Kayliegh Land Does........ Amsterdam!

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In November of last year my boyfriend took me to Amsterdam for my 26th birthday! Well needless to say I fell in love with the city. Sure it is a city that is famous for its party and its easy going attitudes to sex and weed, I can understand why so many young people are drawn to it, but for me it was the surroundings, history and culture! When I told people that I was going to Amsterdam for a week they all told me how amazing it was and what I should definitely do but there was no preparing me for how amazing it was! Things you read and photos you will see when researching the city do not do it justice. As I am a huge history buff and I like to experience everything I can when I go somewhere I had us scheduled down to the minute. This is my list of places to go and things to see in Amsterdam along with a few tips I picked up along the way!

Accommodation


We stayed in a lovely little B&B just at the other end of Vondelpark where there was only a few rooms and you had a lovely breakfast left outside your door at 9am every morning. The owners of Bed and Breakfast Amsterdam (website here) were so nice! Upon check in one of the owners, Paul, met us to show us our lovely room and also give us a map of the city and recommendations of sites, transport and restaurants. We stayed in the Garden room which had a lovely view of a little courtyard garden which looked like something out of a Renoir or Van Gogh painting and at night was lit up by fairy lights.
This lovely place to stay is just a short walk through Vodelpark to the city center or a few minuets on the tram, but it is so quiet and calming on the banks of the canal that you feel like you are a million miles away from the busy city lights. This place is perfect if you are looking for a place to stay that is good value but not in the heart of all the nightlife, but still want to be a stones throw away from everything you want to experience!

Sights


As I said I had us scheduled down to the minute when we visited Amsetrdam, I believe it is the best way to get the most out of your trip. When we visited Prague we just kinda went with the flow and decided what we wanted to do the night before but we did not get to do all the tings we wanted to because we did not plan! So this time I was not making the same mistake and we sat down a month before we left and decided what we wanted to do and booked our tickets and decided what days we were going to do them. Here is a list of all the things I think you should do when you visit!

1. The Anne Frank House

I think this should be at the top of every ones list when they travel to Amsterdam. This is a part of history that is so iconic that probably everyone knows the story! As a young girl when I was in 6th class in primary school I had to do a history project on Anne Frank and her time in hiding. My mother gave me her copy of Anne Franks Diary which she had as a young girl and it is one of my most prized possessions. As I have read the Diary many times when I visited the house in Amsterdam it was suddenly all more real that I could have though. As the diary is written through the eyes of a young girl you do not really connect to the story and the terror they felt until you make your way through the hidden entrance behind the bookcase and stand in the tiny rooms they lived in for so long. 
As you enter you walk through the factory floor and make your way up through the building by the small narrow stairways and there are passages and interviews playing around you. You go further and further up the house until you come to the bookcase which concealed the entrance to the tiny living spaces. You walk through the living spaces of Anne Franks bedroom which she shared with her sister and her parents and these would be no bigger than a modern day bathroom, then proceed to the main living area which was also the bedroom for one of the other families who were in hiding. The rooms are so small you can not even imagine how it would have felt being cooped up in there for all those years. You can no longer go up to the top floor of the annex but there are mirrors so you can see the small space they had to move through. The walls still have some of the photos and papers that they stuck on the walls during their time in hiding. 
From the top of the house you enter into the museum where there are pages from Annes original diary in glass cabinets and the translations beside them. It is such an amazing place to see and it truly does bring the history of Europe which we all know to life once more. I would recommend booking your tickets for the Anne Frank House prior to going as if you do not book you can not enter the house before 3:30 in the afternoon. It only costs €9  (more information HERE)which is not a lot for such an amazing place to visit. Please be advised that there is no photography allowed inside the museum.

2. Heineken Experience


The Heineken Experience was the first thing we did when we got to Amsterdam. We were told that this attraction was a little over priced for what it was but Sean and I thought it was amazing, not to try and create controversy but even better than the Guinness Store House in Dublin! I know its a bit blasphemous of me to say but it is true. It is along the similar lines of the Guinness store house but the Heineken Experience has a ride and lots of interactive things throughout. This ride takes you through the process if making the beer! It was sooooooo good! Once you exit the ride you get taken into a room beside it where you get a free drink to be shown how to drink the beer (and yes there is a specific way!), once you have done this you can carry on through the museum. There are different levels to the experience which includes the making process and memorabilia from all the sporting events and festivals they sponsor such as the Heineken Rugby cup, Football, Oxygen music festival and many more. While going through the museum you get the chance to make your own personalized bottle to take home with you for about €10 for two bottles which you collect at the end. There are lots of fun and interactive games and photo opportunities through out to take advantage of. This is a sight that you can waste hours on! The Heineken Experience costs  €16 and in with this you get 2 free drinks at the end of the tour and a free souvenir glass to take away with you. Again I would advise you to pre-book your tickets online to avoid the lengthy lines on the day (more information HERE).

