This post is actually the culmination of a few short trips to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
I feel that I have now experienced enough of this gorgeous city to put together a fairly comprehensive review that includes some of the best things to do in and around Amsterdam.
The best thing about this city is that you can walk right around it. The public transport system is not bad, but if you’re in Amsterdam on a leisurely trip you may as well explore by foot since you will see much more this way. The criss-crossing streets are intersected by little bridges that cross Amsterdam’s famous canals (I was surprised to learn that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice!). In the most central part of the city, trams run down the busy streets, but the Old Town is much less hectic and more picturesque.
The other way to get around is, of course, by bike. Get yourself one of the charming and iconic Dutch bikes, with their high handle bars and deep cross bar-bends. The entire city is chock-a-block with bikes, and there are bike lanes everywhere since cycling is the preferred way to get around. The downside of this is that the bike lanes, with their own traffic light system, are very efficient and non-forgiving towards hesitant first-timers. Maybe try to avoid busier times, I came quite close to death on several occasions. However, it is a lovely way to get from A to B and was really fun to do with a group of friends, particularly when we arrived at Vondelpark, which was beautiful and relaxing to ride around.
Back to nature
Visiting Vondelpark is a must, particularly in the summer. It’s a huge area that allows for everyone to have a bit of their own space. And it’s free! There’s a few, smaller, nice parks around the city, but if you want a bit of space, it’s worth travelling outside of the city itself. My friend and I stayed at a campsite, Bostel Amsterdamse Bos, where you can hire out a bed in a shared cabin. The campsite is quite difficult to get to from the city, perhaps an hour of travelling, but it is surrounded by woodland and wild rabbits hop about the site. It’s great if you want something a bit different and it would be a lot of fun to rent out a whole cabin with a group of friends for evenings of barbeques and drinking.
While I hear that the Rijksmuseum is a must-visit, I must confess that I haven’t yet been. I have, however been to the Van Gogh Museum which absolutely lived up to the hype. It has a really extensive collection of Van Gogh’s work, including the best-known pieces and – in addition – when I visited there was an Edvard Munch exhibition, comparing the work of the two artists.
On a less cultural note, I would also recommend the Heineken Experience to all beer lovers. It’s a really fun tour with a decent amount of free beer, it’s inexpensive and it includes a canal tour which is the absolute best way to see Amsterdam.
Where to stay
I was lucky in that, when I stayed at luxury hostel, Ecomama, prices were very low as it had just opened and had few reviews online. It is now rated 9.1 on Hostelworld, a well-deserved score, and the costs are much higher. However, it’s easily as good as – if not better than – a hotel and I would definitely stay there again. It’s really nicely and quirkily decorated with a great attention to detail, it has lovely communal spaces and, as a new build, it’s very modern and clean.
For a nice hotel option, I would recommend the DoubleTree by Hilton on NDSM Wharf, a short ferry ride from Amsterdam Central Station; the ferries run every half hour and are free to travel. The hotel has that unique decorative style that the Dutch are so good at, and that can sometimes be lacking from hotel chains.
Like any European city, Amsterdam has loads to offer in the way of international food and restaurant chains (Vapiano, Hard Rock Café and Sumo are a few I’ve visited). If you’d like something that feels a bit more authentic, I would recommend visiting one of the smaller cafes – take a table out on the street if it’s warm enough – where you can enjoy traditional Dutch food, such as Bitterballen; deep-fried, croquette-style balls with a variety of fillings, and local beers.
Baby pancakes with icing sugar are a popular snack, as are chips and sausages with a range of sauces, including a delicious curry sauce. Traditional Dutch cheese, Gouda, is also available all over Amsterdam, and makes for a good souvenir. The supermarkets are also really great if you’re on a budget, they have a lot of fresh produce and healthier options than I am used to seeing in the UK’s major shops.
There is obviously much more to Amsterdam than that which I’ve listed above; it’s infamous sex industry, the Anne Frank museum, its tulips and festivals, to name a few – but I hope that I have provided a good starting point for getting to know this picturesque city.
What’s your favourite part of Amsterdam? Where else in the Netherlands is worth a visit?