If Amsterdam had a soundtrack, as you cruise the 17th century canals and gaze at the gothic alcoves of the Dutch resistance architecture it would be rife with stoner anthems; Wiz Khalifa, Black Sabbath and maybe with some Marley and Kid Cudi. After all, this is a city famed for it’s laid back attitude towards its main tourist attraction… weed.
Behind the veneer of its reputation for legalized prostitution, cannabis and Europe’s answer to Vegas stag dos, it’s a city of juxtapositions, much like the Dutch culture. Tradition mingles with modernity, liberalism flirts with conservatism.
And so much beauty, what with the canal boats gliding down the Amstel River (Amsterdam literally translates to “dam over the Amstel”), the Dutch masters including Vermeer and Rembrandt and it’s copious floral industry, hello year round cheap tulips! And then so much lewdness; the voyeuristic Red Light district, the pervasive scent of “coffee shop” marijuana and the erm informative postcards available at each convenience store. #blush.
While you probably wouldn’t want to come here with your parents, or maybe you would, the museum scene is pretty tight. The capital of the Netherlands boasts 300 festivals from film to fashion to music per year. So there’s an epic vibe to the cobbled streets with a canal on each corner and it has that NYC vibe where it’s denizens really take pride in making things happen.
The city is based around the horse shoe-shaped square called “the Dam” and was very important for the delivery of goods from around the Dutch trading world. It’s straddled by a spider web of canals, with shops, cafes and public spaces all on either side of the canals.
Along the canals of Amsterdam lie the city’s most popular means of accommodation, the humble houseboats. Used in the 1980s as an answer to the housing shortage in the city, they have now become incredibly expensive to both own and rent.
Floating “Bloemenmarkt” Flower Markets
Founded in 1862, the Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market. The little shops are tethered to the shoreline by way of floating barges. They sell all manner of trinkets and souvenirs and narcissus and tulips bulbs ready for export all around the globe. Flowers and tulips in particular are synonymous with Dutch culture, there is even an Amsterdam Tulip Museum, well worth a peruse if you’re a botanist.
What I wish I’d known before arriving:
You hear that it’s a city of cyclists and hardly any cars, but what you don’t expect is that everyone has a bike. EVERYONE. And they literally fly down the cobbled streets from every direction. Strolling the cobbled streets, gazing up at the beautiful Dutch architecture without a care in the world is actually dangerous. You will be taken out by a flying Dutchman on a 2-speed. Keep your wits about you. And walk on the right side of the road.
Bicycle theft has the highest crime rate in Amsterdam. A good friend, a Dutch native says that only when you’ve had your bike stolen for the first time can you then really call yourself an Amsterdam local.
- Dutch is a hard language to get your head around, unlike their Gallic neighbours, they don’t mind speaking English. So stick to your lingua franca. Most restaurants have a Dutch and English menu and the Dutch are super friendly.
- The transport system in Amsterdam is easy to use and very cheap! Only 4€ to get from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam Centraal, the city’s main downtown station. Shun Uber for just one European city and pat yourself on the back that you’ve navigated the metro like a local.
- No one wear clogs, why? I don’t know. It seems a real shame.
To Eat: Vinkeles
This won’t suit if you’re ballin’ on a budget but for a culinary experience never to be forgotten, this is the spot.
On the site of an authentic 18th century former bakery, Michelin starred Vinkeles boasts French style cuisine with a contemporary twist housed in the uber trendy Dylan hotel on the prestigious Keizersgracht. Think history, luxury and ambiance.
To Imbibe: Brouwerij’t IJ
Amsterdam is not all windmills, clogs and tulips. But there is one old windmill to be found in the city, De Gooyer, and inside said windmill is a micro brewery called Brouwerij’t IJ producing outstanding brews of organic blonde and dark beers. Cheers!
To lay your head: The Toren, Amsterdam
Just cos you’re in ‘The Dam’: