Have I ever told you how much I adore Amsterdam? No? Well I do. I bloody love it; more than any other city in the world. I have looooooads to say about Amsterdam, and in due course I will be writing many a post on this fascinating place. But for now, here are my Top 10 Tips and Things to do……………
1) Go midweek this makes sense for a lot of reasons. The flights are cheaper, accomodation is cheaper with more choice, it’s less busy and has a more genuine vibe, you get more choice of eateries and beverage joints, oh and all the Dutch are at work at 3pm so more space in the parks if weather permits! Don’t worry you won’t miss out by not being there on a Saturday night, a Wednesday night is just as buzzing, except you actually have more than 30cm in front of your face to breathe without a having to sniff a sweaty back when wandering aimlessly or buying a drink.
2) Get lost in the Jordaan district One of Netherlands most famous and definitely most charming neighbourhoods. It’s bursting at the seams with pretty boutique shops, endless canals and delicious delicacies. There is tons to keep you occupied, even if that means doing nothing at all. It was developed in the early 17th century and some say its name is inspired by the river Jordan, which borders Israel and in Biblical terms suggests the Promised Land. Others say it was inspired by jardin, French for garden. This place is so pretty and picturesque, quirky and inspiring; I can imagine both meanings to be true. However, most streets and canals are named after trees and flowers so I would guess the latter is more believable. Why not visit one of the many markets in the area? On a Saturday you will find a general market on Lindengracht and on Noordermarkt you will find an organic farmers market on a Saturday and a flea market on Monday mornings. Whilst at Noordermarkt you can visit the Noorderkerk (North church) designed by Hendrick de Keyser. There are plenty of places to eat or sip on your drink of choice at leisure. It’s also a great place to stay with a range of 1-5* accommodation and just minutes walk from the city centre but still relatively quiet and removed from most of the hustle and bustle. Major tram lines also run through if you fancy going further afield.
3) People watch I love people watching, I often do it without even realising and I do it everywhere in the world. But there is something more special about people watching in ‘Dam. I can never stress enough the intensity of the buzzing atmosphere, made by a muddled mixture of different people, cultures and journeys. The same people you take those cracking-one-liners from just passing them in the street and in a split second they’re gone. Sit for 10 mins on a canal and watch them float (or often dance) by, dine alfresco and nose on the world crazily passing by or just wander aimlessly. A lot of time can be wasted like this in Amsterdam, it’s free and I can guarantee you’ll make some amusing memories too!
4) Let curiosity get the better of you and take a stroll through the Red Light District! I’ve never met anyone NOT intrigued by this fascinating and utterly surreal circus, and whether you love it or hate it, you’ll be pleased you saw it. Hundreds of thousands of people visit this unique district each year. Peeking sheepishly (or sometimes more blatantly) through red and blue lit windows, you’ll find all sorts of people from elderly tour groups, groups of young giggly friends, couples with their kids – pre-school through to teens or just the regular Joe passing through going about his daily life. Prostitution is legal in The Netherlands and is a recognised career, the girls pay taxes to the government and rent window space for set periods, time sharing with other girls. There are so many layers to this subject and I have plenty of ‘dos and don’ts’ so I’ll write a more in-depth post very soon. But in the meantime, go and see for yourself! It also offers a great base for people watching, the look on people’s faces when catching the eye of an erotically dressed window girl for the first time is priceless! Mind you, please leave the camera in the bag. Strictly no photography in the RLD or face getting in trouble with the law, a giant bear-like-bouncer may just appear from nowhere or worse still, a nasty mouthful from one of the girls – this isn’t a pretty sight! I would strongly recommend a visit to the Red Light Secrets, Museum of Prostitution. It’s very small and takes about 15 minutes to walk through but inexpensive at €7.50 and is very informative. I would advise going at night, they have a replica window you can stand in and mess with the world walking by, especially if you are with a man flaunting his stuff it can be extra amusing!
5) Go and visit Anne Frank House/Huis If you don’t go to any other museums in Amsterdam, make sure you go to this one. It’s probably my favourite museum in the world, I loved the Diaries of Anne Frank as a child so I already felt I knew her before stepping in. Many of her family’s belongings have remained here, even the wall paper and postcards on her bedroom wall have been preserved. It is a fascinating way to spend 30-60 minutes, although heart-breaking and the atmosphere gets more eerie as you’re drawn into the story. Most canal buildings in Amsterdam are tall and narrow and this is no exception. Because of this, not many people can fit in at once. The queues to get in can be a couple of hours long if not more at peak times, so always book a time slot ahead online, that way you don’t waste time hanging around.
