Disclaimer: if you’re looking for a guide to the partying, pot smoking side of Amsterdam, this is not the article for you. As the title suggests, I personally did not visit any of the city’s famous coffee shops, nor spend more than 10 minutes in the Red Light District. I apologise, but this will not be a scandalous read, but rather an overview of my attempt at jamming in as many tourist hot spots as possible on my limited budget with my limited time.
First afternoon in Amsterdam
After a grand total of 24 hours on planes (thanks, Australia, for being so far away from everywhere I’d rather be) I finally arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport around 1:30pm. As I made my way to my hostel (Flying Pig Downtown) the first thing I noticed was the strong smell of marijuana everywhere I walked. I will note that my hostel was located directly adjacent to the Red Light District, and despite being well aware of Amsterdam’s reputation as a stoner-friendly city, I really was not prepared for the inescapable stench. Fortunately, in my hostel there was a designated smoking room and the rest of the place just smelled like a mix of sweat and air freshener. Now, faced with precious, limited time in this well and truly hyped up city, you’d think I’d waste no time at all.
Blessed with swollen ankles and a migraine from unfortunate, self-inflicted dehydration, I spent my first afternoon, evening, and night in Amsterdam in bed. Nice work, Madeleine.
This was my first mistake, however not my biggest. Approximately four hours into my attempted nap I remembered that it was a Friday night. And I was in a hostel. In the Red Light District. In Amsterdam. This is how I met the nine British teenage girls I would be sharing a room with: “GUYS I’M NO LONGER A WEED VIRGIN!” one of them felt the need to scream at the top of her lungs, followed by “oh shit, there’s someone sleeping.” Nice to meet you too.
Despite loud music, the sound of someone probably being murdered outside my window, and talkative roommates, I got a surprisingly refreshing sleep and was determined not to waste any more of my limited time.
First full day in Amsterdam
At around 11am I climbed over the passed out bodies of my favourite Geordie shore wannabees and made my way to the Bloemenmarkt. I had made the executive decision early on that I would walk everywhere in this city, which honestly turned out to be one of the better choices I’ve made so far. Almost everywhere you look in Amsterdam there is a postcard-worthy view, especially along the canals. The canal houses reminded me of the brownstones in Brooklyn, only with a European colour scheme.
Upon my arrival at the Bloemenmarkt I realised that I did not take into account is that while it is Spring back home, over here it’s Autumn and the famous flower market had no actual flowers, only bulbs you could buy to grow your own. I’m really good at this travelling thing.
After this disappointment I found a McDonalds and had a sort of brunch (I’d stupidly slept through the hostel’s free included breakfast). While I rarely indulge in the big M back home, I figured it was a guarantee for a cheap, mostly fulfilling meal. Unfortunately, you have to pay to use the toilet, so I opted instead to test the limits of my bladder.
My next attempt at being a tourist involved walking to the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum. After tossing up the two in my head for a while, I decided to fork over the €17 for the Van Gogh museum. It did not disappoint, housing several of the artist’s self-portraits and his famous Sunflowers painting. Plus, there was a free bathroom and air-conditioning, both of which seem hard to come by in this city.
I figured some fresh and sunlight could do me good, so I walked to Vondelpark next. What I thought would be some nice alone time with nature turned into me running for my life from bicycles every two minutes. Did get some good Instagram-worthy photos though, so in my teenage white girl mind it was worth it.
This misadventure was followed by my first attempt at seeing the Anne Frank house. After seeing that the expected wait time was two to three hours, I quickly gave up, but not before vowing to try again. The alluring signs for a canal cruise caught my eye and I found myself paying €16 for an hour long cruise all around the city. This was surprisingly informative and probably the highlight of the day.
After heading back to the hostel to charge my phone, I met a fellow Aussie solo traveller named Nicole who had just moved into my room, and she suggested that we go for a walk to try the local delicacy Stroopwafel. I had no idea what this was, but as I am hardly a foodie I thought it was good idea to take the opportunity to give it a go with someone who was, as I expected I would not do this again. Stroopwafel, it turns out, is two thin circular biscuits with syrup in between. A solid 7/10.
We stopped at the hostel again for a bit and then continued our foodie adventure. This resulted in having fries with mayo for dinner, another weird local ‘delicacy’ that tasted like cardboard with sweet, watery sauce. 4/10, would not eat again.
Nicole and I’s wanderings eventually took us to the centre of the Red Light District at 9pm on a Saturday. For a small, anxious young girl like me, this was not ideal. Nicole seemed to be having a great time looking in windows and laughing at shop names like ‘Dirty Dicks’, while I was about ready to bolt every time I saw a group of males. Fortunately, Nicole eventually took my stance as we were approached by a seemingly mentally ill man yelling about sin. Finally, in the safety of the hostel, I was ready to call it a night.
Second full day in Amsterdam
Today I forced myself to wake up earlier and get free breakfast, which was cereal and fruit. Nicole had told me the night before about a free walking tour of the city, so we began to walk to the meeting point when the sky opened up and began pouring rain. We ran back to the hostel to grab jackets and unexpectedly still made it for the tour.
The tour, by the company Freedam with the guide Sebastian, went from 11am to 1:30pm and was a really awesome way to learn more about the city. While it was free, it is generally expected that you tip the guide, so we each gave him between €5 and €20. Well-earned, in my opinion, as Sebastian was very knowledgeable about the history of the Netherlands and had a bunch of entertaining anecdotes. The tour ended at the Dam square, right outside the Royal Palace, and I convinced Nicole we should go in, despite the €10 entry fee (which did include a free audio guide). While the palace is beautiful, if you’ve ever seen any other Western European castle then it’s pretty much a waste of money. Nothing special and not very large (insert dick joke here).
Our guide had recommended we have lunch at a diner known for its croquette, so we gave it a go. Being a vegetarian my options were limited to cheese or egg, so I went with the former. The croquette was basically deep fried cheese eaten with bread and mustard. Pretty average, but cheap. 6/10.
At this point Nicole and I split up, and I decided to line up for the Anne Frank house. Armed with a full bottle of water and a Mars bar, I prepared myself for a potential two to three hour wait. Having expected the worst, I was pleasantly surprised that I only had to wait an hour and fifteen minutes. The entry was €9 paid at the door, much cheaper than any other museum in the city. Although it was packed, the museum and house was emotionally moving and informative, especially having read Anne Frank’s diary. Definitely worth the wait, although it could have been avoided had I known that you can pre-purchase tickets online for a specific time slot. From 10am to 3:30pm entry is for online tickets only, and after 3:30pm you must line up.
Last morning in Amsterdam
Again I woke up in time for free breakfast and checked out of the hostel around 10am to head to central station. I write this sitting on the train to Berlin, likely pissing off the elderly couple with whom I’m sharing a compartment with the loud tapping of my fingers on my keyboard.
Amsterdam is a genuinely beautiful city with plenty to do besides get high and I am definitely grateful for the time I spend there, although I am well and truly ready to move on after three days. Despite being a young female travelling solo, I never felt unsafe except for my brief encounter with the Red Light District. Having taken my quota of pretty pictures and crossed off everything I wanted to do, I’m ready for my next adventure: Berlin.