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Forget Dutch slippers shaped like clogs, Red Light paraphernalia and typical shot glasses. Souvenirs in Holland’s capital need not be dorky or cheap—it’s all about finding the right store and clever idea. Here are five recommendations for good take away memorabilia from Amsterdam for yourself and your friends back home.
1. Cheap and sweet: the cookie aisle
Amsterdam’s chain supermarket, Albert Hein, is a gold mine for affordable and tasty treats that are light and allowed on board for the flight home. My favorite spot to spy a few good gifts is the cookie aisle, particularly where the stroopwafels and almond cakes hang about. From Belgian chocolate truffles and Nutella to quirky Dutch favorites like drop (salty liquorice) and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles), the possibilities encourage creative gift baskets. And the best part? All of these items go for just a few euros.
2. Cheese? Puh-lease!
After a few samples at the (free) Amsterdam Cheese Museum on Prinsengracht 112, it’s hard to resist packing a few small rounds of Dutch cheese in the suitcase. The garden harm combos, the smoked sticks and sharp goudas are nearly irresistible.
My tip: Don’t do it! Dutch cheese shops are not easy on the wallet, and forget the specialty spots within the center. If you want to be stubborn about it, at least support the local farmers and buy locally at the cheese stands at outdoor markets like Albert Cuypmarkt and Dappermarkt. Even better, it’s a short bike ride to surrounding local farm houses that have attached shops with an even larger cheese variety.
3. Tah tah, Tulipmania
There’s something you need to know about flowers, even tulips: they’re a seasonal buy! True, the flower market offers bulbs for sale year round, but that doesn’t mean they’ll grow once planted. The only time to plant tulips are in fall, and that’s the prime time to buy. Make sure they have the “special seal” on the package if you’re bringing them back across the pond—US customs are strict about tulip bulbs (and Dutch cheese) coming in.
As an alternative, check out the (free) Tulip Museum on Prinsengracht 116 for tulip trinkets that earn a bit more authenticity than the smorgasbord of souvenir stands around town. My favorite find for kids are the “tulip in a can” gifts at Knuffels (Sint Antoniesbreestraat 51A).
4. Always a find at Waterlooplein Market
The best market to dig around for treasures and random odds and ends is Waterlooplein, open everyday (except Sundays) from 9 AM to 4 PM. This hodgepodge of stands sell new and used apparel, accessories and random ornaments, spread out like a giant garage sale and offering some great buys.
Ten-cent postcards, €1 books and €5 shirts are just the beginning. This is the place for one-of-a-kind buys, boxes with a few gems in a mound of junk, vintage wear, and everything in between. In one trip I can pimp my bike with a new bell, score a pair of spring shoes, a good record find, and splurge on a mirror frame—and spend less than €30.
5. Feeling frisky? Put a “lid” on “it”
If the Red Light District is calling your name (or wallet) for gift giving, I have two places to recommend to you. Amsterdam’s Condomerie is the world’s first condom specialty store located on Warmoesstraat 141 just off Dam Square. They have an endless supply of different novelty condoms with shapes that vary from the Eiffel Tower to The Simpsons. These are NOT for use, but are great gag gifts hard to find elsewhere in this world.
The ultra find for the Red Light District can be found at the Prostitute Information Center at Enge Kerksteeg 3, just next to the Oude Kerk. It’s a few euros to enter, but it’s a worth it for a closer look at the history of the world’s oldest profession in Amsterdam. More importantly, it’s the only place you’ll ever find photos of the brief Red Light District moment in the 1990s when men could rent out windows and offer services to the public. This only lasted for an afternoon, as it drew too much media attention to the neighborhood, and men just couldn’t keep up with their “demand” for service.