As you all know, I arrived to Amsterdam without knowing exactly what to expect – I knew about its canals, cannabis, Red Lights District and magic mushrooms. That’s it.
But then I started to gather some information about the place and realized I was wrong. Now that my stay is over, I know that there’s so much to do and see in Amsterdam… and during my 5 busy days in the city I never even entered a coffeeshop!
Here are my thoughts about the city together with some useful information to get there and around.
Just so that you know (AKA random useful information):
Eating on public transportation is not allowed. Of course I found out after eating a baguette sandwich! But at least I wasn’t caught.
From the airport (Schiphol) to the center you can easily get a bus (n. 175 to Leidesplein, every 30 minutes) for €4 or a train (to Centraal Station every 10 minutes) for €3,80. The airport has the train terminal in it, so you can’t miss it. And as you walk out of the doors, there you have the bus terminal. Easy and well organized!
If you plan to rent a bike (very popular in Amsterdam!) or a scooter, helmets are not required, unless you are riding a motorcycle.
If like me you’re staying outside of Amsterdam and you want to visit the city, you can park at big parking lots such as “Arena” and the “Olympic Stadium” and with €8 you can leave the car in the parking for 24 hours + get free transportation to and from the city center. Which is not bad at all (also if you consider that parkings in central Amsterdam cost about €4/hour or more)!
Cigarettes are expensive but not as much as in the UK or USA – to give you an idea, a box of Marlboro is €5,40.
Amsterdam is confidentially called A’dam by Dutch people.
For the best views over the city, you can climb the Westerkerk tower (guided tour, €7 per person, max 6 pax per group) or check out the rooftop of the Openbare Bibliotheek just on the side of the Centraal Station. Admission is free. It’s a beautiful building (one floor is about travel literature… just saying) and you can enjoy great views over Amsterdam while eating or drinking something at the rooftop bar.
My personal feelings
I remember when I was on the airplane and we were approaching Schiphol Airport for landing, but it was cloudy and I couldn’t see anything from above. I was so eager to get the first glimpse of this country… and finally I did: a green, mainly flat land. The area where I am staying is called “the green heart of Holland“, and it makes sense!
Already on the road home I spotted something new for me: wind mills! Farms! Scarecrows! Cottages with straw roofs! The sky is HUGE! I am not used to this kind of landscape since I hardly saw places that are this flat! And now I know where the famous skies of Rembrandt come from…
Polders took me back to my childhood, when we studied this at school. Basically as the Netherlands are below the sea level and the water for irrigation doesn’t flow, people started to surround their lands with water which is actually above the ground level, to keep the flow going with the aid of mills.
The language is a complete mystery. It was my first encounter with Dutch and I must say it’s harder than I could think! Especially the pronunciation – man I don’t get it! But I think it’s a beautiful language.
But let’s speak about Amsterdam!
First of all, the city isn’t big – there are just about 700,000 people in Amsterdam so it is indeed a small city but you have to see how crowded it is! Of course this is mainly because of tourists, but the result is a very colorful and lively city.
There are so many tourists! Unfortunately many of them are here just for a bachelor party (I heard coming to Amsterdam for this purpose is very common in the UK) and to mess around, but on the other hand a good part of the visitors are here for cultural purposes… such as me!
As I mentioned above, I never went into a coffeeshop. Before coming I thought I might give it a try if I met someone who wanted to go, but I didn’t. Anyway, when you walk down the streets and pass by a coffeeshop, the smell is so strong that I could easily get stoned just by sitting outside for a couple of minutes… As it happened to me when I entered a smartshop (where they sell “magic mushrooms”) and suddenly felt dizzy and forgot where I was going – I don’t know what that ‘fragrance’ was, but it was definitely something!
Anyway I must say that I don’t think that this kind of “natural” drugs are bad and I agree on their legalization. Quite the opposite! The mushrooms kinda fascinate me, but I wouldn’t try anyway. It was fun to go through their tags and instructions with all the varieties and effects though.
I just wish that all the people were wise enough to make the right use of everything, but I know I am being an idealist here.
Okay and since I am writing about that side of Amsterdam, I definitely have to mention the Red Lights District. I didn’t look for it, but found myself into it… as I think it happens to most of the visitors. I was a bit struck by the prostitute “windows” in front of Oude Kirk (a church! prostitutes? what a pairing!) but apart from this I have not much to say about it. I saw a guy going out of one of the doors, and the girl closing the door with a disgusted look. Poor her.
In case you’re interested, I found that according to the alleys the “offer” changes – I also saw ladyboys in the windows. Maybe it was obvious but I didn’t expect it. Then there are chubby girls, different ethnicities, etc. I am just reporting. Anyway overall I saw some really beautiful women in those windows. *shakes head*
Ok, I am done with this subject! Now some highlights:
The first thought I had about Amsterdam, as soon as I arrived to Centraal Station and started walking without a destination around the streets, was something like:
Wow look at all these people!
