Most people know Amsterdam for two primary reasons: legalized soft drugs like marijuana and mushrooms as well as legalized prostitution. However, drugs like marijuana are now legal in many places around the world, including in Colorado where I live, and Amsterdam’s soft drug culture is not as mutually exclusive as it once was. Amsterdam also has perhaps the most famous red light district in the world. But what if this sort of thing isn’t for you? Why would anyone come to this city if you aren’t into what it is most famous for? Well, there is so much more to this city than red lights and cafe’s (where you go to smoke). I had a great time in Amsterdam and skipped all of the things most people visit this unique city for. So here are just a few recommendations I have for someone who wants an atypical A’dam experience:
See the Tulips
I visited Amsterdam in the spring with my father with one of his bucket list items being to see the world famous tulips of Holland. Keukenhof Gardens and the bulb fields in and around the town of Lisse were the best place to see them and both places were accessible by tour bus or public transport. Both of these flowery destinations were amazing in their own right with my father preferring Kuekenhof Gardens while I liked the fields of flowers just a little more. The two vastly different was of seeing the flowers were both incredibly beautiful with the carefully sculpted gardens displaying more varieties of tulips and colors than I ever could imagine. The carpeted fields around Lisse offered a glimpse into the farming side of the business with field after field of long brilliantly colored textures, one farm after another. One uniquely Dutch way to see the fields is to rent a bike after finishing up at Keukenhof and see the fields at a slower pace than you would in a car or tour bus. To see the tulips in full bloom, you can go from about mid-March to mid-May. We went smack dab in the middle of that and chose mid-April to make sure we didn’t miss it, since the peak season can vary from year to year.
I work in bicycling crazy Boulder Colorado, at least I thought it was crazy until coming to Amsterdam. Boulder is a college town so there are always students zipping around campus and the outlying areas. The city is also big on alternative energy and transportation, adding to the college cycling mindset. I have even seen people biking to work when temperatures are below zero, Fahrenheit. Portland Oregon also has a similar mindset and cyclists there go out in some of the rainiest conditions in America. Amsterdam cyclists are on a whole other level. Cold, they bike. Need to get across town, they bike. Dressed for work in fancy clothes, they bike. They don’t bike to be seen. They aren’t rude or arrogant like many cyclists I’ve seen. It is a place that has an amazing bike culture, unrivaled anywhere in the world that I have been. At any given intersection, bikes can outnumber cars by a ratio of four to one. One of the most fun days I had in Amsterdam was cycling through the city on a rented cruiser bike and I wish that I had done it more.
Drink Some Dutch Beer
The beer in Amsterdam is famous primarily for one large brewery, Heineken. A popular tourist stop is the Heineken Experience, which is a tour of the old Heineken factory in Amsterdam, similar to the Guinness tour in Dublin. It was well worth the price of admission (~€20) and the tour was fun and very European. The only problem for me was that I really don’t like their beer and I prefer the smaller breweries like I’m used to at home. The beer that I did really like was from Brouwerij ‘t IJ, which is located close to Centraal Station and was founded in 1985. I had the IJWIT and loved it, along with an atmosphere that was both comfortable and welcoming with a mixture of locals and tourists. Bonus: there’s a windmill just outside.
Explore the Canals
Amsterdam is not a unique place in and because of its canals. Venice is more famous of course, and Bruges’ canals were cozy but Amsterdam’s canals are just plain iconic. The city is ringed by a lengthy canal system that is a mode of transportation as well as a great way for a traveler to get up close and personal with Amsterdam. One thing you will not see, however, is people ice skating to work in winter. Not sure where that rumor got started but locals assured me that it wasn’t true.
Eat Some (or a lot of) Poffertjes
Amsterdam, and Holland in general, are not yet famous for their food but I found something there that was so good that I ate it every day – poffertjes. Poffertjes are basically mini Dutch pancakes usually served with powdered sugar and was by far my favorite food in the whole of the Netherlands. I usually found them being sold by street vendors all over the city. They taste great for breakfast! They taste good for lunch! They taste good as a snack! They just taste good, everyday!
Explore Dutch History : Windmills
No journey to Amsterdam or the Netherlands can be considered complete without seeing some windmills, and they are hard to miss. These quintessentially Dutch landmarks can be seen in the city proper (including at the aforementioned Brouwerij ‘t IJ) or in many of the surrounding towns and countryside. Just outside of the city in Zaandam, and accessible via public transport, are the windmills of Zaanse Schans (eight in all). This place is very touristy but I was, after all, a tourist and didn’t mind being one. This was a fun place to get up close and personal with real windmills, with a few of them actually working, both inside and out.
Windmills at Zaanse Schans
Ride Public Transport
When I travel to cities (I do however prefer the countryside to cities), I love to use public transport whenever possible. Most cities have a tourist pass that can be paid for either by the day or for multiple days, at a discounted rate. This is usually significantly cheaper than renting a car considering that you have a rental fee, gas, and parking, not to mention the difficulty navigating and city driving. This is definitely not a good place to have a car. Amsterdam is the first place I’ve ever taken a vacation without having a rental car and it was definitely the right choice. I was able to purchase the Amsterdam and Region Travel Ticket at the iamsterdam office at Schiphol Airport, for three days for only €36.50. The pass was easy to use and took me to all of the major areas I intended to visit during my stay.
A’dam Tower – Great view of the city and a unique restaurant at the top. Take the elevator up for another uniquely Euro Dutch experience.
Museums – Although I didn’t get to visit a single museum while in Amsterdam the city is famous for them. You’ll find the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House, The Van Gogh Museum, and the Rembrandt House, just to name a few. Next time…
Ajax Football Club – Another one for next time but Ajax football fans are said to be some of the most passionate in all of Europe, so try attending a game at the Johan Cruyff Stadium if they’re in town while you are.
If you want to enjoy a great city without those other things, Amsterdam is a wonderful place to spend a vacation. I can’t wait to get back!