While touching the ground from the sky, we saw a city mostly filled with super geometrical rectangular farm fields along with canals and a few buildings popping here and there. We were on our way from Istanbul to this compact nation- the Netherlands. Of course, both are European countries – but this city looked way greener from above itself. Amsterdam – the gem of Europe is full of green, history, culture, and nightlife. Probably the most historically hipster city that thrives in the contemporary world is Amsterdam.
- Reasons to visit Amsterdam.
- How many days to spend
- Getting around
- How to plan your days in Amsterdam
- Things we did in Amsterdam
- The most (in) famous – Red Light districts.
Why you should visit this city
Amsterdam is wealthier, modern yet traditional, with pinches of history and old customs. The old Dutch Baroque homes by the canals are now coffee shops selling Cannabis. The newer areas like Amsteleven (where we stayed) are full of high-rise modern buildings like a cosmopolitan city. Casinos to IT company parks, legendary artist museums, and contemporary art exhibitions – there is everything in Amsterdam except the beaches. The green parks for soaking in the sun, cafe culture to catch up with friends, Casinos to test your fortune, beers to burn that sadness after losing money in the Casino, public Square to “People watch”, Sunday markets selling almost everything – Amsterdam must be on your bucket list when you travel to the west.
How many days to spend here
On weekends, Dam square is the murderer of your time- You just stand there and watch the street performers and people for hours together.
We stayed in Amsterdam for four days and five nights. With day trips to Belgium, Zaanse Schans and Giethoorn, essentially we spent two days exploring Amsterdam. Honest truth – Two days in Amsterdam flies in two minutes! So if you are on a hopping trip between Central European cities, you can cover some touristy places in two days. However, suppose you really want to see things and relax in a park and to feel the city, you will need a minimum of four days exclusively to Amsterdam.
If it is your first time in Europe, Amsterdam is the best place to sync with European culture. So you will spend at least a day wondering, ” Oh wow, cycles everywhere. Cafe scenes are so brilliant. Trams are so cheap. The streets are spotless; the market is so full of life” Hence, keep a day wondering about anything and everything and the next three days exploring the city after calming your over-excitement down.
The canals with cafes are more addictive than the Cannabis. On a sunny day, you may never want to move your butts off the bench near the canals.
Casinos are suckers – your time and money both! Very likely, you lose track of time and forget to exit the place – (We loved spending every second there, though). We had an elaborate plan of seeing many things in Amsterdam. We spent almost an hour at the tourist information, shocked by how details were given to the tourists – Everything in Amsterdam takes your time, including their traffic, unless you are on a tram or cycling.
Getting around Amsterdam
The most famous Amsterdam pictures you see are historic homes by the canal side with hundreds of cycles parked in front of them! So it is quite obvious that cycling is the cheapest and best way to go around Amsterdam. However, if your destination is far and you don’t want to go cycling, trams are the next best choice. Check here to know various card options available to purchase based on your plan to use public transport.
Let us say the area you are going to is far and not connected by tram or Metro, book an Uber. Remember not to use your own/rented car to travel in the city. Renting a car in Amsterdam is great for inter-city commuting only. Self-driven cars must be your last resort, as finding a parking spot in the city is a Herculean task.
Hiring a bike is simple – You find many bike rentals near Amsterdam Central, Dam square and other famous tourist areas. You have to pay a refundable deposit, and the minimum duration is 3hr usually. Suppose you are in Amsterdam for more than a day; hire a bike for days. The cost ranges from 8 to 10 Euros per day depending on what kind of bicycle you choose. OV fiets and Bim bim bikes are famous among cyclers here.
We both find walking to be the best way to feel a place anywhere and everywhere. You see the local life happening more when you stroll. Missing the route, asking for directions with locals – sudden exhaustion after a 5km walk – sitting in a random cafe where locals sit – This is the best way to explore any city, and so is Amsterdam. If it rains, you got trams to save you if you are exploring the city by walking.
How to plan your days in Amsterdam
We believe a bit of homework before landing in a new place is always needed. For example, if you are in Amsterdam for just two days, you need to know what you like out of the Zillion things of Amsterdam -What is that you want to experience?
