36 hours in Amsterdam

For New Year’s Eve 2018/19 we spent a whirlwind 36 hours in the crazy capital of Amsterdam. Nat has been away for every New Year’s Eve since 2014 and now refuses to spend a New Year’s Eve without a wild array of fireworks and mad street party, sampling the likes of Berlin, Brussels and Edinburgh.

For our first New Year’s Eve as a couple I was not going to settle for local drunken pub antics, so I grabbed Joe, and a mere 45-minute plane journey saw us ready to experience all that Amsterdam had to offer.

Everyone knows that the Dam is mostly famous for its picturesque network of canals, rich history & culture, endless bars serving ice cold Heineken, relaxed attitudes towards exploring your sexual fantasies and an abundance of herbal remedies. However, what most people wouldn’t think is that Amsterdam is also an excellent destination to ring in the new year! 

New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam is celebrated outside, where people pack the main squares, canals and streets with glasses of champagne and the skies above the city are lit up with impromptu fireworks displays.  

Read on for our tips on how you should spend a couple of days in the Dam over the New Year festivities…

Scratch map beer : Heineken but…

Beer of the trip: Amstel

Favourite local beverage: Also, Amstel 😉

Getting there… 

All major UK airports have regular flights to Amsterdam Schipol and deals are easily found if you aren’t too picky about when you fly.

TIP : Flybe are normally significantly cheaper than KLM.

From the airport getting to the centre could not be easy, either take the 20-minute train ride into Amsterdam Centraal (costing around €5-6) which then puts you in walking distance of Amsterdam’s hot spots or take the bus which costs around the same, although the journey is slightly longer. The bus does have more stops than the train, which typically only stops at Central station, this might be a better choice if you are staying downtown as the bus will be able to drop you off near your accommodation if you want to drop off your bags.

Day 1 – New Years Eve 

After an early wake-up of 4am we had landed and were ready to explore Amsterdam by 9am. Nat was prepped and ready for the potential 24 hours awake with the strongest coffee the Dam had to offer from the café not the coffee shop, careful there’s a difference.

Not a bad view for a morning coffee though, am I right? Would be better with a beer obviously but it’s still only 10 am and we’re not animals 😊

We know everyone says the best way to get around Amsterdam is on a bike and we agree the image of gracefully biking along the canal network, stopping at numerous bars along the way sounds like a dream. However, the sheer volume of people in the city for the New Year’s break made the idea more daunting than dreamy so we voted with our trusty feet instead. This also gives us a reason to go back in the Spring and I mean another city break can never be a bad thing, can it?

You will easily be able to cover a lot of the central rings around the city centre on foot straight from Central Station. The first place you will come to, only a 3-minute walk away, before you’ve even reached a Mcdonalds (the Dutch priorities for you) is Sexmuseum de Venustempel. This is a light-hearted adult tourist attraction, that’s fun for couples and groups of friends. This is the largest sex museum in the city and only €8 for entry.

If you want that photo with the giant penis you’ve seen plastered all over Instagram this is the place!

Speaking of Mcdonalds, and fries. You must try Manneken Pis which is only a 2-minute walk down from the Sexmuseum. Their Dutch fries have been named the best fries of the Netherlands 5 years in a row. Now as this was my (Nat’s) first time to Amsterdam I can’t vouch for that but as myself and Joseph have tasted a fair few fries in our time we can honestly say they were the best fries we have ever had.

If you like peanut butter try the Oorlog sauce (it’s a slightly spiced mayo sauce with hints of onions and peanuts absolutely delish.)

We then walked a minute around the corner (see the bike would have just got in the way really) to The Grasshopper, a steak restaurant with an outdoor terrace that overlooks Damrak canal and boasts picturesque views of the dancing houses. It was finally time for our first beer on Dutch soil (hurray!) we ordered two Heinekens and waited patiently in the un-seasonal winter sun. Unfortunately, that ice cold Heineken didn’t quite meet our *high* expectations.

