An Amateur’s Guide to Amsterdam
When you think of Europe, what are some of the first cities you think of? London? Paris? Amsterdam is a city only thought of for group parties and lads holidays. But it’s not until you see do you realise it’s not about the sex and the drugs. It’s a haven for history buffs, culture addicts and of course, the foodie. This trip was a great summer holiday retreat into the Dutch countryside that reminded me of family holidays. We would always stay outside of a city, breathing in the culture through the hidden country and trying to find places tourists won’t go. Amsterdam, while definitely drawing us in with everything it has, also let us go to appreciate the Dutch summer in a hostel straight out of a backpacker’s dream. This is an Amateur’s Guide to Amsterdam.
Schipol Airport is, without a doubt, one of the biggest airports out there. With long haul and connecting flights taking you everywhere and anywhere you want to go. When you land, pick up an Amsterdam travel card that work on all forms of transport. You can buy 1-3 day passes from the ‘iamsterdam’ kiosk. You’ll need to tap in/out every time you use it. The same if you move from one mode of transport to another. Access to platforms is at arrivals with escalators and screens telling you which trains are on which platform. Trains going to Amsterdam Centraal are clearly sign posted for tourists!
As we were staying outside of Amsterdam, getting in and around was a little different for us. However, if you’re planning to stay right in the centre of the city, then you’re in luck! There are trains around every five minutes that take you straight into Amsterdam Centraal, with stops before to take you to other neighbourhoods and stations that link to metro stops. Amsterdam Centraal is the hub for European travel, and you’ll see trains leaving for Germany, Belgium, and France too.
In & Around
Normally I make a big statement about walking around and taking in a new city if you’re able to. But actually, Amsterdam’s public transport is pretty spectacular, and we ended up using it a lot throughout our trip due to where we were staying. So, there are trains, buses, the metro, and trams, all of which you can use on your Amsterdam travel card if you so wish to use one. All at least start/end at Amsterdam Centraal, so feel free to use that as your starting point. But if you have mobility issues or are just not keen on walking from one side of the city to the other, there are trams and buses around every corner which can take you to the front door of any museum.
Where to Stay
Amsterdam is so full of hostels, hotels and Airbnbs that you can take your pick and find space pretty easily. But Amsterdam is expensive, so sometimes hotels and Airbnbs are not an option. On Hollieblog, we’re very pro-hostel, but choosing a hostel in certain cities can be a little tricky. With Amsterdam’s red light district and reputation for stag and hen dos, some hostels may not be what you’re after (unless you’re a part of a stag/hen do looking to get high and lucky). Staying outside of the city may not be an option, and maybe even just staying in a neighbourhood in greater Amsterdam might be best. However, if you’ve been keeping up with my Instagram story, then you’ll know I stayed in a pretty incredible hostel that was so chill and unique.
The Lucky Lake Hostel was the first thing I knew about my trip to Amsterdam. The Hostelworld Awards (The ‘Hoscars’) had been released and Lucky Lake either won or ranked pretty high in most categories. The pictures were absolutely stunning, and the concept of staying in a caravan park only for young adults sounded cool. It’s nestled in the Dutch countryside with access to a nearby metro station via shuttle. Due to booking late, we stayed in a private camper van rather than dorms, but both private cabins and mixed and female dorms are available. Kitchen and bathroom facilities are shared, but at no point did I feel exposed or uncomfortable, and that made me feel pretty confident about staying in hostels with shared bathrooms in the future.
Things to Do
What You’re Really Here For
Amsterdam, like all cities, is bustling with life, culture, and sights. However it also has a certain reputation which I can’t ignore in my Amateur’s Guide. Amsterdam is known for it’s Red Light district and laws allowing the buying and selling of marijuana. Wow, that was formal, wasn’t it? As someone who doesn’t smoke weed or pay for the services of sex workers, being in a city that’s known for it doesn’t ruin your experience of the city.
Weed was the most prevalent thing with most stores selling novelty products (weed lollipops, ice-cream, chocolate) and coffeeshops dotted around. If you’re familiar with the smell, you will smell it a lot, as it’s openly smoked. But it’s not overwhelming, unlike the smell of cigarettes in other cities. If you are planning on going to Amsterdam and want to try marijuana, it is readily available, but also super expensive. Do your research and go to credible, certified establishments!
