When we were first planning our trip around Europe, I was honestly a little hesitant to even include Amsterdam in our itinerary. People rave about it all the time, and it seems like 90% of the time that’s just in relation to the easily accessible weed, so I was worried that this might turn out to be another one of those overrated destinations that has been largely ruined by crowds of young travellers.
I could not have been more wrong. The city is actually incredibly beautiful and somehow very quaint; it’s overrun with bikes and pedestrians, and everything is close enough to walk to anyway; there’s something inexplicably magical about the canals and all the charming houseboats with their little gardens; and there’s a fabulous mix of hip youngsters and older expats all milling around together (our Airbnb host is from Seattle and went to the same university as my parents before moving to Amsterdam 30 years ago to teach at the local uni). I’ve already moved there in my head, that’s how great it is.
It’s difficult to say my favourite things about this city, because I get overwhelmed; I literally love everything and even walking around to look at the houses is an afternoon well spent. I know I’ll be back to explore more someday, but I did leave feeling quite satisfied that I’d seen a good bit of Amsterdam (if only I’d taken more photos of all the overflowing bike garages!). Here is how you can really enjoy this amazing city.
Hop on a canal cruise
One of our first activities in Amsterdam is to take a cruise through the canals, which is great fun and not as touristy and annoying as you might expect. There are a heap of companies that do the same cruise for the same price (14-16€) so we just choose the first one we come across and settle into window seats to snap photos during the hour long cruise. Only about two dozen people share our boat, so it isn’t too crowded, and the captain offers some commentary and points out interesting buildings along the way. It is a great way to see the whole scope of the city and then return to specific places to explore more later, which is exactly what we do.
Visit the Anne Frank House
Even though we swore off museums after probably the twelfth one in Germany, the frustration doesn’t last long and we make an exception for the Anne Frank House. The museum is housed partially in the office building and “secret annexe” that hid 8 Jews, including Anne Frank and her family, for nearly 2 years during WWII. It’s amazing the lengths to which Otto Frank went to protect his family: first moving from Germany to Holland as Hitler was coming to power (while Anne and her sister were young), then signing his business over to a non-Jew partner to prevent him from losing it entirely, and finally building an incredibly elaborate hidden home on an upper level of his office. The museum also highlights the bravery of several employees who actively hid the Frank family and several others, as well as supplied them with food, risking their own lives to do so.
Sadly, everyone in the annexe and two of the helpers were arrested and sent to camps where they all died, save for Otto Frank, who returned to find his daughter’s diary and fulfilled her dream of having it published. I quickly re-read The Diary of Anne Frank the day before we visited, which really set the scene and made the museum even more significant, although it did make me more emotionally invested in the story, so there were some minor sniffles in the museum (Callum: “Are you crying..?” Me: “How are you not crying, you robot!”) The museum doesn’t over-inform about the war; it is very concise and really focuses on the annexe specifically, which we like.
The internet is full of horror stories about 4 hour lines to get into the museum, but the advantage of visiting during winter is the low tourist crowd, so we did not experience a line of any length, just waltzed right in. Tickets have to be booked online or you can just rock up to the museum after 330 and buy tickets there, 9€ in both instances.
Stuff your face with poffertjes
Callum and I have had a long-standing obsession with Dutch pancakes since having them at a market (and then subsequently having them 12 more times at the market) here in Australia. We are certainly not disappointed by the tasty nibbles in Amsterdam. Very close to us, and very delicious, is The Pancake Bakery, so we visit frequently. It’s butter, powdered sugar, and lemon that is my personal pick.
Swing over a view of Amsterdam from the A’dam Lookout
I think this A’dam 360 building must be quite new, because not even our Airbnb host knew of it, but it’s easily the best view of Amsterdam! We stumble upon it purely by accident. To get there, head to Amsterdam Centraal train station, walk through the tunnel, and catch a free ferry to Buiksloterweg, which takes about 2 minutes. The lookout from the top floor and roof is excellent and costs 12€; for 5€ extra, you can hop on the newly installed swing off the building’s edge, and so worth it just for the thrill of going on Europe’s highest swing (and also it’s 5€, so loosen up).
Visit a coffeehouse
So obviously every person who visits Amsterdam is very aware of the reputation it has. Legal marijuana certainly wasn’t my primary motivation for visiting the city (actually not even a motivation at all) especially since it’s legal where I grew up, but on our last day, we figured why not try it out. A great deal of googling went in to figuring the system out.
You can’t just buy weed anywhere. There are “coffee shops” all over the city that are licensed to legally sell, though they are not licensed to sell alcohol, and then there are some other bars where you are permitted to smoke, but it is not legal for them to actual dispense. We very infrequently smoke, so we buy a joint pre-rolled to avoid embarrassment and share it between us, which is plenty. We then go to another “coffee shop” to actually smoke it, each have an orange juice, and reminisce on our trip so far.
Hire bikes/scooters and zip around like a local
Our original plan was to hire bikes and ride around this insanely bike friendly city. (I so wish I had photographed the sheer volume of bikes here, it was unreal. Not only more bikes than cars or pedestrians, but entire bike parking garages that hold thousands of bikes, filled to the brim. Apparently bikes outnumber people in Amsterdam nearly 2:1.) Anyway, we end up hiring a Vespa instead, since it’s nearly the same price as two bikes! We zip around the city for a few hours and explore the red light district, as well as a number of random canal-ways in which we become lost.