October 1-8, 2016
Once Upon A Time In Thailand…
This past January, while travelling around Southeast Asia, I had the pleasure of meeting several people whom I knew I would be friends with for years to come. Among that group were a couple of solo travellers; David (from Amsterdam, Holland), and Segev (from Haifa, Israel).
The 3 of us met in Chiang Mai very early on in all of our trips, and became very close, very quickly. It was clear to anyone who met David & Segev that the two of them had basically become brothers within a week of meeting, and that if you could count on any relationship lasting after our travels in Asia were over, it was theirs. Anyways… one night in Pai (Northern Thailand), the two made a bet over a game of pool. The loser would have to visit the winner back home as soon as possible after both had returned from Asia. I told them that while I couldn’t make any promises (mostly because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to afford it), I would get in on this bet, and that if at ALL possible, I’d come with the loser to visit the winner.
I had secretly hoped that David would win, only because I already travelled to Israel in 2014, and have never been to Amsterdam… so when that’s what ended up happening I was pretty excited at the thought of potentially joining Segev for a visit. A couple of months after I got back from Asia, Segev messaged me that he had booked his flight. I didn’t think I could make it happen, but after David offered for me to crash at his place, and I found an awesome flight deal online… how could I say no!?
So on Sept 30th I left for Amsterdam, where I stayed for the next week with Segev at David’s place, exploring the beautiful city. We saw & did a TON of stuff while we were there, so here are my top recommendations when it comes to travelling to Amsterdam! Scroll down for details & photos of each item on the list (which is in no particular order):
- Getting To Amsterdam: Fly Cheap!
- Spending Down Time In Amsterdam At Vondel Park
- The Moco Museum: Banksy & Warhol
- The Stedelijk Museum
- The Famous I amsterdam Letters
- The Rijksmuseum: Do Not Miss!
- The Van Gogh Museum
- Walk/Bike Around The City: Canals, Shopping, Sightseeing, Markets & Coffee Shops!
- Oude Kerk (The Old Church) Lookout Point
- Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market) & Albert Cuyp Market
- Exploring The City At Night
- Canal Cruise At Night
- The Rembrandt House Museum
- The Heineken Experience!
- The Amsterdam Tulip Museum
- Other Activity Ideas
- Make Friends, And Food!
Getting to Amsterdam: Fly Cheap!
Ok, so this isn’t really a thing to do IN Amsterdam, but if you’re travelling on a budget I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a good flight deal…
I have used Skyscanner to book nearly every flight over the past few years, and will continue to do so because it is AWESOME for finding the best deals. When booking to/from specific destinations, I’d suggest playing around with the dates to give yourself an idea of what the best prices are going to be. Plug in the destination and the potential flight options in winter, summer, fall, and spring, and then check the price variances for different days of the week. In some cases, you will find that staying an extra day actually pays for itself because you’ll be flying back on a cheaper day. In other instances, you may find that delaying your trip by a day or even a week can make a huge difference in price.
If you don’t have flexibility in your dates, there’s not a lot you can do, other than booking in advance. Usually when I’m booking flights, I tend to do so about 1-2 months in advance. Sometimes you can find awesome deals very far in advance (or last minute), but more often than not I’ve been able to find those same deals closer to the date (a few months in advance). That being said, if you see a deal that’s too good to pass up on, don’t wait! I have waited in the past, and when I went back a week/month later, the prices for the exact same flight had gone up by as much as $200… it broke my heart (and wallet). My advise: be flexible with your dates, book a couple of months ahead (usually), snatch a good deal when you see it, and play around with the dates on Skyscanner to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Also, make sure you clear your browser history, as some flight search engines actually don’t show as great of deals depending on what deals you’ve already found on other sites (so you won’t actually see the LOWEST price, unless you found it outside of that site already…not totally sure how it all works but I’ve almost always found cheaper prices on search engines after clearing my browser history).
Lastly, make sure you check what is included in the flight! I’m a pretty easy traveller, and I’ve dealt with a lot of crappy transport situations to save money… That being said, not everyone can deal with sleeping in an airport, or travelling with only carry-on baggage, or long-ass layovers that result in a 65 hour journey home from Bali (yes… it really happened, but saved me somewhere between 600-800 bucks & I’d do it again)… Always make sure you know what things are included, and what is important for you when it comes to flights. If you absolutely MUST have in-flight complimentary drinks and meals… you’re going to be paying for a better airline. If you want to sit first class, OBVIOUSLY it’s not going to be cheap. If you cannot handle layovers more than 2 hours (or at all), your cheap flight options may dwindle. Lastly, if you don’t think you can travel carry-on only, make sure that you didn’t book a flight that costs extra for checked baggage. These fees add up an insane amount, and are not fun to get stuck paying once you’re at the airport. Make sure you’ve checked the free baggage allowance BEFORE you book your flight, and only book if the total cost is still a good deal.
