Often journeys start or end with surprises due to changes or failures to respect all our plans. However, unforeseen events can enrich the trip, such as that time when I booked the hostel for the wrong month in Poland, and then I decided to go to Wroclaw instead of Krakow. Perhaps the beauty of travelling is also this unpredictability. So it went in Amsterdam.
My holiday in Amsterdam went as follows: I bought a tour guide and read unique tips on the internet. This trip was supposed to be a surprise for my sister; therefore I wanted to be perfect and well-organised (while erasing the internet history every time, just in case). Thousands of ideas and places caught my attention, but in the end, we only visited a third of what I had spotted in blogs, or I highlighted in the pages of my Routard.
Amsterdam and I agreed: we will meet again very soon…
We spent only three complete days in Amsterdam at the end of July: too few, in my opinion, to visit and enjoy everything that this city has to offer.
Amsterdam is worldly known for many stereotypes: coffee shops, red light district, bicycles, canals, tulips, cheese, mills and, for the most educated, it is also linked to Anna Frank and painters like Van Gogh and Rembrandt.
We enjoyed the city as it was, walking a lot along those channels that at first glance looked all the same. We also got lost many times, and often the map didn’t seem to coincide with the streets we had in front of us. We walked three times around the neighbourhood before we understood where the hotel was: the street sign didn’t transcribe the same address taken from the internet for a simple “IJ,” then we realised it was the same street! We stayed at the Aalders Hotel, a three star well-located downtown at a walking distance to every major attraction. Naturally, our days started after a hearty breakfast.
My sister and I chose to be carefree and spontaneous: the research I had done before the trip just gave us a general idea of what it was possible to visit but, in the end, we decided everything as we read the guide during our breakfasts. No museums with endless queues, no Heineken Experience, no bicycle tours. We walked. We walked a lot to appreciate the city and have a good excuse to fill our stomach. Strolling around is unquestionably the best way to see Amsterdam and discover all its inner gardens, look at the houses along the canals, listen to tourists who comment on their holiday, browse through the local art galleries and shops and, above all, to take our own time, without any hassle. The city was there for us.
Unfortunately, although it was July, good weather was not our travelling companion: the dark sky, the brown bricks of the facades of the crooked buildings, and the dark murky waters of the canals gave us the perception that Amsterdam was dull and sad. Nothing more wrong! The appearance of the city does not correspond to the atmosphere that is lived in its daily life: bars and restaurants always full, numerous bachelor and hen parties, boats packed with Dutch guys who greeted as they sipped beer, and hordes of tourists of every age and origin. Amsterdam is alive, with a pulsating heart at every hour of the day and night, giving fun to all kinds. It is an amazing city which offers hospitality, eco-friendly mindset, tolerance, multiculturalism and provides an extremely varied range of events throughout the year.
Obviously, we did not skip famous attractions such as red light district, flower market, coffee shop and we did not pull back to bite a piece of cheese while, with the other hand, we held a paper cone with freshly fried hot potato chips covered with fat sauces. How can you give up the frivolity of being a tourist? Once satisfied with our touristy needs, I contacted my ex-colleague to take us to some of his favourite venues and discover Amsterdam from the perspective of a Dutchman.
Let me tell you a little anecdote of our trip about coffee shops. My sister rarely travels abroad and has insisted on going to a coffee shop because “When is it gonna happen again?”. After asking a lot to go there, we found Katsu; a little coffee shop frequented only by Dutch. The choice of products was varied, and we decided to buy a muffin and eat it at the hotel after the tour in the Dutch countryside. None of us knew which effects it could have, so we split it in two and ate before going to sleep. How did it go? We felt terrible: thermal swings, paranoia, and severe pressure drop until the following morning when we had to take the plane back home. Conclusion? Never again! Once was enough! I tell you this in case you also want to give a bite to that damn muffin.
Some inspiration for your trip to Amsterdam
Enjoy a canal cruise
A relaxing boat trip can be a good start to getting to know the city. Several companies are operating at similar prices and schedules. We chose this tour also for audio guides in various languages: we put the earphones on, and the city was appearing in front of us with its dark buildings, bicycles leaning on the railings and pink flower pots decorating bridges. We joined this canal tour (click here if you want to book) in the late afternoon on the same day we arrived, as were already tired from the journey to get there from Kaascheuvel, but eager to visit Amsterdam. The sky was getting darker and darker, and being aboard prevented us from getting wet. Although boat trips are very touristic, it was charming: after walking so much during the day, we still wanted to discover the city from a different point of view.
A pic nic at the park
Having a picnic in city parks where tourists and locals love to spend their time on beautiful days is always an excellent idea. We went to Vondelpark, one of the most famous in the city known for its 84 hectares of land: we could choose aaaany place to sit! Here loads of young people and families were lying on the ground to chat, play, listen to music and… eat, of course. Why not have a picnic here, just like locals? There was a group of four girls devouring chocolate bars just in front us. We preferred fruit juices and rye bread stuffed with traditional Dutch cheese. Very basic, yes! But isn’t it great to enjoy the city in such simple way?
A walk to the Albert Cuyp Market
If you like walking, head off the centre and go down quiet streets and get to the De Pijp neighbourhood, not far from the museum quarter. The difference with the heart of Amsterdam was obvious: here it seemed much more a working-class area, less neat, giving the impression that people actually lived there. We noticed high buildings and various flags hanging on the windows (more than 140 nationalities reside here), some red-light windows and the largest market in the Netherlands along the Albert Cuyp Straat, from which it derives its name.
This is one of the biggest markets in Europe, as well as the most famous in the Netherlands, with over 250 regulated banks open every day since 1912: alternating stalls of clothing, food (especially cheeses and sweets) and flowers. Halfway through the path, you will also find a Bazaar decorated with great tiles reminding Arabian fantasies.
Eat at Foodhallen
This is the treat we discovered thanks to my Dutch friend. This place is trendy amongst locals, and it’s packed every day of the week. I totally recommend coming here at least once! FoodHallen is located in the west part of the city, in Bellamyplein 51. It looks like an old industrial hall marked by the tram tracks, and nowaday it has known a new life: this massive complex houses cinemas, nurseries, literary cafes, events and the famous food market where to find specialities from all over the world and rivers of beer. * How could I not fall in love with it? *
Panoramic view from open bibliotheek
If panoramic views of the city enchant you, I would recommend spending a little time at the modern central library, located in the harbour area (yeah, you have to walk along an impreeeeessive line of parked bikes). Once you enter, you will find an essential furnished library with white shelves and dark chairs, multimedia corners, sections of daily newspapers and books of all kinds organised into spacious salons and floors. Take the elevator to the top and enjoy the panorama from the outdoor terrace!
This is just a small part of what I keep in my heart after my visit to Amsterdam. In this post, I decided not talk about the curious inner gardens, the eccentric style of the bars that always attract my attention, the unique shops and the positive energy that the city conveyed. (How not to mention all my curses for not wearing a heavier sweater though it was July. I just froze!) I would like to revisit Amsterdam. For a moment, I also tried to imagine how would it be to live here: maybe I rely on all the stereotypes, but there are aspects of Dutch culture that have always attracted me particularly, such as tolerance, civic education, respect, ethical and ecological conscience, modernity and simplicity of the people. Only spending more time there, I would be able to understand the reality of this country. In the meantime, I mark on my long list all those bizarre things I can only find in Amsterdam and make me want to travel there a second time.
What did you like the most?
What do you suggest to see and do?