I’ve always wanted to go to Amsterdam but heard it wasn’t as exciting as other European cities. So I had to go see Amsterdam for myself and get a feel for what the Dutch capital is all about. I had a feeling the Dutch people would be friendly and relaxed, and don’t take life too seriously; exactly my type of people.
For anybody not familiar with Amsterdam, it’s in the northern part of the Netherlands and it is by far the largest city in the country. It’s really known for its canals, bikes, pot and sex which are all very clear. However the image that Amsterdam is all about pot will be shattered once you arrive since most Dutch don’t smoke pot or visit the famous pot coffee shops.
One thing that is apparent is how chilly Amsterdam can be, even in the middle of summer. We had to put on sweaters and carry around umbrellas because of the threat of rain (which it eventually did).
So we pull up to the Dutch capital on a train from Rotterdam. Our hotel, the Room Mate Aitana, a Spanish hotel that sits just left of downtown on a peninsula, was a beautiful piece of architecture on a unique part of Amsterdam. We walked to our hotel to get freshened up and then hit the center part of Amsterdam. We started from the Amsterdam Central Train Station and walked down Damrak Street, the main street of Amsterdam.
First impression of Amsterdam, it was crowded. As I walked down Damrak street I couldn’t help but notice that there were so many people in this little city. I didn’t realize that Amsterdam would be so popular! However once we cut over to streets lined with the canals, it actually became less crowded and more charming.
The 3 Amsterdam Musts
You come to Amsterdam to see the canals! Perhaps you should ride a bike along the canals because they are long but at the very least you can sit at a café and take in the beautiful setting.. I’ve learned that they host events in the canals, like Amsterdam Gay Pride, and people can rent or live on the little boats in the canals. Apparently there is a way to have one of the little boats as your hotel room.
Along with the canals is the iconic architecture of Amsterdam; the tall townhouses. On one of the canal streets we saw Anne Franks house, where her family hid from the Nazis. The houses are what make Amsterdam feel like Amsterdam and something you can’t miss.
One of the underlining themes in Amsterdam is sex. The city seems full of sex and people trying to get it. We noticed the display of sex the most in the red light district where women with barely nothing on stand under a red-light with a window showing their goods to tourist and horny men. The red-light district so popular that it’s now a regular tourist sight but the girls still have real clients and sex still happens behind the windows.
But on top of that I noticed that Amsterdam is very liberal with fetishes. Gay bars sponsor all types of sexual fetishes on different days, like being nude in the bar or bound in leather, and if you want to go you better get involved and actually take part. The Dutch are not messing around.
Also I must say that Dutch men are pretty damn attractive and so tall. We went to one gay bar, Taboo, while in Amsterdam and I had a great time because of so many good-looking and friendly guys checking Roman and I out; I’ll call that a good night in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Sights and Activities
Many people will ask, well what about the pot? The pot cafés are there and from time to time you will smell weed. Smoking weed is legal in the coffee shops but it doesn’t seem the average Dutch citizen is smoking weed on their lunch breaks. Rather it’s mostly foreigners coming in to be part of the spectacle. It was still interesting for it to be displayed so openly.
The flower market is a popular site, located in the southern part of the city on one of the canals. I went to the flower market alone and although impressive with how many colorful flowers there were, what was I going to do with them? I could bring back packets of flower seeds but since I live in an apartment, there are very few places I can pot flowers. I walked the entire Flower Market thing and then happen to stumble on the gay area of Amsterdam!
Because it was during the day the area was completely dead but we ended up coming back after the Netherlands beat Mexico in the Round of 16 World Cup. Netherlands went crazy and it was great to be in a crowd full of drunk, attractive Dutch men. The gay area of Amsterdam is loosely based on one street and it’s not like Boystown in Chicago where bars and clubs are all together in one area. Like I said earlier, if you’re looking for gay sexual fetishes then Amsterdam is your type of city. Amsterdam is known for being a tad sleazier so if you are already cautious in American clubs, you’re going to have a hard time here. There are saunas where sex is expected, clubs with rooms with slings in them, and cafés just for cruising. It really is a vibrant gay scene but apparently it was even more vibrant back 20 years ago.
Speaking of cafés, the café culture in Amsterdam is still very strong, especially during the summer. There are hundreds of cafes, where you can people watch and enjoy with a nice espresso. By the way, the Dutch call cafés where people smoke weed, coffee shops. You’ll know the difference between a coffee shop and regular café because of the smell.