On we went further into the Dam in search of more beer opportunities, we also managed to stop at Dam Square along the way. Dam Square is home to the church Nieuwe Kerk, the impressive Royal Palace, National Monument and apparently Darth Vader. 

If like us, you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the typical tourist cafes and bars around Dam Square then you must try Beertemple an American style craft beer bar (located only a 5 min walk away.) The focus here is not on local beers but on American ales and lagers, they have a HUGE selection of 35 draft beers, and over 200 more in bottles and cans. Which with us planning our California road trip in May came in very handy. 😉 The space itself has a relaxed atmosphere and the friendly bar staff are more than happy to advise if you want to try something new. 


A few pale ales and sours later, we were both merry and ready to drop! At this point we still hadn’t worked our way down to our hotel, so we decided to drop our bags, have a power nap and get ready to ring in the New Year.

One thing that completely slipped our mind was to make reservations for dinner (who knew Amsterdam would be crammed full of tourists on NYE, pair of idiots!) We walked around the Spiegelkwartier area for about 2 hours trying to find a restaurant that would take us before finally stumbling upon Villa Maria Steakhouse. If like Joe you’re a sucker for a big slab of juicy beef, this is the place for you! Even the rump, the cheapest cut on the menu was cooked to perfection and went down even better with an ice cold pint.

By this time, you will probably be looking to find a spot to ring in the New Year. New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam is celebrated outside. Crowds of people will begin gathering in Dam Square, Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein and Nieuwmarkt from around 9/10pm to get the best spots, but by midnight all of the streets and canals around the central district will be packed with revellers ready to have a good time.  

We had been warned about the Dutch firework tradition, to simply take all your fireworks out into the street and set them off wherever you like, but we had no idea just how careless some people could be. The number of fireworks being set off was unbelievable, literally everywhere, even in the narrow streets so please be careful especially with younger children. It was also really fun and the bright colours illuminating the skies was something like we had never seen before.  

New Years Day

A well-earned lie in was in order after our nearly 24-hour New Year’s Eve! Luckily the rest of Amsterdam were also sleeping off their hangovers, so most places weren’t open till after 10am. When we eventually surfaced, we headed just a short walk from Museumplein square to The Avocado Show, well known for pretty, avocado themed eats.

If you are an avocado aficionado (who isn’t?!) this is the place to go. You will however need to arrive as close to opening time as possible, it’s very popular and you can wait a long time for a table.

FYI – there is no indoor waiting area, people queue outside so be aware of this if it is throwing it down outside.

If you’re not too hungover on New Year’s Day, you’ll want to check out some of Amsterdam’s numerous museums. Our personal picks are the Van Gough Museum, showcasing the work of the world renowned nineteenth century artist, and Anne Frank House, situated in the same secret annexe where she wrote her famous diary of life in hiding during World War II. You will need to book tickets in advance as these are two very popular tourist attractions, especially Anne Frank House. Tickets are released two months in advance, routinely sell out fast and are now only available online. We know so many people that have missed out by not booking so PLEASE book early to avoid disappointment! 

Another Amsterdam must-do near the square is The House of Bols, an interactive experience which takes you through the history of Jenever (dutch gin) and your €16 ticket includes a cocktail in the bar. Make sure you double check the opening hours as we were very sad to learn (after knocking on the door for 15 minutes!) that it was shut on New Year’s Day. As if to add insult to injury, the IAmsterdam sign, famously located in front of the Rijksmuseum, has been permanently removed by the city council in December 2018, so no IAmsterdam selfie for us ☹ 

Our alternative option was exploring the city by canal cruise. Most canal cruises take around an hour, in which you’ll explore Amsterdam’s UNESCO World Heritage Site canal ring and discover plenty about the city along the way. Boats leave from jetties all over the city and prices start from around €16.

By now it was definitely time to get back to the beers! Most people will tell you that you absolutely must check out the Heineken Experience, located in Heineken’s original Amsterdam brewery. We’ll be honest, after sampling a few Heineken’s the day before, we were a little disappointed. So, we decided to skip this in favour of hunting around the city for more delicious Amstel! 

