To celebrate my 21st birthday, I decided to go to Amsterdam for a long weekend (cliche, I know). I’d heard a lot about this city, from the Red Light District to the beautiful canals, and as it was a mere 45 minute flight from London, it seemed like a great place to spend my birthday weekend. I found Amsterdam to be very pretty- dotted with canals, flower markets and gorgeous town houses which made it lovely to stroll through. During the day, it had a very laid-back vibe to it, but the nightlife was pretty vibrant. There isn’t a whole lot of sight seeing to do in Amsterdam, so we spent most of our time walking around and taking in the Dutch lifestyle. This was very easy to do because the city is so small and compact, and we found that we didn’t need to use trams or buses. I’ll give you a run down of what we got up to.
9 Streets and The Jordaan Neighbourhood
On our first day, we arrived mid-afternoon, so checked our bags into the hostel and headed out to explore. We wandered around with nothing in mind and came across an array of streets lined with shops and cafes and so took some time to survey the sweet and cheese shops for foreign treats and Dutch cheese. The 9 Streets felt much like Oxford Street in London, except a lot less busy and with significantly more vintage boutiques and cheese shops. And when I say cheese shops, I mean there was about 40 of them. The subject of cheese became a running joke of the trip.
The 9 Streets are located right near the Jordaan neighbourhood, one of the most upscale areas in The Netherlands. Jordaan holds many art galleries and museums, including the famous Anne Frank House, which we decided not to visit due to the ridiculously long queue. We spent a lot of time in Jordaan over the weekend, mainly strolling along the beautiful canals.
We came across Dam Square on our first evening whilst wandering around and found a man breathing fire and swallowing swords. On the second day, we walked through Dam Square again and found horses and carriages, a topless lady making a protest and a man playing the bagpipes. There are also a lot of food stalls and cafes around the square, so its a pretty bustling place. The square is the historic centre of Amsterdam, and holds the Koninklijk Palace, which used to be home to the Dutch royal family, and the National Memorial statue, erected in memory of Dutch soldiers who died in World War II. The National Memorial statue is strangely phallic for a memorial to soldiers, but I guess that’s Amsterdam for you.
Amsterdam is well-known for having many coffee shops which sell legal highs. I am not partial to marijuana myself, but when in Amsterdam… We found a coffee shop called “Coffee Shop Smokey” which was lit up very extravagantly inside and playing reggae music. It had quite a chilled atmosphere despite the bright, colourful lights and I recommend it as a place to try if you’re in Amsterdam.
Hiring a Bicycle and Vondelpark
The second you set foot in Amsterdam, you’ll be overwhelmed by the amount of people on bicycles. According to the BBC, there are more bicycles than residents in The Netherlands, and in Amsterdam more than 70% of journeys are made on bikes. So to fully immerse yourself in Dutch culture and feel like a local, I highly recommend hiring a bike for a few hours or even a whole day. It cost €5 plus a €50 deposit to hire a bike for 3 hours, which to me felt like a bargain- make sure to look for cycle hire off the main roads for a better price! I found the bike quite difficult to get on with, as the bikes did not have hand brakes like I am used to, but instead you must pedal backwards to stop, which proved difficult for me. Nonetheless, I found it to be an enjoyable experience- we pedaled to Vondelpark which was a beautiful park situated in the south west of the city. It had lots of cycle paths, ponds and ice cream stalls so was a lovely place to spend a couple of hours with the bikes.
Body Worlds: The Happiness Project
Gunther von Hagen’s Body Worlds was easily the most interesting exhibition I’ve ever been to. It comprised of real plasticised bodies and tells the story of our own body and how our health affects our happiness. It was astonishing that the exhibits used to be real life people, and some of the sections were pretty harrowing. Definitely not for everyone, and I won’t give away too much, but if biology, psychology or plasticised bodies interest you, go pay a visit. It cost €16 but was worth every penny, and is located on Damrak, not far from the sex museum.
Hiring a Pedalo
What better way to explore the canals than to hire a pedalo? This was perhaps my favourite activity that we did- we hired a pedalo for €8 for an hour, which again seemed like a bargain. Pedaling along the canal provided a very different experience to pedaling along the streets, and it was quite entertaining trying to pedal quickly away from all the large canal boats heading towards us.
A Canal Cruise
Stupidly, we decided to do a canal cruise on our final day in Amsterdam. I say stupidly because we learned so much about the history and things to do in Amsterdam that we did not know about, and so missed out on some things we would have liked to do. I definitely recommend you do this at the beginning of your trip to get your bearings and find out where everything is in the city. It cost €16 which seemed a little steep, but it was very interesting learning about the history of the city and I really enjoyed it.
The Sex Museum
I’d heard a lot about the sex museum before coming to Amsterdam, and definitely wanted to pay a visit. It cost €4, located on Damrak, and contained erotic art and sculptures, as well as the history of sex work. There was also a giant penis sculpture which you could take photos with…
The Red Light District
This would not be an Amsterdam blog post without mentioning the famous Red Light District. This is not for the faint hearted- at night the red lights are turned on and prostitutes stand behind windowed doors, attempting to entice you in. It really was an experience- this kind of culture is definitely not apparent in my home city, and so it shocked me quite a bit. The streets of this neighbourhood are lined with these prostitute houses, as well as sex shows and peep shows. The sex shows cost between €30 and €40 so we gave them a miss, but for €2 you can go to a peep show where you stand in a box for 2 minutes and watch a single girl or a couple. We decided to do this to see what it was all about, and it was quite disturbing I have to say. Also along The Red Light District is a museum of prostitution called “Red Light Secrets” which you can visit during the day. I highly recommend this as it was very interesting, but also very harrowing. I will also point out to be careful in The Red Light District- whilst queuing for the peep show, a man tried to pickpocket me. I caught him in the act having half opened my bag and he quickly moved away without taking anything.