Ah, Amsterdam. I always get funny looks when I say it’s my favorite place in the world. From the Red Light District to the famous coffee shops (that don’t sell coffee!) it certainly has a reputation to those who only know the basics. But Amsterdam is so much more than those things. One day, I’ll hit the lotto and buy myself a houseboat, spending the rest of my days parked on the side of an idyllic canal, gently rocking back and forth sipping coffee and people-watching to my heart’s content.
Despite it being a favorite destination for raucous bachelor and bachelorette parties, I think Amsterdam should be enjoyed as a quiet vacation. The city has a stillness and a comfortableness that is ideal for someone who wants to unplug and just exist in a new place. It’s a place of history and literature, art and philosophy. There are things to do and see, and it has lively (and sexually uninhibited) nightlife, but the charm of Amsterdam is its cheerful, easy existence. Sleep in, stroll slowly, and enjoy.
I’ve been to Amsterdam at different times of the year, and each season has its perks. In winter, the city is quiet. The tourists have opted for warmer shores, the days are shorter, and the streets a little emptier. In spring and summer it’s a lively, colorful place, filled with partiers, outdoor diners and drinkers, and a never ending tide of bicycles.
The glory of Amsterdam is the atmosphere. There is a joy permeating the air, no matter the season, a feeling of pride and love for the city from the locals, a feeling of awe and excitement from visitors. This isn’t the place to go to have an adventure. It’s the place to go to have a rest.
One thing you should be adventurous about is the food. Eat at the restaurants, but also stop in to the little shops that have hot food vending machines- a fun novelty experience as well as a delicious meal. Pick something with a completely unfamiliar name and take a bite. Enjoy the most popular pub food in Amsterdam, bitterballen, little fried balls of meat that were crunchy on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside. Enjoy a cone full of freshly made fries, steaming hot and smothered in any sauce you choose. And don’t forget to end your meal with a stroopwafel, warm and gooey and so, so good.
It’s hard for me to choose my favorite food, my favorite book, my favorite TV show. I like too many of them too much to be that specific. But if you ask me what my favorite place to travel is, I’m always going to say Amsterdam. I’ll always choose to visit here whenever I can, whether it be a budget trip in a cheap hostel or a splurge trip in a nice canal-side apartment. I’ve written poems about it. I’ve read novels specifically because they were set in Amsterdam. I have pictures of it on my wall. I’ve spent hours talking about it. It’s a place, for me, that never stops being magical.
It’s a place where I can take a deep breath, in and out, and just live.
Of course, there are things to put on your to-do list when visiting Amsterdam. Here’s a few that I would recommend:
A canal tour: Yes, it’s a cheesy touristy thing to do, but there’s no better way to see the whole city than to hop on one of these tour boats and listen to your audio guide discuss the history and architecture of the place.
The Anne Frank House: A somber and humanizing experience that will stay with you long after you leave. Make sure to book tickets well in advance- the tickets sell out quickly and you most likely won’t be able to get a spot the day-of.
The Van Gogh Museum: What can I say about the Van Gogh museum that isn’t obvious? It’s a shrine to one of the greatest artists and minds in history, and walking through the halls of this museum, you’ll find he was so much more than just Starry Night.
Visit a coffee shop: Ok, here’s the deal. The cafés in Amsterdam are just that- cafés. The coffee shops might sell coffee, but their main fare is different variations of THC. It’s an experience that will soon be commonplace as more and more places legalize weed, but it’s still something you should experience if you go there. (But hurry up- soon, only locals will be able to spark up!) Do your research, and take it slow.
Bloemenmarkt: If you’re looking for something that is quintessential Amsterdam, look no further than this floating flower market. If you’re staying in an AirBnB, buying some tulips or sunflowers from the market is a great way to make your place feel more home-y, but you don’t have to buy anything to experience the magic. If you’re there in the winter, you won’t find any fresh tulips, but there are wooden ones to buy as a souvenir!