When: December – January
Weed. Prostitutes. There, now we have gotten that out the way, I can tell you that there are many things to do in the city at this time of year. I went over New Year’s and stayed in the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel right next to Centraal Station. I like to stay central and usually within walking distance to at least one hotspot when travelling, as it always makes for a nice stroll back to the hotel late at night. Luckily for me this particular hotel boasted a Skybar, which come midnight on NYE, saw some seriously cool views of the city.
As it was winter, it was freezing, so I recommend you take a coat. A big one. It gets so icy cold your bones will be numb – I’d have been lost without my trusty UGG boots (Classic Short in Grey, if you were wondering). Their winter is not like the UK, it is bitterly freezing.
Now, a few things to keep in mind when visiting:
Don’t get run over. Seriously. There are more bikes than there are people (750,000 people to one million bikes!) and their bike lanes aren’t like our rubbish ones – they have real roads just for cyclists. So for example, when attempting to cross the road outside Centraal Station, look out for cars, bikes and trams – in both directions! That’s six lots of traffic, all on the wrong side of the road.
Like the UK, smoking tobacco inside a public place is illegal, but smoking cannabis isn’t. Do not smoke cannabis out on the streets, just your cigarettes. Confused? Me too. Drugs are tolerated by the local authority but it is still a grey area for me. Go to a Coffee Shop, and stay in it, that would be my best advice. There are around 200 registered coffee shops in Amsterdam, so take your pick. They will usually be very obvious from the signage that they sell cannabis, as they are not allowed to advertise in any other way. You are allowed to legally have 5g of ‘soft’ drugs on you, any more and you risk a jail sentence.
Now aside from the Coffee Shops and Red Light District, there is plenty to see and do. Here are my top five activities:
1. Canal Cruise
I recommend first taking a cruise along the extensive map of canals; it’s a must for any first time visitor. It allows you to really get a feel for the city while keeping warm. There is plenty of tourist places that offer a dinner cruise so you can see the city by night and see everywhere all lit up.
You don’t need to be a history buff, or even a little bit interested in history, to really appreciate the short life of the girl behind the diary. (A book review is available here). I do recommend you pre-book your tickets via the internet and get the queue jump option – they don’t cost much more and it will literally save you hours of queuing in the aforementioned freezing weather.
3. Albert Cuyp Market
I can’t resist a bit of shopping no matter where I go, and so as soon as I landed I was on a hunt for the best place to go for some retail therapy. Amsterdam is full of markets, but this is the cheapest and longest. It stretches over one kilometre and is packed with hundreds of market traders selling everything from handbags and clothes to fresh fruit and handmade jewellery. It’s easy to get to from Amsterdam Centraal Station via a tram which takes you directly there.
4. The Nine Streets
Like I said, I can’t resist some shopping (even though I flew out a few days after Christmas). The Nine Streets is at the centre of Amsterdam’s canal district and is the most picturesque shopping area in the city. Surrounded by the 17th Century canals and only a short walk from Dam Square, it is definitely worth a trip. Filled with jewellers, vintage boutiques, gift shops and quirky bars, you can easily spend the day in this area.
5. Vincent Van Gogh Museum
I wouldn’t call myself cultured, but I really did love visiting this museum. I went initially as I felt that I just should, and I’m genuinely pleased that I did. Priceless works of art really are something to be appreciated, don’t underestimate how much you will love wandering through the halls of over 200 pieces of art. Again this was something I pre-booked online, but I went mid-afternoon and I feel I missed most of the crowds and queuing so I really didn’t need to. But I like to be organised.
There is so much more to see and do, I only went for four days but I could have done with longer. There are some lovely restaurants and bars with authentic Dutch food, not that I ate any of it. I am typically British I’m afraid; I ate Italian food the entire time. Apart from Stroopwaffels (they are very Dutch), and have a crunchy/gooey consistency – a perfect cure for the munchies. When in Amsterdam and all that…