Her high heels confidently pedaled her bicycle as she whimslfully navigated the cobblestoned streets of Amsterdam. Cars and Vespas whiz by and the aroma of coffeeshops, tulips, cheese, and pancakes float in the air.
Summary: Amsterdam, the capitol of the Netherlands, is known for its elaborate canals, it’s liberalized and alternative culture, and it’s artistic community.
Population: 779,808 (2011)
Why go: do you like to party? Do you like traditional canal infrastructure? Do you like smoking marijuana or taking mushrooms? Do you like beautiful parks? Do you like art and culture? Did you read Anne Frank’s Diary? Van Gogh and Rembrandt? Red light district? Heineken? History of shipping, logisitcs, and trade?
Amsterdam is a unique mix of all night parties, beautiful scenery, artistic culture, and history.
Backpacker’s 72 hour guide:
Shipol – 10 AM: 197 bus takes you straight to Leidseplein.
Get off and visit the museum district of Leidseplein including the largest Van Gogh collection in the world, the renowed Rijksmuseum, the Moco, and another alternating exhibit. City wide museum passes may be worth it if you are very into museums, single passes are available, and often there are free exhibits to avoid spending anything at all.
Under the park that is next to the museums is a supermarket. Grab some bread and cheese and head to a coffeeshop. Get some herb (most places will charge 8-25/g and offer pre-roll) and espresso for the jet lag and cruise about 3 blocks toward the periphery of the city next to the Holland Casino shopping mall and enter the enchanting Vondelpark. Weave your way through the park to the rose garden, the secret treehouse next to the rose garden, the outdoor theater, and the various grass lawns to hang out. During the summer months free concerts and shows are frequent in the park. After an afternoon and evening in the park catered by Dutch bread and cheese head back to Leidseplein for the night. No rush though, in the summer months it stays light until 11pm and people will be in the park everyday of the week until dark.
Leidseplein will be happening. It’s hard to miss. This part of town comes alive at night and there will be no shortage of bars and cheap drinks. The center of the action will be in front of The Bulldog in the square. Down each ally you will find bars, clubs, lounges, and more. Late night food is kebab or falafel, no question.
Hostel: weekends can be very pricey – book ahead. Prepare to pay 40-80 euros for a hostel bed if booked same-day. Weekdays can drop into the 30’s and below. The classic is The Bulldog, they seem to run the tourist show in Amsterdam and have a ton of hostels, coffeeshops, souvenir shops, and bars in the city.
Couchsurfing: the community here is really strong but it is hard to get a couch. Hosts in the city say they receive between 25-50 requests per night on weekends. Request early.
After eating the free hostel breakfast and packing a sandwich for the road, hit the streets and head to a boat tour operator (stop at coffeeshop along the way is optional). These are fun and a great way to see the city. In my experience the best time is in the morning when the crowds are calm and sun is lower for better light. Also, these boats will put you to sleep so an afternoon ride will likely just be a siesta on the water.
For lunch, grab a Haring sandwich from a local food stand. Haring is the Amsterdam go-to but if your looking for something a little less fishy, the peppered mackerel was super good. Prices are about 4 euros per sandwich.
Happy hour: take a walk down the flower shops of the canals tasting the cheeses in the countless cheese shops. You can find all kinds of flavors from jalapeño to pesto to regular goat. Netherlands has incredible cheese.
Heading to Vondelpark or the park by the museums is a great for sunset. The Bulldog also has a rad roof to hang on. If hungry, grab some quick food on the run – kebabs, sandwiches, etc. Also remember the supermarket below the museums, it’s really hard to spot.
For night, big parties and clubs are at Rembrandt square. A walk through the Red Light district is an obvious must do as well; anytime after dark works. Enjoy the evening and get weird, Amsterdam sure as hell is.
Tips: don’t get hit by trains, they are quiet and won’t stop. Same with cars and bikes. Keep an eye out and trust the street lights. Coffeeshops will sell prewrapped if your on the run. Keep a water bottle on you, Amsterdam has an unusually small about of public drinking fountains.