Goody Two Shoes in Amsterdam

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.


Kuekenhof Gardens
Bulb Fields, Lisse


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.


Honorable mentions:

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!



A Walk in Bruges

Arriving at the train station in Bruges, you get no hint of what a storybook city you’re about to enter.  The station is small and is packed with day-trippers (including us) from all over the Low Countries and beyond. My father and I were visiting from Amsterdam and took three different trains that morning just to get here and we were eager to breathe some fresh air and stretch our legs.  Following the pack from the station, we began to get our first glimpses of a city that can best be described as stunning.  After just a few minutes of walking, narrow cobblestone streets lead towards the city center and the Grote Market (or Market Square) where shops, architecture, and history all combine to make what has to be one of Europe’s most charming small cities.


Along the way to the city center are beautiful church towers that loom large over the low lying buildings and shops of this medieval city.  Every step you take into Bruges, the sweet smells of chocolate and Belgian waffles start to assault your senses, especially if you’re hungry after the long train ride and the walk that follows. More on waffles after lunch.

The Belfry of Bruges has to be considered the signature landmark of the city.  This tower was featured prominently in the movie “In Bruges” where Brendan Gleeson met his demise. I desperately wanted to climb the staircase that he did to get up to what has to be the best view in Bruges.  The line for the tower was long and it took over an hour before I was allowed to start the climb up the tower through the narrow spiral staircase.   It took me nearly six minutes of climbing 366 steps to reach the top and I was rewarded with a mind blowing view of the market, the city of Bruges, and the West Flanders region of Belgium.  While at the top, a chorus of bells rang and only added to an already incredible atmosphere.


DA364FD1-5043-4793-BED0-6F5B7672CC7CAfter the climb up the tower it was time for lunch in the square. There are many options for al fresco dining, which I do whenever possible. We were able to sit outside while drinking a flight of Belgian beers and eating Flemish stew, all the while taking in the sights and sounds of this thoroughly enjoyable city.

After lunch, we toured the canals by boat, which was a very different experience than the canal tour we had done in Amsterdam just days before.  Bruges’ canals are more narrow and intimate, so touring them was more up close and personal.


235BF0ED-6D55-4677-B6DD-649C889734F0Before heading back to the train, it was of utmost importance to us to have a Belgian waffle…in Belgium.  The signature Belgian dessert is available all over the city and I don’t believe that you could pick the wrong one here.  The waffles are made to order so they are fresh and you have a wide variety of toppings to choose from.  I had mine with whipped cream and caramel.  My dad had his with whipped cream, strawberries, and a drizzle of chocolate.  Pure heaven as you can see from the photo.


Souvenir requests from home mostly consisted of chocolate and there are shops everywhere.  Although I personally don’t really care much for the taste of chocolate, the sweet smells were everywhere.


My advice to someone traveling to Bruges, linger as long as you can!