6) Avoid the tourist traps Honestly, do you actually want to spend your time in this unique and beautiful city looking at bad wax works and tacky video tours? I could fill two weeks and more keeping busy in this town without seeing any of that nonsense. Then again I find it almost impossible travelling any way other than independent. I hate contrived tours and experiences, unless there is actually something mind blowing I will have learnt by the end of it. All the usual big city scams exist, such as paying extortionate rates for third party booking services, the Tuk-Tuk and taxi drivers who blag as many euros as they can from you or the street loiterers waiting to prey on an unsuspecting, and often stupid or intoxicated tourist. Just be careful, keep your belongings personal, learn how to say no and stay safe.
7) Take a Tuk-Tuk ride Just for the sheer hell of it. But of course is more financially viable if you actually have somewhere to go! I’ve seen a lot of people advise others against using a tuk-tuk as a means of transport, and to an extent I agree. If you are using them to just get about, then it’s a very expensive way of doing things. Amsterdam has a fantastic transport system and is also really easy to walk around which will be much healthier on the pocket. My husband and I have had many a gut wrenching, giggle filled trip in a tuk tuk, mainly on our mini-moon when we behaved like we were made of money! Maybe we were just lucky and got the right (or complete wrongan) drivers or maybe it’s a must-do experience in itself! It also adds to the experience if the driver gives you a little history lesson on the way, which most do. Don’t be duped into buying any tuk-tuk city tours. At least if you grab one off the street your experience won’t be staged and probably cheaper, but don’t blame me if he rides on a tram track and misses hitting one head on by inches…… 😉
Video to be uploaded soon
8) Go and take advantage of some of the world’s best museums, art galleries and iconic buildings I’ve already told you my favourite museum above so won’t bore you again and I’ve enjoyed many more of them over the years. Really this should be a post in itself to give thorough information of my experiences and advice. But everyone has different tastes and interests, and with exhibitions changing and building renovations taking place, it would be best to research where you want to go and opening times etc before you arrive. Remember, a lot of attractions and museums close on Mondays in The Netherlands and across parts of Europe. Luckily however, most of Amsterdam’s museums are open on a Monday, but make sure you check before you find yourself frustrated in front of a locked door (which happened to us in Bruges!). The Iamsterdam site is a good place to look and get up to date information on a variety of things in Amsterdam.
9) Get a bike! Do it how the Dutch do it. This is probably on everyone’s top tips and it’s obvious why. Amsterdam is a confusing yet really straight forward maze of tiny cobbled streets, a variety of canals and hours of riding. There are roughly 890,00 bicycles in Amsterdam. Spend hours getting lost then realising you’re just round the corner from where you started! Be careful, look where you’re going, have your bell on constant ring and don’t fall off!
10) Boat trip This is a must in any Amsterdam itinerary, one of the best ways to explore this wonderful city. Contrary to popular belief, Amsterdam is the most watery city in the world (most think of Venice). With 165 canals and roughly 25% of the city’s surface taken by navigational waterways, a trip on a canal is hard to avoid. If you have limited time and want to learn about the city, a good informative boat tour would be the way forward, however being more of a veteran now I prefer to hire a private boat. These can be sought for a variety of budgets and I will be covering this in a future post.
And just to sneak a cheeky 11 in always look up. Amsterdam has a vast array of 16th,17th and 18th century architectural sweethearts, and most buildings are very high and narrow so there is a lot more life going on closer to the clouds than you were ever aware of before. There is a lot going on!
‘For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.’ Leonardo Di Vinci
That said, Amsterdam is a sensory overload. Watch where you are going! Coming at you from all directions will be crowds, bikes, cars and trams. Know when you’re walking in a bike lane or a tram line, dodge the intoxicated folk, keep your ears open for bells and be prepared to move quickly!
Have you been to Amsterdam? If so, what is your favourite thing to do? Or do you long to visit this land and have any questions? Comment below, share the love, and like away