Amsterdam. A place that is on many bucket lists. A place that is known for its culture and heritage. A place I’ll never go back to.
Before going on my travels to Amsterdam, I read a lot of different blogs posts about Amsterdam, the things to do while there, and what to expect when you get there. But none of them really prepared me for what I experienced. So today I’m going to give you an honest guide to Amsterdam. I’m not going to make it positive in order to get more views, I’m just going to give you the honest truth. Which is what I wished I had read before going myself!
Where? Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Hotel? Bastion Noord, 2 miles from centre.
How long? 4 days, 5 nights.
Travelling with? My S.O, O.S
So like I said, before going I read a lot of different blog posts about Amsterdam and many gave the same advice, but incase you haven’t come across those yet, let me give you an idea…
Now let me give you an idea of what it’s really like. I told you I’m going to give it to you straight, so I’m going to give you a whole run down of our Amsterdam trip.
Myself and Ow both done a bit of reading about Amsterdam, and we had both read good things about it, so when we landed at Schipol Airport we were full of hope of the amazing holiday we were about to have in The Dam. The airport itself was modern and organised, it was clearly signposted so we weren’t running around like headless chickens wondering where to go and what to do when we landed.
We had also pre-booked our airport transfers, so by the time we got through security our taxi was waiting for us at an arranged taxi bay. Our driver, René, was absolutely lovely, very chatty, and happy to answer any questions we had…I definitely recommend getting airport transfers/taxis and asking your driver as many questions as possible that you have about the city. His English was also really good, so he could understand us and we could understand him, without sounding patronising! He was telling us all the good spots (such as his ice-cream shop, where he told us to go and say hello to his wife Audrey) and where to not bother going (such as the Anne Frank house because you can see more of it online because you’re rushed around).
When we got to the hotel, we were a bit apprehensive because of the location. Your typical skirt of the city area, but the hotel seemed decent enough. We decided to go cheap and cheerful and pay for extra days. We checked in, got our room keys, and were given 2 vouchers for a free drink each at the hotel bar. But that’s where the niceties ended. We weren’t told where our room was, or how to get there, there was nothing about checking out, or what to do if we needed anything.
When we got to our room, we realised how small it really was. As soon as we opened the door, to the right there was a small hanging area for our clothes and a safety deposit box (another thing not mentioned at check in!), and to the left was the bathroom…which had an almost see-through door with a 3 inch gap at the bottom for optimal privacy! The rest of the room was no better. We had twin beds, which we ended up pushing together…but they were way too squishy (queue Goldilocks quotes), there were delightful brown stains on the “white” walls, and the window was tiny. It was like being in a prison cell. They did have a TV, hairdryer, tea and coffee making facilities, and a mini fridge (not stocked) though, so there is that!
Trying to get into the city centre was a bit of a nightmare too. We tried to get on a bus to get into the city but when we boarded the bus and tried to buy tickets, we were told that we could only pay by card! Nowhere on the bus stop did it mention that. Nor did anyone tell us. So we had to walk into town but there were signs pointing opposite ways telling the direction of the city centre and ended up walking around for 2 hours after finally finding someone who spoke English and asking for directions.
There’s a free ferry that takes you from one side of a canal to the other, where the central station was, but because we hadn’t got our day tickets for the bus we wanted to know what time they would stop running so we knew we could still get back, but there were no signs. So we went into the central station, found some guys in GVB high-vis jackets and asked them. And all we got in return was, “I don’t know” so we asked if any of the guys he was with knew what times, they said 3am.
Since our feet were already killing us, we decided to sit on the side of a canal and chill for a bit…basking in the smell of weed. Lovely. (please note the sarcasm!!)
After seeing so many bikes around Amsterdam, and reading that it’s something you should do, we decided to give it a go. There were a few bike hire shops dotted around the city, but the closest one was in central station, MET BIKES. It was €100 deposit and you needed to leave a form of ID with them. So if riding a bike is what you plan on doing, make sure you carry plenty of cash with you that day. There were 3 options when hiring the bike, you could have it for 1 hour, 3 hours, or 24 hours with varying prices. But after our experience, we didn’t want them for any more than an hour! It was the most stressful thing I had ever experienced. Not carefree, like the locals made it look. You share a cycle path with pedestrians, other cyclists, motorised scooters, and odd tiny fiat cinquecento’s (Inbetweeners car!). You end up fearing for your life rather than taking in the views…I felt like I was in the Tour de France when setting off from a red light.
After deciding that the bikes weren’t for us, we decided to get the GVB ticket. We tried to buy them at a ticket machine, but you could only pay by card. So we went into one information shop in central station that advertised selling them to be told we could only pay by card, again! So we went into the other information shop to be told that there’s only one section of the desk that dealt with those tickets, so as we walked up to the person, he decided to walk away from the desk and go out the back office. And instead of any of the other assistants coming over to help or asking if they could help us, they just sat there on their phones!
