You could go to Amsterdam, visit the Anne Frank house, smoke weed and wander the red light district. And honestly, that’s what most of us do. This itinerary is the stereotypical Amsterdam vacation narrative, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In my final year of college, my first trip to Amsterdam was the one detailed above. Add in a strange night sharing a hostel room with a woman who enjoyed howling out the window, and you basically have a play by play of my 48 hours there. My stay was nothing short of magical, and I vowed to return, as soon as I got the chance + could afford a more comfortable sleeping situation.
This year I was able to revisit this European utopia. Although Amsterdam did not disappoint the first time around, I left knowing that I only had a tourist’s perspective of this city. This time, I was after Amsterdam as a whole. I booked a longer stay – one that included exploring neighborhoods outside the city center. Despite my research efforts, I found it difficult to find original blog posts that didn’t reiterate the first sentence of this article. So, here it is: my most sincere recommendations to compliment the Amsterdam basics that you are bound to stumble upon.
Once you arrive in Amsterdam, purchase a public transit chip card (OV chipkaart). It’s true, the vast majority of locals and tourists opt to romantically bike everywhere – but having the option to jump on a tram to get across the city is incredibly convenient, especially when you are staying outside the city center. Cards require scanning both to check-in and check-out; look for the card readers located near the entrance/exits of trams and buses. When in doubt, watch the locals! Transit cards can be purchased at GVB ticket vending machines or select supermarkets. The vending machine I used was not Visa friendly, so make sure you have a couple different credit cards on hand! Also, carry cash – there may be other instances where a local shop or restaurant does not accept your credit card type/s.
Since I already had the experience of staying in a hostel in the heart of Amsterdam, I opted to find alternative, residential lodging. But let’s talk hostels! Every hostel has its baggage. However, hostels are a genius concept that you should definitely consider. They are affordable, you’re guaranteed a good story or two, and they are often located in the bustling areas of a city. Amsterdam hostels tend to be more expensive because it’s a popular tourist destination – but I will say that the Flying Pig Hostel in the city center was one of the better hostels I’ve ever stayed in, worth the extra Euros! As with any lodging situation, do a little research and know what you’re getting into.
Okay, so maybe you have outgrown the hostel phase in your life or don’t want to risk sharing a room with a snoring/howling stranger. Airbnb is your best bet for locating unique lodging; it’s where I stumbled upon the SWEETS hotel, which is one of my favorite finds. This boutique hotel consists of individual bridge houses that have been repurposed as hotel rooms scattered across the city. When you rent a ‘room,’ you get your very own bridge house all to yourself situated on a canal. I know it sounds expensive, but the rates are rather reasonable (all things considered). I spent the last nights of my trip in 101 which amounted to $150 bucks per night; located in Amsterdam North, this bridge house is basically a Wes Anderson movie set. The location requires a quick ferry ride from Central Station – but hey, it’s free! I’d recommend a ferry ride, regardless.
In all honesty, I would never advocate a trip to Amsterdam solely for the food. By no means will you go hungry, there are fries for sale on every other corner for god’s sake – but there’s nothing groundbreaking happening, here. As someone that appreciates the delicacy of hotdogs, I managed just fine. No joke, this city is serious about their fries. Check out Zwagers, if you end up in Amsterdam West; grab some fries with your fave sauces and walk around Erasmuspark. One of the Airbnbs I booked was in this neighborhood, so I also ended up at the local pizza spot nearby: Eetwinkel Buurman & Buurman. The pizza was tasty + the kitchen is open to the dining area, so you can observe the chefs grooving to disco music – I was a fan. And to cure a sweet tooth craving, visit Van Stapele Koekmakerij. I don’t care if this shop is a tourist trap, it’s charming as all hell and sells the melty ‘Sweet Martha’ cookie equivalent of Amsterdam.
Some other food for thought, while we’re on the subject of eating: Tipping is not expected but appreciated. Instead of relying on a percentage as a rule of thumb, the Dutch use a rounding up method. For instance, if my dinner bill amounted to 46 Euros (and I had great service), I would leave 50 Euros. 5-10% would be an appropriate percentage to keep in mind, but totally not required of you! Also, utilize the local markets and grocery stores to save money. Of course this is most appropriate, when you actually have a fridge or kitchen in your lodging space. Albert Heijn is the most popular supermarket, and I seriously visited one every day. Wine, cheese, bread, Haribo gummies, tea – they’ve got it. They have vegetables and fruit, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Beyond the essentials, don’t pack your trip with a full itinerary. This is one of the best cities to slow down, enjoy your surroundings and people watch. Amsterdam parks make American parks look like farmland; make sure you set aside time to go wander through Vondelpark and the surrounding museum district – Rembrandtpark is good, too. Depending on your interests, I’d recommend visiting a museum or two. I’ve been to the Anne Frank house, Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, and the Stedelijk Museum, known for their modern art collection. All great choices, and, yes, book your Anne Frank house visit in advance! But out of all things Amsterdam, my favorite evening was spent at De School techno club. This night is not for the faint of heart, especially if you’re a victim of jet lag, because typical club hours are from 11pm to 6am. But well worth it, if you appreciate a night of dancing and/or techno! De School, specifically, is known for being choosy on who they let into the club. So, don’t show up drunk, dress casually and know who is playing!
I know Amsterdam will continue to be associated with weed, prostitutes and scenic canal photos; these stereotypes alone will attract many tourists. But this last trip of mine has made me realize there’s even more magic that lies beyond the city center. Out of all the cities I’ve visited in Europe, Amsterdam has been one of the most welcoming and accessible. It’s a guaranteed good time; just don’t eat too many brownies. Add it to your list, if you’ve never been! And if you’re lucky enough to be planning your next stay, hopefully you found yourself an original recommendation or two. I love this city a little bit more every time I stop by –
What is this Paris you speak of?