Amsterdam was never high up on my bucket list of travel destinations. I knew little of it. People ride bicycles there and smoke marijuana. Prostitution is legal. It’s a cheese lover’s paradise. Since I don’t like cheese and my days of getting high are far behind me, there was nothing there to appeal to me. I’ve never even learned to ride a bike!
So, I thought, and how wrong I was! Amsterdam is so much more than the Red-Light District, and even that part of town is absolutely charming.
Amsterdam managed to surprise me repeatedly, to the point that I dream of living there one day.
This Is What You Need To Know
The Red-Light District is NOT seedy!!
Consisting of a network of alleys, with scantily-clad prostitutes sitting behind illuminated windows, you’d be forgiven for thinking that “De Wallen” is a centre of vice. Every few metres is a sex shop. But there are also “regular” shops where you can buy strap-ons, cannabis suckers, shrooms, and much much more.
But Amsterdam’s Red Light District is not grotty or seedy for one simple reason. The Dutch are not ashamed of it.
Yes, cannabis smoking is not a guilty secret. Sex is not considered shameful. Prostitution is not seen as the domain of frustrated men taking advantage of disenfranchised women. And so you can walk the streets of the Red Light District without losing your dignity or class. Amsterdam does not trade in perversion. There is an implicit acknowledgment that sex can be a refined pleasure, and getting high can be more than just a youngster’s mischief.
The Architecture Is A Wonder
I could spend all day looking at Amsterdam’s buildings. They are at once absurd, implausible, charming, and perfectly natural. They lean against one another. Some loom out over the street. There are fat ones and thin ones and tall ones and short ones. Every single one of them has its own character, built of its colours, the shapes of its windows, how much it leans to the side, and what it contains.
I’m not a connoisseur of architecture. Usually, I don’t notice buildings for anything other than their practical purpose. But walking the streets of Amsterdam never gets boring because every structure tells a story. How to interpret that story is up to you – but even the least imaginative will start to dream.
There’s Tons Of Great Food
For cheese lovers, Amsterdam is paradise. There are shops all over dedicated to cheese and nothing else. As I previously mentioned, I don’t like cheese.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean I had nowhere to eat. On the contrary, the range of options in Amsterdam is huge. Argentinian steakhouses are popular, as is every other type of cuisine. For me, however, eating French food in the Netherlands (or vice versa) is a waste of an opportunity. You’re in the country, you should try their food.
The truth is that Dutch cuisine is typically very simple. But simplicity often breeds perfection, as is the case with some of the pricier restaurants. I highly recommend De Silveren Spiegel (as do many others according to TripAdvisor). I had an incredible 5-course meal – and none of it was overkill!
Dutch fast food is also a treat, with lots of small outlets selling chips, burgers, and the like. One of the weirdest places is called Manneken Pis. Literally, the pissing statue, complete with a logo of a pissing boy statue. Their chips are delicious despite the name.
Amsterdam has its malls and department stores, but you can, again, walk the streets and come across absolute gems. You’ll find the regular cheap European outlets – H&M, Pull&Bear, etc. – with great bargains on simple clothes. If you’re from outside Europe, these are good places to stock up on day to day casual wear.
But if you’re looking for good fashion, you’ve got to go to the Museum District. There you’ll find boutiques and designer stores, featuring international designers and their Dutch counterparts. P.C. Hoofstraat is the one street where you’ll find most of the magic.
I’m not a huge fan of museums, but if all museums were designed by the Dutch, my opinion might change.
My first experience of this was at Anne Frank House. I was raised Jewish, and the Holocaust was an integral part of my education. I read Anne Frank’s diary multiple times as a kid, and I was both excited and nervous to see the famous house.
The house is more than just a relic. Every room you enter is put into context by excerpts read from her diary, interviews with friends and relatives, and stories about what happened there. It keeps you engaged while making you feel the reality of what happened. It was an emotional experience due to a sensitivity that’s lacking from many museums.
The Van Gogh museum was another highlight. I love his work, but the museum provided far more than just his paintings. They contextualised it with artworks of the legends he learned from, and the place is structured to take you through his progress as an artist.
There are so many more museums to talk of, including Banksy and Salvador Dali exhibits, which are worth it even to those unfamiliar with the artists. The Rijksmuseum is also a must-see – but with so many options, choose what most appeals to you or you’ll burn out.
Where Should You Stay?
There’s no easy answer to this, as there are many options around the centre. Everything will be in walking distance, but you can take a quick tram trip if you feel like resting your feet.
Rent A Bike
I wish I had learned to ride a bike before visiting Amsterdam. The streets, including street lights, signage, and road rules, are designed to accommodate bikes – more so than cars. It’s a great way to get around. If you’re walking, be careful. It’s easy to forget that bikes are traffic there, and wander out into a narrow street.
Ultimately, Amsterdam is perfect for exploring, with no destination necessary. You’ll find great food options, interesting museums, shopping districts, etc. with no trouble at all. There’s no need to overthink it, as every street is quaint and charming in its own way.
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