Amsterdam, the Second Time Around
It has been five years since I last went to Amsterdam, and it’s remarkable how a person’s vision changes in 5 years. Back then, the young me was in a tour group with a bunch of teens. Almost all that we did was get drunk on a canal cruise where they had unlimited wine! Aside from that, we got the most of the city’s liberal culture by partying to no end and even watching a sex show. That was it — the next day, we left.
I spent all these years thinking, “that wasn’t me”. I mean, it wasn’t something I would enjoy doing on a daily basis. Yes, a good party would be nice. But my memories of Amsterdam became a blur after that. The Red Light District was something to see, but it’s not really my thing and hence the city did not make an impact.
Oh, but how things change. Now I’m back in the Kingdom of Netherlands, and I’m about to trek through Amsterdam, this time knowing better. I saw the nice parks (Amsterdam has lots of these), the quiet canal, and the pretty streets. I also saw the other towns around. The people here are so kind. There was a point when two of them are fighting, and the others are really helping out to resolve the problem. Considering Amsterdam has a low crime rate, it’s really a great place to be. Of course, I got to see all the great sights!
Walking in Amsterdam
The thing with the city is that it’s very walkable. Sure, there’s an awesome bus and tram system (7.50 EUR for a Day Pass, 2.50 EUR for a single ride). But if you are so inclined, you can walk through the streets and visit some of the best spots, enjoying the urban scenery along the way. The people speak good English, so you can easily ask for directions if you need help!
Of course, I compiled a list of the places you must visit when you go to the capital of the Kingdom.
Translates as “Leiden Square”, and is one of the busier squares in the city. The main reason for the latter is that Leidseplein serves as the major transport hub in Amsterdam, with tram lines meeting here. Aside from the interesting entertainment courtesy of street performers, the square is also home to vibrant nightlife and lots of shopping stores.
This is Amsterdam’s largest park and the most famous in the entire country. Despite a large number of people here (the park estimates around 10 million tourists visit here every year), the park is spacious enough for some quality time. There is a playground for children and a bandstand for free concerts. There is also the Pavilion, which is an 1878 structure with a famous summer terrace!
Anne Frank House
Fancy a moving trip through WWII history? This is a museum dedicated to the famous diarist, with a complete exhibition on her life as well as the famous Secret Annex where she spent hiding through most of the war. It’s a very moving experience, reminding visitors of the horrors of the period. The place is open daily from 9 to 6, with an entrance fee of 9.50 EUR.
Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Rijksmuseum
Amsterdam has been home to many masters of visual art, such as Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt van Rijn. These three museums commemorate their artistic prowess, as well as that of many other European artists. Entrance fees range from 13 EUR (Rembrandt) to 17.50 EUR (Rijksmuseum).
This is one of the most famous neighborhoods in the area, something like New York’s Brooklyn. Formerly a place for the working class, this tourist spot now offers no end of cafes, galleries, and hidden areas accessed through winding streets. Perfect for urban explorers!
The Heineken Experience
A trip through the famous beer brand’s brewery, complete with beer tasting! It is open from 10:30 to 7, and the tour costs 16 EUR. There is also a VIP tour for 49 EUR, which offers a behind-the-scenes peek and a private and premium tasting experience.
Natura Artis Magistra
Also called the “ARTIS”, this is one of the oldest zoos in the Netherlands (and of mainland Europe, in general!). Aside from a remarkable collection of animals, it also has a library, aquarium, and planetarium. Some of the animal enclosures turned out to be historic buildings dating back to the 19th century!
I’m cheating a bit with this one because technically this is not Amsterdam. It’s a quiet water village more than a hundred kilometers to the northeast of the city! But it really deserves a spot here. Called the “Venice of the North”, Giethoorn is such a peaceful, quiet, idyllic place it’s hard to believe a place like this exists outside books and movies. The natural beauty of the place is almost surreal, with a charm only evoked by rural places. Somehow, it’s not like Venice at all. No commercialism, no throngs of tourists. Just serene waterways and the famous “whisper boats” running on electricity. If ever there was the ideal place in the world for rest and meditation, this is it.
Of course, what good will a tour be without some great food? Here are the places I tried and recommend.
“De Foodhallen” is, as the name implies, a large food “hall” (more of an indoor alley, really) located in the De Hallen cultural complex. It sports more than 20 food stands with international cuisines, such as Italian pizzas, Greek meze, and Asian summer rolls. Of course, this is also the best place to taste local cuisine! Burgers abound, courtesy of some of the city’s famous food stops. Make sure to explore the whole area when you’re here, as there are some specialty bars tucked away in rooms away from the central bar. There are also upstairs seating areas, for a more scenic dining.
Casa Peru hails itself as the first and only Peruvian resto in the whole Netherlands. Located in the Canal Ring, the place serves some great drinks and a nice fine dining experience. It’s a simple menu, but if you’re craving for something different, this is a good place to check out. The main dishes are around 18 EUR, and the starters are plentiful (though fairly expensive, close to the mains in price). Just don’t expect too much on the service front, as they cater to a large number of people almost ‘round the clock.
This is a cute little resto. The food is great, and it has a reputation for serving some of the best breakfast in the city. The portions are also huge, perfect for a big appetite! The classy interior adds to the dining experience, with whites and clean lines that are easy on the eyes. The prices are also reasonable, and you definitely get what you pay for.
This is (as the name implies) a Vietnamese restaurant with some delicious offerings and large portions. The menu is also extensive, serving all manners of Vietnamese dishes. The location is great, just on one corner of the Leidseplein. Go here if you want a quick and delicious Oriental fix while touring Amsterdam.
Amsterdam also turned out to be a great place to buy pork! Pork is cheap when we went grocery shopping. The marinated pork is awesome, and all I had to do was to fry it. It’s just 2 EUR — add a little rice, and you have a meal! Grocery shopping is, strangely enough for a tourist, a great experience.
This time around, I was really able to appreciate the beauty that is Amsterdam. Sans the cold, I feel that this is one city I can comfortably live in! I am not gifted with a great sense of direction, so driving isn’t really my cup of tea — so a city with a great public transport system and awesome walkability is something I love.
My notion of Amsterdam changed a lot. It really pays to visit a city a second time around. Of course, there’s the taboo stuff like the weed (which you can occasionally smell) and the red light district, but overall it’s a peaceful city — one that you should really visit at least twice!