The Best of what Europe’s Coolest City has to Offer
Everyone knows Amsterdam, right? Famed for its coffee shops that sell cannabis instead of coffee, shop windows with sex workers posing instead of mannequins, canals instead of roads, bicycles instead of cars, and museums full of some of the world’s best paintings… it’s easy to see why Amsterdam is on everyone’s European To Do list.
Except you’ve all been doing it wrong! I recently visited the capital of The Netherlands and discovered these eight ways of getting the most out of Europe’s most unique city…
1: Room with a woo hoo
DON’T… be boring and book a cheap hostel or generic chain hotel.
DO… be original and stay somewhere with style.
You are in Amsterdam, for goodness sake. Amsterdam! Whether you are visiting for just one night or an entire week you will never forget it – so make sure that your nights are as exciting as your days. Take a look at Airbnb and rent out a canal boat for something truly unforgettable, or do as I did and stay at the magnificent The Toren, a boutique hotel in the centre of town dating back to 1618. Every one of its thirty eight rooms, designed by interior expert Wim van de Oudeweetering, are pure decadence. I stayed in the prestigious garden suite with its large Jacuzzi bath and private patio garden, the perfect way to unwind after a hard day’s sightseeing. And if you aren’t lucky enough to stay here then at least visit its opulent bar, where their attentive staff will whip up an array of tantalising organic G&Ts from their comprehensive menu. Believe me, no night out in Amsterdam has ever started better than that.
2: Walk the walk
DON’T… grab a guide book and walk about the city aimlessly.
DO… book a FREE guide (We chose Sandeman’s New Europe Tours).
That’s right, free! For three hours I laughed and walked and looked and laughed and learnt and nearly got run over by bicycles and kept staring around me as our vivacious and hilarious tour guide Kor took us through 800 years of Amsterdam history in one afternoon. Simply book your tour online and on arrival at the meeting spot at the Amsterdam National Monument you will be put into groups and allocated a guide. Now, before I continue you must know I hate guided tours and package holidays. I hate being a gormless tourist sheep herded from pillar to post. But this wasn’t like that. This was fun. This was our mate Kor cracking jokes and telling us stuff we would never have learnt from any book. There were no plugs or tricks nor any ‘come into my mate’s shop’ kind of bullshit… just a highly entertaining guide giving it his all. And at the end we all gave him a ‘tip’. Probably more than we would have been happy to pay for any other tour online but my god, it was the most hilarious walk around a city I have ever had.
3: Red light is alright
DON’T… be a knob and get overly excited about the red light district, and NEVER take photos.
DO… remain respectful and see it for what it is, a clever tourist ploy, a profitable way to standardise the world’s oldest profession and yet another example of Holland’s tolerant and pragmatic approach to life.
As far as the Dutch are concerned, if it makes money, doesn’t hurt anyone and is conducted in a subtle way – then go for it. So if you can navigate your way around the boozy stag and hen do’s and the open mouthed American teens who are taking a while to adapt to Europe’s loose ways… you will get to the red light district.
And it’s not as seedy as it sounds. Day and night, and even on a Sunday, women in bikinis will rent out a window for 100€ a day and charge 50€ per fifteen minutes of their company, paying taxes and having health and safety checks like every other hard working person. Not many self employed women can claim to break even after just half an hour’s work! These aren’t Victoria Secret-style shop windows, there are women of every size, shape and age. Some are winking and smiling, some sitting on a stool texting and some looking damn right aggressive – but to be honest, they have more clothes on than the average family on a beach so there’s nothing lascivious or crude about these streets. The only shock was the price of the dildos in the over-priced sex shops (seriously, buy them online like a normal person). But if you must bring home a smutty momento, I would recommend a visit to the famous Condom shop the Condomerie – where you will find every condom known to man. From hand painted to exotic flavours, unusual textures and some even fit for an elephant. Enjoy!
