Amsterdam was the second place I had ever visited when I went to Europe for the first time in 2013. When Michelle and I were planning our trip last year, she asked me which city we could go to that I’d have no problem returning back to. Easily, I said Amsterdam.
Arriving into Schipol was disgustingly hot and rainy, which wasn’t what we expected.
“I didn’t know it could get this hot,” Michelle said, trying to wipe the inevitability of sweat dripping off her forehead.
Our stay in The Netherlands would be a short and sweaty one. Since we both like to remind ourselves that we aren’t tourists or vacationers, but travelers, the task to fit all that we could see of The Netherlands’ capital in two days wasn’t a challenge, having already done so in Edinburgh only a week before.
The accommodation we booked was located north of Amsterdam, in a smaller suburb called Zaandam. Most times, I tell people embarking on their first adventures not to stay directly in the city center, especially if you’re trying to be cost effective. A short commute doesn’t hurt. This time around, though, we wish we would have stayed more center. The actual commute into Amsterdam Centraal wasn’t so much a long one, but it took a fair share of walking from the Airbnb to the Zaandam station. In this case, it would have been good to have bicycles with us. However, most accommodations charge extra fees to utilize personal bicycles because that’s how most people get around, so that wasn’t an option unfortunately.
We didn’t let it phase us. As native New Yorkers, walking has always been our energy, so we made sure to leave just a bit earlier to take in the commute from Zaandam to Amsterdam.
One of the first things on our list was to visit Anne Frank’s House. The first time I visited, I had such an incredibly moving experience. Michelle and I had always been interested in learning about World War II in school and we both read Anne Frank’s Diary multiple times when we were younger. Any period piece drama reflecting back to that time, we’ve also seen. It went without saying that Michelle had to see Prinsengracht 263 for herself.
The heat seemed to follow us throughout our stay in Amsterdam. Our walk to Jordaan District, where the House is, was no different, so you can only imagine what it felt like to be waiting in a queue of about an hour in the blazing heat of a mid-summer afternoon. So we stood on line and did what any American would do in that situation: complain about the weather. Other Americans on line seemed to echo our sentiment.
After the emotional visit, the rest of our day was spent wandering around the canals and passing by cyclists (while simultaneously trying to avoid getting run over by one), visiting the plethora of museums that make of Museumplein, getting yoghurt with freshly made Stroopwafels sprinkled on top and eating kebabs & chips in a random hole-in-the-wall on the main street just across Centraal Station, Damrak.
The rain was still going by the evening. On our way back up to catch our train back to Zaandam, we passed through the street my hostel was located on the first time I visited Amsterdam, on Warmoesstraat, which is adjacent to the madness of the Red Light District. You can only imagine what my nights there sounded like. Before leaving for the night, we decided to walk around Amsterdam’s RLD, also called De Wallen. The streets look completely different at night, with red neon lights lining up the doors and lighting up signs and onnings. Even the canal water looks red which adds to the sin of the city.
Where To Visit:
Anne Frank House – As mentioned above, a trip to Amsterdam is not complete nor fulfilled without a trip here. The queue to get inside will always be long, so there’s no point in trying to find a quicker way or day to go. The experience is incredibly emotional. You are literally walking inside history, so if you’re a WWII nerd like us or just want to put an image to the reality that once happened here, go.
Jordaan District – Anne Frank’s House is located in this area. It’s known as the artsy district of the city seeing that it’s so nicely decorated and charming (though not unlike the rest of the city, which is equally just as). Art galleries, boutiques, markets, gardens and much more are among the area so be sure to get lost and take it all in.
Red Light District – The endless amount of “coffee shops” (no, they don’t serve coffee), the prostitutes doing their thing, and just an endless strip of debauchery awaits. The District is made up of several streets and many tourists flock to them at night. In fact, native Dutchies try to avoid this area like the plague. Not everyone goes to party, but your curiosity might lead you there anyway.
Van Gogh Museum – This is an obvious choice, too, as he is one of the most famous artists in the world. Be careful asking any Dutch local where the Van Gogh Museum is. Chances are they won’t tell you if you pronounce it wrong. It’s nearly impossible for non-Dutch speakers unfortunately. Over 200 of his paintings are featured in the museum, so expect to be there for a while. Although, you won’t be able to find his most famous work, The Starry Night. It’s here at home in New York’s, Museum of Modern Art. 😉
Bike Tours – Amsterdam runs on bicycles. It’s the #1 city that utilizes bicycles as opposed to cars or public transport. What better way to experience the city like a local than embarking on a bike tour? We used Mike’s Bike Tours which was fantastic and has load of options. We missed our countryside tour (the jet-lag was killer at this point), so we had to reschedule and opt for a city tour instead. By the end, we had loads of fun and even visited a nearby windmill.
Vondelpark – It’s kind of like Amsterdam’s version of Central Park. It’s a huge, open public park space that both locals and visitors can enjoy. We walked in to a range of smells and sights. Flowers, barbecue pits, all kinds of food, babies, sunbathers, cyclists. It was a perfect summer day!
‘I Amsterdam’ Letters – This is the perfect place for a photo opportunity. The infamous and original letters are just outside the Rijksmuseum.The sign is a cultural icon for Amsterdam and chances are you’ll never be able to catch the letters empty – they’ll always be someone hanging off them.
Cheese – This goes without saying especially since Gouda is our favourite cheese. There’s tons of it in Amsterdam, so much so that they have museums and shops dedicated to it. We sampled too many to remember and Michelle even wanted to bring some back in our luggage.
Coffeeshops – Technically, cannabis isn’t completely legal, but in moderation it’s not seen as a detriment to society by law, hence why it’s become what the city is known for. Coffeeshops are the go-to in buying and most have licenses and rules you’ll have to obey if you want to partake in using.
Canals and De Krul – Ah, those gorgeous canals. The thing about them is that they’re open, so good luck getting out if you fall in. In an inebriated state, many men over the years (I’m talking centuries), have fallen in, and some have died, while using canals as a lavatory. So being the pragmatic people they are, the Dutch decided to implant free public urinals, “de krul,” in busy, nightlife areas to prevent this from happening. So if you see one, don’t be alarmed by people using them…or by the smell.
Amsterdam was just as lovely the second time as it was the first. In a few weeks, I’ll be headed back, only for a layover. Next time, it’ll be out to the proper countryside, so we can stop and smell the tulips.