It didn’t take long for me to realize that I loved Amsterdam. I had seen pictures of the city before, but when we exited the train station and I caught my first glimpse of the canals, a cheesy grin bombarded my face and never left because it was immediately so much better than I had ever imagined.
We arrived early that morning and the streets were still relatively quiet as we wandered searching for our hostel. We passed a group of men standing outside of a bar–it’s never too early in Amsterdam (or Spain). They had long scruffy hair and gray beards to match. Silver chains hung from their black leather. Heads, arms, everything covered in tattoos. It was hard not to stare, if I’m being honest… Mostly because they didn’t have Harley Davidson motorcycles parked next to them, rather, these intimidating, buff men had bicycles that were made to look like Harleys. I was dying for a photo, but in fear of getting my ass kicked, I took a mental photograph and promised to document the sight here so I would never forget that comical and ironic scene.
Shortly after the Harley sighting, we found the nearly naked ladies flirting from behind glass doors as we crossed through what was obviously the Red Light District. I had also heard about these promiscuous prostitutes, but this area was quite staggering to see in person. I also don’t have photos of them, because, well, I fear those gals more than the biker dudes. And… gross.
Once we dropped our bags, we were finally able to explore the quirky city. And let me tell you, it’s so, so much more than drugs, prostitution, and alcohol. That stereotypical stuff is there for the stereotypical tourists who come to Amsterdam to lose their minds, not caring to discover the treasures it has to offer. There is so much allure and charm and history that run through those canals and I’m thrilled to reminisce on some of my personal Amsterdam highlights!
I love to get off the beaten path when I travel. I love finding quiet side streets and calm residential areas and places where I can just breathe without swatting my way through other tourists. I think this is the best way to truly get to know the personality of a place. The Jordaan district was full of cute cafes, restaurants, bars, and boutiques. I felt more composed and comfortable there because I felt I was in the presence of locals, far away from tourist tricks and traps. Everything felt authentically Dutch in this neighborhood and we returned time and time again.
Anne Frank House
What a lesson in history. This was especially interesting since we followed it with a trip to Auschwitz. Although very tiny for the amount of people it held, the Anne Frank House was much larger than I anticipated. It’s one of the most well-preserved museums I’ve ever visited, and one that held my interest throughout the entire trip–which is really saying something as I’m not much of a museum girl. It moved me, it made me think, it made me wonder, it made me emotional, and it made me question. This is not something to miss while in Amsterdam.
*Tip: If you want to visit the Anne Frank House, book your tickets in advance online (here) to avoid waiting for hours in queues.
The Anne Frank House
1016 GV Amsterdam, Netherlands
Through traveling, I’ve learned so much about myself. Most recently, I’ve learned that I am quite fond of architecture and finding the tiny details that can accompany it–especially in centuries old parts of Europe. Amsterdam’s canal houses had me drooling. As we walked at night, I loved peering into the wide open windows, catching a glimpse of Dutch life from the interior. I also didn’t realize that in most cases, the house are so skinny that the entire building belongs to one family. Each home was full of character, leaning slightly to the left or majorly to the right with little embellishments or large shutters.
Since we were there right before Christmas, the days were short and the nights were long. And although this cut out a great chunk of sightseeing time, I couldn’t help but look forward to catching the sleepy winter sun sink over the canals. Plus, in the hour or so before the sunset, the light was magical–a photographers dream.
If I had to pick one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would definitely be cheese. So you could imagine my outrageous excitement when I heard about Amsterdam’s Cheese Museum. Get this… FREE entry. UNLIMITED samples. NO pressure to purchase a thing. That’s all you need to know. Now, GO and prepare to roll yourself like a wheel of cheese out of the store and back to your hostel because this free and cheesy meal just covered dinner.
The Cheese Museum
1015 EA Amsterdam, Netherlands
Across the canal from the Anne Frank house in the Jordaan district.
Appel tart (apple pie) is an age-old Dutch tradition, and a delicious one at that. If you want to find the best in Amsterdam, try out Winkels located on a corner in the Jordaan district. The portions are mighty and the cream is heavy and for this non-apple loving girl, I couldn’t help but drool a little with every bite. Although crowded for good reason, it’s the perfect place to stop for an afternoon pie and mint tea.
1015 NA Amsterdam, Netherlands
I really admire how biking is such a lifestyle in Amsterdam. We saw bikes in every form (remember the Harleys?). We saw plenty of moms with a baby riding in back and a toddler plopped comfortably up front. We passed content dogs hanging out in their master’s baskets. We saw old bikes, and new bikes. Bikes equipped for transporting heavy material. Bikes equipped for carrying a grocery load. Bikes that hold your wine bottle. There are even massive parking garages for bicycles. For everything you can do with a car, Amsterdam has a way to do it with a bike and I think that’s really, really cool.
Fun fact: Amsterdam’s police pull about 18,000 bikes from the canals every year.
If you’re ever in Amsterdam, smoke your weed, drink your beer, make friends with the naked ladies… do the typically touristic things if you must, but I challenge you to get off the beaten path and seek out these little details that can be so easily left behind.
For some more off-the-beaten-path suggestions, check out Netherlands Tourism’s Ultimate Top 50 list of things to do in Amsterdam!