We explored the Sex Museum too. Honestly, if you weren’t told where to go you would walk straight passed it. It’s set between your standard shops, and you wouldn’t think of the hilarious…slightly scary things that lurk inside.
Getting a decent meal is difficult as well. You have to walk for miles to try and find a decent restaurant to sit down and eat a decent meal. We found one restaurant which was small, but looked popular. We ordered drinks, were brought the wrong drinks. We were rushed to order our food, and were told we couldn’t have a burger because it was after 5pm (what?). Then 3 different orders went passed with burgers…hmm. We ordered a cheese platter as well, have a look at the picture below of what we were given (i.e. 8 or 9 chunks of cheddar cheese).
In the evening, we explored the Red Light District. I was already a bit apprehensive about this because I had heard stories and I couldn’t see it as being anything other than degrading to women. Which is exactly what it was. I know that these women were doing their jobs, and doing what was needed to be done to make ends meet but some of the women couldn’t even bring themselves to look up and were just looking straight at the floor to avoid eye-contact with the howling dirty old men, and I honestly felt so much sympathy for them. You could also go and watch live action porn shows…how can people think this would be fun? Sitting in a theatre with 100 odd other people, watching porn? I’ll pass thanks.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned how expensive Amsterdam was…15 euros for a six pack of Heineken?! By this point, we’d had enough and just wanted to go back to our delightful room and have a chill. But that was expensive too!
Being from Wales, we’re used to a bit of rain, and we expected it so we were prepared for the absolute downpour of Day 3, unlike most other people who were walking around in plastic ponchos like they were at Glastonbury. We caught the bus into the centre and then walked a bit further out to what I would call the back streets, and stopped off for food in a little Italian restaurant called Ristorante Italiano Azzurro…which served us the best food we’d had since arriving! And the best service too. You could tell he cared about his customers, instead of just the money from tourists.
After feeling a bit better after eating some decent food, we done a bit more exploring…only to be nearly run over a few dozen times! The streets were honestly like the wacky races. Like I mentioned earlier, you share the sidewalk with all kinds of ignorant people and vehicles! When we weren’t nearly being run over though we managed to take in some of the sights. Mainly the buildings. They had a mix of modern, traditional, and a little bit weird. Some of the buildings were actually leaning out so far it was amazing they were still standing.
We booked onto the Ice Bar too with one of those typical tourist excursion booking shops, and the guy in there was really helpful. Especially when telling us where we could get the bus from to take us there…he should have worked in the bus station because he was certainly more helpful than the guys in there! From the outside, I can only describe it as looking like a run down Oceana, and make sure you get there with enough time because (as expected) it’s really popular. They don’t call it an Ice Bar for nothing, it’s honestly freezing! Make sure you wrap up warm and then some. They do give you coats and gloves, but even with my own coat and thick jumper on underneath those I was still numb. All I’ll say about the drinks is, even if you don’t like vodka, try the vodka; because even I enjoyed a few sips of this (and I think vodka tastes like bleach).
Possibly our worst experience of Amsterdam was when we tried to walk into a small pub, which looked like something you’d find back in the UK. There was a guy who we assumed to be the owner standing in the doorway who blocked us from going in. And when O asked if we were allowed in, he shrugged and said yes…but still didn’t move.He just stood there, in the way, with his arms crossed. When we shuffled around him into the pub, we were greeted by 2 old men staring at us. Not feeling comfortable, we decided to leave, again shuffling around the guy in the doorway, who then shouted sarcastically “Well that was quick” – to which O nearly ended up in a fight because he was done with the rude culture.
Safe to say that we’d had enough of Amsterdam by Day 4 – one major issue for us was the constant smell of weed everywhere you went! We expected it a bit because we knew how free they were with the drug but it was starting to give me headaches constantly being surrounded by the smell. We didn’t want to totally waste the day so we dragged ourselves out of bed and decided to go to the Amsterdam Dungeon. We would actually recommend this because the guys who worked there made an effort to make sure you enjoyed yourself and that you were a little bit scared at at least 1 part of the tour, and they tried to get as many people involved as they could. Most of it is in the dark…you go in elevators and down stairs, and it seems like it goes on for miles but it’s only in the one building! No pictures though, they want to make sure you don’t ruin it for future visitors. As much as we enjoyed the dungeons, it could take away the bad experiences we’d had in the previous days so we went to a local supermarket, bought a load of sweets and headed back to our hotel to lay in bed and watch Recess: Schools Out…and as bad as it sounds, we actually enjoyed doing this.
So if this hasn’t completely put you off visiting Amsterdam, be prepared for a total culture shock! But if you’ve already been, I’d love to hear your experience…we honestly thought we’d done something wrong.
Probably the best thing to come from our trip was that it strangely brought us closer. Typical Brits, bonding over complaining about things!
Where next? Cotswolds.