Venice of the North
Amsterdam is the capital and most populated city of the Netherlands (also called Holland). The city is known for its many canals and unique architecture. Amsterdam is a hugely popular tourist destination, drawing in millions of international visitors every year. This is due in part to the laws concerning cannabis. While marijuana isn’t technically legal here, it is decriminalized and is readily available at the many coffee shops around the city. Amsterdam is also known for its biking paths that web across the city, making it a favorite mode of transportation for residents. If you’re walking around, make sure that you’re on the sidewalks and not the biking paths.
Things to Do and See
Red Light District
Ok, I realize that I’m going to get the side-eye from some people for this one, but it really is something that you have to see to believe. I’m not recommending or encouraging anyone to partake in any of what the red light district has to offer (and yes it’s all legal), but it would be a shame to visit Amsterdam and not take a peek at this one of a kind experience.
As you stroll along the canals you can catch whiffs of the aromas coming from the coffee shops (that is definitely not coffee you’re smelling), watch the scantily clad women in the windows attempting to get you to come inside, and see the neon lights of strip clubs, sex shops, and live sex shows. There are even museums and tours dedicated to the illicit activities of the red light district (it can be educational too). Going through during the day and again after dark, gives the full effect.
At close to 80 acres, Keukenhof Gardens is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. Probably best known for its tulips, which are commonly associated with Amsterdam, the garden opens every year in the middle of March and closes in the middle of May. While the gardens aren’t actually located in Amsterdam, you can get there by taking a short bus ride from several train stations. Schiphol Airport and Leiden Centraal stations are probably the best bets because they have direct service to the gardens.
Take a Gondola Ride
Amsterdam is built around 31 miles (50km) of canals, so what better way to see the city than by gondola. The boat tours are great for small groups or for a romantic time with that special someone. Gondola rides offer a different view of the city that you just can’t get walking around or on a tour bus.
Visit a Museum
Amsterdam is home to more than 70 different museums. While some of these may be small, there is something to pique the interest of almost everyone. The art museums feature works from the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh. The Ann Frank House is one of the more popular attractions where you can actually walk through the attic that housed the young author and her family while they hid from the Nazis during World War II. For you beer lovers, the Heineken Experience shares the history of Amsterdam’s most famous beer along with some samples (the brewery is not actually located in Amsterdam). And then you have some of the more unique museums dedicated to everything from marijuana, sex, prostitution, and torture to name a few.
The nightlife in Amsterdam runs the gambit from small pubs to multistory super clubs. There are also some very good jazz clubs as well. Amsterdam has a few casinos throughout the city. Some are small with just a few slot machines, but there is one large casino with a very good selection of table games and slot machines. If you are looking for something a little more risqué, you can catch one of the live sex shows or themed strip clubs. The Amsterdam nightlife has something to suit everyone. The only drawback is that everything starts shutting down at around 3:00 AM. Keep that in mind if you usually like to start your nights late.
Unfortunately, I must say that I am not a fan of Dutch cuisine. With that being said, if you have to try one thing while you’re in Amsterdam, make it stroopwafels (syrup waffles). It’s two thin waffles with syrup in the middle, and they are awesome. But if Dutch food isn’t your thing, Amsterdam has plenty of international options to satisfy your appetite. The Argentinian steak houses seem to be one of the more popular options.
Hanging out in Amsterdam can be pretty pricey (why am I paying 8 euros for a Heineken when it’s brewed right down the road). But with a little savvy, you can enjoy the city without breaking the bank. Learning the tram system is probably the easiest way to cut your cost. The train system is easy to navigate, but will not always get you close to your destination. So, unless you want to pay for a taxi, the tram is your best bet.
The saving grace for Amsterdam is that from a lot of places it’s actually pretty reasonable to get there especially if you have some flexibility in your schedule. There are actually quite a few low-cost airlines that fly into Schiphol, the closest airport, from all over the world. You may have to do some searching as these fares will not always come up on a lot of travel sites.
With all of its vices, Amsterdam is generally a pretty safe place. Of course, you still have to take into account that there are a lot of inebriated tourists walking around. But for the most part, everyone is there to have a good time. Just make sure that you keep an eye out and don’t make yourself an easy target for pickpockets (Amsterdam Central is a popular area for pickpockets). For women traveling alone, try to avoid dark deserted areas and watch your drinks in nightclubs and bars. But for all tourists, the key is to pace yourself. The coffee shops and bars aren’t going anywhere, so don’t try to overindulge yourself on the first day.
Description: One of the worlds most popular tourist destinations, known for their "coffee" shops
Things to Do and See
One of the worlds most popular tourist destinations, known for their “coffee” shops
Good mix of culture and nightlife
Might not be the best place for kids