I followed Robyn to Amsterdam last weekend, mostly because her tix for Copenhagen had been sold out for months before I even arrived in Sweden. Robyn seemed as good an occasion as any to do the Amsterdam tourism thing, and with a Swedish buddy and a lot of recommendations from my friends and the internets, the trip was a smashing success!
5 days is a rather long time to tour one city, so I’ll skip the storytelling (about how it was awesome to meet up with friends from UIUC, Lund, etc.), and just go with a list of things that were cool and might help you plan your own trip to Amsterdam.
Good Things to Do
1. Canal Tours
On day one, we took the City Canal Cruise which leaves from Leidseplein and takes you all around the city through the major canals, and even out to the harbor. It was great except that the recording for the tour was broken, so we didn’t actually learn what most things were that we were passing. However, most of the sights we saw on the tour became landmarks we used later to help us navigate.
Where the bout tours started
I’m on a boat
2. Openbare Bibliotheek (The Library)
By FAR my favorite place in Amsterdam. Olga recommended it to me and I only wish I went earlier — free internets, nice interior design, food, and a great view of the city. I went 3 times in 4 days. Plus, the library is just a short walk from the Centraal Station, so NO ONE HAS AN EXCUSE NOT TO GO. It’s open kinda late, too!
Lots of construction approaching the library from the station side
Bathroom costs 20 euro-cents but it’s worth EVERY EURO-PENNY.
Library elevator hyperjump.
3. The Red Light District
When recommending places to go in Amsterdam, people tend to be weird about *sort of* recommending this place but not ACTUALLY… (maybe they’re worried that if they say to go here, I will think they hired a hooker?) Anyway, I would like to unambiguously say YES, do go there — it is fascinating!
BUT, be warned, that there are not only prostitutes there, but LOTS OF SWANS.
For some reason it didn’t occur to me that there would be actual red lights all around… The main street, with the canal running through, and the tiny, red side streets, was quite pretty. Definitely go there on a Friday or Saturday night, so the district is in full force. Every street (especially the smaller side-streets) has prostitutes standing in windows (as expected). However, there were a few unexpected things:
- If you make a lot of eye contact or walk really close to the windows, the girls start to tap the glass at you. A little eerie.
- On the other hand, about half of the window hookers look incredibly bored and are on their cell phones, texting, or reading facebook, or trading stocks, whatever it is that you do when you’re a hooker in between customers
- Many of them were actually quite attractive
- A lot of the side-streets were narrow enough that it was hard for two people to pass on either side of each other without careful coordination – which is especially challenging if you are busy gawking at the prostitutes less than two feet away.
4. Live Music at Dam Square
There was almost always live music going on here, and it was pretty good! Also a good place to just hang out, people watch, eat food, etc. (I always love finding those places in big cities).
5. Heineken Museum
It was kinda cool — the reason this isn’t higher on my list is that what made it cool was the nice interior design of the brewery/museum, which was greatly surpassed by the awesomeness of the Bibliotheek. So, you can definitely skip the beer thing by just going to the library.
They had some cool chairs though.
6. The Best Tree in Vondelpark
We found the best one. I can’t really tell you where it is, but it’s sorta far into the park. You’ll find it. Good for watching bike tours go by, but watch out, the kids can get pretty territorial and you have to really defend your spot in the tree.
This spot’s MINE
This kid had the sweetest ride
7. Shopping on Kalverstraat
One of the big pedestrian shopping streets in Amsterdam. There are a bajillion shoe stores (LOVE), and I found exactly the boots I have been looking for all winter but haven’t found in Sweden, at a store called Manfield.
I also got a dress somewhere that had cute, cheap clothes, and the LONGEST QUEUE for the dressing room EVER. Every single girl except for me was there with a boyfriend and she would come out of the changing room, model, ask if it made her arms look fat, contemplate for minutes, and then move on to the next item.
WAY worse than the infamous queues at the Anne Frank Museum.
