Turning 50 is a pretty big deal in the Netherlands. I’ve often seen signs of it in Amsterdam and around the country – family and friends decorate the house of the one celebrating with festive bunting, banners and balloons emblazoned with “50”, and sometimes prominent, inflated figures on the front lawn! The birthday person is referred to as ‘Abraham’ or ‘Sarah’, a custom that celebrates the wisdom gained over fifty years, and is expected to throw a party (and foot the bill). This is how I celebrated my 50th birthday in Amsterdam. I hope that sharing this will give you some ideas for how to celebrate a special occasion in Amsterdam.
When I ushered in 2022, I remember my thoughts drifting to the ‘milestone’ ahead and the pressure of planning something special. I had nine months to plan my 50th birthday. In the months that followed, countless ideas and plans were formulated and scrapped. Would I prefer a big party or a small, intimate celebration? Should I organise a single event or multiple events over the course of a few days? Plan something in Amsterdam or somewhere else? I couldn’t make up my mind. I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t want any bunting and definitely no inflatable figures!
Celebrating this special occasion in Amsterdam
Then one day, about two months before my birthday, it hit me! What I really wanted and knew I would enjoy, was to celebrate my 50th birthday in Amsterdam with my loved ones, doing things I love. I created a birthday itinerary that pretty much had ‘me’ written all over it! Haha! And you know what? It turned out to be an unforgettable day filled with laughter, love and fabulous food, and a storm, sunshine and a few rainbows thrown in!
A private birthday cruise
One of the best things to do when celebrating a special occasion in Amsterdam is to go on a canal cruise. We started out in the afternoon by boarding a ‘notary boat’, a 100-year-old boat that was formerly used for business dealings. I’d arranged a 1.5 hour private cruise around Amsterdam complete with high tea and wine. It was cold and rainy when we boarded – good thing I hired a boat with a roof! – and found the high tea beautifully laid out on the table. There was a mix of sandwiches, wraps, cakes, chocolates, macarons and scones. In the little bar, there was a selection of wines and champagne. The friendly skipper welcomed us on board and promptly served us a hot cup of tea.
Several minutes after leaving the pier, the dark clouds made way for bright sunshine, allowing us to open the windows and enjoy the view. I selected a bottle of wine before tucking into the delicious high tea. We ate, drank and listened to the skipper as he told us stories about the landmarks we passed. Amsterdam looked absolutely glorious in the sunshine.
I’d been on numerous private cruises before but this one, with its delicious high tea served on porcelain, and a private bar with top-notch wines and champagne, felt more fitting for the occasion. Everyone had a fabulous time, and I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear!
Fabrique des Lumières
After the cruise, we made our way to the Fabrique des Lumières in the Westergasfabriek. I attended the opening of this digital art centre a few months earlier. The exhibition of the works of Klimt and Hundertwasser was absolutely magical and I knew my friends would love it too.
We spent more than an hour there watching the multimedia show in total amazement. Read my post about Fabrique des Lumières, which also includes a video of the experience.
An architecture walk
From the Westergasfabriek, we walked through the leafy Westerpark to the Spaarndammerbuurt, a district known for its Amsterdam School of Expressionism architecture. I’m a big fan of this architectural style so it was a joy to tour the neighbourhood, which also has some cool wine bars and restaurants.
Our architecture walk continued in the adjacent Houthavens district. This area used to be part of the Amsterdam port, which was once one of the world’s most important merchant ports. This new neighbourhood, built on several islands and piers, is designed to be climate neutral. I love the mix of architectural styles, from colourful cubes to a modern take on the historic canal houses.
We stopped at the Karaat bar/restaurant for a drink and a snack before making our way to our dinner spot.
Dinner at REM
For this special occasion in Amsterdam, my 50th birthday dinner, I wanted a restaurant at a unique location, preferably with a view and that served excellent food and wines. For me, this was the most important part of my birthday itinerary. It had to be spot on! I took my time researching restaurants in Amsterdam and decided on REM. Housed in a former communications platform that was moored in the North Sea, REM certainly ticked the box in terms of a unique location. I asked for a table with a view; another box ticked! I also read many reviews about the food and almost all of them were positive.
REM is moored at the end of a long pier at the Houthavens. As we were halfway along the pier, a storm passed and in an instant, we were battling sheets of rain and the howling wind. The rain miraculously stopped and blue skies returned just as we approached the restaurant! We were drenched but my best friend assured me that this was a sign of good things to come. Haha!
We took the lift to the top and stepped straight into the restaurant. The large windows offered panoramic views of the Amsterdam Ij-Harbour and the city skyline. We were led to a table in a corner so we had fantastic views on two sides. The view of the harbour, combined with menacing rain clouds and patches of blue, was simply spectacular!
Four-course Chef’s menu at REM
We opted for the chef’s four-course dinner and it was superb! Each course was a treat in itself, featuring fresh ingredients, ingenious flavour combinations and beautiful plating.
It was a truly unforgettable day full of wonderful, often hilarious moments with my loved ones. For me, it was the perfect way to celebrate my 50th birthday in Amsterdam. It sure was the most enjoyable birthday I’ve ever had!
Would you like to arrange a similar day for a special occasion in Amsterdam?
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