Amsterdam is not a big city but there are so many tourists! Almost everyone I saw in the streets was holding a map or guidebook. It’s unbelievable how much is dedicated to tourists in this city, which I guess is great. Then I think “would I like these crowds in my city?” and the answer is not exactly yes, but I guess it’s not up to me to state if it’s good or bad! This makes Amsterdam much more fun than Genova, no wonder.
So I was walking and saw the famous buildings with those worldwide famous narrow, long and pointy shapes, and I was pleasantly surprised finding out that not just a few of them are shaped that way, but basically the whole city center looks alike.
So I started snapping some pics!
Some of the houses are leaning, and this is not a defect: a building that tilts a bit and a hook on the top of it are the only tool sto move the furniture in and out of an apartment when someone moves in or out.
The second thing one notices in Amsterdam (or maybe the first?) is the huge amount of bikes that rocket around the city, on the streets, in any direction, over the bridges and along the canals. At first I was all like “oooh look at the bikes!” but then it got less and less funny, and in the end they were really annoying me!
Every time you cross the street be sure you double check on both sides. There is almost always a bike approaching without any intention to slow down or stop. I found myself walking in the bike lanes more than once and every time when I realized it I was scared!
My Dutch friend told me that there’s a law in the Netherlands according to which when there is a crash with a bike involved, no matter what happened the bike will always be in the right, and bikers look like they are aware of this. They just own the streets.
Despite the “bike danger”, walking in Amsterdam is easy as the city is flat and not too crowded in terms of cars. Moreover the city center is small and there’s no real need to use public transportation to cross it (unless you are in a hurry of course!).
I spent 5 full days exploring the city, walking for hours every day, and it was simply great. As I planned, I walked down all the “Negen Straatjes” or “Nine Alleys”, where all the most interesting shops are. There are some unique shops such as Envenaar, a bookstore that only sells travel-related books. I spent a lot of time in this shop!
I saw a shop that sells pottery AND shoes. Also, a kimono shop and a notebooks only one. Kinda weird huh? A little hipster maybe? I don’t know, but it was nice, even if I could hardly buy anything from any of these shops.
Another special shop in the Neegen Straatjes is De Witte Tandel Winkel, that specializes in toothbrushes. In fact, it doesn’t sell anything else!
I didn’t make it to the Prostitute Information Center and didn’t take part into the walking tour. Nevermind.
But I did have a boat tour, which I highly recommend to anyone – this really gives you the sense of how the city is built, together with beautiful views of the canals and the harbor. So when in Amsterdam, go for it. There are many canal cruise companies so you can just choose according to the route and price. Mine departed from Damrak (just in front of Centraal Station) and it was €11 for 1 hour, but I saw there are there are more expensive and longer ones.
I am not really a foodie but if there’s something I love it’s candies! At “Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkeltje“, a famous candy shop, I bought a nice selection of “drop”, the typical Dutch licorice. Be warned though, that there are varieties of sweet and salty drop, and the very salty one is… very salty. I tried one and if I have to describe the feeling, I thought my mouth was bleeding at some point. So I couldn’t swallow it! But you know, you have to try everything in life!
Another thing I loved, food-wise, was the “Chipsy King” chain that sells only fries – they fry the potatoes twice at different temperatures, and the result is best-fries-ever!
Apart from junk food, there are also some really interesting alternatives for eating in Amsterdam. I didn’t try any restaurant but I was particularly fascinated by a “Nomadic Algerian Cuisine” restaurant that I saw. I should have tried it!
Amsterdam is in fact a very multicultural city. There are people from all over the world living here, and it’s great to see buddhist temples, mosques, synagogues and churches all very close to each other.
Concerning museums, in the end I was able to visit all the ones I was planning:
- Van Gogh Museum
- FOAM (Photography Museum)
- NEMO (Science Museum)
- Anne Frank Huis
Money-wise it was OK. I didn’t have to pay for accommodation because a friend hosted me, but as her home is out of Amsterdam I had to use transportation for €20/day. I could have probably paid a hostel bed with that money, but the good side is that I had a good friend, lovely meals and extra comfort for free!
Apart from transportation I spent an average of €30/day including snacks, some museum admissions, excursions and souvenirs. Not bad at all but of course this wouldn’t be convenient for an extended amount of time.
I would define Amsterdam an “easy destination” for accustomed travelers. Everyone speaks English, there’s absolutely no culture shock, walking in the streets is easy, the atmosphere is very much laid back, you will feel welcome and all these reasons make Amsterdam an “easy” destination (if you’re used to third world countries for instance) yet different and unique, very much enjoyable, relaxing and hassle-free.
I am sure that 5 days are not enough to say “I know this city” but I tried to see and do as much as possible. Have you been to Amsterdam? How did you like it?