We didn’t have to wait long, stumbling on Hoppe Bar, a small café/bar on Spui Square. This was our drink highlight of the trip, sitting outside on the small tables, watching the bikes and trams roll past.

Turns out Amsterdam can be a pretty romantic city as we re-created our very own Amstel advert -minus the risk of falling into the frozen lake. 

But the Dam isn’t all about beer contrary to popular belief! There are plenty of bars around the city if you would rather get your lips around a fancy cocktail, and if prohibition style bars are your thing, you should check out Door 74, the Dam’s first speak easy bar. There are some pretty wacky cocktail creations behind the hidden door entrance just a short 10 minute walk from Dam Square, but you will need to reserve a spot via their website (http://www.door-74.com/).

By now your New Year’s Day in the Dam is probably drawing to a close. But one area which you will want to explore before heading home is the Red-Light District. At night, the Red-Light District becomes a bustling hive of activity, with plenty of bars and coffee shops to explore, it is a strange yet revealing experience not to be missed creating plenty of funny and (maybe) uncomfortable moments. There’s plenty to see by just having a wander around but if you really want to delve into history and culture there are several walking and audio tours available with local guides from €15-30. 

All in all our New Years in Amsterdam was one we will certainly never forget, especially as this was our first New Year’s Eve together as a couple. With Amsterdam being only a 45-minute flight away, we have a feeling we will be returning to see the tulips in full bloom and discover more of what Amsterdam has to offer. 

Have you been to Amsterdam? Would you/have you been over New Years? We would love to know about all your experiences, drop us a comment below! X


Our story so far…

We’re Joe & Nat,

A couple from the UK who live our day to day lives working 9-5 as an accountant and a chartered surveyor (we promise we’re not as boring as we sound 😊) who both share the same goal, to explore and drink our way around many countries as physically possible with 30 days a year holiday from the office!

Backpacks & Beverages is our way of showing people that you can see the world even if you have a full-time job, and not only that but how you can also do it on a budget. We don’t feel like you need to quit your job and sell all your prized possessions to see the world. With a bit of careful planning and budgeting, there’s nothing stopping the average Joe 😉 (with a bit *maybe a lot* of help from cash savvy Nat) ticking off every item from their travel bucket list!

A little bit about us…

We met not that long ago back in June 2018 and most of our family & friends told us we were getting a little ahead of ourselves when we decided to book 9 trips over our first 12 months together, but we didn’t listen. We didn’t want to waste any time in burning our way through our bucket lists and more importantly our Beer Bucket List 😀

Plus, a whistle stop tour of Northern Italy after 6 weeks of dating will probably tell you all you need to know about a person, if you’re planning on giving it a go yourselves check out our Northern Italian adventure blog. Hopefully you’ll be as lucky as us and realise you’ve met someone special, 9 trips down and still going as strong as ever! (Which is a good job as we purchased this domain name for three years #eagerbeavers)

How do we do it?

Most of our city break trips tend to take the form of a quick weekend, or if we’re lucky a few extra days thanks to the UK bank holidays. We aim to leave the office as early as we can on a Friday to get straight on a plane, have a quick couple of days exploring and drinking our way around a city, before heading back to our day jobs so we can do it all again a few weeks later.

Places we would recommend for solely weekend trips from the UK (Fri night – Sun night) :

Every now and again we use up most of our leave for the year to have a couple of weeks adventuring a little further afield, this year saw us visit California (USA) & South Africa. A couple of these big adventures alongside several weekends city hopping makes for lots of exciting places to see (and now write about!) and even more tasty beverages to try.

Franschhoek Vineyards – South Africa

Where to next…

So, that’s the story so far. We know it’s not very long, but we have already crossed so many big hitters off the bucket list in 2019; a gondola ride on the Venice canals, hiking Yosemite National Park, cycling across the Golden Gate bridge, sunbathing on Venice Beach, enjoying a dram of whiskey on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, exploring the abandoned reactor site at Chernobyl, drinking Belgium beer in front of the Grand Place in Brussels, climbing Table Mountain and going on a safari in South Africa to name a few.

