Amsterdam, which takes its name from the Dutch meaning, “the dam through the river Ansel”, has 150km of canals and over 400 bridges–more canals than Venice. The city is extremely diverse and what impressed me the most was how accepting the people of Amsterdam are overall. For example, our Uber driver moved from Washington D.C. and said it was much easier to integrate with the locals compared to, say, France. There are over 177 cultures living in the city.
Amsterdam is populated with SO many bikes throughout the city; the saying to avoid getting run over is, “If you hear a bell, run like hell.”
Originally in the city for the European Women in Technology conference, I stayed with my colleagues at CitizenM hotel, a very modern and unique building. The rooms were tiny (the only place to store your items was a huge drawer under the bed) with a see-through shower, so things could get very awkward quickly if you’re splitting a room with a co-worker (luckily, we didn’t.) Everything in the room–lighting, blinds, mood settings, TV, etc.–is controlled by a tablet in the room.
We opted for an AirBNB for the weekend, but missed the prime location of CitizenM.
CitizenM is situated just a short walk away from the best Japanese food (rated on taste, value, selection, and service) I’ve tried in Europe so far, Hakata Senpachi. Izakaya lovers, you have to try this place. Favorite dishes? Agadashi tofu (always my go-to appetizer), grilled seabass (only 12EUR for the entire fish!), and the chef choice #3 sashimi assortment. While all the signs advertising toro sound tempting, 22EUR for three slices didn’t quite cut it for us. Everything else is very affordable though.
Note: you’ll emerge from Hakata Senpachi in a cloud of smoke from the restaurant’s grill, so wear clothes you don’t mind getting smelly.
If you’re in search of dessert, pick up a famous Stroopwaffel at any market, first created in the 18th century in Gouda (you should also definitely try the cheese as well!). The Stroopwaffel has two thin waffles sandwiching caramel. Delicious and very sweet.
For even bigger sweettooths, give the humongous milkshakes at Bulls & Dogs a try. Our choices? Silly Strawberry Passion for Amy and Big Banana Bash for me. Absolutely unhealthy and absolutely delicious.
If you’re into museums, the Rijksmusem is a must for Dutch art (don’t miss Rembrandt’s famous “The Night Watch”) and the Anne Frank House is also an interesting stop if you’ve read The Diary of Anne Frank. I was very surprised to hear that two of my friends who grew up in India had never heard of Anne Frank; it was required reading for me growing up.
I wasn’t able to make it to the largest collection of bags and purses or the Van Gogh museum this time. Tyler gave the Heineken Experience a try as well, but lines were incredibly long around the block and not really worth the wait. Purchase tickets online for all the museums if you can plan ahead!
To explore the city over the weekend, we signed up for a 2-hour free walking tour that our friend Amy discovered. Beware, it’s long but very informative and takes you around the city to give you a good lay of the land.
We even walked through the Red Light District during the day and businesses were up and running. I found it intriguing that a huge church was located right next to all the working girls. Apparently, back in the day, the two even promoted each others’ businesses; after sailors went to visit the prostitutes (in case you’re wondering, today prices are 50EUR for 15 minutes), they were referred to confess their sins at the church.
The general rule is that as long as businesses don’t advertise what they’re selling, pay taxes, and don’t harm anyone, they are completely tolerated by the government. In fact, Amsterdam earned 14 billion in taxes from prostitution and weed transactions alone last year.
If you’re searching for a nice spot to camp out and work, try C-T Coffee & Coconuts (pictured above) or Cafe de Jaren, which has a lovely patio and a delicious tomato bisque. Our friends Alice and Sage (who recently got engaged in Amsterdam!) highly recommend Bar Bukowski, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to trek out to Oosterpark.
Pro tip: in Amsterdam, “cafes” are the normal establishments you expect, but “coffee shops” are the ones that sell weed.
We definitely plan to return to Amsterdam in the springtime for the tulip festival. The daily tulip market is still available off-season, but isn’t as interesting. A day trip to the countryside (most notably Giethoorn) is also on our list.