For prostitution, I don’t really know what to say. The best time to go to the Red Light district is at night, where the streets are full of party-goers and stag and hen dos. But, if you’re like me and don’t like big, drunk crowds but are still curious, visit during the day. You’ll still be able to see the iconic district without the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam on a Saturday night. It’s still perfectly safe, and the Red Light district is heavily monitored with police and security everywhere. I would still take the time to visit it, if not just to look at the other tourists’ faces when they see an underwear clad lady in the window.
Museums & Galleries
Of course, Amsterdam is not just about the prostitutes and the weed. It’s so much more than that. Art is a massive thing in Amsterdam, with a whole district dedicated to museums, galleries, and landmarks.
The most obvious place is Anne Frank’s House, which we unfortunately didn’t get into. It’s meant to be so eye-opening and incredible, and even taking pictures outside was a pretty what the hell? moment. If you do plan on going inside, you can now only buy tickets online. 80% of tickets are released two months in advance, with 20% released on the day. I wouldn’t risk it, like we did. Go ahead and book them when they become available a couple of months before.
Tickets we did manage to get were for the Van Gogh Museum. Nestled just opposite Rijksmuseum, the museum is a celebration of Van Gogh and his life as an artist struggling with depression. It’s a moving collection, with some of his most famous paintings and works that I’d never seen before all presented there. There are also works by Monet and Rembrandt, so if you’re at all interested in art and art history, I would highly recommend it.
So a lot of what I did next weren’t exactly attractions, but more places I would recommend just for fun. If you want peace and quiet but still get a great view of the city, I would visit Amsterdam Library. When we visited, the part that acted as a viewing deck was closed. But on the almost top floor were sofas where you could look out over the river while students quietly worked around you. There were also plug sockets to charge our phones before our journey to the airport.
Of course, a big thing for me when visiting new places are the bookshops. We ended up visiting a couple, but the one that awed me the most was The American Book Center. A huge two-storey store with a spiral staircase inside. They held predominantly American editions (naturally) which was different from when I usually go to bookshops in new cities. They were, at the time, building a new cafe that overlooked the square it was sat on the corner of. So, if you want to sit by the open window and read and drink coffee surrounded by books, The American Book Center is your place!
Get Outside Amsterdam
I’ve said it a few times already, but Amsterdam is expensive. It was a bit of a shock coming from Prague where I never spent more than £10 a time. But staying outside of Amsterdam was a nice little change I made to our trips that usually sees us sleeping right in the city centre. Amsterdam, unlike other cities, doesn’t have much of a sprawl. Sure, it has commuter towns with great transport links, but to get out of the bustling city is pretty easy. There aren’t massive neighbourhoods that spread far and wide (like places such as L.A. and Paris), and it took about 20 minutes on the metro before we were in the quiet and peaceful Dutch countryside.
The only other place I’ve visited in the summer is Rome. We found it difficult to physically leave the city because of it’s pull of attractions. Amsterdam was easier, and staying outside of the city in the summer meant cycling to nearby villages and eating 1 euro ice-cream. Sure, you can cycle in the city. But cycling along country roads (made for cycling) without the fear of hitting other cyclists, cars, or buses, means you can enjoy your first and last day peacefully and without worry.
I loved cycling in the countryside. I found myself wishing so badly that the U.K. had cycle lanes like the Dutch do. We also visited a nearby lake, where many Dutch people had come to sail their yachts and swim in the water. We didn’t bring swimming gear, but it is certainly something to think about if we visit again. If you’re going in season, there are also the tulip fields, where you can visit fields of flowers in bloom. Tulips are also available the floating market within the city, however read up on restrictions about bringing them home if you’re flying.
Was Amsterdam my favourite city trip? Probably not.
Amsterdam isn’t an accessible place for someone looking for a cheap trip away for the weekend. As an amateur traveller, I don’t think I even have the expertise to curate a cheap trip to Amsterdam. However, it is bursting at the seems with history and culture. It’s packed with people, food, galleries, museums, shops and cyclists. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re planning on splashing the cash or even just passing through on a short stop.
Where am I going next? Who knows! I have so many ideas about where I want to go, all still in the European bubble until I’m comfortable venturing elsewhere. Where do you want to travel next? What’s an Amateur’s Guide you’d love to read about? Let me know in the comments or on my social media below!