Ever since I had a connecting flight in Amsterdam, but couldn't leave the airport to actually see the city, I have wanted to go back to experience it for myself. I have known for ages that I could find a dirt-cheap bus to get myself there, through GoEuro, so after officially deciding to make that dream a reality, that's exactly what I did. The week leading up to my trip, I discovered that I would have to work a TON of extra hours at my job, which would leave me feeling too exhausted to go away for an entire weekend. After weighing up my options, I decided that I still did want to go see the city, and that my best option was to muster up enough energy for a really long day trip.
Amsterdam is about a 5 hour bus ride from my city, so in order to maximize on my day, I took one of the earliest buses going there and one of the latest ones to return home. With these tickets, I could arrive in Amsterdam at about 10 a.m. and leave about 9 p.m, giving me about 11 hours to explore the city.
My goal today is to share with you how I spent my time in Amsterdam, so that if you too decide to take a trip there, you can use this as a bit of a guide, to help you decide what you may or may not want to do.
My arrival bus dropped me off in Amsterdam Sloterdijk, which is a station with bus stops, a train and a metro (subway), all in the same general location. I headed immediately to the metro ticket box, to purchase a day ticket for about €7. This gave me unlimited uses of the metro, tram, buses and apparently ferries as well, for 24 hours. I figured that I could use that ticket to take the metro into the main city, as Sloterdijk is just on the outskirts, but someone informed me that I needed to come in by train - which cost another €5.60 for a round trip ticket. Later on, I discovered that I probably could have taken the metro in after all, but the metros in the city are very unclear and are complicated to figure out. (Good luck!!) Fortunately, there are often people who work for the transportation company, who are there to answer questions. They are often quite helpful and if you are confused or lost, never hesitate to ask them for help.
The city of Amsterdam is known worldwide, to be an extremely liberal place. Besides the infamous Red Light District, Amsterdam is also well known for their legalization of marijuana. Smoking weed isn't something that I choose to partake in, but it was interesting to see how legalized marijuana gets integrated into a culture. It didn't matter where I went, I could smell someone smoking pot throughout the city. Stores all over the city sold weed related products, including cannabis baked goods. There is a very important differentiation in Amsterdam between a cafe and a coffee shops, that you should take note of. Cafes are places you can go to buy a coffee or warm drink and maybe something sweet, while at a coffee shop, you can order your choice of a joint along with maybe something else to eat or drink to go with it.
When I go to new cities, I aim to try eating new things from that place. Unfortunately, I don't have too many exiting food experiences to share this time, but here is what I did eat.
After walking around for a bit, I eventually got really hungry and couldn't find any locally specific food to eat. I ended up popping into a small shop that I passed, which sold sandwiches. It took the lady forever to make the sandwich and I slowly started to look around at the other items sold in the shop, realizing that sandwiches don't seem to be their specialty, if you know what I mean... A man in his late 50's came in behind me and purchased a few pack of cannibals cookies. So focused on food, I didn't even realize that I had bought a sandwich from a store which doesn't often sell too much food, but rather makes most of its profits from selling cannabis baked goods. Haha oops!
Just outside of that store, I came across a bakery called Van Stapele Koekmakerij. It was a teeny, tiny shop that could only hold a few people at a time. They were making fresh chocolate cookies filled with melted white chocolate. They have been claimed to be some of the best cookies in the world. (Definitely a happy little place to stumble upon.) The cookies were a bit more expensive than your average priced cookie, but they certainly were yummy!
Amsterdam is known for their coffee. I am not a huge coffee lover, but I made a point of buying myself a hot chocolate while I was there. It proved to be some well needed down time, to rest my legs from walking all over the city. If you do happen to be a coffee lover, be sure to take some time to find yourself a nice cup of joe whilst in the city!
Doing my food research beforehand, I heard about something called Bitterballen, which was described as a deep fried, crispy meatball. I fortunately passed a fast food restaurant and noticed its name on the menu board, so I decided to go in and give it a try. They come in 3 different flavours - one with shrimp, one with beef and one with cheese. I opted for the beef, as I figured they were the most traditional. The outside certainly does look like a meatball, but the inside is mushy and quite tasty. I'm glad I was able to check that one off my list!
