The home of Heineken, the red light district, tulips, clogs, and a place renowned for their special “smoking cafes”, but there is much more to this city than meets the eye. Amsterdam is packed with art galleries, shopping, boutiques, it has a rich culture, history and STUNNING Instagram worthy scenery, and to be quite honest there was just too much to take in on my short 3 day break.
I took an early Easy jet flight from my local airport in Bristol, it took a little over an hour and before I knew it we were on a bus to the central tram station. We then purchased a tram ticket which allowed 48 hours of travel – which consequently is one of the easiest and most fun ways to travel around Amsterdam, there are tram stops everywhere. By 12pm the same day I was sat along the riverside in the sunshine enjoying a panini, followed by a delectable slice of apple pie a speciality around these parts which is not to be missed.
The other main ways to get around Amsterdam is by Bicycle, all the locals sped around on bicycles and were pretty much given right of way over and above cars, its hard to get your head around.. but cars were pretty much shunned around here.
Whilst walking around you need to be pretty vigilant as running along the sides of the pavements are “bike lanes” and if you get caught ambling across one then you will soon have a bike speeding towards you angrily “trilling” its bell for you to get out of the way! Its easy to see why most of the locals looked fit an healthy, they cycle EVERYWHERE – even the kids got strapped into bike seats on the back of their parents bikes for the morning school run.
Day 1 – Trams, and Ticket buying Tips.
On the first day we scoped out the things that we wanted to do, we took the tram around the city and ended up picking some tickets from one of the many “ticket shops” be sure to do a bit of haggling here – as they will work out a great deal for you if you are planning to go to more than 1 attraction.
We opted for the Van Gogh museum, a river cruise on a canal boat (there are loads to choose from) a ticket for one of the many sex museums, and finally we went for the slightly odd Body Worlds: The Happiness Project – you might remember a few years ago there was some wacky Dr called “Gunther von Hagens” who dissected Bodys live on TV – well this is his exhibition.. I was visiting Amsterdam with a group of nurses, so this definitely had to be on the “to do list” I thought it would be educational if not slightly eye opening.
After a long day of traveling (and lots of eating) we ended up at a small restaurant which I’m afraid I can not remember the name of.. we then grabbed some chocolate covered churros for dessert and headed back to the hotel to grab a good nights sleep before our day of sightseeing
Day 2 – Van Gogh museum, patat special and a Canal Trip!
Starting the day off we visited a beautiful little Cafe near our hotel, the dutch seem to be all about the cafe culture, coffee, granola, apple pie, and stroopwafel the best darn things since Fox’s biscuits these hard waffle looking treats have a gooey sweet syrup centre which you heat up by balancing them over the top of your coffee cup.. delicious.
Even for those that aren’t great fans of art, the Van Gogh museum has some well recognised paintings that are replicated on trinkets, cups, tea towels, and frames around the world. His life itself was hugely interesting, there was enough information dotted around that you could either read in depth or just scan over a few signs and still learn about his life and work. I would highly recommend a visit here, and if nothing else it will give you something really interesting to talk about at the dinner table.
We then took a relaxed approach for lunch, grabbing some chips at one of the meny chip shops in central Amsterdam. Every one walking past seemed to have a huge cone full of chips, called ‘patat special’ a mix of curry ketchup, mayonnaise and onions, Yum.
The pre-booked Canal boat trip was next on the agenda, and for only around 35 Euros was by far one of the best parts of the whole trip. Exploring Amsterdam by foot or tram was great, but there is a constant buzz, and it seemed like we were always rushing around. Seeing the city by canal boat gives a whole new perspective, not only does it give you a chance to sit down and take in the views which are incredible, but it gives you time to listen to a tour guide and find out why the buildings are wonky, that Amsterdam was named after the Amstel River, and you got to travel underneath some of the 1281 bridges. I was amazed how many people lived on house boats, which I will be honest I did not even notice whilst walking around the pretty tree lined canals. Some of the house boats were out of this world, and the locals living in them were friendly and went about their day-to-day oblivious to the tourists trying to take a peak through their little windows to see how incredible the interiors were, they almost seemed proud to show their homes off.
The world renowned “Red light district”
We spent the evening around the Red light district, which was something I was very curious about. It was surprisingly very inconspicuous, I didn’t even realise we had entered it until directly to my left a woman in a shop window caught my eye – it took a few seconds to process where I was and what I was seeing before It dawned on me what I had stumbled into.
There are only a few streets licensed to have these red lit “windows” and most of them have either draw curtains I don’t think I need to explain why or they had a scantily clad lady pacing along trying to make eye contact with their customers. They quite blatantly ignored me, and could pick out the potential customers from the tourists who are just casually having a gawke. It was hard not to notice the unassuming men dotted around the streets casually lining the streets – the “pimps” or protection. It was not at all how I expected it, it was not “in your face” and following my visit to the nearly “Sex museum” I learnt how regulated this whole business was, it didn’t take long to realise that this was the norm here, nothing out of the ordinary, an old tradition, slightly seedy but all in all they looked after the girls that worked here, and it saved them from having to walk the streets at night which puts the at risk. The sex museum really put their perspective across and what it was like to work there – some of the stories they had to tell were extremely cringeworthy but humorous. They even had a “lost property wall” at the end of the museum tour, which had drivers licences, wallets, passports and all sorts of strange artefacts that were left behind in the “red rooms” by the clientele OOooo errr.
We topped our night off with a visit to Amsterdam’s Xtra Cold Ice Bar where we got to taste all sorts of Vodka favours, which were served in ice glasses. Although I would recommend going out smart/casual, I would recommend wearing smart jeans.. as although they provide gloves and large puffer coats – blue knees are not a good look
Day 3 – Tulips, Shopping, and one of the Strangest Exhibitions I have ever been to..
After breakfast we set off for a walk around to the flower markets. Mainly full of bulbs the flower markets had tulip bulbs in every possible colour you can imagine, I grabbed a couple of bags as gifts for my mum and work colleague, and also grabbed a pink Peony bulb/rootball for my own garden *insert heart eye emoji here*
Now the shopping here is fab, There are various markets and some of the most fabulous fashion and homeware boutiques, as well as the standard highstreet stores like H&M etc.
I got a little bowl in the “Delft pottery” style as a souvenir (Im a small plate collector, and always grab a plate in the traditional style of that location)
Anyway moving swiftly on, I visited the Body Worlds: The Happiness Project exhibition, which as mentioned before was an eye opener, I won’t go into to much details as its not one for the squeamish, but for me it cast a new light on death, as I looked around and learned about what we were looking at, it made it all seem less scary, it was frank, scientific, but in some places it was darn with weird. It tried to teach you about happiness, not to take death too seriously, and by the time I left I was feeling oddly philosophical.
After a packed day of sight seeing it was time to get the tram to the bus stop, then the bus back to the airport, it was just a quick flight home and back to normality with all of the cars, buildings and bustling city life.
I can’t wait to go back.
Amsterdam, I will be back, and this time I’m coming to tackle the Anne Frank museum (which I was gutted I didn’t see, after having read the diary and seeing several films) and also Im going to allocate more time shopping and perusing the fabulous boutiques that I missed. A long weekend of 3 days was a good amount of time to get a few things done, but Amsterdam has so much more to offer so next time I might go along for a few extra days to really soak in the relaxed Dutch atmosphere.
If you have any questions, or know of any other “must see” things, then leave me a comment below.