Visiting Amsterdam for the first time? Amsterdam is known for the Red Light District, legalized marijuana, and crazy techno music. All in all it’s developed quite a liberal reputation. I had the opportunity to visit Amsterdam and did notice those parts, but the city also ended up being incredibly charming too.
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
I love that quote by John Green. Amsterdam is fun. You’d be surprised at what you get into when you have the freedom of not being told no. On the other hand, you’re likely to be just as surprised at what you don’t get into…
Visiting Amsterdam for the First Time
When I first went to Amsterdam I was 19, in college, and broke. This means that my parents didn’t have to worry about me getting into any trouble because I had no money to. What that also means though is that I had to scrape together the little money I had in order to be able to eat all the delicious Dutch food and do the priority points in the city.
So until that lovely day comes when I can return to Amsterdam, I’ll look back on my fond memories. However, this is not to say that I didn’t learn a thing or two while I was there. I was able to accrue some great Amsterdam travel tips, which I’m bestowing upon the world now.
Like most big cities, Amsterdam is a city rich in culture, history, and food. If you want to know what to do in Amsterdam that’s not too expensive, then I’ve got your low-down. Read about the top things to do, Dutch cuisine, and how to get to Amsterdam.
7 Top Things To Do in Amsterdam
Every time I read about Amsterdam people write about how it’s the city of 1,500 bridges, that there’s more canals and bikes than you know what to do with, and that it’s a great spot to check out all the electric dance music concerts. Well I’m here to say that…these are all true. Even so, I had to narrow it down to the top things you should see in Amsterdam.
1. The Amsterdam Canals
The canals (gratcthen) make the city incredibly scenic. Most of the streets are small with cobblestone streets and are very well kept.
It’s funny though. You’ll be admiring a cutely painted store window and the sign adjacent to it will say “Museum of Sex”. But I found that the Dutch people have a great sense of humor about this and life in general. They were very jolly and giggly.
What’s also fun about exploring the canals is to check out the maritime traffic. I would have loved to have been able to go into one of those houseboats on the canal. Who lives there? What’s that life like?
2. Red Light District In Amsterdam
So….we did explore this area at night. Veryyyy interesting. But, at the same time you want to reach out to the girls and help them run away. They can’t be happy or healthy. We actually had the chance to talk to one of them outside the door (we’re curious souls) and asked her all these questions. Email me if you want to know all the things she answered. It’s hard to see these women, young girls especially, doing that.
3. Visit the Best Museums in Amsterdam
There’s a whole bunch of museums to check out (Van Gogh!) if you’re into that. The Anne Frank Museum is an extremely popular spot. The line was horrendously long though. My recommendation is to skip this one and go to the concentration camp instead. Read the Anne Frank book. Absorb the moral lessons, but skip the house. It’s not worth the line.
And note- there is a cheese museum! FREE SAMPLESSSSS. This wonderful museum is located near the Anne Frank House. According to its website, “Dutch cheese has more than 600 years long tradition and the names of different sorts of cheese are often taken from different cities in the Netherlands – Gouda, Edam, Leerdammer, Leyden, Maaslander, Maasdam and of course a gourmet Old Amsterdam.” There’s a lot to learn and taste about cheese.
4. Find Dutch Clogs
I also love the idea of Dutch clogs as part of the Dutch traditional outfit. It’s so cute. Just like cheese, windmills, and tulips, wooden shoes are synonymous with the Dutch. Historians generally agree that the Dutch clog dates back to the middle ages and served well when walking in marshy, damp grounds.
5. Dachau Concentration Camp (Day Trip)
They say if we don’t know our history, we’re doomed to repeat it. That’s why I suggest that if you have a chance, visit one of the concentration camps in Europe. It really helps put your life into perspective and reminds you to forget about all the petty stuff that bothers us day to day.
We went to Dachau. I don’t want to post pictures form here because it’s really something you need to go to in person. Although it is a sobering experience, you’ll be glad that you had went.
