Hi friends! Today’s post, FINALLY, is my last installment of our trip to Europe – this one is all about our 3-day stay in Amsterdam. This post is way overdue, but I wanted to get it up before the new year – just in the nick of time, literally. Everyone who has visited Amsterdam comes back with raving reviews, so we were very excited to check the city out. We took the Eurostar from London to Amsterdam, which was only about three hours and $50. Travelling by train around Europe is such a fast and affordable way to get around the continent.
The main mode of transportation in Amsterdam is biking. There are bikes upon bikes upon bikes, wherever you turn. It’s something worth trying, but as a tourist, I personally would not bike as a mode of transportation because the bikers there are INTENSE. They know exactly where they’re going, and they’re fast and furious. As a tourist, you’re likely going to be more hesitant because you’re not as familiar with the city and the streets. I feel like most tourists would just get in the way and impede traffic. As a tourist, a bike ride around the park would probably be a better way to try biking in Amsterdam.
If you are into museums, most of Amsterdam’s museums are all located in the same area and within a walking distance, making it easy to visit one after the other. Unlike London, none of them are free. There’s a huge selection though, so there’s something for everyone!
Another thing that Amsterdam is known for is its lax views on marijuana. You will see stores selling marijuana, marijuana products, and edibles pretty much everywhere you go (hard drugs are illegal, though). As a note in case you’re looking for your next coffee fix, places that sell marijuana are called “coffee shops”, and places where you go to get coffee are called “cafes”.
We stayed at the Hotel Ibis Amsterdam Center, which is located literally right next to the Amsterdam Centraal train station. Hotels in Amsterdam are quite pricey, and we chose Ibis because it was a cheaper option. As a warning if you’re interested in booking this hotel, go in knowing it’s definitely a budget hotel. It’s actually not a terrible hotel, but after staying at the Victoria Park Plaza (which is a mid-range hotel), I missed the cushy beds, the plush towels, the roomy bathroom with non-flourescent lighting, and even the non-scratchy toilet paper. The big plus side is that Hotel Ibis is in an extremely convenient location. If you’re taking the train from another European city, you’ll likely enter Amsterdam from the Amsterdam Centraal station, and the Hotel Ibis is right next to it.
We spent most of our first day just walking the streets, enjoying the gorgeous scenery and familiarizing ourselves with the lay of the land. The great thing about this city is how walkable it is. It’ll be difficult to get from one end of the city to another without taking public transit, but you can get to a lot of places on foot. We were completely awestruck by how picturesque Amsterdam is. There are canals all over the city, lined with these beautiful, tall and narrow buildings.
We spent our first evening in the city visiting the Anne Frank house, where Anne Frank and her family hid for almost two years. I have always been really interested in learning about the history of World War II, particularly the histories of the people who went through the atrocities at concentration camps. Being from a first-world country, we are so lucky to be untouched by war on an every day basis, and I think it’s important to keep that knowledge of history alive, you know? This was one of my favourite museums we visited during our trip. It was pretty surreal to think that the Frank family was hiding for years in the very rooms we were walking in. It’s a good idea to buy tickets to the Ann Frank House online at least a month or two prior to your trip – it’s an extremely popular attraction, and is often sold out at the doors.
Once we left the Anne Frank House, we found a random burger bar to have dinner (good but not memorable), and then we bought some Amsterdam fries on the way home to the hotel. If you go to Amsterdam, you must try their fries! There are a bunch of fry places that can be found on the main street, The Damrak. They serve the fries piping hot in a massive paper cone, and you get to pick from 20 different sauces. I’m drooling just thinking about it!
We started our second day off with a mission: to find Dutch pancakes. Amsterdam is known for their pancakes, but we were in search of Poffertjes, or mini Dutch pancakes. There are a ton of pancake houses in Amsterdam, but we settled on Carousel Pancakes, which literally has a carousel in the middle of the restaurant. It looks kitschy and touristy, but the people working there were so nice, and the food was wonderful. I ordered cherry Poffertjes, and they came covered in powdered sugar and butter – so fluffy and satisfying!
