MY recent trip to Amsterdam was my second visit to the Dutch capital and it has left me with a completely different take on a city I was once tentative about ever visiting again. I’d done the coffee shops, I’d walked through the red light district and I’d almost been run over by a thousand people on bikes… was there anything left to experience?
Sadly most people only visit the ‘Venice of the north’ or ‘Vice City’ for the same stereotypical reasons, namely drugs and sex. While the Amsterdam tourist office may try to avoid trading on these two aspects, inevitably these are the driving forces behind many tourist visits and consequently the reason for money being spent in the local economy. Now, I’m not trying to begrudge anyone their obligatory drug fuelled, red light district wandering trip to ‘The Dam’, all I’m asking is that you make a return visit. Because it is only on a second visit that you may be ready to embrace a city that has so much more to offer than coffee shops and women in windows.
Walking is a large part of any European adventure and Amsterdam is truly one of the most enjoyable cities to simply wander around. Where it has an advantage over cities such as Barcelona and London is that due to its size and layout, you don’t need to be Christopher Columbus to navigate your way around. And even if you do manage to get lost, there’s always the pleasant distraction of walking alongside a canal till you find your bearings.
As far as tourist attractions go, it is the usual suspects which dominate most travel guides; The Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank’s House (if you’ve only got time to visit one, make sure it’s this one) and the Heineken Brewery (only visit this if you’ve got nothing better to do with yourself for an hour and can’t find anything else to do with the 15 euro it will cost you to enter).
However, if you find yourself with no prior engagements, spend an afternoon walking around the Jordaan district. There is no better place to experience what the Dutch call, gezellig. With no direct translation, the word is used to describe something that is cosy, quaint or nice but can also be used when talking about time spent with friends and family or general togetherness. Brown cafe’s (the Amsterdam equivalent to an English pub) are spread throughout Jordaan and it’s not difficult to lose an afternoon shuffling from one cafe to another enjoying whatever food or drinks are on offer.
Native Amsterdamers are a stylish bunch with most looking as though they’ve stepped straight out of an upmarket clothing catalogue. And while they may not be as conscious of their appearance as the local French or Italian’s, they do carry themselves with a certain air that makes tourists stand out from the smartly dressed crowd. As a tourist, you may find yourself being met with some indifference by the locals but don’t mistake this for rudeness, the sheer amount of holiday traffic they encounter means they just don’t care either way.
So if you’re someone who is yet to visit the ‘Damage’, get there soon. Wander the red light district blazed out of your head and stumble into the stoner cafes to stuff your face with waffles and mayo covered chips. Once you’ve done this (and given yourself sufficient time to recover), book a flight back and go and visit one of the most easy going cities in Europe.