So that’s a little bit about us, what we are all about and what you can expect from us in the future. We are really excited to share this on our blog and hopefully inspire some of you would be travellers that have to work for a living to do the same, if we can do it so can you 🙂

Love, Joe and Nat xxxxx

Northern Italian Adventure

Milan › Lake Como › Venice

Most people will probably tell you that you shouldn’t book a trip with someone you’ve only been officially dating for 6 weeks, good thing we aren’t most people! So, we decided to book ourselves a whistle stop tour of northern Italy covering Milan, Lake Como and Venice as our first ever relationship mini-adventure, even though we’re pretty sure neither of us still knew when the other’s birthday was…

Beer of the trip : Peroni Red

Scratch map beer : Birra Moretti

Favourite local beverage: Aperol

Getting there… 

There is an endless choice of airports to fly into – Marco Polo (Venice), Treviso (Venice), Linate (Milan), Malpensa (Milan) and Bergamo (Milan) are all good options. TIP – Milan Bergamo normally comes out the cheapest on Skyscanner from the UK so check this first, and the bus from the airport to Milan Central and vice versa (60 minutes) is only €5. 

Easy access is available between Milan and Venice via a 2-hour train ride, so it really doesn’t matter which airport you fly into.

We did just that. We picked up flights from Manchester to Marco Polo for around £80 each, and after a short bus transfer into central Venice caught the Trenitalia from Santa Lucia station to Milano Centrale.

Accommodation…

Milan – MilanoRooms Bacone – booking.com (around £50/60 per night)

Our apartment was located within the Zona Buenos Aires area (5 mins walk from Lima Metro Station), which doesn’t demand the high prices for accommodation or food & drink and also provides easy access for getting around Northern Italy on the train as the central station is around 15 mins walk away.

Venice – Dimora Dogale – booking.com 

5 minutes’ walk to Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square, averaging around £40 a night, this really is a great little place to stay. We would definitely recommend, perfect location, cute and ideal for couples!

Day 1 – Milan

We arrived in Milan, dropped off our bags at the apartment and still had the afternoon to explore. We hopped on the Metro straight over to Piazza Duomo to check out Milan Cathedral, an architectural masterpiece you should definitely visit when you’re in the city. If you can, take the winding stairways up to the roof for panoramic views of Duomo. The Piazza itself is a big old place but will most likely be packed with other tourists, especially in peak season, so if you want to snap a good shot of the Cathedral without too many bystanders get there early!

After an afternoon exploring central Milan, there was only one thing on Joe’s mind, finding the doughiest, cheesiest, prosciuttoiest pizza Italy’s fashion capital has to offer, as it was of course a weekend off from his typical runway model’s diet that most would-be fashionistas would naturally be following when preparing for a Milan visit. A great little restaurant to check out not far from Duomo is Granario Caffe E Cucina.

This was the first occasion of the now almost weekly institution of Peroni date nights!

We were going to take in our first European football game, however it looked like that wasn’t meant to be (please read hints and tips below) 🙁 Instead we decided to explore some of the bars local to our apartment. After a short spell of happy hour Aperol’s, we stumbled upon a quirky cocktail bar Drinc. Cocktail & Conversation. A very cool, modern cocktail bar which serves the best presented tequila slammers.

Its slightly pricey so definitely a treat, however if you’re in the area and cool cocktails are your scene you should absolutely go for it!

Hardly your typical slammer on a night out in Britain with a salt shaker from behind the bar and lime wedge from someone’s empty rum and coke glass!


Day 2 – Lake Como

Getting there – Train from Milano Centrale station to Varenna-Esino. The journey takes around 1 hour and tickets can be purchased on the day for €12 return. 

For day 2, after a very traditional Italian breakfast consisting of a sausage and egg McMuffin in the train station, we hopped on a train up to Lake Como to explore the dramatic scenery around one of Europe’s deepest lakes.

After arriving in Varenna, a small town on the lake’s west coast, we walked up the winding road to the viewpoint at Castello De Viezo.

