Amsterdam is a unique and beautiful fusion of the weird and the wonderful.
It’s a melting pot of history, architecture and creativity, mixed with a heady dose of cannabis; all bubbling away under the hot glare of the red light.
It’s possibly one of the few cities in the world where you can view the artworks of Van Gogh whilst carrying a giant, inflatable penis and not raise so much as an eyebrow.
Highbrow, lowbrow, almost everything you could want is at your fingertips and everything is within reasonable walking distance.
My boyfriend and I visited for two nights to celebrate his birthday. With just a couple of days to explore the city, we wanted to tick a few of the tourist boxes. We stayed at the Radisson Blu on Rusland which I would fully recommend. It’s a great central location from which to explore and the service was fantastic.
Red Light District:
Free – though optional extras are available
Location – between Dam Square and China Town
It has to be done. Wander along the canal to see the Erotic Museum, live sex shows, people doing dubious things with bananas as an endless stream of semi-naked women in glass cages, smoking, texting and looking bored.
It’s a sight not to be missed and if you don’t want to go after dark, fear not, they are still there in broad daylight, seven days a week.
The best part is spotting the men sheepishly approaching the windows to ask for the cost before scuttling inside. Priceless.
But, be warned: Don’t attempt to innocently, or otherwise, photograph any part of the district. One of the ‘ladies on sale’ came hurtling out into the street – in a thong and heels – screaming a series of Class A profanities at the top of her voice. The abuse was directed at my boyfriend who had innocently taken a photo of a horse and carriage by the canal. And, yes, I can verify that there was a horse!
It was an innocent scenario but she was ready to pursue and kill.
Location – hard to miss
If you enjoy a latte and a toke, Amsterdam is the place to be. Coffee Shops, not to be confused with Starbucks, are dotted all over the city and can be identified by the thick fog of smoke blowing out of the doorways. Buy hash cookies and cakes, ready-rolled reefers and green-out in the comfort of a beanbag. If that’s your kind of thing.
Even if it’s not your kind of thing you can expect to experience a large herbal high each time you pass one of the doorways – gratis!
15 Euro per adult
Location – Stadhouderskade 30
We picked the Blue Boat Company after reading great reviews on Trip Advisor. The canal cruise lasts 75 minutes and comes with audio so you can learn about the city as you travel around the canals and through the river Amstel.
The audio commentary relates the story of Nell and her husband Ron who have lived in Amsterdam for over 60 years. They will tell you that there are around 600,000 bicycles, 3000 house-boats and 1700 bridges in the city.
You will cruise around the museum quarter and past the house where Anne Frank and her family were in hiding and there is plenty of time to take photographs as you pass.
The boat winds its way along the narrow canals and under the series of bridges, lined with bicycles. The houses at each side are typically five stories high and were built that way for a reason. Houses used to be taxed according to the width but there was no limit on how high you could build. There are some houses thought to be no more than 1.5 metres across.
It’s a great way to cover the city, get your bearings and learn a bit of the history in a fun way.
Doing a museum without doing a museum:
The Heineken Experience
18 Euro per adult
Location – Stadhouderskade 78
I know how bad it sounds out loud but I just don’t like museums. After five minutes of carrying my coat around and feigning interest in rambling explanations about things in glass cabinets, I just can’t contain the yawning and slope off in search of the cafe.
The Heineken Experience, on the other hand…and fitting albeit loosely into the ‘musuem -esque’ category, is a goer.
Yes, you can learn about hops and things but you get three, half pints included and there are a number of interactive experiences to try. Play games, record videos and send email photo messages to your friends. There is also a bar where you can pull your own pint and personalise and print your own Heineken bottle label to take home.
You can easily spend a couple of hours trying all the interactive games and lounging in the bar with a glass or three of Heineken extra cold. We also received a souvenir, limited edition glass as part of the entry cost.
*If you prefer real museums, try this page
Top of the Science Centre Nemo
Location – Oosterdok 2 – A two minute walk, east of Central Station
Go around the back of the Nemo building and take the outside stairs leading all the way up to the top of the roof for stunning views across the water and over the city. There’s a cafe at the top where you can buy a self-heating can of hot chocolate! Lovely panoramic viewing spot and a nice place to stand and watch the sun going down.
If you want to dine with a 360 degree view of the city, Blue cafe and bar is located on the third floor of the Kalvertoren shopping centre and serves a nice breakfast.
We caught the train from Schiphol airport to Central station for €4.50 per person. It’s a 15 minute journey and the trains leave every 10 minutes.
We covered all the main tourist areas on foot and didn’t need to use the trams at all. Most sights are within 15-20 minutes of Dam Square.
Beware of the transport around you as you wander; cyclists plough through the pedestrian crossings whether it’s green or not, you need eyes in the back of your head to see the trams coming and what you think is a footpath is commonly an unmarked lane for motorcycles. You really need to take care because, transport-wise, it’s a fast paced city where the sound of a yelping tourist is commonplace.
We found prices to be fairly similar to the UK. A can of coke was around €3 Euro in a bar, a glass of wine was €3-5 and a bottle of beer around €3.50. Prices were higher in the hotel as you would expect.
Dining out we enjoyed a meal for two with alcohol and a dessert for around €40. It was more steak-house and ‘all you can eat’ ribs than haute cuisine but generally reasonable prices and good service. You’ll find a large variety of restaurants around Dam Square and close to Central station but expect waiters to be loitering and ready to pounce as soon as they spot you browsing the menu outside.
Rembrandt Square is a nice place to sit in one of the cafes and watch the world go by. Most have outside heating and blankets so you can enjoy the view in comfort.
Fantastic city, serving all needs at all hours. Well worth a visit at any time of year.
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