Well hello again!
After my time in Düsseldorf and Cologne it was time to board my bus and take the few hour trip to Amsterdam.
The scenery was beautiful for most of the 4 hours of so between cities.
Amsterdam was pretty high on my list (no pun intended) due to the liberal and open culture paired with a city that always appears stunning in photos. I’ve also met a few Dutch during my travels and I always got along very well with them.
First, a bit about Amsterdam:
It is the most populated city in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Surprised the Netherlands is a Kingdom? Me too… It forms the capital of the country and is home to about 1.5m residents. The tourism attracts about another 5m visitors annually. It’s not just Disneyland for stoners and pervs. It also plays host to 7 of the world’s top 500 companies.
I had planned 5 days and 4 nights to truly soak in the experience. I feel like it was the perfect balance of time spent. I got to spend enough time at the major attractions and also had time to just chill out (and in one case, recover from a big night out).
So, here are some highlights from Amsterdam:
Simply walking or cycling around Amsterdam is an experience. Most buildings are set at around the same height (3-4 stories) so you get little moments where you come to the joining of 2 canals where it really opens up and you can take in the expanse. I spent countless hours exploring the city by foot and loved all of the little hole in the wall spots you find along the way.
There are also many options for taking boat tours along the canals that are relatively cheap.
Plenty of history in this rather small city. Best experienced by taking one of the many free tours offered. They all last about 3 hours and talk about the architecture, culture, and changes over the centuries. You can wander for hours and take in all of the stunning architecture.
The Oude Kerk (Old Church) of Amsterdam
Various buildings across the city
Stumbling into a street fair
Randomly walking around the city I noticed one area had many benches set out almost like they were hosting a massive beer garden. The only thing I could find was an event poster in Dutch announcing that it was Hartjesdagen (whatever that meant). There was to be opera at 4pm. I came back to see what it was all about. Apparently there is also an element of cross dressing because I saw several men dressed as women.
The Rijksmuseum (National Museum)
The #1 thing to do according to TripAdvisor in Amsterdam. I spent a few hours wandering the museum and really enjoyed it. It’s a mix of art and history and holds a number of famous works from Van Gogh and Rembrandt. The Dutch history and ship rooms were particularly interesting and a great way to spend 2-3 hours.
Right next to the museum, this is where you can get your photo with the Iamsterdam sign. It needs a paint job really bad though.
Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House
Undoubtedly tourist hot spots for the city. On average the lines were about an hour and not appearing to move at all. I gave both a pass and limited my culture to exploration and the other activities.
Amsterdam’s answer to Central Park. You can easily spend a few hours here taking in the sights of the many lakes and walking paths that occupy this massive park on the fringe of the city. Located not far from the Rijksmuseum it’s a great place to lay down a blanket and picnic. Stop by a coffee shop on the way if you really want to relax.
One of the regrets, I simply ran out of time and didn’t get to do the brewery your and tasting. I’ve never been a big fan of the green bottle so I can live with missing it. I’ll make up for it in Belgium.
Amsterdam is loaded with gourmet cheese shops. Many with tasting options. Wander through some and sample some of the finest Dutch cheeses around.
Cafe Bern or Fondue Fondue are featured for great fondue options. I was pleasantly surprised by the simple cheese plates you can get at a pub. The one below was €6,50 and great value.
Pastry and savory treat shops
Like cheese above, delicious pastry shops are everywhere. Stop in and have a treat. It’s worth it. They specialize in not only french but also Dutch and Belgian items.
A Nutella, strawberry Belgian waffle enjoyed canal side – amazing
There were a few other spots worth mentioning…
Delicious and cheap €5 falafel from Maoz
Belgian frites – served in a heaping and scalding hot cone and covered with whatever variant of mayonnaise you want
Lox bagel – amazing brunch from a small cafe
I usually don’t do group pub crawls but the Red Light Pub Crawl was a great way to meet people and have a big night out. They focus on mostly the larger bars in the RLD but kept us well hydrated and very tipsy throughout the night. Warning – it stays out late!
Coffee (Shop) Culture
I couldn’t talk about Amsterdam without covering the “coffee” culture. Located throughout the tourist areas are a multitude of coffee shops and coffee friendly locations. If you don;t get the gist they are all stores that focus on the sale of marijuana. Roughly they were broken up by type:
- Simple dispensary setup (usually with small smoking room)
- Bar setup – order from a menu and smoke openly. Typically they do not serve alcohol.
- Bar setup (with alcohol) – these were just bars that allow smoking but do not sell. Very clearly marked “smoke inside” signs.
So, depending on the experience you are after, there is a different shop for you. In addition, my hostel even had a set up smoking rom for the guests to use. Pretty convenient.
As a tour guide pointed out, it’s ok to smoke openly outdoors, but not to drink with an open container. Interesting…
The city also has no shortage of places to buy any 420 related merchandise or supplies.
Red Light District
Amsterdam is known for their liberal views on drugs and sex but nowhere is this more apparent than in the Red Light District. Starting from about 4:30pm until very late, the girls sit in their little windows looking for paying customers while the rest of the mobs stare mouths agape.
Personally, I have no problem with the way they handle it. Barring human trafficking issues, I say let them have their cake.
You are strictly banned from taking photos of the girls. It’s pretty easy for them to grab your phone and throw it into the canal. Something I didn’t need to experience firsthand.
What I thought was interesting is that each girl would have their own particular look. The blonde Baywatch babe was popular but beyond that I saw fat & skinny, young & old, every racial mix, school girls, dominant girls, etc. You truly could find whatever you wanted if you looked long enough.
The Red Light isn’t limited to only the windows. There are a number of peep booths, live shows, banana shows, and strip clubs. After questionable reviews from a fellow traveller about the live shows I ended up skipping it. I figure with what I’ve seen in Asia there isn’t really unchartered territory here.
One of the many bachelor parties wandering around the RLD
All in, I really enjoyed Amsterdam and actually thought it was much more tame than I expected it to be. Perhaps because most of the people walking around are stoned… Very well worth visiting but I think the perfect amount of time is 4 days. Kind of like Vegas, there is a time limit to the fun to be had.
Well, that’s all for now. If you have any questions about things to do in Amsterdam feel free to drop me a line.
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