The obvious highlight after the hour-long walk up the mountain was the spectacular views of Lake Como’s two southern forks looking towards Como and Lecco.
The €5 Aperol Spritz in the café made the trek even more worthwhile!

Three or four each (we can’t quite remember how many) were swiftly polished off before heading back down to catch the short 20-minute ferry over to Bellagio.

The ferry ride over boasted the most amazing views of Bellagio
With a pint of Moretti in hand for the trip, of course!

The beautiful town of Bellagio boasts some of the most luxurious (and pricey!) boutique hotels Lake Como has to offer. Fortunately for us, there’s a great terrace bar at Hotel Metropole Bellagio, with fantastic views over the lake and a drinks menu that’s seemingly endless and not as steeply priced!

 Needless to say, a fair few drinks later, time was starting to run away from us, so we decided to head towards the ferry terminal to get back to Varenna. But before that, we decided that the right way to end our day was to grab a couple of Peroni Red Labels and enjoy them on the steps leading down to the lake and watch the sun set over the pristine Italian Alps.  

We think it’s fair to say that for anyone wanting to take in this spectacular scenery, having the lake water lap at your feet while sipping on arguably one of the world’s tastiest lagers is absolutely the way to do it!


Day 3 – Milan / Venice

On the morning of our third day we had a little more time exploring Milan before our train back to Venice.

Luckily for us the unseasonal downpour didn’t ‘dampen’ our spirits!

If like us you find yourselves with enough time to tick off something small from your Milano to do list, we would highly recommend a visit to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Many of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses boast flagship stores in this spectacular example of nineteenth century Italian architecture, but shopping for high fashion is something that neither of us have a flair for.

We do however have a flair for drinking! Luckily for us, the Galleria is also home to Terrazza Aperol. Accessible via a side door to the main entrance, Milan’s self-proclaimed ‘centre of aperitifs’ is a must if you are even remotely a fan of the classic cocktail. The Terrazza isn’t Milan’s cheapest bar at €12 (not the most expensive either!) but this will cover the cost of your aperitif and entry.  

Make sure you get there before the crowds though, as this is a popular spot due to the stunning views of the Cathedral and bustling Piazza below.

Your perfectly mixed aperitif must be enjoyed out on the terrace (rain or shine, rain in our case)

To finish off we (obviously) went for some more beers in the very affordable Bar Marino at the rear of the Galleria (The draft Italian wheat beer was our favourite) before catching our train to Venezia. 

Venice 

Seeing as the weather had followed us from Milan, we begrudgingly caught the Vaporetto (water taxi) from outside Santa Lucia to get to our hotel. However, if you are lucky enough to have the weather on your side we would recommend walking the many winding passageways, alleys and bridges to really explore the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’.

You will quickly learn that the sheer number of bars and restaurants lining the streets of the San Marco area will make your choice of evening meal a difficult one. We gave Taverna San Lio a try and would absolutely recommend for an affordable but high-quality meal. We also discovered that sweet Aperol is more to our palate than the traditionally bitter Campari. Give it a try and let us know which one you prefer!?

After searching around for bars we stumbled upon Hotel Ai Cavalieri di Venezia, set within an eerily gothic 16th century building. Lightening flashing and rain tapping on the windows on this particularly quiet Monday night resulted in our own Tower of Terror hotel experience! If you do visit please let us know if you think the same or if the pathetic fallacy got the better of us?!

We ended our night in Ristorante Marco Polo with a beverage and a traditional shot of limoncello as this drew a close to our evening in Venice. 

Day 4 – Venice

After a quick continental breakfast (included in the price of our room), we were keen to get stuck into what would be a very fast paced tour of Venice’s top spots. We started out by taking a short walk down to Piazza San Marco to check out St Mark’s Basilica and the other landmarks surrounding the city’s main square. Unfortunately, as we were short on time we were unable to go inside and have a look around at the famous gold mosaics lining the floors and walls of the church, entrance to the Basilica is free although there is likely to be a queue. We carried on down to the Piazzetta San Marco, the smaller open space to the square’s south east, to take in the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, two of Venice’s most recognisable landmarks.