Is it the weed culture or the international lifestyle? Do you want to see the historic town or the agricultural part of the nearby towns? Is it just exploring different neighbourhoods to understand the vibe of the city? Are museums your kind of place or the day trip?
Unless you know what do you want – the fast-moving city may confuse you. This city tied to water amuses you at every corner. It is sure to make you forget what you wanted to do and holds you back randomly at some spots. We absolutely had no idea of what we wanted as we did zero homework. We had our buddy Keerthi who is living in Amsterdam since 2015, take us around. So that one day, when we went out by ourselves without him, we were clueless. Clueless and getting lost is nice when you have plenty of days in a city, not on your short trip of two days.
Visit the tourist information centre near Amsterdam Central if it is your first time in Amsterdam. It has all the information that you should know to travel cheap in the city. Then sort out and pick. The information centre is so detailed that spending an hour here can enlighten you with many things.
Why are Dutch buildings narrow and tall? Because the Dutch citizens used to be taxed based on the width of the house! Lesser the width, the less tax to pay.
How do they maintain the canals and waterways? Canals get refilled with fresh water once in three weeks. So they do maintain it in a very scientific way.
There are many free things available for tourists – like walking tours. Guided walking tours for an hour or two are the best way to know a new city. Grab a brochure so that you are aware of museum timings and boat ride timings. The super touristy things like “Madam Tussauds” museums are always crowded. We saw Beyonce (wax statue) from outside and a herd waiting in line to click a picture with her inside – we just moved ahead to explore the street scenes.
Basically, know what you want and what you like. Then, utilise free stuff, take either a beer or coffee break often and absorb every moment in this beautiful city either cycling or by walking.
Top things to do in Amsterdam
- Dam Square
- Artplein Spui – Sunday markets
- Explore coffee shops
- Take a boat ride in the canal
- Shop for cosmetics
- Loose/win some money in Casino
- Walk – coffee-cheese- walk-beer-walk
- Make day trips
Then there are plenty of museums – I regret missing Van Gogh’s and a crazy human anatomy museum called “Body Worlds.” I wanted to explore a few modern agricultural farms also where they do vertical farming. Saying it again – Two days is too little for Amsterdam unless you are a tourist hopping on/off on several cities to tick that off the list.
The heart of Amsterdam city is Dam square. It is a broad boulevard that got the Royal Palace of Amsterdam on one side and the National Monument. The beauty of this place doesn’t lie in what surrounds it but in how people use it. The place is so lively that it is famous among local Dutches to protest and wear costumes to make money on weekends. In the morning, when we went, the place was filled with only tourists admiring the palace. Then, slowly, a few locals came with their costumes. A few minutes later, Jack Sparrow appeared. Behind Jack Sparrow, Star war villains appeared. Besides the villain, Yoda-wearing a yellow blazer sat on a thin stick. Next, there came a lady dressed as a witch in black, entertaining kids with soap bubbles.
Small bands were playing lively music. A group of Chinese demonstrating the Chinese exercise” Falun Dafa. a few meters away from the music band. Different groups of youngsters came laughing and screaming from the side alleys – That was the Bachelor Party crowd! It is super fun to watch these bachelor party gangs. The groom was made to wear a costume that looks like a Condom and roam everywhere. The gang was so cheerful and happy, making the groom do some crazy tasks. You want some energy and a positive vibe ?- Go to Dam square. There is never a dull moment in Dam square.
Easily you can spend three hours without even realising how the time flew. Dam Square connects to all the major roads. Amsterdam Central, Sunday markets, canal rides, coffee shops, red-light district, Shopping arcades, and Oude Kerk (Amsterdam’s oldest building) are within 10km walking distance. If you love to witness the grandness of Dutch royals, the place is open to visitors except during a few Royal events.
Artplein Spui – Sunday markets
The narrow road by that H&M building took us to another narrower street with a lesser crowd.
No fancy shops were selling expensive things here. Instead, it was all small stalls with a fabric roof over the head fixed with four poles around. This was another version of Istanbul Grand Bazaar on an open street. The canvas paintings by local artists were similar to those of Turkish lamps – colourful and detailed. The ceramic wares were more artsy and contemporary than ever before. It was the place where local artists come on Sundays to sell their works! It was magical to see each thing. Most artists request you not to click pictures – It is their hard work that shouldn’t be copied from some random folks. So you buy and then do whatever you want.
