Just Back: Amsterdam

National Geographic Traveler features editor Amy Alipio (on Twitter @amytravels and on Instagram @amyalipio) recently returned from a long weekend with her young daughter in Amsterdam

Here are some of the high points of her trip, in her own words:

Outdoor adventure:Biking is an essential part of Amsterdam culture (some 63 percent of locals bike). So I let my nine-year-old daughter persuade me to rent our own two-wheelers, despite my total lack of experience with city biking.

We went with Green Budget Bikes because it was close to our hotel. The bikes came in an acid green color that screamed “tourist” and didn’t come with helmets. I had to leave my passport and a 200-euro deposit at the rental office, which made me even more anxious than I already was.

I didn’t know how to make left turns on major streets—so we would dismount and walk our bikes across the intersection (to my daughter’s extreme embarrassment).

Even though I did spend most of my time white-knuckling the handlebars, there were moments when I relaxed enough to experience the exhilaration of cruising down a narrow cobblestoned street beside a charming canal in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

The highlight of our adventure was biking around the 120-acre Vondelpark, the Amsterdam equivalent of—though, surprisingly, eight years younger than—New York City’s Central Park. I doubt I’ll ever be that cool urban cyclist texting, eating, or balancing two kids while biking. But as we joined dozens of other two-wheeled commuters streaming along, I could at least imagine I was.

Memorable moment: Going to bed each evening in sight of 17th-century step-gabled houses, a rippling canal reflecting streetlights, and a half moon poised above made me glad I took a friend’s advice and chose a canalside hotel. (Full disclosure: We stayed at the Hotel Estherea as a guest of Booking.com.)

Amsterdam is a bustling contemporary city, but you can fantasize being a Golden Age merchant with the world at your fingertips when you stay in a room with a view of the Dutch capital’s famed waterways.

Authentic souvenir: Though there was no lack of wooden clogs and tulip bulbs to buy, my favorite souvenir was a summery print dress from Dutch designer Summum.

I bought it in the district known as De 9 Straatjes (Nine Streets), where local and regional fashion and housewares designers, cheesemongers, and chocolatiers sell their goods in artful spaces. Browsing and buying authentically Dutch souvenirs here is an immersion in what makes Amsterdam such a cutting-edge cultural capital.

Stand-out culinary experience: Every meal we ate in Amsterdam was fresh and interesting, from a revelatory goat cheese and spinach salad (oh, that’s how it should be done!) at casual café Villa Zeezicht to a hearty breakfast of fried egg over toast with sides of Greek yogurt and homemade granola at Wolvenstraat 23.

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But we found our best meal thanks to a Nine Streets boutique store clerk, who recommended the Buffet van Odette, on Prinsengracht. One of those effortlessly hip places Amsterdam is so good at, Buffet van Odette still felt welcoming to a tourist and her young daughter.

As soon as we sat down, a waiter placed on our table a glass bottle of water, a plate of olives and chorizo, and a basket of bread. I ordered the smoked salmon, accompanied by lentils and a poached egg, laced with a wasabi mayonnaise—the cosmopolitan city summarized in a single dish.

Doable day trip: For that classic image of the Netherlands, head to Kinderdijk, about an hour-and-a-half drive southwest from Amsterdam. The UNESCO World Heritage site preserves 19 windmills that date to the 18th century.

Go ahead and just try to restrain yourself from filling a memory card full of pictures.

My daughter and I especially enjoyed touring the inside of a windmill, where exhibits explain how the iconic Dutch structures operate and tell the story of the miller family that actually lived there. (The mother of the family tragically died in a windmill accident, leaving behind 13 children.) On the way out, pause to see the modern water-pumping station near the entrance. Tip: You can also rent bikes and tour the area.

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