A warm rain began to fall moments after my husband and I sat down on a terrace overlooking the Amstel River in Amsterdam. Instead of scrambling for a seat inside, Peter and I waited while the automatic awning unfurled. Cozy and dry, we sipped our wine, listened to the rain’s gentle drumbeat, and watched the lively scene play out in front of us. A cyclist holding an umbrella in one hand hurried along the narrow street before us. Just beyond, boats of varying sizes and degrees of sophistication chugged past to destinations unknown.
Peter and I spent eleven days in Europe one summer—just the two of us—in celebration of 20 years of marriage. Part of the time we stayed in Amsterdam, where we met in 1982 when I was a young schoolteacher and Peter was a handsome waiter with blue eyes, a charming accent, and an infectious smile. In a city known for its passion and energy, beauty and culture, we spent our first date sitting on a floating terrace under a starry sky. While a soft wind rippled the canal underneath, we talked about our dreams. Who knew we were mapping out our future together?
In the twenty years since we married, Peter and I have returned to Amsterdam many times, often accompanied by our children. Fond memories and stacks of photos document the fun we’ve had with our three sons—exploring the Tropical Museum, watching the zebras frolic at the Amsterdam zoo, eating fries in the snack bar, and enjoying puppet shows and street musicians on Dam Square. But on this visit Peter and I planned a romantic interlude in this colorful, vibrant capital city.
Although Amsterdam may not make your list of the world’s most romantic cities, it tops mine. I’m sure having met my future husband there makes me a bit prejudiced. Yet somehow the city exudes sensuality. After all, it’s where John and Yoko holed up in a hotel, wearing pajamas and lounging in bed for a week. While hanging around in a hotel might appeal to some folks, my advice is to roam around this seductive city and discover its charms. Here are a few of my personal suggestions for planning a romantic interlude in Amsterdam with your true love.
• Find a terrace or grand cafe and pass the time for a while. Peter and I love Amstelhoeck, near the Waterloo Plein—a noteworthy outdoor market in the old section of the city. We’ve whiled away our time at Amstelhoeck both in summer on the terrace and in the middle of winter, where its Old World ambience invites a romantic mood. Spending time with your loved one without an agenda or time constraints is a simple pleasure, but a rare one for most of us. Have a cup of strong Dutch coffee or a frothy glass of pilsner, and drink in your surroundings deeply.
• If you’re lucky, you’ll wake up to a rainy morning in Amsterdam. Fortify yourself with a large breakfast because you and your sweetheart have a lot of work ahead. Your mission is to grab an umbrella—just one to share—and walk in the rain to the nearest picturesque bridge. You won’t have to walk far because canals criss-cross Amsterdam, and lovely old bridges await around every corner. Walk halfway across the bridge and pause for a lingering kiss under the umbrella. Next find another bridge and repeat. If you’re so inclined, ask a passerby to take your photo. You’ll cherish the memory and the moment.
• What’s more romantic than bunches of beautiful blooms? Amsterdam’s floating flower market offers a dazzling array of colorful flowers, fresh from the growers. You’ll want to buy your lover at least a bunch or two to liven up your hotel room. And you’ll feel like a native walking through the streets of Amsterdam with your “bloemen” in hand.
• Another way to go native and share a romantic experience at the same time is to rent bikes and pedal the back streets of Amsterdam. You can opt for a guide or strike out on your own, map in hand, in search of adventures and perhaps a new bridge, where you can pause and add another lingering kiss to your collection. If you want to explore greener pastures, head to Vondel Park, Amsterdam’s verdant park near Leidseplein—also the perfect setting for my next suggestion.
• Plan a picnic. Shop for groceries at an open-air market. One of my favorites is the Albert Cuyp market, which has an array of cheeses, bread, olives, fresh produce, and tasty rotisserie chicken! If you can’t get to a market, visit the nearby Albert Heijn, an upscale grocery store with everything you’d ever want for a gourmet picnic. Don’t forget a nice bottle of wine, your Swiss Army knife, and a couple of cups. Now grab a blanket or a beach towel and head to Vondel Park, where you can share a cozy afternoon together, snuggling in the grass, sipping wine, and lingering over a tasty lunch. As the sun warms your bones, take a nap or just lie side by side and watch the clouds float across the sky.
• Evening in Amsterdam has its own special attractions. No, I don’t mean the Red Light District—which is open for business any time of day—or the innocently named coffee shops, where the sweet smell of cannabis wafts from within. I mean the romantic restaurants that add spice to this sparkling city. On our visit, Peter and I decided to enjoy a special evening at Envy, a chic “delicacies” restaurant on Prinsengracht with an inviting old-world ambiance. The menu is eclectic, with an emphasis on seasonal dishes showcasing Europe’s finest meats, produce, and cheeses. At evening's end Peter and I toasted to our next twenty years!
• With the night still young, I knew exactly where to go. Years before we left our children with Peter’s folks and came to the big city for a night out together. We discovered a cool jazz club called Cafe Alto near the Leidseplein. A tiny, narrow place, Alto boasts some of the best jazz in town. The trick is to get there early enough to find a seat. Peter and I arrived a bit too early and decided to stroll back to the Leidseplein to watch the street entertainers. By the time we got back just after ten, people were jamming the place and spilling out onto the terrace. Nevertheless, we nudged our way in, snaked up to the bar, ordered a drink, and shared a jazzy evening with a packed house of music aficionados. Afterwards Peter and I strolled back to our hotel our footsteps echoing on cobble-stoned streets, holding hands, still talking about our dreams.
For tourist information:
• Radisson Blu Hotel – www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-amsterdam
• Amstelhoeck - amstelhoeck.nl/
• Envy - www.envy.nl/en
• Jazz Cafe Alto - www.jazz-cafe-alto.nl/
Peggy Sijswerda, MFA, is a freelance writer living in Virginia Beach, Va.