After a few metres of the walk, these artsy stalls vanished. It was more of daily household stuff – cheaper clothes, bread, Clogs, cheese and Tulips. The only place in Netherland where we saw many Tulips together was at a shop in Artplein Spui. A must-visit place in Amsterdam to see the unpolished yet sophisticated street markets where locals come to shop for their daily needs.
Explore coffee shops
Oh yes! Whether Dutches like it or not, most tourists associate Amsterdam with Cannabis and Weed. But, when you aren’t a smoker or don’t want to try stuff, you can’t really see how this world of drug intoxication works. Amsterdam’s De Wallen street is the place to explore this part of the world with the coffee shops selling Cannabis. But, wondering how it is legal? Read our post” Amsterdam and Drugs” to know more.
Take a boat ride in the canal
We chose to see the boats cruising instead of taking a ride in one – They are super pricey.
Amsterdam grew around its canals, taming of the Amstel River. These canals are incredibly beautiful, with historic narrow old buildings and trees on either side. The cycling lane, hipster cafes and the arched bridges at intervals connecting two sides of the canals add more beauty to it. There’s nothing like seeing the city from a boat if you are ready to spend. It cost around 20 Euros (1600 INR each) for an hour for a canal cruise with almost thirty people in the boat! If you want to see the city from open water, you must hire a private boat or DIY(you should know how to navigate a boat first), which are even more pocket breakers.
Most rides leave from the Piers opposite Central station. So if you are ready to spend – This is absolute fun.
THE PRIVATE BOATS LET YOU STOP AT THESE KINDS OF FLOATING RESTAURANTS
Shop for cosmetics
Brands like Mac, Clinique, and Lancome are costlier in India than in most Central European countries. Plus, the new brand” The RItuals “, born in Amsterdam, was a new addition to India’s wish list in 2018. With this wishlist and my own wish list, we headed to Leidsestraat street.
Mac and Sephora were new to India in 2018. We do consider Mac and Clinique brand superior over the usual brands like Lakme, Maybelline and Loreal. So Mac is meant for those with more money. But when I saw the Mac shop at a junction in Leidsestraat street, it was like any other cheap shop. There was nothing to accentuate the brand. When you see a mall in India, the MAC showrooms highlight extremely good lighting and interiors! Mac in Amsterdam was like buying Lakme from Health and Glow shops in India.
If you want something unique -made in the Netherlands, go for The Rituals brand. Their Bathroom products are excellent – in aroma and nourishment both. I am kind of addicted to Rituals, and I make our buddy Keerthi get it for us every time he comes to India.
Loose/win some money in Casino
When a city is famous for parties and nightlife, Casinos are an essential part of it. Though it is bad to go gambling, it is a great fun time, knowing the limits and drawing boundaries on your spending. There are more than ten casinos in Amsterdam. The one where we went was Holland Casino. An interesting thing here is – When you enter, you will use your credit cards to swipe. If the casino management finds out that the same card is being used continuously over days, they call you! They call you to check why you are wasting so much money on gambling and advise you not to go on gambling that often!
Walk – coffee-cheese- walk-beer-walk
AMSTELVEEN NEIGHBORHOOD -The thing we enjoyed most in Amsterdam is walking. Whether it is the Amsteleven where Keerthi lives or that old residential area in Red District – We loved walking. Amstelveen got lots of open green spaces, wider streets, and houses with gardens. It is a suburb, so you hardly see any tourists here. Cheap cafes and supermarkets are always a five minutes walk to have some Cappucino with cheese crisps.
Keerthi and Ashrith discussing how terribly we lost money at Casino the previous day
NEIGHBOURHOOD NEXT TO DEWALLEN STREETS -When you explore the red-light districts, take a detour from De Wallen street to get away from the tourist crowd. These old residential areas are very calm, elegant, and a place to sit by the canal to have a nice break from walking. Needless to say, the city centre is close so are the cafes. For me, these perpendicular and parallel streets are nicer than the De Wallen streets.
Make day trips
Amsterdam is such a beautiful city that an hour or two-hour drive can easily take you to the countryside or a town less popular among tourists. Whenever you need a break from the city, the farmhouses and Tulip gardens( from March-April) are easily accessible by train or car – even by cycling! Here are a few options for your day trips from Amsterdam.
