I grew up in a Dutch family in Australia. Like many others, my grandparents were a part of the European wave of immigrants fleeing the scars of World War II, arriving to Land Down Under in the 50’s with a couple of kids in tow and not much else.
My childhood was a cultural hybrid. Sunday BBQ’s with rollmops (pickled herring), a Queenslander house with wooden clogs on the wall – and there was no such thing as too much cheese.
Fast forward 20 years, and I was living in the Peak District in the United Kingdom. With a handful of international airports within a two hour radius, I knew my first weekend trip abroad simply had to be home to The Netherlands. For one cold drizzly weekend in February 2017, I had three days to explore the motherland. So what did I get up to?
On the hunt for a rainy day activity, I jumped on the tram down to the Museum Quarter – home to world famous institutions like the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. In a classic case of expectation vs reality, I suddenly found myself wading through the hundreds of travellers scrambling to get a selfie with the “I Am Amsterdam” sign. Scrambling for an escape route, I found myself in what can only be described as an old and slightly creepy three story house.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, this house was home to the Moco Museum. After wandering in, I discovered that this less popular alternative was actually home to modern art exhibits from the likes of Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and the big one – a legitimate (although unauthorized) exhibit of British guerilla street artist, Banksy. The best part? Little to no tourists.
Albert Cuyp Market
Open 9:00am to 5:00pm daily except Sundays, if you want to get away from the hedonism of the tourist district – make your way south to the district of De Pijp or “The Pipe”. Half farmers market, half flea market, I spent hours wandering around with the locals of this rapidly gentrifying part of town.
If you want to sample some Dutch street food that doesn’t cost a kidney and actually tastes good, this is where it’s at. Was this Amsterdam’s answer to the famous English markets of Notting Hill? Maybe not yet, but it wasn’t too far off!
I make a specific point of allocating at least an hour of people watching time each time I go on an adventure. Situated right in front of Amsterdam’s Royal Palace, to me this square was the beating heart of the city.
Lunch breaks, getting kids out of the house, meeting point – this was it. I’m not ashamed to admit that I bought a loaf of bread for the pigeons either.
Each evening after a day of exploring, I found myself at Cafe Langereis. As a solo traveller, dining alone for dinner is not my favourite thing to do – but this was exception.
A cheese platter, a glass of wine and nightly jazz sessions, this is the type bohemian sanctuary that independent travellers dream of.
Rent A Bike
Notorious for being tall, blunt and tolerant – the Dutch are also ahead of the pack when it comes to clean transport. Of the 800, 000 residents of Amsterdam, you can guarantee that just about everyone of them owns a bicycle as their main mode of transportation. When in Rome right?
For a leisurely cruise, stick to the areas of Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, together forming the Canal Ring. This part of town is what most people have in mind when they daydream of Amsterdam – flowers, stunning architecture, boating on Sundays, and essentially life in the slow lane.
Coffee Shop Culture
No article on Amsterdam would be complete without mentioning the obvious – pot. Smoking cannabis is indeed legal in The Netherlands, which on it’s own makes it a tourist destination. You can grab yourself a brownie or a joint to go with your afternoon latte in many cafes in Amsterdam, or you can brave the seedy establishments with neon signs in the Red Light District – the choice is yours.
I consulted with one of my cousins living in Rotterdam for some advice, instead of trying to navigate through the haze myself (pun intended). He explained that the cafes are not allowed to advertise the sale of weed, maximum five grams per person, no sales to minors and no alcohol can be served. He also let me know that as this was not my usual forte, it would be much, much stronger than I was used to – so friends, go easy and opt for the brownie and leave the bong for the professionals.
Amsterdam is not the type of city you visit with a “To-Do” list with items to tick off. It needs to be inhaled, savoured and essentially done slowly – every day feels like Sunday. Take the time to explore the districts, as the best parts are found in daily life away from the tourist centre.
These are other common hot spots that are worthy if you have time or the motivation.
- Red Light District
- Anne Frank’s House
- Heineken Experience
- Rembrandt House
© All text and images by Angela Wallace