3. The Van Gogh Museum

This was one thing I was so excited to see when I went to Amsterdam as I have always loved art and just to be surrounded by masterpieces was always my dream! When I walked into the museum I felt like a child on Christmas morning, I was about to be in the presence of some of the greatest art work of all time. However, this museum does not hold all his works but there are many pieces from his early career before his expressionism period. Works here include 'Sunflowers' and 'Van Gogh Room At Arles' which are spectacular!
Again this is one I would advise you to book in advance as at €17 the lines for admissions can get very long very fast. Some may think that this is very pricey for a gallery but if you want to see a number of great works of art then you will have no problem paying it (more information HERE).
If you get peckish there is a lovely little bagel cafe about 5 mins around the corner from here called Bagels and Beans where you can get a lovely filled bagel and a tea/coffee at a very good price.  

 4. Rijksmuseum

This is one of the biggest museums that I have ever seen. There is an abundance of exhibits to walk around and lose hours in! Exhibits here span from the middle ages all the way up to 20th century art. In my opinion the Night Watch Gallery on the top floor is the place to be, the art that is here is just outstanding and you can look at it for hours and never believe how truly talented these artists were because these painting look so life like it is scary! Entrance to this museum is €17.50 but it will take you a good few hours to round the whole museum, again I would advise booking online prior to arrival (more information HERE). To make navigating this huge museum easier there is an official app which you can download for free for iPhone and Android. 

5. Take A Stroll Through Vondelpark

We were fortunate to be staying less then 3 minutes away from Vondelpark and we took a walk to the city through it almost every day. As you are walking you get to see people going about their daily business going to work, taking a run, walking the dog and various exercise activities taking place every day. However, one thing you need to watch out for is the cyclists, Vondelpark is closed off to cars but the bikes can be more deadly! The Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and the Heineken Experience along with the rest of the city are just minutes walk from the end of the park. I don't know what it is about this park but it is truly beautiful in the winter, I can only imagine it is breathtaking in the rest of the seasons. 

6. Take A Stroll Through The Red Light District At Night

This is a sight to behold! It is such a culture shock to see women stood in windows selling sex, but somehow it is not seedy or explicit! We were walking down the street and there was a couple with a child with them but I guess if it is what you are brought up with then it is noting out of the ordinary. The whole district is lit up with red lights (and some blue lights usually for gay or transexuals) and it is so pretty to see. However, you run into the occasional drunken stag party or 18/19 year olds drooling at the women as they walk by but it is a nice experience. At the start of the district I found the inner prudish Irish woman in me thinking 'Those girls should cover up!' or 'They will catch their death in that!' but after a while it was just normal and fascinating. There were girls of all shapes, sizes and ethnicity in the windows so it is nice seeing that this is accepted by all. However, there are two main rules when walking along the Red Light District which I read about in my travel guide:
  • DO NOT TAKE PICTURES OF THE GIRLS IN THE WINDOWS
  • DO NOT LOITER OUTSIDE THE WINDOWS
 Also in my handy travel guide I also read up on some facts about the prostitution business in Amsterdam which I was surprised at. It can cost upwards of €150 a night for the girls to rent the windows! However, the girls will generally start their rates at about €75 and obviously that price will increase depending on what the customer wants. All the girls have to have regular STI checks to be able to work which is really important as they must protect themselves. All the rooms come equip with a panic button in case of an aggressive customer, again for safety reasons. In Amsterdam this is a legitimate trade and as good citizens all the girls pay taxes on their earnings just like everyone else.

Other things to do and see include:
  • The canal cruise - This is about €16 but it takes you to places that you would not get to see on foot and the guides on the cruises. There is a great variety of companies which offer these cruises and they have starting points at all the major attractions along the canals. We took the Lovers Cruise (more information HERE). 
  • The Sex Museum - This is only €4 and is okay but its a little crying in places but it is a good laugh (more information HERE).
  • Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum - This is again a bit of fun, it is all about the history of the plant. It is split across two different locations and the one ticket gets you into both. It is €9 and you get a free audio guide to go round the museum with (more information HERE).
  • Verzetsmuseum - This is the Dutch Resistance museum. This is not as good as I expected it to be but it is still worth a visit for a few hours and at only €10 it is not badly priced (more information HERE). Also for a bite afterwards there is a lovely Bar/Cafe on the corner where you can get a filling lunch for a reasonable price.

