WHAT TJ DID: Hints to Americans Traveling in Europe, the guide that Jefferson wrote, begins in Amsterdam, a bustling port city and one of the world financial capitals of his day. He journeyed there in March, 1788 to secure loans for the U.S. government. His work complete, he explored the city, investigating canals, listening to music, and shopping for Hyson tea, books, porcelain cups, and a waffle maker.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Wander the historic center and its canals, looking for hidden finds. We particularly loved Jordaan, an old working-class neighborhood colonized by hipsters. Take a half-day to visit the Rijksmuseum. We lingered for a long time before Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, which Jefferson likely saw in City Hall, where it hung at the time. We also enjoyed prowling the Noordermarkt (a farmers market open on Saturdays), sampling Dutch cheese and sausage among many other delicacies.
There are plenty of day trips from Amsterdam, too. Just 20 miles to the west, check out the lovely small city of Haarlem—and make sure to see Villa Welgelegen from the outside, which Jefferson sketched.
Since you’ll be surrounded by waterways, find a way to get on a boat at some point. It’s easy to take a cruise (or a free ferry) in Amsterdam. Jefferson sailed a short distance north to Zaandam, which is still famous for its windmills. He also sailed south to Utrecht, a lovely city famous for its medieval-era university and canals, which we explored as well.
Spring means tulips, for sale at the Bloemenmarkt, the flower market, with bulbs in all shades. We also loved the kaleidoscope of tulips planted across the 79 acres of Keukenhof gardens, an easy day trip from Amsterdam. Jefferson would later plant striped and ruffled parrot tulips at Monticello.
HISTORIC LODGINGS: Amsterdam is full of hotels and Airbnbs. We stayed near the historic center by the old walled botanical garden. The Amsterdam Arms, where TJ himself stayed, is long gone, but it was on the approximate site of the Radisson Blu today.
Finally, if you visit on April 27, you’ll be in for a truly bacchanalian time: King’s Day, the celebration of the Dutch monarchy. Jefferson attended a similar celebration, declaring that the fireworks were “the most splendid I had ever seen,” he wrote, “and the roar of joy the most universal I had ever heard.”
EAT AND DRINK LIKE TJ: TJ feasted on oysters—50 at one setting—and drank Mosel wines from Germany. If you want to try to match TJ’s oyster record, one place to start might be Mossel en Gin—which has plenty of drink options as well. (I haven’t been—let me know how it is if you go!) We dined at a restaurant that serves traditional Dutch food, including herring, eel pâté, and split pea and celery soup, housed in a 17th century building, the Five Flies.
If you want to continue Jefferson’s waffle them (he bought a waffle maker while in Amsterdam), try the gooey stroopwafels, which ooze out chocolate between their wafers. You can find them in any café (koffiehuis)—although not in the “coffeeshops.” You’ll find various other, non-Jefferson-recommended products in those