6. Take A Bike Ride in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is known for being the bike friendly capital in the world. With about 2,480 miles of cycling paths I can see why. It helps that Amsterdam is very flat and scenic, so it’s a great way to explore. Our hostel was a bit of a walk from the city center so this was a useful and economical way to get around. The bikes we rented came with locks so we were able to leave it and come back to it throughout the day.
I do highly suggest making sure you rent a lock for the bike. This is a city so it’s not a good idea to lean it against a tree and walk away to get food or something.
7. Visit the Windmills (Day Trip) in Kinderdijk
There is this wonderful village in Holland called Kinderdijk that still has 19 authentic, well-preserved windmills from the 1600s. They blend in so naturally with the landscape that it’s no wonder it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’d love to go there next time. These windmills were built around the pretty wetlands surrounding Dordrecht and were erected to drain the Alblasserwaard polders.
It’s a day trip to see the Kinderdijk windmills, which is about 15 miles from Rotterdam. Views of the landscape are free, so you just have to worry about food and transportation. You can get to Kinderdijk from Amsterdam by train, bus, boat, or car.
What To Eat in Amsterdam
Whenever I travel my goal is to eat every authentic dish that I can find from that city. That’s why Sara and I have a whole food blog section dedicated to it! Amsterdam was no different. When you visit Amsterdam, see if you can try some of the authentic Dutch delights, like Poffertjes, Rookworst, or Bitterballen, at least once.
Overall, Dutch cuisine is said to be simple; bread, cheese, meat, fish, vegetables. “The Dutch diet was relatively high in carbohydrates and fat, reflecting the dietary need of the laborers whose culture molded the country, and contains many dairy products. Without many refinements, it is best described as rustic, though many holidays are still celebrated with special foods.”
Also, what’s a trip to Amsterdam without acknowledging their beer contribution to the world? Heineken is probably the most famous of the Dutch beers.
How To Get To Amsterdam
It’s very easy to get to Amsterdam from the airport. Just take the Schiphol Airport Rail Service right to the Centraal Staion for 20 minutes. Also, if you’re interested in good cafés, a favorite of our friends was the Doors themed one. It was pretty cool even though we didn’t partake.
So go to Amsterdam and marvel at the impossibly long words the Dutch language has. You’ll never have so much fun reading signs!
History Bonus – Dutch Tulip Mania
Here’s one of my other favorite antidotes about Amsterdam. During the Dutch Golden Age contract prices for tulip bulbs reached enormously high levels and then swiftly collapsed in an extraordinary case study of speculation. Here’s what happened…
The upper-class Dutch liefhebbers (flower connoisseurs) in the mid-1630’s traded flowers with each other. These flowers were expensive because they were being imported from Turkey. The most sought after tulips were those infected with the benign mosaic virus, which made sharp color enhancements on the petals. So far so good, right?
Demand for these premium tulips increased, which prompted speculators to keep buying them at higher and higher profits so that they could later sell them for a profit. These speculator traders kept reinvesting their tulip profits into buying even more tulips until eventually tulips had a twentyfold price explosion in only one month (Investopedia, 2012)! At the tulipmania peak, a single tulip bulb was worth ten times a craftsman’s annual income.
As with most financial speculations, defaults came and the tulip bulb market violently crashed. This resulted in a full-out panic throughout Holland as people couldn’t recoup their investments into the bulbs. The government tried to intervene which of course made everything worse. To put it into perspective the Witte Croonen bulb rose in price 26 times only to crash to 1/20th of its price a week later. The country then went into a mild economic depression for several years thereafter.
Look at it this way, at its most expensive price, you could have traded a tulip for an entire estate. When the price dropped within days, that same tulip could only be traded for the price of an onion. Now just imagine how many people must have lost insane amounts of money – and over a tulip! That’s what makes the markets so interesting. All in all the Dutch tulipmania was a speculative bubble and now serves as one of the biggest go-to stories to warn speculators against the mercurial dangers of the market. So at your next dinner party, there’s a little story you can reference if anyone mentions the 2008 USA housing crash or anything about economics.