The Netherlands Notes: Amsterdam
Updated: Oct 18, 2018
June 15, 2016.
More canals than roads, more bicycles than people, more tourists than locals – well, Amsterdam is full of such quirks! Welcome to the marvelous city of gabled houses and flower-decked watersides. Although of late, the city is known more for the ‘getting high in a coffee shop’ and the Red Light District. Read on, as we talk about it all from piers to parks and everything in between.
At the outset, let me just thank the brilliant and ever-friendly crew at the Flying Pig Downtown Hostel. Honestly, one of my top two favourite hostels in Europe (along with the Madhouse, Prague). They make you feel at home the moment you step in. There’s just something about their vibe which fills up the air in excitement and positivity. Maybe it’s the ambience, or the music, or the people. It has a certain aura of festivity. I met some amazing people here, even ended up exploring Amsterdam with them.
TIP: If you’re traveling solo, or want to meet new friends, the common rooms of hostels are a great place to start. If you’re planning for the day or eating breakfast, do it in the common room – who knows, you might strike up a conversation with someone who’s planning to visit the same place you are. At the very least, you’ll have some great travel company and at best, you might even forge some lifelong friendships!
Okay, back to the city. My new friends and I took the canal ride to explore the city through its famed canal system. They have audio guides plugged in the boats – make sure you check them out. You’ll get to know a lot about the city that way. As a direct consequence of the waterways, the city has an abundance of piers. Most of them are functional, but a few of them have been developed to be cool hangout spots. Chill at one of the piers while devouring the famed ‘space cakes’, if you will.
One of the high points of the trip was visiting The Heineken Experience. If you’re a beer connoisseur, this is your mecca. It’s a fun hands-on on how the world’s leading brand brews its beer. After they take you on a detailed tour of their production floor, you can create your own brew. They even give you 2 complimentary pints! (Although, of course, they have recovered the cost in the ticket prices – I understand. Nevertheless, goodies are goodies :P)
The city has a wide offering of museums if you like to delve into the history of this place. The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh museum and Stedelijk museum attracts maximum eyeballs. If you’re interested in the Anne Frank museum, I would highly recommend booking the slots online. The queues to buy tickets on the spot are often so long, they stretch right down the street. Most of the museums are located around the Museumplein grounds – which also sports the “I AMSTERDAM” sign.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, bicycles are the de facto mode of transportation for the Dutch. And for good reason too, what with special bike lanes, bike bridges and even bike highways! No wonder then, that even the Dutch Prime Minister’s preferred mode of conveyance is a bicycle. That also speaks volumes about the Dutch people, but I’ll come to that in a moment. Black Bike Rentals are one of the most reliable bike rentals around. Just ask the receptionist of your hostel / hotel for the best place to rent out bikes by the hour. They usually have a tie-up with some company, leading to discounted rates. So, take a bike and just roam about the streets of Amsterdam in whichever direction fancies you the most.
Our cycling expedition took us to the lungs of Amsterdam – Vondel Park! It is the city’s largest and most popular park, a great place to walk, bike, relax or even read a book. The Park sports a lot of open-air cafés, the best of which is De Vondeltuin. It has a library with a nice collection of books, wooden benches spread across the garden, an abundance of sunshine and the best orange juice I’ve had. Pretty much ideal?
I met some very interesting people at my hostel and we decided to visit a few coffee shops / cafes. If I were to recommend you my top two picks, it would be an easy decision: Grey Area Café and the Bulldog Café. Easily two of the best places to hangout. The ambience at both these places is very riveting. While Grey Area has a barrage of sticky notes with little messages from people all around the world, stuck on its walls, Bulldog is essentially a large-ass canvas with folk painted walls and crazy interiors. Allow the café owners to guide you to buy what’s most suitable for you. Trust their judgement, they are very experienced.
Coming out of these cafes, we stumbled upon a cheese-lover’s dream come true. The Reypanaer Cheese Tasting Room. Get a lesson in bourgeoisie as you attend their one hour long Cheese Tasting and Wine Pairing session. You’ll come out feeling, let’s just say, luxurious. Of all the street food that the city has to offer, I highly recommend the home-made fries served at the Vleminckx de Sausmeester – a very tiny, easy to miss street shop. The fries and their variety of dips is just exquisite!
Post our fries indulgence, we walked towards the Dam Square (the center point of the city), and found a free walking tour about to start. Fortunately, we joined in the nick of time. Thankfully so, because over the next couple of hours, we were taken on a wonderful journey of the Dutch history from its infancy to modern day, interspersed with sights from around the town. No better way to bask in the glory of the city.
Post evening, it was time to let our hair down. Once again, as with other European cities, the best way to check out the scene is to go on a pub crawl. We did exactly that, and boy was it fun! Also, quite understandably, the Red Light District is a major crowd puller. It is something to see and experience, depending upon the level of your curiosity.
A little caveat: If you’ve had enough of the cities and want to explore the countryside for sometime, do visit the Zaanse Schans. It is best known for its collection of well-preserved historic windmills and houses. You can either take a ferry or hop on a short train ride from the Amsterdam Central Station (Alight at the Koog-Zaandijk station).
I’ll shortly put up a post on interacting with the locals, couchsurfing and devouring a local meal with a family. Till then, hope you’ve enjoyed coming along with me (vicariously) to this brilliant city. If you did, do check out the other blog posts too.