4: Living the high life
DON’T… buy a hash cookie, think it hasn’t worked after thirty minutes, eat more, wait another thirty minutes crying out that you’ve been robbed, eat every last crumb then get so high that you fall into a canal. It happens. Don’t be another casualty of not playing it cool.
DO… visit a cafe and have a smoke or some magic mushrooms. It’s no big deal. In fact it’s so normalised that the locals don’t even bother doing it all that much.
5: Flower Power
DON’T… think ‘Tulips? Boring! I came here for fun.’
DO… appreciate the beauty of Holland’s national flower.
They are everywhere, in every colour and every size. Spring in The Netherlands is a sight to behold. It’s quaint and bright and colourful and… well… amazing. Visit The Tulip Museum in the centre of town and learn about the history of the flower, or if you find yourself in Amsterdam in April check out the Tulip Festival, when 500,000 tulip bulbs are planted in 60 locations throughout the city. The Tulip Route Guide can be purchased at many locations including the museum. Or for the full experience hire a bike and book a cycling experience through fields of tulips… you don’t need to be high for this, it’s a pretty mind blowing experience on its own.
6: Art Attack
DON’T… rock up in Amsterdam and expect to wander into an art gallery when you feel like it.
DO… book in advance. Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh and of course Anne Frank’s house can all be found in Amsterdam.
For those looking for culture over crudeness, Amsterdam is one of Europe’s capitals of art, literature and history with seventy five museums to choose from in total. And everyone knows it; which is why you will stand in line for up to two hours to visit Anne Frank’s house unless you book in advance and get a ticket. Or even better, a fast line ticket with a time on it so you can saunter past the freezing divs standing in line getting rained on and walk straight in. Smugness comes at a price, but it’s worth it.
7: Love at First Bite
DON’T… go to Amsterdam, get off your face and live off Heineken and kebabs.
Do… try out some of the best bites in Europe.
If anyone tells you that Dutch food is a load of old balls, then they are right. Bittenballen to be precise! Similar to Spanish croquettes, these delicacies contain a mixture of beef or veal mixed into a thick roux and deep fried in breadcrumbs. Or try the raw herring and pickles or steaming pancakes that can be found at most outdoor markets, not forgetting the Stroopwafels (crumbly chewy caramel biscuit delights), the cheeses, the chocolates, the sausage or the unforgettable apple pie. Basically it’s no coincidence that the Dutch cycle everywhere, how else can one stay so fit and healthy with tantalising dishes like these?
8: Get Out of There
DON’T… stay in Amsterdam the entire time.
Do… visit the surrounding areas.
Yes, Amsterdam is an amazing city and I could have stayed there for days on end – but I’m glad I didn’t. In less than an hour, with amazing train services at reasonable prices, you can get to the seaside town of Den Haag where you will also find the Dutch royal family, the International criminal court, plenty of museums and a really great pier. The next stop is the quaint mini-Amsterdam town of Delft where the famous blue and white pottery is made and where Vermeer painted the famous ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’. Last on your short train ride is Rotterdam, where you can enjoy a water taxi to the highest restaurant in the country The Euromast or visit the amazing new indoor food market where you can purchase and taste every dish from around the world under one psychedelic roof.
Whether you spend two days or two weeks in Amsterdam you won’t ever get bored. Holland is one of the smallest countries in Europe and easy to navigate, its people are some of the friendliest you will meet (and all speak impeccable English) and although the weather is not as friendly as that of its southerly neighbours, you have plenty of cozy cafes, museums and shops to get you out of the cold. Or retreat back to the luxury of your fancy hotel and chill in the Jacuzzi with some bubbly.
So please, do me a favour – next time you visit the great Dam don’t be one of the ubiquitous pissed up hen do girls or sniggering stag do boys… take in the sights. Experience the real Holland. Taste, smell, look and really see what this great place has to offer. And don’t get high and ride your bike into a canal… seriously, it’s just not cool.