Amsterdam — A Prelude

3 different trips of varying lengths, right from 4 hours to 7 days has given me a good insight into this amazingly vibrant city.

For all those thinking this post is gonna be about the coffee shops, red light district and other decadence that this city has come to be known for, I would suggest you head else where. In my eyes, the city is so much more than the chaos of Dam Square, the drunken debauchery at Leidseplein or the feverish squeals of teenage boys at seeing the red light district for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, those areas are not to be missed and do head out into town and hop into the nearest bar to down your glass of the Dutch Genever but then make sure to uncover the actual appeal of the city too.

So here are my top things to do in Amsterdam.

Ditch the hotels and get yourself an Apartment or a Hostel bed

This is the best advice I received a couple of years back from a friend. If you truly want to explore the city and get a feel for it, there’s no better way than to actually experience living in it. I’ve spent time in 2 different hostels, an Airbnb apartment, and a Hotel at Amsterdam in various neighborhoods and if I had one single advice to give to anyone heading to Amsterdam, this would be it. Do not, by any given means, no matter what it takes, stay in the center of town. The center is buzzing with people from all across the world, the vibe is electric, the feel amazing and the experience… well, not exactly Amsterdam. Unless you want to see 10 groups of men celebrating their bros last few days as a bachelor by dressing him up in a frock.

If you get the chance, stay just outside the center. The city is not large and is very well connected by trams and the metro. You can easily find an amazing hotel or apartment in areas like Jordaan, De Pjip or even Amsterdam Noord (a 5 min ferry ride away). Every neighborhood has something different to offer and you can choose your stay based on your interests. The iAmsterdam website gives a quick look at the various neighborhoods here

Away from the city center, the crowds disperse and narrow cobble stone streets take over.
Our Airbnb was a perfect getaway. Close to the city and cozy s hell.
The house overlooks one of the main canals in the city. Perfect way to spend an afternoon

Spend time by the canals

One of my favorite ways to chill in Amsterdam is to just sit by the canals and watch the city at work. Every canal has something different to offer, few are used extensively for transport, while some others are used by the tourist boats and some others are used just for the houseboats. None the less the canals are extremely calming and you can get to learn a lot of the cities nuances through them.

Some of my favorite places in Amsterdam are also right next to the canals. Check out Waterkant (Outdoor 1 on map) if you are looking for a great place to spend the evening with a couple of beers and some great company.

Waterkant, great beer, great music and amazing ambiance.
Friends gather on a Sunday afternoon to grab a few drinks on the boat.
Sunset over the canal

Get your green thumb on

A visit to Amsterdam is incomplete without a visit to the flower market (Experiences -4 on map). If you have spent any amount of time in the city you would already know of their obsession with plants. Every house has a myriad of blooms popping out from every window and balcony. Even the boats are usually covered with tons of potted plants and it does not stop there. Once you enter the houses, restaurants, hotels or even a pub, you are sure to find a plant on your table or next to your bedside.

I absolutely adore the country for this obsession and make it a point to spend some time at the flower market. Though a little touristy and overpriced compared to some of the other shops I have found in smaller markets and towns, it is a great place for anyone to take in the diversity that the city has to offer in terms of people, plants, culture and even food. From tiny succulents to age old Bonsais, you can find it here.

The shops in the flower market showcase their wares for tourists and passersby

If you are visiting during the spring, the market will be filled with Tulips of every single color imaginable. Trust me when I say this, it can cause a color overload and you with thank the gods that the sky is dull and dreary.

Not visiting in the spring, you can still pick up Tulip buds to take home with you. Unlike the Tulip mania period when a single bulb could sell for millions, these bulbs are quite reasonable and from what I’ve heard through friends, have a pretty decent success rate. Make sure your country allows you to carry them in though. The shopkeepers usually know the rules for most countries, just ask.

If you have time, visit Keukenhof gardens but only if you can deal with crowds and haven’t blinded yourself with all the color yet.

A double layered Tulip almost at the end of its bloom
Keukenhof is a true work of art. Every single square inch of the garden is meticulously landscaped and maintained.

The garden is open to visitors only during the Tulip festival which lasts a couple of months and the team takes an entire year to landscape and maintain the gardens for this showing. You will be amazed by the variety of Tulips and other flowers showcased here. Be sure to get there early to avoid the crowds and carry some food, the stores there can be a bit pricey.

If you are lucky and visit at the right time, the tulip fields close to Keukenhof are supposed to be breathtaking. We were ready to get away from the crowds and the overdose of beauty and therefore decided to skip out on the fields that were almost bare by the time we got there.

A young boy plays amongst the tulips

Get some great grub

Amsterdam is filled with great choices for food. Being a tourist hotspot you can find every type of food and drink that you would want. Here’s a quick list of Do’s and Don’t that I would suggest.

  1. DON’T get fooled into eating at an Argentinian steakhouse. No matter how awesome it looks and the great offers they are running. you are going to feel miserable for wasting a perfectly good dinner on sub standard meat served and cooked by people who don’t even try to sound or act remotely Argentinian or even south American.
  2. DO try some Stroopwaffle. If possible, at the original stroopwafel food truck at Albert Cuypmarkt. I prefer it without the chocolate
  3. DO try some Harring. Ok, this one is dicey. Harring is a fish eaten raw with or without onions and pickles. No, it does not taste great, but it’s worth a try.
  4. DO get a small bag of fries at Mannekin Pis. Remember I said “small” and don’t get greedy, you will regret it when you have been carrying a bag of fries around with you for over an hour and never feel like eating fries again.. well… maybe just a little. :P (Mayo is the way to go with fries.. not Ketchup)
  5. DON’T eat near Dam Square, Rembrandtplein or any other place filled with tourists unless you are wasted and need a quick Doner or crepe. Let’s be honest, that’s pretty much what you will be doing.
  6. DO try some of these:
  7. Bitterballen — Meatballs served with mustard.
  8. Kibbeling — The Dutch and in my opinion, the right way of making fish and chips
  9. Cheese
  10. Crepes and Waffles at the hundreds of outlets across the city
Bakhuys Amsterdam (Food — 5 on map) has some great breakfast to offer.
Grab some Kibbeling and your beer of choice and make a picnic out of it in one of the many parks in the city.
Original Stroopwafels at Albert Cuypmarkt are to die for.

Check my recommendations for places to eat on the map.

Enjoy the Beauty of the city

The city is filled with amazing architecture, beautiful bridges, and stunning museums. Keep your eyes open, you will be amazed by what the city has to offer. A stroll through the city will take you past some of the prettiest sights you would have seen in ages.

The sun sets over canals outside Amsterdam Centraal
The passage way under the Rijksmuseum leads you into the grounds of Museumplein
Reflections have always fascinated me. The national opera has free rehearsals that you can watch every tuesday
Bridges, reflections, and great weather. What else do you need?
Amsterdam reflections by Lenold Vaz on 500px.com

Amsterdam has quickly become one of my favorite places to visit due to the huge variety of experiences it offers. This post is far from complete and just a quick look at the city. Hopefully to be followed up with more.

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Originally published at Lenscape.