Amsterdam is a biking city and it is possible to rent a bike and explore all the city. Biking seems like an obsession in Amsterdam and you will see bike racks with 1,000 + plus bikes in them, now that is pretty cool! Also I would recommend going just north of the Amsterdam train station to witness people boarding with their bikes to North Amsterdam. People shuttle across to central part of Amsterdam and of course they always their bikes. It’s quite a scene.
Of course you will also want to hit Anne Franks house but make sure to buy your tickets online before you go. The line is always long and there is no indoor waiting in case it rains or snows. The tour is worth it though and you experience what her family went through during the occupation. No pictures were allowed and the tickets where around $9 euros for one person.
Also I recommend visiting the Rijksmuseum by taking one of Amsterdam’s above ground trolley lines. You can buy day passes or pay for just a one way ticket and is a great idea if your feet begin to hurt. By the museum there is the famous I amsterdam sign where you can stand on the letters and take pictures. Inside the museum there are works from Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals, definitely worth a short visit.
Also don’t forget Dam Square and the Royal Palace! Surprisingly that was one of our favorite parts of Amsterdam and we really loved walking in the Royal Palace. What’s cool about the Palace is that it’s still operates as a Royal Palace when the Royal family needs to use it but is open to the public for the rest of the time. It is certainly not Versailles but is definitely a great place to visit and you get a free audio guide with your ticket; around 10 euros.
Restaurants and Hotels
So there are plenty of hotels to stay at in Amsterdam and if you’re looking for convenience then I would recommend staying in the central part of Amsterdam, near Dam Square or anywhere on the canals. We stayed on the upper part of Amsterdam basically by the sea at Room Mate Aitana, which was a very nice hotel for the price and not a very far walk from where all the action was. Also, Amsterdam has a great transportation system and you can buy a metro pass if you choose a hotel that is further away. Basically everything in Amsterdam is within walking distance so don’t stress on the hotel too much.
There is plenty of different types of food in Amsterdam but I wanted to focus on just Dutch food. Like Belgian food, Dutch food is heavy in fried dough, creams, butter, bread and meats, however the food never feels that heavy. And of course beer! The Dutch also love their beer with thousands of choices. Beer is by far one of the cheapest purchases we made while in the Netherlands.
I would recommend trying authentic Dutch restaurants and of course there are hundreds around Amsterdam. We ate at called Restaurant De Roode Leeuw, which only serve authentic Dutch food. On the menu you can try Dutch herring, breadrolls, stirfried strips, salmon, mussels, and stews. Lets just say that it would be hard to be a vegetarian while in the Netherlands. Also you need to try the frites, or fries, with mayonnaise sauce!
There was this one chain restaurant that we both loved and they served breakfast food as really healthy choices. It was called Bagels and Beans and you will find their restaurants all over Amsterdam. Highly recommend and great value.
With Amsterdam being such a worldly city, you will have no problem finding food but make sure you try Dutch food.
Amsterdam is such an accessible city and a really great tourist destination to begin your European travels. The city is alluring, inviting and above all down to Earth; it would be hard to not like it. Most Dutch know how to speak English but it’s always helpful to learn a little Dutch to be polite.
If you’re flying in from Amsterdam International Airport, the train to the city is very easy and very quick, you’ll be downtown in no time. If you plan on taking a train to cities like Paris or Brussels, I recommend buying train tickets before and taking the Thalys express trains. They are quick and should be bought before you get to Amsterdam because they will be cheaper and you run the risk that the train may be sold out.
Amsterdam is a very liberal city, so I would keep an open mind to what it has to offer. You may not approve of legal prostitution and feel Amsterdam is seedy, but for me I feel it’s actually a positive thing and definitely worth a look at. Also the weed is not as prevalent as you would think it would be but it’s definitely visible and all the souvenir shops will sale something tacky with marijuana leaves.
Buy a museum pass only if you plan to go to most of the museums. I believe the museum pass cost around 55 euros, a little steep being that a museum pass in Paris cost around the same price and there are way more museums to see there. We only visited one museum in Amsterdam and that was enough for us.
If you like to have fun and are coming with a great attitude then Amsterdam will be a lot of fun!
images by: shawnvoyage