- Brussels and Bruges If you want to go outside the Netherlands, these cities are just 3hr drive.
- Giethoorn – the Venice of the Netherlands
- Zaanse Schans – Tulip gardens and windmills. During the non-Tulip season, this is still a great place to witness Dutch clog making and windmills used for practical purposes even today.
- Rotterdam – the city of universities, is famous for its modern architecture and nightlife by the harbourside.
- Assen & Hoofddorp – Farmhouse and nature
- Haarlem – Medival town
- Volendam – Village by the backwaters.
The most talked – Red Light District.
Welcome to the world of lust and sex! -There is one similarity between Dam square and the Red Light District. You can go on watching people and the happenings in the Square. While the latter one is more of gawking and hot+happening.
You may have seen the walking streets of Pattaya and Phuket, but the Red Light district is nowhere comparable to those except all of those who sell sex. The difference is, men/women, don’t stand on the streets to seduce you. There is no massage either. Instead, they stand behind a door in a red-lit room.
If you go here in the mornings and early evenings – the street is like any other street in Amsterdam. You feel as if you are talking about a wall in a historic area. Indeed, these typically Dutch narrow tall buildings belong to the 14th century. By 8 PM, the street gets into action. Slowly window by window gets lit. By 11 PM, the street is fully live, with women standing behind all 300 windows. The girls stand behind a window that is highlighted by a neon red light. There will be no neon light glowing and no hot girl in cosplay with her sexy moves. Recently in 2019, men prostitutes also joined the window Business in RLD.
Why is it legal
Like how the Dutch believe in acceptance and tolerance regarding drugs, prostitution works the same way. Instead of hiding and criminalising it, Dutches embrace it since 2000 legally. So the sex workers here are taxpayers too!
How safe is it to be a tourist here – Though this area was notorious many years ago, now RLD is one of the safest areas in Amsterdam. The sex workers and visitors – both are safe because there are hundreds of policemen dressed in Civilian dress. The bouncers hired by the sex workers keep an eye on every person who talks to the girls through the window without making it evident- As a curious tourist, you won’t notice that you are being watched by police and bouncers.
It was three of us roaming and observing the area at night; we faced no issue. But once the peak hour 12 AM onwards, the drunkards and dopers fill the area. So it is better to be in a small group than to explore it solo after 11 PM.
Other than seeing the girls behind the red windows, you can see lot more things here-. Live Sex shows, Peep shows, video booths, and theatres are exhibiting various sex-related shows. Oh my god, this world is way beyond your imagination. Though you aren’t interested in seeing any of these shows, it is an interesting side of Amsterdam to notice. You can stand outside a building, and read its signboards, menus and description to understand what happens inside. Seeing and reading the display itself gives you an idea of what is inside.
The streets are filled with a sex toy shops. Whether you want to buy something or not, it is fascinating to know how people get so creative regarding sex. There is nothing to be shy or hesitant about to check out the sex shops – The shop workers behave nicely like any worker in other shops.
Things you should know before going to RLD
- There are even some crazy museums – The marijuana museum, the Erotica museum for those who don’t want to enter inside a coffee shop.
- Anyone curious can visit the area. We saw a group of older people led by a guide explaining how things work here at 8 PM. Women tourists were checking out the scene too.
- Don’t click pictures of women/men behind the window. It is strictly prohibited. The women hire bouncers to counteract those who trouble the women. When you get noticed while clicking photos, things can get messy. If you want to hire their service, tap on the window, and talk to them. They can’t hear you, but they will signal you their rates so that you can get in if it is under your budget.
- You can actually stand watching them for a while – It sounds inhuman, but you can’t help it. The girls behind the window call everyone and wave at anyone who stands by their window. I am sure, by our faces they can recognise if we are window shopping or up to some action.
- Don’t visit RLD first before you see anything else in Amsterdam. RLD is just a part of this town. You may have a wrong impression of Amsterdam.
I am sure of – If I get Amsterdam airport as a layover place, surely I will convert it into a three-day Amsterdam vacation to explore what I haven’t! So which is your favourite thing to do in Amsterdam? Let us know in the comment section below.