Amsterdam, Netherlands (2013)

The third and final leg of my girls’ trip with my friends Jessi and Sara brought us to Amsterdam. It was going to be hard to top our time in Prague but we were going to give it our best shot. 

Amsterdam is a unique city, architecturally speaking. And although it is referred to as the “Venice of the North”, I found no similarities between Venice and Amsterdam except for the canals.

My first impressions of Amsterdam were great. It was easy to get from the airport to our Airbnb in the De Pijp neighborhood, and the residents we encountered were friendly and full of smiles. 

City layout

Amsterdam is ringed with canals, making it challenging to get from point A to point B.

Let’s say that you are standing alongside a canal and you want to go to a bar directly across from where you’re standing. In this scenario, you have to walk to the nearest canal bridge, cross the bridge, and then back down the canal. Canals can get time-consuming quickly, but they are lovely to look at!

The canals are part of what gives Amsterdam its character and are a big part of what draws tourists to the city. To love the canals is to hate the canals.

The most popular tourist area is the Jordaan neighborhood on the city’s west side. There are tons of restaurants, bars, and boutique shops in that area. There’s a little something for everyone.

Our Airbnb in the De Pijp neighborhood was on the southeast side. It was a sleepy residential area with a cafe here, and a restaurant there, but we never found a “neighborhood center” with clusters of restaurants, shopping, etc. 

The lesson learned is that the location of accommodation should be the number one priority for tourists to Amsterdam.

Getting around

Without GPS, Amsterdam is a difficult city to navigate. Paper maps are almost worthless due to the lack of street signs and canals that look the same and blend together. 

We navigated with directions like, “Cross three canals and then turn right,” which seemed straightforward enough for a 7-year-old to understand, but then we’d start walking and forget how many canals we’d crossed and have to revisit Google Maps.

If I were asked if Amsterdam is a walkable city, my vaguest answer would be that it depends on where you stay.

If you stay in the up-and-coming neighborhood of De Pijp, the answer is no. If you stay in the Jordaan neighborhood, the answer is yes.

We used public transportation often, mostly trams.

Protip: Do not enter through the back, “exit-only” doors. The tram driver will not take kindly to this behavior!

Trams were as efficient as they could be, but we spent a lot of time waiting for trams, riding trams, boarding incorrect trams, and then boarding correct trams, etc.

I am not a fan of using my vacation time to sit on public transportation, and it felt like trams were a constant necessity.

In addition to plentiful public transportation options, Amsterdam is a bike-friendly city. Cyclists have their own lanes on the road, including their own stop signs and traffic lights.

At any given moment, there were more bikes on the road than cars. Bikes swirled around like bees around a beehive.

It was mind-blowing how cycles, cars, trams, and scooters moved around the city like a well-choreographed dance. Meanwhile, we were scared to cross the street for fear of being run over.

From left to right in the photo above: Pedestrian sidewalk, cycle lane, vehicle lane, tram/bus lane, and then opposite-direction tram/bus lane, vehicle lane, cycle lane, and pedestrian sidewalk. It’s a lot to take in and comprehend.

In addition to trams, buses, cars, scooters, and cycles, we needed to watch out for pedestrians, horses, and, on occasion, mobility vehicles.

Sightseeing and touristing

We accomplished very little sightseeing and touristic activities during our visit. There were three notable things we did as tourists. 

First, we toured Anne Frank Huis. The tour was part museum, part house tour. Purchasing tickets in advance gave us a big advantage in skipping the queue.

Overall, I felt that the museum lacked information, and, as Sara pointed out, the information was not in chronological order. The house tour was of most interest to me and was larger than I expected it to be.

Photography was not allowed inside the house, so here’s a photo of the exterior.

Second, we took the tram to a brewery so that we could say we visited a Dutch brewery. We drank one beer each and then took the tram across the city to the Jordaan neighborhood. It was there where we felt most at home. In retrospect, we should have skipped the brewery.

Third, we visited De Albert Cuypmarkt, a large street market that was meh.

Fourth, we ventured into Dam Square and, against our better judgment, attempted to go to the Red Light District. We didn’t actually manage to make it into the Red Light District because of the massive crowds. After a few minutes of trying to swim through the crowds, we got tired of the waves of marijuana smoke and got out of there.

That’s another downside of Amsterdam – it reeks of marijuana.

Fifth, we strolled through the Nine Streets area. And when I say we, I mean Jessi. 

Jessi suggested that we order a bottle of wine at a cute little restaurant/wine bar we found canalside. Sara and I thought another bottle of wine sounded great, so we placed our order. 

As soon as the wine arrived, Jessi disappeared.

She left the wine bar and went strolling for over an hour in Nine Streets. We had no idea where she went or how long she would be gone. We didn’t have a way of contacting her because she did not have mobile/cell service.

Sara and I were drunk by the time Jessi returned, making it impossible to be upset with her. She is clever.

With the “band back together,” we stumbled to another wine bar. Here, the three of us consumed two bottles of wine. It was a boozy day/night that ended with Jessi pulling out all of the contents of a random bike’s basket and posing for a photo.

So whilst it is true that we accomplished little sightseeing and touristic activities, we did accomplish a lot of boozing. We left Amsterdam feeling like we got to know Dutch beer glasses extremely well. 

And Jessi learned that she’s just as good cycling when buzzed as she is sober.

What we’d do differently

What would we do differently if we were to do our weekend getaway to Amsterdam over again?

First, we would find accommodation in the Jordaan neighborhood.

Our sleeping arrangements were such that we needed three beds. To meet that need, we were pushed to look for accommodation outside of the city center, where properties were large enough to have three beds.

Second, we’d take a canal boat tour so that we’d force a break from day drinking.

Eat, drink, and shop recommendations

Finally, here are a few recommendations for Amsterdam.

Business nameTypeNotes
MangiancoraRestaurantExcellent pizza
Cafe GambrinusPub
Eddy VarekampArt storeHandmade stencil prints

2 comments on “Amsterdam, Netherlands (2013)

  1. A couple notes of clarity:
    1. No one mind controlled the bottle of wine in Jordaan. I sat down with you drunks and then announced that I would be wandering the neighborhood and may or may not return to join you. That was the most successful wander of the trip, if you recall. You got drunk and I checked an action item off the list.
    2. If anyone reading this is going to Amsterdam, stay in Jordaan, don’t leave Jordaan, and buy a SIM card for your iPhone. That pretty much sums it up.

  2. Imagine if you drank too much and then left your friend, who just chipped her tooth, in this mysterious city! Still feel bad that I did that to Carrie, but it sure was fun!

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