"Why are you so interested in going to Netherlands, by the way?", Dan asked with a queer look in his eyes, as he took a sip of freshly brewed coffee. We were staying in the same hostel in South Goa, when a casual breakfast conversation turned into a deep discussion into cultures and landscapes. "I mean, why would you look forward to visiting a country that"enjoys" half a year of grey, cold, rainy weather? Do you really want to see artificially "installed" Dutch forests when you can enjoy the real ones in India? And why Amsterdam - especially when you can neither find affordable places to stay for most of the year nor have an easy time finding a generous host for couch-surfing?
I could feel Dan was weaving me a web of sarcasm at the breakfast table, since he himself was Dutch and had studied for quite a few years in Amsterdam. But there was no harm in continuing the game, so I played along.
"Well, I just want to see what the fuss is all about. I want to know why everybody rushes to a probably over-priced city with gloomy rainy weather on their euro trips!! I want to see what is it that makes your new hometown so "marketable" as a travel destination.", I said.
"Well, then it's time to leave the guidebooks aside....pick up a pen and paper, pay attention and maybe you'll look at my new home with a different perspective when you spend a day there...", Dan said, leaning back into his chair, with a big smile flashing across his face!!
08:00 am, Canal Houses in Amsterdam
The overnight bus from Munich was slightly tiring, but as soon as I reached Amsterdam early in the morning and walked towards Centraal Station, I was greeted by the most photographed canal houses in Amsterdam indeed. "Don't forget to notice the peculiar small width of the houses in the city...there's a reason for that", Dan's words echoed in my mind as I started enjoying the impressive sight the colorful houses are. Apparently, back in the 17th century locals here were taxed on the width of their properties, thereby generating much interest in narrow-fronted houses. But, as Dan told me, most were indeed designed to be wider at the rear, thus only giving the appearance of being small!!
I was definitely craving for an early morning breakfast, so I headed out to the highly recommended Omelegg for a sumptuous breakfast. You can also head to probably the best bakery in town, De Bakkerswinkel, for delectable pastries.
Thereafter I just walked along the canal banks, watching the city come to life as the daily chores started around me. You can walk throughout the day along the canals without getting bored a bit, but here are three main canals that shouldn’t be missed: Herengracht, Prinsengracht andKeizersgracht. You will realize why I recommend them when you see them for yourselves!!
10:00 am , Canal Cruise
Although I personally am not a big fan of these cruises, there is an inherent charm about exploring the city on one of these boats. As Dan suggested, it is more exciting if you rent your own boat similar to what the locals here usually choose to do - although, affordable only when you are in a group!! The canals here are over 100 km long, breaking the city into 90 different islands!! Not that I would have done it, but I was still told not to swim in the canals - there are more that 10,000 bicycles that fall into these canals and are recovered every year!! So you can understand why it is not entirely safe to swim.
It’s much more fun to do a canal cruise where you have a live tour guide showing you the sites and history, so check before you book your canal cruise.
11:00 am, Our Lady of The Attic
Now, if you want to really appreciate the Dutch architecture and history then you definitely have to visit this unique place. If hiding your stash of comic books was difficult enough for you, the creator of this church (a part of a fascinating chapter of Dutch history) joined three of the canal houses and hid a decently sized church in the attic of all three. This church is a living testament to the turmoil in 17th century Netherlands, between Catholicism and Protestant.
If you are short on time, then maybe you can try walking by it and see if you can figure out where this church is!!
12:00 pm, Begijnhof (and Red Light District)
By the time I came out and walked further ahead, I could already see the red light windows as I walked at the heart of the Red Light District , spread out around the Old Church. Now I can totally understand if you would want to wait till late evening to visit this place, under its iconic red lights, but there's no harm in avoiding the crowd and getting familiar with the area before you visit it again at night!!
Since I had to pass through Dam Square with the Royal Place on the way, so I did take time to stop at this famous location in the city. Since I did not want to go inside the Palace, I did not spend a lot of time here - just enough to strike it off my list.
Finally, I found the door to the famous Begijnhof (next to the American Book Centre). Hofjes were closed communities from the middle ages where seniors and/or widows would live together as a community. However, the Begijnhof functioned almost like a nunnery, only for devout women. It is open daily from 9AM to 5PM and is free of charge - so expect a lot of crowd during the day.
01:00 pm, Marie Heinekenplein
A short walk through the Bloemenmarkt (flower market) and feasting my eyes on some of the most beautiful tulip buds I have seen, I took the tram 24 to arrive this lively Latin Quarter of Amsterdam. Dan had provided some important tips on locating the best eateries for lunch here, so I immediately began the pursuit.
Needless to say, I could not help but notice that I was very close to the "famous" Heineken Experience - but take my advice and avoid the temptation. There's so much good local beer around Amsterdam that it makes more sense to avoid paying 20 euros for a Heineken here - instead have your photograph clicked in front of it, drink the same Heineken for around 4-5 euros at nearby bar and enjoy the extra 15 euros in your pocket!!