On my flight to Amsterdam I booked with WOW Air, via Skyscanner for only $499CAD ROUND TRIP (INCLUDING TAXES & FEES) (YYZ-AMS)!!! AMAZING!!! My flight was about 10hrs total, with a 1.5-2hr stop in Iceland each way, not bad at all! The catch: this did NOT include checked baggage, and the free “carry-on” allowance was smaller than with almost every other airline I’ve ever travelled with. I packed super light, but my small suitcase was technically about 2cm too long according to what I saw online, so I decided to risk it and pay at the airport if I got caught. Out of my 4 flights in total (Toronto to Iceland, Iceland to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Iceland, and Iceland to Toronto), the airline only made me physically put my suitcase in the box ONCE, (on the way home, Iceland to Toronto) but that 2cm difference was what me and almost every other person in line got nailed for just before boarding. It cost me about $60CAD… which means that I would’ve been charged $240 total if I had gotten caught on all 4 of the flights with carry-on that was 2cm oversized. I would strongly recommend that if you know your bag is too big for carry on, you pay the fees online in advance for the “large carry on” or checked baggage, which costs about half of the price online vs. paying at the airport. I got very lucky this time, and of course even with the $60, my total flight cost at $560 round trip was still an amazing deal.
Please note: A lot of people use other sites such as Kayak, Expedia, etc. for booking flights. I have nothing against any of these sites at all, but in my experience, I have ended up booking through Skyscanner almost every single time, even after looking at the prices on those sites, because it happened to have the cheapest option… That being said, ALWAYS check on different sites, no matter how awesome of a deal you’re looking at, and make sure you’re booking based on the flight and price that best suits your needs, and not just based on a website that you’re blindly committed to using, or that someone (like me) recommended.
Spending Down Time In Amsterdam At Vondel Park
If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, or for a nice place to sit and read, or for a spot to lay in the grass (and maybe even smoke some…) then Vondel Park is perfect for you. Even if you don’t have a ton of time in Amsterdam, take a walk (or a quick bike ride) through at least some of the park, and enjoy the beautiful green space, ponds & gorgeous scenery. It is located right near the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, and Van Gogh Museum (perfect for a moment of relaxation between the sometimes overwhelming museum visits), and it is the largest city park in Amsterdam.
After Segev picked me up at the airport, we took the bus to the museum area, and walked through a bit of the park. I was pretty tired after my flight, so it was the perfect way to spend the afternoon that required minimal energy, and it was absolutely beautiful.
The Moco Museum: Banksy & Warhol
When buying tickets for the museums & attractions in Amsterdam, make sure you go to the ticket booth in front of the Rijksmuseum, (click here for my estimation of where it was located, but it’s not hard to find), where most tickets can be purchased for €1-3 less than at the door, and include line bypass in many cases. For some museums (like Van Gogh) you can even make scheduled appointment times to visit, since that’s the only way to avoid the line. We purchased our tickets here for the Rijksmuseum €17.50, the Van Gogh Museum €17, the Moco Museum €11.50 and the Stedelijk Museum €15. You can also buy tickets for attractions like the Heineken Experience, Rembrandt House, etc. here or online. If you’re looking to visit the Anne Frank House though, please make note that you’ll have to book several months in advance, and even then you’ll have to wait in line for hours to get in. I didn’t realize this until too late, so sadly I didn’t get a chance to visit this time. You’ll also find free city maps available at the ticket stand, showing the locations and information regarding most major attractions in the city.
The Moco Museum was not one that I had looked into before my arrival (somehow slipping under my radar), but it very quickly jumped to the top of my priority list when we walked by it and saw the signs for the Banksy and Warhol exhibition going on.
I won’t go too much into the history of each artist, or how much of a hardcore Banksy fan I am, but if you’d like to learn more, or check the museum hours or ticket information (and also just to check if the exhibition has changed by the time you’re reading this), click here for the link to the Moco website.