8. ROBYN @ MELKWEG!!!
This would be first on my list of course, but unfortunately Robyn is not ALWAYS in Amsterdam, so it doesn’t really work as an Amsterdam tourism tip.
Just as predicted, Robyn was a friggin’ awesome live performer. She clearly loved her music and performing just as much as we loved watching her — no diva vibe from her! She danced around (yes, on her own), and we danced along right with her.
My travel buddy Philip has a magic power: weaving through a crowd like no other (Swedish queueing skillz in full force), so we quickly made it to the very front.
Everyone behind us — suckers!
“Hang With Me” was the clear winning song, but everything else was wonderful as well. So perfect.
At the end of the show, we found out that everyone else at the front of the crowd was also Swedish (I’m serious about this queueing thing), because we were all shouting “EN GÅNG TILL!!!” which is what you shout to get an encore… in SWEDISH. The girl next to me and her friends turned out to all be from Luleå, and we met a couple from Stockholm as well. After the concert, we were suddenly a gang of 12 Swedes (and one American, of course) and we went galavanting around Amsterdam for hours together. THANKS ROBYN! Best last night in Amsterdam ever.
- Thaise Snackbar Bird – Really really good thai food. We ate here twice in the 5 days we were in Amsterdam. It’s tiny though, so you always end up sitting next to strangers. Sometimes, very very high strangers.
- Fries sold in paper cones on the streets – the mayo looks gross but it was actually quite good. Everyone seems to be walking around with a cone of fries, it’s hard not to want one yourself.
- Stroopwafel McFlurries – I really only go to McDonalds to experience local McDelicacies, but this is by far the best item I have ever found at McDonalds. Stroopwafels themselves are one of the best things in the world — I have been enjoying them for years and I had no idea they were Dutch! This is how you eat a stroopwafel.
There was no other restaurant that compared in any way to Thai Snackbar, but if you want other recommendations, check out Spotted by Locals Amsterdam – they know what they’re talking about.
Bars and Nightlife
Bulldog Hostel – After we found our crowd of Swedes at Robyn, we ended up hanging out at the hostel bar here until like 4 am – there was no bartender for miles around, but no one seemed to care that we were there.
Cafe Mokum – in Leidseplein, a long but narrow bar with a platform at the back and a lot of dancing. And man, were people dancing. Unfortunately, it closed at 2 AM on Sunday night (how dare they?) so we had to move down the street to…
Bubbels — which was definitely the Amsterdam equivalent of Joe’s, complete with the annoying DJs who turn the music down so you can yell along with the song. Additionally, the bartenders had these bells they would ring randomly. Incredibly obnoxious. This club, however, was the first place in Amsterdam I found where people couldn’t speak English. LOTS of Dutch yelling.
Male attention in Amsterdam… PLENTY to go around. In Sweden, getting a guy at a bar to even give you the time of day requires a powerful magic love incantation — not so in Amsterdam (or at least in this club). Don’t make eye contact for more than 1 second with anyone unless you are INTERESTED. And if you’re a guy, the drink-buying competition is fierce — Philip reports seeing guys buying beers at the bar, turning around, and shoving them at literally THE FIRST GIRL they see, before anyone else can get to her. Actually, the guys at this club made the jerks at Joe’s seem totally tame. Whoa.
The dancing situation in Amsterdam was halfway between Barcelona and Sweden. No grinding of course, no circles of people (like in Sweden), but people were actually dancing (unlike in Barcelona) — just not in any particular formation. The timeframe of going out was also halfway between Sweden and Barcelona — people seemed to go out at 12ish and clubs would close at 4.
Stuff that was Meh
Really the only thing we did in Amsterdam that was skippable was the Anne Frank House. It was sorta cool, but wayyy too touristy and corporate. I felt like just reading the book made so much more of an impression on me than visiting the museum ever could. My two cents.
For many more pictures…
Of Amsterdam and even my mini-adventure to Roosendaal, see my Flickr.