The square also boasts one of the best views of the city and surrounding islands, from the top of the bell tower of St Marks Campanile, a visit will cost you €8 but the pictures are absolutely worth it.

After a morning exploring you will probably need an energy boost to power through the rest of your day (Cue Nat pining for caffeine.) We decided to head towards the Rialto Bridge to find somewhere to grab some lunch and a cold one (no coffee for Joe) with a view. There are numerous bars and restaurants lining the Grand Canal around the bridge where you can sit back and take in the buzz of the city’s main waterway. We chose to stop off at Ristorante Florida and sit under the pagoda with a goblet of strong beer and an even stronger coffee.

If you would rather use your money during the day for having a couple of drinks (like we do) there are small “fast food” pizzerias located all over the city where you can grab a cheap bite to eat. We picked up a slice of pizza (it was hugeeee!) from Self Service Rialto, for half the price as a restaurant and it was the tastiest pizza we had during our whole trip.

After lunch, it was time for us to fully embrace Venetian tradition and take a gondola tour of the canals. The gondolas are quite possibly the most recognisable image of Venice both past and present, once used exclusively by the city’s upper classes as transport around the waterways. The fixed cost of a 30-40-minute tour is €80 during the day and €100 after 7pm for evening tours.

We wouldn’t be Backpacks and Beverages if we didn’t stop off for one final glassful towards the end of our Italian adventure. We decided that a small, open fronted bar packed with 7 or 8 Gondoliers on a break must be a good idea, and we weren’t disappointed! 

Unfortunately, it was time to head back to Marco Polo and catch our flight home. We caught the airport bus transfer from the Piazzale Roma, a short walk from Santa Lucia station, the bus only takes around 20 minutes and costs €8.

HINTS AND TIPS – MILAN 

  • If you decide to fly into Venice like we did, pre-book your train tickets. Venice to Milan return cost around €45 for the two of us, whereas the normal price is around €40 each way! Definitely worth looking into and tickets can be easily booked through the Trainline. Be careful – some of the train companies only accept printed tickets so it’s worth checking at home before you travel if you need to print out your tickets.
  • If you do fancy heading over to the San Siro Stadium to catch a football match, make sure you book tickets in advance. I’d read online that you shouldn’t struggle to get cheap tickets from the Box Office, how wrong was I! After queuing for over an hour and a half we were told the only tickets left were €90 each for pretty poor seats, frustrating to say the least! Try livefootballtickets.com a couple of weeks before to be sure. 

HINTS AND TIPS – VENICE 

  • The bars and restaurants seemed to close at around 10pm, so bear this in mind if you’re planning on arriving late! However, we’re not sure if this was because of the awful weather or the fact it was a Monday night.
  • You can easily walk to most places from Santa Lucia station, don’t bother paying for the water taxi if you can help it, pained us to pay €7.50 each for a 10-minute journey! ALTHOUGH €20 will give you a 24-hour travel card so this is worth it if you want to explore all the far reaches of Venice and will even take you to some of the cities neighbouring islands, which are highly recommended if you have the time to spare.
  • A gondola holds 6 people, so if you are travelling as a couple ask other’s in the queue if they would like to share a ride with you and split the cost, €40 is a fair few beverages to waste ! 😉

So that was our first Backpacks and Beverages adventure! For us, Italy will always be such a special place, it’s where we found our love for travelling and exploring the world one drink at a time as a couple, and this certainly won’t be our last visit. Watch this space for more Moretti and Aperol fuelled fun! x

Hi there,

We’re Joe and Nat aka Backpacks & Beverages *cheers!*

We are a full-time working couple from the UK who share a passion for all things travel, tasty food and good drinking! 

We decided to write about our tipsy travel adventures to inspire you to do the same. To take a step outside your comfort zone and experience everything the world has to offer one glass at a time. 

Come along and drink the world dry with us!

Joseph and Natalia xxxx

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