The museum is fairly small, so I’d recommend giving yourself 1-2hrs max to wander around, unless you plan on sitting and watching the film “Exit Through The Gift Shop” which is playing downstairs, though it can easily be found online later to watch, so I’d suggest saving it for when you’re at home.
The Stedelijk Museum
This massive museum of modern art, contemporary art and design should absolutely be on your list if you’re an art lover like myself. Home to works by a long list of a variety of artists including Barnett Newman, Jean Tinguely, Roy Lichtenstein, Damien Hirst, Avery Singer, and many many more, the museum will surely have something for everyone.
Segev, David and myself spent a couple of hours walking around the museum, and I particularly enjoyed the digitally-inspired works of Avery Singer, as well as the kinetic (very fun, and often even scary & startling) sculptures of Jean Tinguely.
The museum is located right near the Rijksmuseum, beside the Van Gogh Museum, making it an easy trip to combine with another museum visit in the same day (though a small break in the park or out for lunch will definitely be necessary so you don’t get too overwhelmed).
For information on current exhibitions visit the Stedelijk website.
The Famous I amsterdam Letters
Of course no visit to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit to the famous I amsterdam letters.
There are actually a few different locations where you’ll find these letters (at the airport, in front of the Rijks, and the travelling letters), but the most famous/popular spot has to be the one in front of the Rijksmuseum. If you’re looking for the travelling letters, check on the I amsterdam website page where you’ll be able to find their current location.
The large metal sign attracts a TON of tourists, so the chances of you getting a pic all by yourself are slim to none, but the good news is that you won’t have a hard time finding someone else around to blindly trust with your camera to take your picture, which is exactly what Seg and I did.
The Rijksmuseum: Do Not Miss!
If you’ve got the time, there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for missing the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Get a map, take your time, and try not to get lost while you wander through the massive museum, which is architecturally a work of art in itself. Inside, you will find works by Van Gogh, Vermeer, and of course Rembrandt, among thousands of works by a vast array of artists throughout history.
The central hall featuring Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” was hands down the main attraction for myself, and probably most visitors. Segev and I stood by the painting for quite a while, in awe, just appreciating the work of such an incredible artist. If you’re ever looking to see me “fan girl”, stick me in front of a Rembrandt.
Museum information & hours can be found on their website, and you should definitely give yourself a solid 4 hours minimum if you’re planning on walking through most of the museum without feeling too rushed.
The Van Gogh Museum
While the Rijksmuseum wowed me in terms of size and collections, I would have to say that the Van Gogh Museum was my favourite out of all of the museums & galleries we visited. My only advise would be that if & when you go, to make sure you book an appointment in advance (to pass the line), and to try to get there on a quiet day with less of a crowd. Also, make sure you spend the €5 for the media tour (available in most languages) when you get in, which makes the entire experience that much more enjoyable.
The museum was fairly large (though nothing compared to the Rijks), and spread out over several floors, though it was organized chronologically and laid out in a way that had a nice flow to it and made a lot of sense. The media tour had both audio and visual aids on a touch screen dial, where you could simply spin the dial to the number that was displayed on the wall beside each painting for more information. Even better, it had an option that would take you only through the highlights of the museum if you’re pressed for time. Seg and I used the highlight feature of the tour mostly, but switched often & easily back to the main screen when we wanted to check out another painting that wasn’t part of that tour. It was so simple to figure out, and honestly made the entire experience so much better. Each audio clip was short & sweet, and showed how much time was remaining as well, which is really nice (and for some reason not very common with many audio tours) so you can actually SEE how much longer you’ll be standing in front of a painting for, or if you’ve got lots of time and should step to the side.
Of course, the paintings themselves were what really made the museum such a trip highlight for me, and the incredibly large collection of works from various stages of the artist’s life. Not only that, but the museum also had quite a bit of information about Van Gogh’s personal life as well, during all stages of his career. We spent about 2 hours at the museum, and loved every minute of it. The sunflowers, the self portraits, the almond blossoms… we got to see it all, and they were as magnificent in person as I could’ve ever hoped they’d be.
Visit the Van Gogh Museum website for more information on hours & tickets.
Walk/Bike Around The City: Canals, Shopping, Sightseeing, Markets & Coffee Shops!
If you’ve got limited time, or a limited budget, I can assure you that the best way to see Amsterdam is by foot or bike. Personally, I prefer walking, as it is completely FREE and allows you more freedom for stopping frequently & taking photos, though biking of course is faster for getting around. Bikes can be rented all over the city for around €14 per day on average (from what I saw), but we chose to travel by foot mostly since we had the time.
