14 May 2015

Suitcase. Amsterdam, Netherlands - Travel Guide

I had wanted to visit Amsterdam for a really long time. A city known for endless canals, blooming tulips, clogs, bicycles and, of course, illicit activities… I was excited and more than a little bit intrigued…

It didn't let us down. It was 'dam' good. [Get it!?]

This city was everything I hoped it would be and more, with friendly people to boot. Walking along the streets and by the water, I thought to myself this is definitely somewhere I could see myself living for a little sojourn at some point in my life. So who knows, I may be back…

Bag by River Island here, shoes here [Converse are a travel essential], trusty leather jacket here, and jeans are a Sportsgirl old faithful

After heading to the Keukenhof Gardens when we first arrived, we spent the rest of the first day dreamily wandering the miles and miles of canals. We walked with no real purpose or destination because we quickly figured out it was very easy to get lost, but it didn’t really matter; we were just soaking it all in. It seems the inhabitants of the city appreciate the canals just as much as the tourists; every second house we walked by had a resident downstairs with a chair by the waterfront; sure 95% of them were smoking (and most often NOT cigarettes!) – but they were soaking in the sunshine all the same.

Yes indeed that is a clog that is a boat. Wow.

Day two saw us up and at em’ early to beat the queue at Anne Frank’s house. The house opens at 9am so my recommendation would be to queue from around 8.15am. We did so and were in the door by 9.30am – I call that a success (often the line is over 3 hours!). I read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was just a little girl and I never forgot it. Neither will I ever forget my experience in that house. The stories, the images, the cramped rooms, the steep steep stairs, the darkness and the recorded interviews with Otto Frank; Anne’s father. It was a truly sobering experience and one that you mustn’t miss.

Despite everything, the Frank's had a prime piece of waterfront real estate, this is the view from outside their house.

Next, we headed for the centre of town to do the free walking tour. Most of you know by now that I’m a real advocate for these! They are such a great way to see the sights of the city, learn your way around and hear the guide’s local knowledge. He took us through the Red Light District which was a surreal experience. It’s exactly how you think it will be, but at the same time you can’t believe it is: women openly selling themselves in their own shop window. The world’s gone mad. Not only that but there’s different “malls” if you will: Elite Avenue (supposedly the best of the best) and Big Mama Lane (no explanation needed), to name a few… Then we walked through Dam Square, the Jewish District, by the canals and back towards Anne Frank’s house. In 3 hours we learnt so much which really shaped the way we experienced the city.

My friend and I went to Amsterdam with an intent to experience it all, so that night after dinner we found ourselves back in the Red Light District and heading to a sex show. Amidst giggles and "are we really doing this" stares we had a very memorable evening. Amsterdam has a funny way of maintaining the law, referred to by locals as “looking through the fingers”. There’s a whole lot of illicit activities going on in this city but as long as it does no harm to anyone and is good for the economy [which it obviously is!], the police turn a blind eye. Interestingly enough, it seems to be working for them!

No photos allowed in the Red Light District so here's a beautiful waterfront home to compensate.

Our final day saw us taking to two wheels: bikes! We road the many leafy streets and laneways, through the beautiful Vondole Park with the Amsterdam sign, and onto the picturesque Jordann District. It was a beautiful way to see a beautiful city.

Bicycles. Bicycles. Bicycles. That’s all you need to know. And watch where you’re walking! They come at you from all angles here; the cyclists think they rule the road.

I highly recommend hiring a bike and spending a day riding around the city (approx €15/day). It’s a great way to cover ground and riding by the canals is very relaxing. Just watch out you don’t actually fall in; apparently 16,000 bikes are pulled from the water every year!

If you’re looking for another mode of transportation then the trams are also a great way to get around the city. And, when you arrive at the airport, take the train to central station – it’s speedy and cheap (€4).

There’s a great variety of restaurants to choose from in Amsterdam all with their own niche. With only 3 days we didn’t have a chance to try them all but I heard stories of cafes in greenhouses, restaurants in old car show rooms and even an elegant dining experience in an old ship warehouse by the water. Cool. We had a fabulous dinner at Bocinq where their main cuisine is a melange of French-African. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was great too.

If you’re heading to Amsterdam soon then you’ll be just in time for the city’s Magnum pop-up store where you can create your own flavour. I had vanilla ice-cream with a milk chocolate coating, white chocolate flakes, nougat, caramelised hazelnuts and a white chocolate drizzle. It was the best ice-cream ever. Seriously.

Forgive the quality of this one, it was hastily snapped on an iPhone before I devoured it!

Bakers & Roasters does a fab breakkie/brunch. The bacon and eggs were nearly as good as my mum’s and that’s really saying something! Plus there's plenty of delightful places to dine by the water.

And of course, you can’t visit Amsterdam without buying a packet of Stroopwafels to take home! These delightful waffle biscuits are joined together with a layer of caramel. I left mine to sit over the top of my mug of tea, as recommended by a local, and they were even better!

Whether it’s relaxation or party-party-party you’re looking for, Amsterdam has the best of both worlds. Adopt a slow pace with long walks by the water and lunch in the cafes set on the canals. Or go wild and take in the illicit nature of the city’s centre with clubs, bars and shows. Either way, you’re guaranteed to have a ball.

Photos by Krissie.