or downpour, really). With light jackets on. Lesson learned: In Amsterdam, rain or shine, hot or cold, all day errr day, you ride your bike.
3. Say yes to all of the bread, all the fried bread, and all the pastries you possibly can. And nutella. When it comes to delicious holidays treats, Amsterdam brings its A-game. Just walk through any Christmas market and by the time you emerge you will probably wish you had worn your stretchy yoga pants and probably be asking yourself what just happened. P.s. Food blackouts are a thing. They occur when something so incredible happens to your taste buds and you temporarily blackout due to its sheer deliciousness. Never had one? Go to a Christmas market. You're welcome.
4. Try ALL the cheeses. Note: Lavender cheese is a thing. And it's delicious. Don't ask questions, just go to a cheese shop and do some exploring. You'll thank me later.
5. When in doubt, think like a moth: Follow the Light.
Amsterdam is a big city with quite a few districts, and it's easy to get lost - especially at night. We quickly learned a valuable lesson: if you see light, you'll probably find adventure at the end of it. And no, I'm not referring to the Red Light District, although I don't doubt you'd find your fair share of adventures there.
No, I'm talking about actual lights (go figure). We wandered through all the side streets that were lit up for Christmas and following our "Follow the Light" mantra, we found Dam Square which was absolutely incredible at night. In the middle of the square was a huge Christmas tree and all of the surrounding buildings were lit up - a definite sight to see during Christmas time.
Using our theory, we also stumbled upon the Light Festival which featured a number of works by artists around the world on and around the canals. We took a night boat tour and drank hot mulled wine as we looked out at some incredible works of light art.
6. By the end of your trip, nothing will surprise you. I'll save you the trouble: just let this go right now. In Amsterdam, anything goes. Take Vegas, stick it in the middle of Europe, and you start to get an idea.
7. Staying in a houseboat was pretty freaking awesome. Wake up on the water, in Jordaan, walk to amazing restaurants and the city center in no time. Enjoy the night life of Amsterdam and be back home before you know it. Repeat.
8. Try the mint tea. Maybe I've been out of the loop on this one all these years. In any case, I had never heard about this before, but the mint tea in Amsterdam is incredible. They literally take a huge handful of mint leaves, stick it in some hot water, and give you a bottle of honey. Bam. Freshest, most refreshing mint tea you've ever tasted.
9. Which brings me to: Walk with a warm drink in your hand. Okay, seems simple enough. Now, maybe it's because I'm from Southern California and I have mind and body paralysis in anything under 50 degrees. I am still uncertain how to properly function in the cold. But one thing I did learn while in Amsterdam: As long as you have something hot to drink - coffee, hot chocolate, mulled wine - everything changes. And the cold can--dare I say it--actually be...fun??
10. Do something cultural. You may or may not have your preconceived notions about Amsterdam, and let's be real, it probably does have a district catering to everything and anything. But that's the beauty of Amsterdam. You have years and years of history in that city. A plethora of cultures, walks of life, districts. It's a bit like an onion - the more you pull back its layers, the more you seem to discover. So get out, walk around, unpeel some of those layers. There are countless museums the city offers - from history to art to flowers. Check out a few, and it will give you some perspective on the city. To think of what these streets have seen over the years...
11. Do something touristy. I'm all for avoiding the touristy things when I travel and doing as the locals do. BUT there are exceptions. So find the "I amsterdam" sign and take a picture. Go on a canal tour. Visit the Heineken Factory - and if you go during Christmas you'll enjoy a nice jazz concert as you enjoy a couple drinks at the end. There you go, you've got proof you came, saw, and conquered. And you'll probably get a nice Insta picture out of it while you're at it.
12. Eat at some amazing restaurants. You knew this was coming. This is the part where I recommend places to go and you realize that Amsterdam is actually as cool and the food is actually as good as everyone says it is. (As if I haven't talked about how good the food is already...)
Wasserette (in De Pijp): Cute place for breakfast or brunch. Everything was fresh and natural, and it was pretty busy when we arrived (always a good sign). Any of their breakfasty egg things (Eggs Florentine, Eggs Benedict, etc.) are pretty popular.
Winkel 43 (in Jordaan): Great breakfast, nice atmosphere, and again, a very popular place. It's also right next to the Saturday farmer's market. Most important part: You must try the apple pie with whipped cream!! It's unbelievably good.
Tuin Tien, or T 10 (in Jordaan): Delicious, great for dinner, funky/cool atmosphere, almost seemed like it was some place out of Portland.
Moeder's: Typical dutch food which was amazing. Also, there are pictures of mothers all over the walls, we guessed about 1500 of them. We got lucky, but the place is usually pretty busy so make sure to make a reservation ahead of time.
Farmers Market (Saturday in Jordaan). Well, duh.
13. Double and triple check the destination on the metro you're about to take. Especially if it's 4:00am and your flight leaves in an hour and a half. Yeah, so that happened.
14. Amsterdam is freaking awesome during the holidays. Amazing lights all over town, Christmas markets, good food, good drinks, canal boat rides...what is there not to love??