Regardless of which option you go with, make sure you’ve got a map, or (my favourite) MAPS.ME app on your phone (works offline with no data/wifi), so you can pin all the locations you’re planning on visiting, and easily visit them in whatever order makes sense. This app is also great for dropping a pin on your location so you won’t forget when you’ve found a great little shop, street vendor, or spot you parked your bike, which obviously won’t be on a regular map of the city. Also, please be careful when crossing the street! Look out for bikes, trams & cars, and don’t get caught walking in the bike lane… they’ve got the right of way, and they don’t take too kindly to dummy tourists (I learned this rule very quickly).
Take your time, and explore all around the city, from Vondel Park to Dam Square, and all the way to Central Station (Click here to see those key spots on Google Maps). You will find canals, churches, markets, buildings & shops all along the way that will have you reaching for your camera nonstop (if you’re anything like me).
Around Dam Square, you’ll see the Royal Palace, Madame Tussauds (Wax Museum), and the National Monument all side by side around the central square. Be sure to walk through the Red Light District (or “De Wallen”) of course, and check out the Old Church or “Oude Kerk” oddly situated in the centre as well (of course the church came long before the Red Light District, as it is the oldest building in Amsterdam). You can even take the walking tour to the top of the church tower if you like (more on that farther down). Walk past Westerkerk, the Central Station, and the main shopping areas on Kalverstraat (and be sure to stop at Segev’s favourite ice cream place, Banketbakkerij Van der Linde, for a scoop of vanilla with whipped cream that is TO DIE FOR. Just trust me on this).
If you’re interested in Coffee Shops (yes, I’m talking about the ones where you can buy Marijuana which is legal in the Netherlands), take your pick! There are a ton all around the city with crazy menus for whatever may suit your fancy from joints to space cakes to magic truffles. The most popular chain is probably The Bulldog, but you will find you’ve got ample options within the city to choose from, at literally any place that says “Coffee Shop.”
Oude Kerk (The Old Church) Lookout Point
The Old Church, located within the Red Light District, is the oldest building in Amsterdam, founded ca. 1213 (that’s over 800 years ago!). The church itself is quite beautiful to walk around, though the main attraction for me here was the tour to the top of the tower. The walking tour to the top cost €7.50, and took about 30 minutes in total. We climbed the winding staircases to the top of the tower, passing by the bells which are still used today. The largest bell in the building weighed a whopping 3700kg, and because of the strength of the vibrations can only be rung from the lower level (operated by a pulley system), so that the person ringing it won’t go deaf. It was a pretty neat tour, that ended all the way at the top, where one can walk around the outside of the tower for a 360 degree view of the city from above. There really weren’t a ton of spots like this, in the middle of the city, that offered a view from this perspective, so I’d definitely recommend paying a visit to the Oude Kerk during your stay!
Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market) & Albert Cuyp Market
If you’re looking for open market shopping for fresh foods, clothing, jewelry and souvenirs of all sorts, the markets around Amsterdam are great spots to find just about anything and everything you may be looking for. The Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market) is perhaps the most famous market in the city, and the world’s only floating flower market. It is sited on Singel, between Muntplein and Koningsplein.
The market of course is most famous for selling flowers, mainly tulip bulbs which are prepared for easy export all over the world. This however is not the only thing you’ll find at the market, which is probably the best (and cheapest) place to find all sorts of souvenirs from keychains to magnets to cheese knives to christmas ornaments to wooden clogs. On the side of the street opposite to the market are a ton of cheese shops (with free samples, yes please!), clothing shops and other souvenir shops (though I wouldn’t recommend trying to bring home any souvenirs from the Magic Mushroom shop or you MAY have problems at customs…).
The Albert Cuyp Market is another market worth visiting in the city, located in De Pijp area, between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat. It is the busiest market in Amsterdam, open Mon-Sat, 9am-5pm. Here you will find a ton of food, clothing and souvenirs, whatever suits your fancy!
Exploring The City At Night
Quite possibly the only thing more beautiful than exploring the city of Amsterdam by day, is wandering the canals at night. The canal bridges (and tunnels underneath) light up the city, and the beautifully lit buildings above each canal are reflected in the water.
