Before I went, I thought Amsterdam was overrated.
When people talk about the city, they tend to talk in a slow, stoned voice about how great the pot cafe’s are. Or they’ll brag about how they partied in The Red Light District as if they personally discovered prostitution for the whole western world. Well honey, I can get pot pretty much anywhere in Canada, and the last time I hit up a brothel was, well, never.
I was disinterested to say the least.
But then I booked a bus from Brussels to Amsterdam. And well, it’s weird to say that Amsterdam is my new favorite city, because if you know me, you know that San Francisco is my all time favorite city. And yet in some ways Amsterdam is everything I wish San Fran was, but then again I left my heart in SAN FRANCISCO and… *cue identity crisis*.
I was wrong guys, I was so wrong. And my newfound love affair has nothing to do with the aforementioned stereotypes, go figure.
So what is there to even say about Amsterdam that hasn’t been said a million times before? Amsterdam is a testament to the perfect mix of the old and new; it is a city with incredible history and a vibrant modern scene. Its streets are bustling with liberal young minds riding the ever environmentally friendly pedal bike, its museums are full of lessons in human rights, and its party scene definitely deserves the legendary title it has garnered.
In a city where every single turn down a side street is sure to deliver in either charm or curiosity, “i’m bored” is not a phrase you hear too often.
Because of my sheer ignorance, I had no real expectations for Amsterdam. I booked my bus ticket and hostel stay just a few days prior, and the extent of my planning included tidbits I remembered from a conversation I had with a Dutch busker named Chris I met the month prior. Everything I did in Amsterdam I learned about on the spot, and more than that, I learned what not to do.
So, without much further ado, here’s everything I learned to not do in Amsterdam:
For digs, don’t stay downtown
During my time in Amsterdam, I stayed in ClinkNOORD Hostel.
A multi-level hostel set in a huge 1920’s brick building in Amsterdam Noord, ClinkNOORD is one of the highest rated hostels in Amsterdam. While not downtown, the location offers a quiet oasis from the jam-packed downtown of central Amsterdam, which means less dough out of your pocket. Plus, at just a ten minute free ferry ride across the Ij river from Amsterdam Centraal Station, its convenience factor was prime. I have to say, starting and ending every day with that ferry ride is something I could get used to.
Don’t try the pot pops
When in Rome, right? Given that one of my only preconceptions of Amsterdam was that it was a marijuana free-for-all, I decided to indulge in the simplest way possible.
When you walk into pretty much any convenience store in Amsterdam, you’ll find these bright green lollipops wrapped in marijuana-leaf plastic. I was in such a store in the super-cool district of Jordaan buying post-cards when I first noticed them, and I thought “what’s another euro for a lollipop”?
All I can say is… don’t try these. I repeat. Don’t try these. Unless you like a super nasty-flavoured ball of corn syrup with absolutely no THC of course. They make them for the naive tourists, and I made myself easy prey.
Don’t you dare rent a car
It’s said that bike-riding Amsterdam locals like to play a game with pedestrian tourists – 10 points if they just nick a tourist, 15 if they bump them, and 20 if they totally knock them over. That’s right, in a city totally overloaded by tourism, the locals aren’t too friendly to tourists doddling in the bike lane.
And in a city of 5 bazillion bicycles, I was looking both ways 15 times before I deemed it safe to cross any intersection.
Even further, Amsterdamians (if that’s a term) hate cars. Well maybe hate is a strong word, but the original Amsterdam architects definitely did not construct a city while predicting the advent of auto’s. Not only are the streets of downtown Amsterdam not built for them, but there isn’t exactly easy to find street parking either. Do yourself a favour and walk, take the train, or rent a bike like everyone else.
Don’t skip out on a free walking tour
Actually, this point holds true for any city, but the free Sandeman tour I took in Amsterdam is one of my favorites.
Our guide’s name was Kendra, an Alaskan native who has lived in Amsterdam for the past 13 years (sidenote: there are a LOT of Americans in Amsterdam). Not only did the tour take us through the Red Light District and give us super interesting information on how it came to be, but it also gave us a lot of information on Amsterdam’s Jewish population and The Hungry Winter.
On this tour, I met some really cool fellow travellers from all over the world, and learned more from Kendra on how she moved to Amsterdam.
Don’t click your camera in the red light district
Something else I learned on my free walking tour, is to take your camera and stash it away while in the Red Light District.
For those of you who (like I was) have no idea what the Red Light District in Amsterdam is like for the daytime casual passerby, it’s a very old part of town in which scantily clad, very bored-looking, ladies are checking Facebook on their phones while sitting behind red velvet-curtained windows. How did I first know I was in The Red Light District? I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and jumped after seeing a person in a window.
The ladies run their own businesses, pay taxes, and don’t want your damn touristy phone flash going off in their face every two seconds. Kendra told us of (possibly true?) stories of tourists getting sucker-punched after doing so. So like, just don’t.
Don’t skip out on one of Amsterdam’s many museums
Another dose of information I got from my free walking tour? A rundown of the best museums in town.
I know that visiting museums is not an enticing activity for everybody, but in a city with this much history, trust me, go to at least one. While there are world-class museums in Amsterdam such as The Hermitage, The Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, and the Museum of Bags and Purses, I settled on Verzetsmuseum (The Resistance Museum.)
The Resistance Museum paints an incredible picture of what life was like in 1930’s and 1940’s Amsterdam, with particular focus on the Nazi invasion of The Netherlands from 1940 – 1945. The museum boasts photos, artifacts, videos, and voice clips from the time, as well as an entire kitchen mess hall detailing how food and food rations changed from pre-war to post-war times.
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Have you ever been to Amsterdam? Tell me your favorite do’s and don’ts in the comments!