Travel

There are many ways to travel around Amsterdam but we decided to get the tram everywhere or walk. The trams are regular enough so you will never really be waiting more than 5 or 10 min for a tram to where you want to go. There are also many options for the travel tickets and they all offer different terms. The two main options we cam across were:

  1. I Amsterdam Travel Pass - This pass only offers up to 92 hours of travel and entrance to some of the cities attractions. These vary in price from €57 to €87. This could be a good option if most of the attractions you would like to visit is on the list of free entry (find more information on the website HERE).
  2. GVB Transport Tickets - This travel pass is available for up to 7 days of unlimited travel.  This ticket does not grant you free entry into any attractions but only varies from €7.50 for one day to €34 for 7 days. These tickets are usable from the moment you first touch on the tram/bus. However, you can not purchase this ticket from the train station at the airport you can only purchase it from the GVB building across from Central Station in the city (more information is available on their website HERE) and does not cover you for travel to and from the airport.
 We decided to go with the GVB travel card as it made more sense for us. As we had already planned what we wanted to see and we researched the attractions included in the IAmsterdam card and there was only 3 or 4 of them. The cost made more sense as we were there for a week and we had already made savings by booking most of the things we wanted to do online before we went.
We traveled by the trams and took full advantage of the unlimited travel we got with the card. As you step onto the tram there are only two sets of doors you can go through and you must either buy the ticket from the conductors in the booths (Note: only single trip and day tickets are available for purchase on the tram), or touch on with your previously purchased ticket. When you wish to exit the tram at the stop you must make your way to one of the exits and touch off before you leave the tram. 

My Top Tips!

  • Be Cautious Of The Cyclists - This is a big one in the city! There are cyclists everywhere and unlike here in Ireland they used the bike paths made for them, so always make sure you look around yourself really well before you proceed to cross the road.
  • Keep An Eye On Your Bag - I think this one goes without saying but always keep an eye on my bags especially when you are travelling though busy areas. This is something we all do in large cities but don't let all the lights and the fun distract you.
  • It Is Okay To Go And Not Smoke - When we went we were so busy that we did not even think about it! Just because you are in Amsterdam does not mean you have to partake in the goings on. I understand that is it legal there and I am in no way against it but I just did not feel the need to do it, and no one believes me when I tell them I went to Amsterdam and did not smoke!
  • Be Prepared For The Smell Of Weed Everywhere - I was not prepared for this at all and once I stepped out of Central Station when we got there it hit me in the face like walking into a wall! As I am not used to smelling it, it took me a day to kind of get used to it. There are coffee shops everywhere and they are constantly packed so be prepared for an even stronger smell of weed when you walk past them. 
  • It Is A Total Different Culture - This was the main thing to adjust to for me. The culture is just the compete opposite of what the Irish culture is. Over there there is such an accepting culture of sex and drugs  that would cause a lot of pearl clutching among the irish female citizens! It was so unusual to walk down the street and see a head shop beside a paper shop and then a sex shop beside that! I swear we walked down one street and I counted about 10 sex shops, and the street was not that long haha! Be prepared for some of the things to make you cringe a little at first but after a while you don't even notice it.
  • Customs Coming Home - Do be aware that as you come through security on home soil you are asked to go into single file along the wall so the customs drug dogs can get a sniff of your bags. So please do remember that there is always the possibility when you are on a coffee shop that something could fall into your handbag or backpack so make sure you are not bringing anything illegal home. Have fun but remember weed in not legal here!
  • Have As Much Fun As Possible - I know I did not fully embrace the culture but I still had a blast and one of the best time of my life with my boyfriend sightseeing. Seeing a culture which is a stark contrast to my own was wonderful to see and experience.
  • Get Lost - I have found that getting lost can be the best way to experience a city, Amsterdam especially. We discovered some beautiful streets and building by just hopping off the tram at a random stop and wandering about. Just always remember that Google Maps can be your best friend while exploring!
  • Get A Travel Guide Book - The one I used was the Lonely Planet travel guide and you can get these from any good book shop and on the lonely planet website, but Sean got ours off Amazon and it was a fraction of the price!
Amseterdam is one of the most beautiful places I have been and I think I did fall in love with the city a little. I know it is going to be a place I go back to as there are many places I would love to discover and more of the culture I would like to embrace!

If you have been to Amsterdam let me know what you enjoyed and what we should do the next time we go back!

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