As I’m sure you’re aware, Amsterdam is very well known for a few things; you hear the name and automatically certain things come to mind (but there’s no need to go into detail on that). Despite it’s reputation and beyond the stag party/hen do vibe it gives out, it is actually a beautiful city and one you should take time to explore.
Don’t get me wrong, this is the ideal location for a party or weekend away. It’s swarming with bars, clubs, tattoo shops, marijauna stores and you won’t struggle to find what you’re looking for in the Red Light District if that’s your kind of thing (hopefully you know what I mean by this). It’s certainly not difficult for you to get yourself some new ink, have a few drinks or even sink your teeth into a brownie made with ‘special’ ingredients that relaxes you on a whole different level (Yes, I am not ashamed to say maybe I did indulge in one… or two…). but, despite all that, there is so much more to discover, and even though I wouldn’t plan to go for longer than a few days, it’s definitely worth a trip over there!
Something that I found to make this capital very unique is the lack of roads; there is the main roads going around the outside to make it easy to commute to and from the city but once you hit the centre, there is none, no vehicles at all, just bikes. Bikes galore. I was told that because the city is on top of a series of canals, the cars just used to end up in the water one way or another, either because of reckless drivers or just dodgy parking resulting in them rolling in on a windy day. In the end, people just resorted to using bikes and footpaths which actually makes getting around so much easier than you may think (it just involves needing a lot of stamina to cover a lot of ground).
Due to this, one of the most popular things to do whilst in town is a bike tour; I think these are the best excursions you can take in any new place and I always enjoy them because not only does it give you the chance to see all of the main features of the place you’re in, but you also get the local guide giving you insider information and stories to the sights and monuments, therefore you go home with a lot more knowledge than you went with. When you think about it it’s just kind of like a fun and practical geography lesson. It’s so peaceful riding around, seeing all the plants and all the bridges over the canals, the incredible smell of fries and pancakes calling you into the nearby restaurants and of course the cheese, cheese everywhere you turn!
Everything is just so chilled out; there’s no hustle and bustle, no swarms of people, no traffic jams, just the bright flowers adding explosions of colour brightening up the place and the sound of the birds chirping lifting your mood. Even though there aren’t many sights to see, it’s lovely to just have a break from normal life and enjoy the city landscape and of course get your standard picture of bikes on the bridges in front of the flower pots like a typical tourist.
Even if you’re not an alcoholic, one of the places you could spend your time is in the Heineken Factory; you get a tour and shown how exactly it’s all produced along with facts of the company’s history and of course there’s plenty to sample! For those that do enjoy a little drink there is also the option of a night boat cruise up and down the canal where you can drink to your hearts content so go wild! Just don’t stand too close to the edge or you’ll be trudging along with soggy feet and sopping wet clothes after swimming back.
Moving on, we all know that the Netherlands is famous for clogs and cheese. I was fortunate to be invited to a local farm just on the city outskirts where I was shown the process on how they are both made. (I did find it rather odd at first, the same small family company made both clogs and cheese under the same roof but hey I’m not dutch so I have no reason to judge). The smell of cheese is so strong walking through it would easily clear your sinuses but it is a great opportunity to see how all the flavours are freshly made from the milk produced by their own herd of cows. Just on the other side of the door there was the clog making workshop and this was also a fascinating process to observe. Even though I have never been keen on even trying clogs as they just look so uncomfortable (I mean who even gets excited by the thought of wearing shoes made of wood and are expensive to say the least) it was great to see the way they are crafted and all of the work that is put into making them. So much skill and creativity is required and the time it takes to actually produce them is far more than what I expected. You definitely need to have patience for this job!
Going back to cheese, if you’re a stinking fan, it’s easy to get your hands on some fresh wheels (and some with unique flavours you could say) at the Cheese Company stores that are dotted around the city and also at family run dairies for the truly rich and indulgent stuff. Any kind of cheese you can think of, it’s there. Ever considered beer flavoured cheese?
Sticking on the subject of food, it’s a known fact that the Netherlands is seen as the place to go for the best pancakes, both sweet and savoury so you have to go and grab yourself a cheesy pancake main dish then go all out for dessert by opting for the Poffertjes (mini Dutch pancakes) with the full works of cream and sauces, mmm mmm mmmmm.
But if you really want to treat yourself, you should head to Mannekenpis which is world famous for the best Dutch chips you could possible dream of. There is a menu of so many different sauces to top your cone of goodness with and because there is no limit you have the opportunity to concoct your dream fried feast. The best part is that they are reasonably priced especially for the quality you get and without a doubt will have you going back for more! I have no shame in saying that during the 2 days I was in town I went 3 times, they’re just too good and you can’t get anything near this standard back home so you’ve got to make the most of it while you can! Just don’t let the length of the queue put you off because even though it can often look insanely long and flow all the way down the street, it does move rapidly and without a doubt is worth the wait, I mean why do you think the queue is so long in the first place?
There is also the famous Stroopwafel, a gorgeous little toasted cookie made of baked dough joined by a layer of melting caramel. Head to the famous Van Wonderen to get your hands on the best version of this desert and top it with your favourite flavours!
And if you’re feeling adventurous you should give the food market a try, Food Hallen. It’s a classy indoor market and bar serving up a range of high-end food and beverages where you can get your hands on speciality food from different places around the world including Italian Pizza, Vietnamese Summer Rolls, Spanish Tapas, Greek pastries and gourmet burgers all from local kitchens located in the city. Give your tastebuds a road trip!
Even though I didn’t get chance to go myself, if you book tickets in advance you should also go to the Anne Frank House Museum as it is filled with history and tales of this magnificent woman. You get to experience her life and story through quotes, photos, videos and original items from the famous writer and diarist.
You should also consider going over to the flower market; it’s the only floating flower market in the world and the scent of all of the plants just hits you in an overwhelming state as soon as you approach it. It really is such a colourful and beautiful view and is the most fragrant attraction in Amsterdam so go and get your floral fix!
If you’re on a girly weekend away or just fancy splashing some cash, this is also a great place to fill your shopping bags as the retail scene is booming so shop until you drop (and then go and cry over the sight of you bank balance with a few beers and a slab of cheese).
All in all, Amsterdam is as good as you make it, just don’t believe what it’s reputation says about it until you have actually been. So, grab your bike and start pedalling into the beautiful place of inspiration and greatness, oh, but always check the ingredients on the brownies…