If you’re planning a trip to the one and only Amsterdam – the capital of the Netherlands and the Mecca of some of the most amazing sights and attractions in Europe (if not in the world), it’s quite easy to get lost already at the starting point. After all, the broad spectrum of options may make your head dizzy. However, if you remember about the 10 useful tips listed below, moving around and about the city should a fun experience and a piece of cake – a delicious one, too.
DO – speak in English if you’re not a native Dutch.
Afraid you might get lost? Don’t worry – it seems that everyone in this over-16 million country speaks the queen’s language at least at an intermediate level (but in most cases it is even close to proficient, in fact), so should you ever feel a bit confused, feel free to ask for directions and any other type of help – the locals are really friendly and they don’t mind sparing a moment to explain you the details of the best route from point A to point B; some may even approach you first if they see you’re a bit lost. If you speak English, then you’re safe – from municipal transport staff to flower sellers, everyone’s ready to give you a helping hand in the official language of the European Union.
DO – use means of public transport.
While it is obvious that you can get the best impression from any tour by exploring the surroundings on foot, it is also true that time is one of the most precious values nowadays and if you need a faster way to move around the city, then the rich selection of various means of public transport is at your service. Amsterdam enjoys a great network of connections and getting from the most northern to the most southern part of the city is really easy and pleasant – you might catch a glimpse of some truly interesting sights while travelling by tram, train, bus or ferry; the underground is also available, of course. A thing to remember is that you need a ticket, the so-called ‘OV-chipkaart’, to use the public transportation system. The options include one-hour cards – which can be bought directly on board of buses or trams – , multi-day cards and a refillable anonymous card (the most flexible solution if you don’t plan a scheduled trip). The tickets can be also bought at GVB ticket machines or GVB Tickets & Info points, plus some selected supermarkets and newsstands. Also, note that ferries can get you across the river free of charge. A thing to remember – you have to validate and de-validate your ticket every time you get in and out of the bus/tram/metro. It’s easy – all you need to do is hold your card up the ticket reading machine (located next to each door, or on free-standing posts spread around metro platforms) once you start your trip and do the same as you leave. It is particularly important, because if you forget to do it, the ticket may become invalid and you can be fined. It may sound a bit formal, but in practice, it’s really easy and natural, so you should get used to the system in no time.
DON’T – cross the roads without looking around.
This may seem quite trivial and obvious, but the trams in Amsterdam move surprisingly and unnaturally silently – they are as quiet as a mouse, in fact, and sometimes may arrive out of a sudden and appear behind your back as you’ll be gazing upon the lovely canals. This quality, of course, adds up to the comfort of travelling, but if you’re a visitor, you do have to remember to look around before you decide to cross the street unless you wish to take the risk of crashing with a metal box; if you’re not Hulk, then this might not be the most pleasant experience. Another thing – the centre of the city seems to be much more biker- than pedestrian-friendly. This is a bit exaggerated, but you should also watch out for bicycle users – they’re everywhere. Literally, everywhere. Actually, you can go over the other camp yourself and use the privilege of the abundance of bike lanes to change the perspective of viewing.
DON’T – worry about shopping for basic groceries.
While the majority of grocery shops and supermarkets, like Super de Boer, DEEN or Albert Heijn, close after 8 p.m. or so, there is an option to still buy some of the essentials after dark. This seems to be a small trademark of the city – if you happen to come across some open bar, there is a good chance that inside you’ll find a pretty decent selection of foodstuff – apart from the range of snacks served until late hours. This is a really practical idea, as you never know what you may run out of in the evening, let alone making plans for some bigger shopping while there’s still so much to see!
DO – learn to be patient – it’s worth the effort.
Amsterdam is one of the most lively cities in this part of Europe, so the vast number of tourists flocking around all the landmarks shouldn’t surprise you. Places like Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum or Heineken Experience are frequented by many, so no wonder the queues stretch way beyond the entrances. Still, the point is not to get discouraged – although it may take some time to get inside your spots of interest, once you’re there, the experience is bound to compensate all the waiting. And if you’re travelling as a group, you can take turns to stand in the line – while one of you will be ‘on duty’, the others may enjoy a short trip around the many shops and boutiques with diverse peculiarities.
DO – prepare yourself for different weather conditions.
Again, this may sound rather obvious, but unlike, let’s say, Spain, where you can somehow predict with a high dose of accuracy that summer will be summer, the Netherlands is one of those countries with quite diversified climate. Hence, a light jacket and some sweater is recommended – even in the period from June to August. If you want to get the most of your stay in the city, be ready to be flexible in terms of your outfit – only this way you can grant yourself an experience that won’t be ruined by, say, an unpredicted rainfall.
DO – get off the beaten track.
The easiest way to travel around Amsterdam is to stick to the main streets and ‘grachts’, but you won’t know what you’re missing on if you don’t take the chance to dive into at least several of the smaller narrow side alleys. A big part of the ‘real’ Amsterdam awaits just behind the corner, so why not try it out yourself? Dozens of fabulous shops, small, cosy cafés, fancy boutiques and original bars are ready to welcome you with magical atmosphere and an absolutely original offer of products and services. The best place to start such exploration is most surely the Jordaan, but feel free to
DO – rent a pedal boat and explore the Canal Belt.
Where else in the world can you find a network of canals, around 90 islands and about 1,500 bridges surrounding the historic city centre? And where else can you get an opportunity to cut ‘through’ this network with a boat? If you’re after something more than a regular tourist trip, you should definitely set your sail (pedals, actually) on the surface of the wonderful maze of canals and indulge in a casual trip across the city. Who knows – maybe from this totally new perspective you’ll discover some nice places you wouldn’t be otherwise able to spot?
DO – taste a raw herring.
Fear not – it’s not Food Network and you won’t be taking part in any crazy culinary show. It has to be stated explicitly – the ting is delicious, but you really have to have a go at it yourself. The locals say that the best time for this authentic Dutch culinary experience is from May to June, as then the fish is most ‘ripe’ and doesn’t need any spices to taste as it should; however, it is still available almost throughout the whole year, but may require some additional garnish like salt, pepper, pickles or onion. And what does it taste like? Well, it tastes like adventure for your palate. Don’t ask, but go and check it out yourself. The best fish stalls can be found near Amsterdam Centraal, like Stubbe’s Haring, but many of them are also located on the majority of street corners around the whole city.
DO – take a break in a natural/urban setting.
If a day comes when you feel simply like doing nothing, exhausted by the intense trips to museums, clubs, bars and other must-sees, you may consider a stay-in at your place of accommodation. But is it really what you came here for? Before the question sinks in, pack your stuff, rent a bike and head to one of the city’s ‘lungs’ – Westerpark, Erasmuspark, Rembrandtpark, Vondelpark, Sarphatipark, Oosterpark or Frankendael Park, just to name a few. Each of these places grants a fantastic atmosphere in a leisurely green setting, which makes up for a perfect opportunity for a picnic. Add to that the occasional occurrence of some intriguing species of local fauna and flora, and you can recharge your batteries to the max and carry on with further explorations.