We left Bruges to visit Amsterdam via Antwerp by train, the last leg of our 12-month nomadic journey before heading back to Australia. We didn’t pre-purchase our tickets, we just bought them from the station in Bruges, then Antwerp, for each of the legs on the day of departure.
The train station in Antwerp is magnificent, one of the most beautiful in Europe for sure. If you’re travelling through Belgium or Holland and have a train changeover in Antwerp, definitely take a good look around both inside and out.
Our accommodation was a little weird
We arrived in Amsterdam and made our way straight to our accommodation that we’d booked via Wimdu for the next three nights. It was a 10-minute train trip out of the city, then a five-minute walk, but given how expensive accommodation is in Amsterdam, we had no problem with the extra 15 minutes given the money we were saving.
However, I must admit it was a little weird right from the start.
- The guy who owned the two-bedroom apartment didn’t talk much, and didn’t really explain anything – i.e. the deal with sharing the kitchen and loungeroom, towels for the bathroom, etc.
- There was dirty underwear on the floor of the bathroom all the time.
- The second bedroom was also occupied so our host slept on a hammock in the loungeroom.
- Our host was very comfortable wandering around the house in just his underwear.
- Our host and his daughter smoked inside (which wasn’t mentioned on the accommodation website).
- There was quite an enthusiastic Labrador who lived inside (also not mentioned on the accommodation website – not really a problem, but freaked Jack out at first).
- His 16-year-old daughter was giving him an oil massage on his calves and feet one night (this may be perfectly normal for some, but it freaked me out a little)!
On the flipside, if you asked him to do anything for you he did it. We asked where we could go to do a few loads of laundry, and he said he’d do it for us. We went sightseeing for the day and by the time we got back our clothes were washed and hung out to dry. He gave us great advice and directions and he was without doubt a nice guy. Just a little strange for us.
Amsterdam is amazing
We stayed in Amsterdam for four nights, three at our Wimdu accommodation and the final night in a nice hotel room at Schipol Airport. We figured we’d spend our final day relaxing in a nice hotel, catching up on work and getting ready for our early flight back to Melbourne.
We immediately fell in love with Amsterdam from the moment we stepped foot outside Central Station. With canals that criss-cross the city in all directions, over 1,500 bridges and amazing architecture, visually it’s a stunning place. Houseboats bobbing in the canals, bicycles commandeering the streets, many of the tall and narrow buildings leaning precariously to one side, and the locals putting their indoor furniture outside to take advantage of the warmer weather all adds to the incredible charm of the city.
Here’s what we got up to during our stay in Amsterdam:
We hired a bike
When you visit Amsterdam you’d might as well join the locals and travel by bicycle. There are literally thousands of bicycles on the roads, parked in squares and chained to bridges and signposts all around the city. Apparently there are over 800,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, which is almost as many as the entire population! Unlike Australia, bicycles have right of way virtually everywhere and it really adds to the unique personality of the city. Amsterdam is regularly voted among the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, and there’s no better way to explore the streets, canals and attractions.
This is the busiest street in Amsterdam and runs from Central Station to the frantic Dam Square featuring the National Monument, De Nieuwe Kerk and Royal Palace. Damrak is filled with every store a tourist could ask for – fast food restaurants, souvenir stores, supermarkets, tour operators, etc. – but all of the attractions you really want to see fans out from this central strip.
Oude Kerk and the Red Light District
If sex for sale within the red light windows, heavy partying and drinking in the pubs and clubs, and hardcore shops with pornographic videos, magazines and sex toys are your thing, this is the place for you. In fact, even if this isn’t normally your kind of scene, you still need to check out the district along with the millions of other tourists that visit every year. It’s fascinating to see and despite the nature of the area, you’ll feel completely comfortable and safe. Located in the middle of all this is the Oude Kerk (Old Church), Amsterdam’s oldest surviving building within the historic city centre. The beautiful church tower has the perfect view across the Red Light District and beyond, and there’s something not quite right about that!
Museumplein is the cultural epicenter of Amsterdam, home to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. Not being museum people we didn’t go into any of them, but it’s a really nice area to explore with lovely buildings and wide-open spaces with plenty of people creating a real buzz. It’s also home to the huge ‘I Amsterdam’ letters, but you’d have to get there very early in the morning to get a photo with the letters alone!
De Pijp and Albert Cuypmarket
De Pijp is a trendy neighbourhood on the southern edge of the inner city featuring plenty of cool bars and cafes, funky shops and arty hotspots. It’s also home to the Albert Cuypmarket, the biggest outdoor street market in Holland. It’s open six days a week and you can buy everything from extraordinary food to clothes to jewellery. I tried Amsterdam’s famous raw herring sandwich served with pickles and onions while I was here, and while I didn’t exactly hate it, I won’t be trying one again any time soon!
One of the more charming areas of Amsterdam, this lovely little area is located to the northwest of the city centre. It’s home to more quaint little bars and restaurants, lovely antique stores and independent art galleries. Get lost for a few hours in amongst the narrow streets and old world buildings and get a taste of bohemian Amsterdam.
De Negen Straatjes
De Negen Straatjes, or The Nine Streets in English, is without a doubt our favourite part of the city. It’s the perfect place for those wanting to hit some independent boutique stores for a little retail therapy. It’s a lot more expensive than anywhere else in Amsterdam, and our budget didn’t stretch that far, but wandering the cobblestone streets while window shopping at the various vintage and specialty stores was a real highlight. We made the time to stroll the streets in this area every day during our stay.
We jumped on one of the free ferries that run back and forth across the canal behind Amsterdam Central Station with our bikes to explore Amsterdam North, but if the truth be told we needn’t have bothered. There’s a decent looking waterfront area, and the in-your-face EYE Film Institute is worth a look, but really that’s about it.
Relax in Vondelpark
There are over 30 parks dotted around Amsterdam so it’s easy to find a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. We rode our bikes around the 47-acre Vondelpark, the largest park in Amsterdam, which is located to the south of the city. There are bars and restaurants within the park, as well as a really fantastic play area if you’ve got kids that need a run around and blow off some steam.
There are a number of activities you can do that we didn’t such as:
- Take a cruise along the canals
- Visit Anne Frank House
- Tour the Heineken Factory
- Head out of town on a tour of the tulip fields
Amsterdam is another one of those places we could easily stay and live for a while, although I think the freezing cold winters would be a step too far for any thoughts of permanent relocation. It has to be one of the greatest small cities on Earth, perfect for everyone such as men on the stag weekends away, couples looking for a little romance, solo travellers searching for fun and excitement, and families just wanting to spend some quality time together in a child-friendly city. It has everything you could want – cultural events, pumping nightlife, easy to get around, visually stunning, great restaurants and bars – but at the same time quite intimate and personal.
We may be all Europed-out for now, and if we don’t see another cobblestone road and thousand year old building for a while we won’t be disappointed. But if we had to go back to Europe, we’d visit Amsterdam again in a heartbeat.
Take a look through our photo gallery and get an idea of how amazing Amsterdam is for yourself…