The way we travel is a combination of hostels, couchsurfing, workaway and friends. This means we get to experience regular life and meet locals in the places we visit as opposed to just being main stream tourists. It also means we can stretch our budget further and travel for longer!
The first things that come to mind are Red Light districts, “coffee shops” and liberality. You will find these in abundance all over the city center. Amsterdam has much more to offer than just this though. We started our first full day in the city with a “free” walking tour with Sandemans NewEurope. These tours are not actually free as you have to tip the tour guide afterwards. It does mean you can pay what you feel they deserve or you can afford, though. They are usually quite good and are a nice way to find your bearings in a new city, and pick up bit of history along the way.
Things to see/do:
The Red Light District. If you wander through it during the daylight hours it is a fairly tame area. Most of the window boxes are empty or have their curtains drawn. Basically each window is privately owned/operated by the lady inside. She will stand in the window to attract clientele. The later it gets, the busier it gets. So more of the windows will be filled and the streets will be teeming with tourists, stag parties, tour groups and curious onlookers. No photos/video are allowed in the area and apparently you will get chased down if you try. We also saw a few of the ladies pull their curtains shut if any youngsters walk past. All of them were clothed in about the same amount of clothing you would see on the average beach on a sunny day.
The Museum Quarter.
Here you can find all the major museums in the city. Our highlights were the Rijksmuseum and The Van Gogh museum. The first has a range of exhibitions from many famous artists though the ages (Rembrandt, Van Gogh etc) and covers more than 800 years of Dutch and world history. When we were there it even had a whole section on Dutch history in South Africa which was very interesting. The Van Gogh museum takes you through his whole life, his influences and his troubled end with displays of his paintings and his peers/mentors and idols. Interesting even for the non-Van Gogh fans. This area is also home to the I Amsterdam sign (in front of the Rijksmuseum). Get there early if you want a photo as it gets super crowded! There is also a nice park/square where you can hang out if the weather is good. The Anne Frank house is not in the Museum Quarter, obviously, as it is still in its original location. If you know exactly when you will be in Amsterdam books these tickets online, way in advance. They sell out quickly! If you don’t do this you have to wait in a queue, possibly for hours. From 9am to 3:30 pm you can get tickets for a certain time slot. After this you join the queue and buy a ticket at the door. If it’s too busy you won’t make it inside. We joined the queue at about 3:50pm and waited 2 hours to get inside. It was so busy you were just bustled through each room and it felt like the museum had no actual impact. Not the recommended way to do it.
Walk the streets.
Amsterdam has something for everybody. From trendy bars and cafes, hipster hangouts, street markets and buildings dating back hundreds of years. Amsterdam was also where the Dutch East India Company (VOC) started up, probably the first stock exchange/market/publicly traded company in the world. The city is, of course, also filled with canals. These are still used for boat transport, cruises, fishing (I tried this one evening from the banks/bridges) and the mooring of houseboats/cafes/bars. We love to walk around the cities making our way from landmark to landmark on foot with breaks in between to people watch and enjoy some local beverages and snacks.
Dam square, right in front of the Royal Palace, is a popular hangout spot in the center of the city. Most of the trams/busses also pass near here. You could easily spend a few hours here in good weather with a few drinks watching the goings on of the tourists and locals (pro tip – the bigger department stores usually have bathrooms if you’re desperate).
The public transport in Amsterdam is well organized and reasonably priced with single ride to 72 hour passes available. The city center is very walkable though so do a bit of research before you invest in a pass. We were in a hostel just outside the center and found that most days a single ride ticket in and out was sufficient. The other way to get around is of course cycling. Most of the roads have dedicated cycling lanes and cars/pedestrians usually give way to the cyclists.
We stayed at WOW Amsterdam. It is outside the city center but has some supermarkets and tram/bus stops nearby. Beds were comfortable and the rooms were spacious. Bathrooms were well equipped and close to the rooms, towels were provided. There was no kitchen worth speaking of. Just a small room with a bar fridge, microwave and basin. No cutlery or crockery. The breakfast was sufficient to start the day, buffet style, cold meats, bread/rolls, cereals coffee tea etc. The wifi was patchy most of the time. Can’t really complain too much as it was only 10 Euros a night for a mixed dorm.
Albert Heijn supermarkets are great. They usually have good food specials, you can get a loyalty card free, most of them also have free wifi.
The Apple store has free charging stations and wifi if you have an iPhone.
The train network is quite extensive and many places are within day trip distance from the city itself. Kayley went to Keukenhof for the morning and we both spent an afternoon in the nearby town of Harlem. Beaches are also within reach.
Google maps worked fine for the public transport. If you don’t have a sim card be sure to download the offline map before you head out and screen shot all your transport options for later in the day.
We have found apps that have offline functions to be specifically useful. What has been the most useful app you’ve downloaded for traveling?