I had the opportunity to pay the city of Amsterdam a quick visit en route to Iceland in 2017. I had one day to explore the city and here is how I spent my time, what I did and where I stayed. Please note that most of my ventures were sponsored by the precious recommendations I received from a friend who used to live in Amsterdam at the time.
Finding a place to spend the night didn’t come cheap for a Friday night! I was looking for a central location, easy access from/to the airport, and of course female dorms. I settled for Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark and didn’t regret it despite the hefty amount I paid for just one night. The hostel was across the street from the bus station where the Amsterdam Airport Express stops at and the whole journey takes less than an hour, 40 minutes give or take. The bus ticket can be purchased from the bus driver or online, it cost me €5 then but now it costs €6.50.
Tip: the driver will offer you NO change. You need to have the exact amount with you. I almost missed my flight to Reykjavik the following morning for needing a change of a €50! I was lucky that the driver was kind enough to let me on board and give me back my change! Have a €5 with you next time, he said! You need to have change people!
The hostel has a luggage storage room and a staff member will actually stay with you in the room until you sort your stuff out before leaving your luggage! I don’t remember experiencing such a security measure in a hostel before and found it quite comforting!
I dropped my luggage and started wandering through the city. Amsterdam is better explored on foot; it is very walking friendly and walking is exactly what I did that day! I walked till I couldn’t walk no more! And what a pretty city Amsterdam is specially with all the architecture, canals, and parks. As much as everyone would like to have a picture taken on one of those cute bridges crossing the canals, nothing matched the popularity of the I Amsterdam letters previously located at Museum Square just outside the Rijksmuseum.
Yes, I used the word “previously” because on December 3, 2018 the letters were removed at the request of the City of Amsterdam! What started as a marketing campaign in 2004 to “celebrate Amsterdam’s citizens in all their diversity” turned out to be a nuisance to the city authorities who thought the sign became a symbol for mass tourism! The aim of having it removed was to decrease the number of tourists in the limited space of the square. It was quite a popular spot for selfies and that led critics to suggest that it was more important for the people to take a picture of it just outside the Rijksmuseum instead of appreciating the artwork that’s inside! I was lucky to have visited it before it was removed. It was really a marvelous installation.
Tip: there is a smaller model of the letters standing at Schiphol Airport if you fancy a picture.
The I Amsterdam installation was the start of my day since it was quite close to the hostel. It was quite an early start for me that day and after enjoying the not-so-crowded-yet set of letters I headed for a breakfast at Bakers & Roasters afterwards. It was pretty busy for 9:30 am on a Friday but I managed to secure myself a table for one. It was no brainer why the place was packed as the food was really delicious. I had an eggs Florentine and it was yummy!!
I’m usually not a coffee addict but I appreciate a good cup of coffee. When my friend knew that he gave me his top 3 coffee places in Amsterdam from which I was able to try out 2. Don’t get me wrong over here, I mean café shops where actual coffee and baked goods are served not the other “coffeeshops” that Amsterdam is famous for! So, I saved my morning coffee to spot no. 1, Back to Black. What’s impressive about Back to Black is not how carefully the coffee beans are picked or roasted but the fact that their baristas are Dutch Barista Championship finalists. It was such a great cup of cappuccino ❤
Having had breakfast and a morning coffee by then, I was ready to roll. I enjoyed that perfectly sunny winter morning as I walked myself around the city to the National Monument in Dam Square. Have you ever heard of the SANDEMANs NEW Amsterdam free walking tour? Around Europe, the SANDEMANs new Europe agency offers tips-based free walking tours of most major cities averaging between 2 to 3 hours. I have been on such a tour once in Edinburgh and enjoyed it very much, so I thought why not discover Amsterdam via such a tour. The tours are totally free, and you can choose to tip the tour guide or not. Since they operate on a tips-based basis, most of the guides are funny and will make sure that you will enjoy the tour so you would tip them at the end! It is a win-win situation, don’t you think?
And so, I had myself booked for the 11:00 am English tour around the city. The tour started at the National Monument in Dam Square and took us through the narrow streets and canals of the city. We walked through the infamous Red Light District and the Jewish Quarter, passed by the Anne Frank House and learned about the architecture and Dutch bike culture along the way! The tour ended at the Homomonument which is a memorial that was established to commemorate the gay men and women who lost their lives during WWII for being persecuted because of their gender identity. The tour was a success. I wouldn’t have been able to learn so much about Amsterdam in such a short duration of time if it wasn’t for that tour.
Tip: I was informed that a €10 bill is quite the minimum amount you can tip! If you don’t have change most guides would be happy to give you your change back!
Now that I was done with the tour, it was time for another cup of coffee at spot no.2, LOT61. I ordered another cappuccino and a banana bread and sat on a wooden bench outside enjoying the coffee and atmosphere. You are probably wondering which coffee I enjoyed the most, huh? It was a close call, but I have to admit I preferred Back to Black to LOT 61! The best cappuccino I have ever had so far, even better than in Italy!! SOWWY!!
I would have loved to pay a visit to the Anne Frank house, but it was impossible to do so on such a short notice. I learned that the online tickets get sold out super fast and need to be purchased weeks in advance. I saw people queuing around the house waiting for their turn to get in and was even told one would need to make an early appearance if one is to make it inside! Since waiting time was a commodity I couldn’t afford at the time, I dropped the idea and went to the Van Gogh Museum instead. I had a ticket booked through the people from the SANDEMANs and that made it easier for me as I didn’t have to wait inline at the ticket office to get one. The museum consists of 4 stories with a café and a museum shop in the ground floor. I spent around 2 hours walking from one story to another marveling at the paintings, among them were the self-portraits, the famous sunflowers, and my favorite the almond blossoms. It was another highlight of my day and I would highly recommend it specially for art lovers!
I was close to the hostel after my museum visit, so I walked back to properly check in and transfer my luggage to the room! I freshened up, had a quick rest, and went out for dinner at yet another recommendation, Bierfabriek. Bierfabriek is an all in one café, restaurant, and brewery. It is known for its slow-roasted French farm chicken and the peanuts sacks you can find everywhere around the place for the enjoyment of the customers. One important thing to remember while munching on those peanuts is that the peel go on the floor! Yes, you heard me! Eat the peanut and proudly through the peel on the floor 😀 I honestly found it hard for me to through the peel on the ground because I’m not used to such a thing. I had a couple of peanuts and shyly left the peel to fall to the floor! I ordered their popular farm chicken that came with a BBQ sauce and fresh chips. YUM!
After dinner I walked myself to Mezrab, a culture center where I was supposed to attend a show but when I reached the place I had a sudden change of heart! It was so crowded inside, the air was hot and dense because of the crowd, and it felt strange to be there alone! On top of that, I couldn’t see anyone performing so I decided to take the metro back, call it a day, and prepare for Iceland.
I didn’t expect to enjoy myself that much in Amsterdam, but I did and not just a little but a lot! The city had this calming aura to it which put me in a tranquil mood the whole day. I loved that and despite what the city is famous for and regardless of all the weed recommendations I got from people who knew I was going to Amsterdam, the city has much more to offer than just that. There was so much more to see and do and I can only hope to pay the City of Diamond* a proper visit soon.
*Amsterdam was called the City of Diamond due to its long history with diamond and precious stones.