My first time in Amsterdam was about twenty years ago on a school trip during my last year of high school. Amsterdam was the place we all wanted to go to and not many classes were allowed to, but being nice and good students, the teachers were fine with us visiting the Dutch city. Of course we did it all, we went to coffee shops, visited the red light district, and stayed up all night. Now that I’m a teacher I know that I should never trust my students too much, even if they seem the nicest kids ever ;)
I’ve been back to Amsterdam many times since then, and I simply love it. I don’t know if it’s that I’m a bit older or if it really got better, but I hardly notice the coffee shops and drug scene anymore. And I haven’t been near the red light districts in ages, even though I thought it was quite interesting when I went there all those years ago. There is just so much more to see and do in Amsterdam! Here are a few suggestions…
1. Walk, walk, walk and then walk some more until you have strolled down every street and crossed every bridge in the town’s old centre. It’s just by doing some heavy walking, and maybe sometimes even getting a bit lost, that you will discover the true beauty of this city. Amsterdam is quite compact and you can easily walk everywhere in the centre, and if you are too tired to get back to the hotel, just hop on one of the many trams. Often I discovered the most beautiful spots by chance, when walking from one sight to the next.
2. Go on a canal tour to get a different feel of the city. I went on a touristy Grachtentour twice, and loved it both times. They are informative and spending a few hours on the water is always a pleasure, especially when your feet burn from all the walking.
3. However, if you want to move around the way the locals do, you have to rent a bike. I’ve never seen a place with as many bikes as Amsterdam! They are everywhere and I risked being run over by one more than once! Amsterdam is a flat city, no hills to ride up and down, so it is perfect for cycling. Just remember to lock it up tightly, bicycles are the items that get stolen the most in the Dutch city!
4. Visit some museums, just choose the one you like best! Rijksmuseum is great if you like Rembrandt and the likes, if you prefer modern art head to the Stedelijk museum. My favourite museum is the Van Gogh one, it’s just wow! But go there early to avoid massive queues. The good thing is that all three museums are located around Museumplein, so if the weather is really bad there is only one place you have to go. A highlight of the square is the I AMsterdam sign, a favourite photo spot for all the tourists.
5. Go shopping. My friend Isa is still convinced that Amsterdam is the best place to shop, I don’t completely agree but I would be fine with putting it in my top 5 of most interesting places to shop. We used to shop in Kalverstraat and at the flea markets, but recently discovered Runstraat, Huidenstraat and the surrounding streets (de 9 straatjes) which are way more interesting! The shops are trendy and the cafés cute, exactly the way I like it. I used to love the Waterlooplein market but the last few times I visited I was a bit disappointed. I also went to the Albert Cuyp market and even though I bought a few bargains, it wasn’t exactly what I expected and I don’t think I will go back.
6. Enjoy the explosion of colours when you visit the Bloemenmarkt on the Singel. This flower market is quite unique and that’s just one of the reasons why you shouldn’t miss it. It’s also right in the city centre, so chances are you’re just around the corner anyway.
7. Eat the Dutch way, and in Holland that means getting a snack from the FEBO machines (possibly make it a kroket) and putting Hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) on your bread during breakfast. You may also want to have some pancakes as they are pretty yummy.
8. Go and see a movie at Tuschinski cinema, one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world! I was built nearly 100 years ago and the atmosphere inside the main auditorium is pretty special.
9. Spend a crazy night out in one of Amsterdam’s many pubs and clubs, or even on the street in one of the many open air bars. Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein and possibly even Max Euweplein are good places to start. Hopefully after the fun night you are still in a good enough shape to walk back to the hotel, because at least once you should walk those beautiful streets by night when all the lights are reflected in the canals’ water and everything looks magic.
10. Go on a day trip to another Dutch city, to the countryside to see the windmills or to the sea. I opted for the last one and absolutely loved it! We went to Zandvoort aan Zee and spent a very relaxing day on the beach. There was a nice breeze and the temperature was very comfortable, and before heading back to Amsterdam we had dinner at the great Mango’s Beach Bar. Just take a train from central station and follow all the people to get to the beach, you really can’t miss it. If you go a bit further away from Amsterdam you will discover other nice sea resorts.
There are a few things to do in Amsterdam that are still on my bucket list, first of all the Anne Frank house, but every time I tried to go there the queue to visit was just way too long. Then there’s the Begjinhof and Vondelpark, two places I also never got to visit. And on the very top of my list is living the houseboat experience, I’ve been dreaming about that since I first saw one of those cutesy little houses floating on the canals. I will try to do it all during my next stay there, I’m sure it will be soon.