Amsterdam just may be my favorite city in Europe that I've visited. Beyond the image that many of us have in our minds as it being a nightlife city full of unenforced taboos, Amsterdam is just flat out gorgeous.
I've traveled to Amsterdam a couple of times - once with Contiki, a tour company for people under 35, and a second time with a couple of friends traveling around Europe on our own. After getting a taste of Amsterdam the first time, one of my friends and I knew that we just had to make it a point to go back. And so we did.
Forgoing a typical hotel, we decided to rent a boathouse from a kind, accommodating local couple for a few days with House-Boat Hotel, basically an Airbnb for Amsterdam houseboats. Fantastic choice and I recommend anyone traveling to the city to do the same. There's just something about waking up and having a cup of coffee right on the canal. Literally.
You'll see very few cars around as Amsterdam is centered around bicycling, walking and public transportation. In fact, we were told that the citizens of Amsterdam were actually the ones that pushed for this. Admirable. Do know and keep in mind, however, that because bicycles are essentially their cars, they take them very seriously. Bicycle lanes are expected to be clear of pedestrians at all times, so pay full attention whenever you're walking. Bicyclists will fly by at full speed and they will get angry at you if you're standing in their "highway."
We wanted to join in on the bicycling-around-town fun so we went on a tour with MacBike, a bike shop with a location right at Amsterdam Central station. It's a nice activity if you're looking to get a little tour of the area. If you go with the organized tour, though, the pace is somewhat fast because everyone is biking fast here!
If you're not biking and want to get to destinations that are a little far for walking, there is an above and below ground metro system. The tickets are a little different from most cities as it doesn't charge by destination but by time; from when you need it first to when you need it last. It runs to Amsterdam Central station so you can conveniently catch it after riding the train in from Schiphol Airport.
The night scene?
Admittedly, we didn't "go hard" on the night scene, but we did get a glimpse. The city is pretty lively at night, nothing crazy for the most part, but people are out and about and having a good time.
If you venture into the Red Light district, you'll know. No photography is allowed while in the area and it's definitely an adults-only place. There are shops with neon-illuminated windows with girls in skimpy, scandalous outfits in them either behaving provocatively or just sitting or standing there. No nudity or anything like that, but you could guess that all that happens on the inside. There are police officers patrolling the area and they will take no nonsense. A group of guys near us seemed to be engaging in suspicious dealings and we watched a female officer - one who'd take all of us down with one hand tied behind her back with relative ease - carefully studying them with the most piercing of eyes. It was like a lion stalking its prey. Chills. She then walked right up like a boss and interrogated them without any hesitation at all. It was impressive to say the least.
Coffee shops, while not a "night" thing, are scattered all around the city. There's nothing conspicuous about them, and they don't ask for ID's or passports to check if you're a local or not. It's simply a coffee shop. But with weed. Half the menu for coffee, the other half for weed. Half the people in there drinking coffee, the other half smoking. It's an extremely surreal experience.
If you find yourself looking for a bite late at night, check out a Febo (my Yelp review). It's a local fast food shop that only sells food in slots that individually open up after you pay. Fried food heaven from croquets to chicken to fries.
While there are popular tourist attractions to check out like the Anne Frank Museum or the famous local brewery's Heineken Experience, we didn't do either. We spent most of our time walking the streets, wandering into the many random shops and boutiques around the city, and hanging out at our boathouse. And while I wouldn't call myself a big Heineken fan, I drank some of the local beer on tap and will say it tastes quite a lot better than the version we get overseas.
Put on some walking shoes and just roam the streets and alleys. Amsterdam is a gorgeous city, especially when I experienced it in the fall. It's vibrant in one spot and silent and peaceful right around the corner. Its architecture and cityscape are worthy of admiration on every block, and there is no shortage of nature around. If I ever considered moving to Europe for a bit, Amsterdam would be right near the top of places I'd consider.
I had been a fan of raw fish for a long time, but mostly in sushi or sashimi form. Having it in a sandwich made me a bit nervous but I was pleasantly surprised by its lightly pickled flavor. Stubbe's Haring is already popular, and because it's located near Amsterdam Central, making it convenient to grab a bite.
Randomly stumbling into this restaurant one night, we ate kangaroo for dinner. The menu was quite exotic to us and a couple of us ordered the least "risky" dishes listed, only to unanimously agree that the skewered kangaroo in mango sauce was the best. Feel at ease to try something new here as you won't be disappointed.