When we looked up best museums to visit in Amsterdam, Rijks Museum (pronounced like “Rick’s”) was always everyone’s recommendation. We both really enjoyed our visit here. The great thing about it is that it has a little bit of everything for everyone, from famous Dutch paintings to Asian artwork to sculptures.
THE HEINEKEN EXPERIENCE
After Rijks Museum, we headed off to the Heineken Experience, which is located in Heineken’s original (and no longer used) brewery and only a 15 minute walk from the museum. The tour was certainly…interesting. You spend the first 20 minutes or so going through a tour of the defunct brewery, where the tour guide goes through the process of producing beer, and then you go through a self-guided tour of what I deem a Heineken marketing experience. You basically go through almost club-esque looking rooms with all sorts of different interactive exhibits where the Heineken brand is thrown in your face.
As a non-drinker, I actually quite liked the Heineken Experience. I enjoyed the educational part of the tour – I didn’t know much about the brewing process, so I actually learned something. The “experience” part was a little silly – maybe fun for college kids, but that’s about it. The experience concludes at the actual bar, where you finally get to drink some Heineken. The price of the ticket includes a wristband that will get you two free beers per visitor (underage guests get a different wristband for alcohol-free drinks), plus you also get a smaller beer right before you start the “experience” part of the tour. They also have a pretty expansive gift shop, and you also have a chance to personalize your own bottle of Heineken to bring home.
RED LIGHT DISTRICT
Ahhhh, the one place that is apparently what everything thinks of when they hear Amsterdam. The first thing my coworkers asked me about I got home was “Did you check out the Red Light District?” Honestly, it was way more touristy and much less seedy than I expected; I believe they’ve cleaned it up in the last decade. It was packed when we were there at night. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, and there are rows and rows of streets of these small rooms next to one another, where each sex worker stands behind a clear door, so you can see them through it as you walk by. If you want to talk to one of them, you walk up to the door and they will open it to talk to you. It’s literally like you’re window-shopping, which is kind of weird when you think about it. You can tell the women treat it as a job, though. Most of them looked bored while waiting for their next customer – we saw one talking on her phone, one smoking, a few reading magazines, and even one eating a bag of chips, LOL. You are not allowed to take photos of the sex workers, which makes perfect sense. It’s to protect their privacy, and let’s be honest, how would you feel if someone came to your work and started taking photos of you? Not cool! In the Red Light District, you can also find a few peep shows, bars, some cafes and coffeshops, and a museum of prostitution which I’ve heard is actually quite educational.
On our last day, we decided to take a trip right outside of the city to Zaanse Schaans. We would have liked to go a little farther to cities like Brussels or Bruges, but with only 3 days in Amsterdam, we felt like this wasn’t realistic. So instead, we visited Zaanse Schaans, which is only a 15 minute train ride outside of the city. This was the cuteeeest little town. It looks super touristy, but the skies were super blue that day and the windmills just looked so beautiful against the blue backdrop. There’s also a store there that sells wooden clogs, and they do demonstrations on how they’re made, which was really interesting to see.
VAN GOGH MUSEUM
After returning from Zaanse Schaans in the early afternoon, we headed back to the museum district to visit the Van Gogh museum. Even if you are not an art fan, his artwork is so recognizable, and I find his life fascinating but sad (near the end of his life, he had a psychotic breakdown and chopped off his own ear). As a note, if you’re interested in visiting the Van Gogh museum, you must buy your ticket online. They don’t sell out months in advance the way the Anne Frank House does. I’m pretty sure we bought our tickets the day before!
A must-see in Amsterdam is Vondelpark, the largest park in the city which is a walking distance from the museum district. There are so many people doing physical activities, or just relaxing on the grass. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take photos while we were here, but it’s a beautiful park.
Another food item you have to try from Amsterdam is a stroopwafel, or syrup waffles. It’s a wafer cookie with caramel filling sandwiched between two thin layers of wafers. They’re a good souvenir to take home for family!
That’s it for my Amsterdam travel diaries! Have you visited Amsterdam? What was your favourite part?