On my list was also Stroopwafel, which is apparently very famous. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to try any, but I have been told that they are delicious and are best enjoyed when they are hot and gooey. From what I have heard, they should DEFINITELY need to be on your must try list.
I finished my evening in Amsterdam in a rush to get back to the bus. I had to pick up my final meal at the bus station. Fortunately, I ran into a stand selling Doner kebab. It was definitely not a regal food, as it originates from Anatolia, but it certainly was delicious.
One of the unique things that I liked about Amsterdam, is that it is split up into multiple districts or neighborhoods. Each one is distinctive from the others, having a different feel, social status or purpose. The most famous district there is the Red Light District, which I passed through briefly. I made it to a few others, but unfortunately ran out of time to see them all. The De Pijp was one of my favourite districts, as it was quite far away from the extremely touristic area. It had a laid back feel and seemed to be closer to the average "real life," of the city. There was also a friendliness to it and reminded me of my city in France.
Things to do
Amsterdam is absolutely packed with museums. I, however, am not extremely keen on seeing museums when I travel, so I opted to do a variety of different things, during my time there.
While using the map on my GPS, I discovered a botanical garden. After deciding to check it out, thinking that it was free, I discovered that there was a cost of €9.5 to enter. I weighed it up and decided to give it a shot, as I love natural things and it was a nice substitution for a museum, which I would have had to pay to enter anyways. I took some time there, strolling through some of the outdoor garden, discovering a small handful of carnivorous plants, which were really fascinating to me. I would caution you about being weather conscious when considering going there, as the outdoor portion will clearly be different, depending on what time of year it is. Inside a greenhouse, I discovered temperature regulated rooms, where I found plants from Africa and South America. I quite enjoyed the simulations, especially the rain forest one. Later on, strolling through other parts of the site, I came across a room of discovery, were you were encouraged to touch, smell and even taste the plants there! The botanical garden also included an area devoted to trees. One of my happiest discoveries there was the live butterfly exhibit. I loved being able to walk around and see the flowers, as the butterflies danced around me. I definitely felt that with everything included, it was a good €9.5 spent. If you are someone who enjoys nature, colours and plants, I really feel that you would enjoy it too.
The city of Amsterdam is absolutely filled with parks. Many of these parks are mostly large, open areas to go for a stroll, but if you are looking to get away from the tourists and find a nice place to sit down, a park is a great place t go. While there, I checked out a few parks, as I love going to them. There aren't too many that stood out as amazing, must see places, but they did seem to be a popular places for people to go and spend the afternoon on a warm day.
My favourite thing that I did in Amsterdam was seeing the city via bicycle. Amsterdam is the city of bikes and they are everywhere! There are so many bikes that in the city, you will find TONS of parking garages, dedicated just for bicycles. When I was in the city, I discovered Black Bike Rental. You could rent a bike for 3 hours or 24 hours and bring it back at the end of your time, to any of the Black Bike Rental locations in the city. For 3 hours, it cost about €13, which really isn't bad. It even included a bike lock, for if you wanted to stop somewhere and come back for the bike later on. By the time I got to renting a bike, I had only about 2 hours until closing time, as I spent most of the day doing other things. There was something so incredible about pedaling down pretty streets, looking at everything, as I passed by. There are special bicycle roads, beside the regular roads, made just for the bikes. I loved being able to get to places more quickly and even just getting lost, wandering down random streets. Of everything I did and everything I saw in Amsterdam, this is what I would most recommend doing, as it is so unique and is an incredible way to experience the city.
Despite the feeling that I had that I didn't get to see much while I was there, it turns out that I ended up doing quite a bit, during my time in Amsterdam. The city was much bigger than I anticipated, but I really covered so much ground. I am glad for the opportunity to experience the culture and the atmosphere of a new place and a new country. When I travel, I never know if, or when, I will have a chance to return, so I enjoy making the most of my time there.
Have you been to Amsterdam? What places or things would you recommend to any incoming visitors?