Now I was on the lookout for the fresh food and I found exactly that at Albert Cuypmarkt. Keep an eye out for Surinamese Roti, Indonesian food, haring stands, and freshly made Stroopwafel. If you find yourselves in Amsterdam on Sunday, then take Dan's advice and head to Bazar or The Butcher - they serve amazing cuisines, including burgers and barbeques!!
03:00 pm, Museumplein
A delectable, filling meal and a short walk later I was at probably the most popular and photographed part of the city. The large IAmsterdam sign with its usual share of tourist attention was already difficult to miss from distance. Housing the popular museums of Van Gogh, the Stedelijk museum for modern art and the Rijksmuseum , this part of the itinerary will probably take the most time out of your schedule. Since I was on the lookout for cultural corners of the city, I decided to skip the queues and spend more time in Jordaan neighborhood instead.
Rijksmuseum will probably take around three hours to see while Van Gogh and Stedelijk can be done in two hours if you are quick.
Before visiting the Jordaan neighborhood though, I would recommend you to visit the famous Anne Frank House. However, if you want to visit it, pre-book your tickets here to cut down on waiting time.
Recommendation: Ann Frank House stays open till 10:00 pm, so you can skip the queues as most tourists starts emptying by 7-8 pm. This is the time to take your chance!!
I stopped at Struik cafe afterwards for I had heard a lot about its hipster vibes and food that is served there. You can even try out Cafe Chris if you’re into dive bars.
05:00 pm, Jordaan during late evenings/night
I was extremely excited about visiting this corner of Amsterdam, especially after Dan had heaped so much praise over this neighborhood. Being true to his narrative, Jordaan still retains much of its authentic Dutch residential vibes with vibrant cafes, bars and beautiful narrow streets. I was finally relieved to have left the crowd behind in Amsterdam city as I spent the next few hours casually exploring the beautiful and colorful neighborhood.
As suggested by many, this is the time to throw away all maps and guidebooks and simply wander into any of the beautiful small streets, immerse in the beauty of numerous cafes, bars and souvenir shops and lose the track of time.
08:00 pm, Exploring the canals at night
Dan was absolutely right about one thing - the canals in Amsterdam take up an entirely different and enchanting form under lights. Nothing beats the fun of exploring the network of canals here at night and I chose to walk along Prinsengracht to revel in the beauty of these water bodies. Based on local recommendations, I made the mandatory stop first at Winkel43, serving the best apple pie in the city, and then at Monte Pelmo IJS for a delicious scoop of ice cream!!
Soon enough I found myself walking into the cafe territory - just in time for dinner. Papeneiland Cafe was my destination for tasting the traditional Dutch drink Jenever, and the cafe did not disappoint me a bit. A round of craft beers at Finch Cafe followed thereafter and before long I was all set for the fabled night life of Amsterdam.
11:00 pm....or was it 12:00 am? I can never remember!!
As you can already imagine, things had pretty much started getting into auto-pilot mode from here on. Running into a cool bunch of Australian and German travelers at Finch, we just dived right into the nightlife of Amsterdam. I remember heading towards Leidseplein since it is home to the biggest clubs in Amsterdam. Once there you can pick and choose any - Amsterdam's night life isn't renowned for nothing after all!!
Dan had been right all along - you do need to take the weird weather and overcrowded places in Amsterdam with a pinch of salt, for the overall experience easily compensates for it. A day in Amsterdam was all it took to make me realize this place is not all about parties - colorful architecture, beautiful canals, the jovial bartenders and locals you come across who recount tales from Dutch history makes you wonder about the culture that thrives withing the streets of the city. But would I want to go back to Amsterdam and experience all of this again? Without a doubt, a big yes......and maybe you should too!!
P.S. - You already know that there are more cycles in Amsterdam than there are people in the city and that if not walking then cycling is the recommended way to explore the city - but you can hitch a ride in the city too!!
Dubbed the Yellow Backie scheme, this is a novel ride-sharing initiative where you simply have to shout "backie" when you see a cyclist with an empty yellow luggage rack. Assuming they are heading in the same direction as you are, they will usually stop and offer you a lift - a great way to make friends with locals along the way too!!
From doing my bit for the environment by working in electric mobility research field, often finding myself wandering aimlessly through landscapes, to continuously seeking thoughtful conversations with travelers from across the world, I am a travel experience narrator. A firm believer in the philosophy that a human should experience everything and do everything in his lifetime (for specialization is for insects....), you can say "hi" to my photographer alter-ego @througharobinseye on Instagram, read through my mind as I narrate my personal travel experiences at www.talesofarobin.wordpress.com or sing along with me @undrkn5trk5hn