If you’ve got a few evenings to spend in the city, I’d suggest walking around Dam Square, the canals, and the museum area if it’s not too far. The Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) is also a nice spot to check out at night, which is a drawbridge over the Amstel river. I’d also recommend heading to De Pijp for some well priced drinks, and the Red Light District, where you’ll find a lot of bars and restaurants, and sex shows if you’re interested! Make sure you try some genever wherever you end up for a drink… but maybe don’t drink quite as much of it as we did…
The Red Light District is definitely a part of the Amsterdam experience if you haven’t been, just remember not to take any photos of the women in their windows or you just might get your phone/camera confiscated (I took one from far away without any women identifiable). In the district, female prostitutes stand behind windows lit up with red lights, usually in lingerie or partially nude, and if you’re interested in purchasing their services, it’s as easy as stepping up and speaking to them. The benefit of the legalization of prostitution here is that each woman is in a protected space, can refuse service to absolutely anyone for any reason, must charge the same amount as any other woman in the district (so nobody can try to underpay them), and has access to health care and regular check-ups for STI’s (condoms also MUST be worn with all of the women, no exceptions). Whether you’re someone who would say they agree with prostitution, or are against it, the fact of the matter is that it’s out there, and in this environment at least it is being done in a way that is safer for all parties involved.
While walking around the city at night was beautiful, the best way to see it all is definitely from the water, which brings me to my next point…
Canal Cruise At Night
One of my favourite experiences in Amsterdam, and the best way to view the city at night, is taking a canal cruise!
Cruises are available all around the canals, and you’ve got a ton of options, from the big boats with glass covers (to keep you warm), private boats, boat rentals so you can drive yourself, to guided tour boats. Seg, David and I decided to head over to Oude Kerk (The Old Church), where we had seen a sign for a “Booze Cruise” canal tour that leaves all day every hour or so from the canal behind the church. The tour was only €15, and included blankets and pillows to keep warm (it was an open boat), and an open bar for the hour long tour of the city. There were only about 10 people or so on our boat, and we had a couple of awesome tour guides who made the experience even more enjoyable for us, and pointed out the sights around the city as we made our way through the canals. It was the perfect way to spend our evening, and not even a bad price considering we each got a few beers out of it as well!
The Rembrandt House Museum
For €13, the Rembrandt House Museum entrance fee and audio tour was honestly a bit overpriced in my opinion, but still very much worth seeing if you’re a fan of the artist. Inside you will see his studio space, living space and teaching space, while learning a bit about his life, his art and his pupils. Upstairs in the main studio space you’ll also get to watch a demonstration on how he (well, his students really) made paint using pigments found in stone, crushed and mixed with oil. It was a very well put together demonstration, and the lady who was putting it on spoke English, Dutch and Spanish (after asking around the room what languages we all spoke) which was very impressive. I’d suggest giving yourself about 45 minutes to an hour to walk around, leaving plenty of time for other activities in the same day.
The Heineken Experience!
It should go without saying that you simply cannot call yourself a tourist in Amsterdam unless you’ve done The Heineken Experience.
It can be booked from all over the city, though we found that the online price of €16 (including two drinks) was the best option. David, Segev, myself, and Doc (one of David’s roommates) decided to all go together one afternoon. We spent about 1.5 hours on the tour altogether, and got to learn about the brewing process, the history of the founders, and most importantly, the taste! The tour included 2 drinks, as well as an interactive “Brew You” tour, which uses sound, light and movement to take you through the brewing process (I’d suggest skipping this part if you get motion sick). It was an awesome tour, and the guides along every step of the way were a lot of fun, which always helps to make the experience more enjoyable.
The Amsterdam Tulip Museum
Surprisingly enough, the Amsterdam Tulip Museum was actually a really fun visit for Seg and I. We mostly went for fun and since it was only €3 (for students), we found it well worth the money. Inside the museum you’ll find several displays and videos explaining the whole tulip craze known as Tulip Mania, during which time there were certain types of bulbs selling for hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars! The best part about the museum for me was the fact that we were pretty much the only people in the place! We only spent about 20 minutes or so inside, and afterwards I decided to buy a few bulbs from the shop (all bulbs are prepared for export to different countries based on their climate), so we’ll see if they bloom next spring in my mom’s garden back home!
If you’ve got the time, the museum was a fun little stop to add in, costing us very little time and money, and if you’re looking to bring home flowers that you’d like to thrive outdoors, then this is probably the best place to get them!
Other Activity Ideas
Outside of the activities I listed above, are a TON of other things to do in Amsterdam, depending on your interests and how much time you have. Most of the things below are things we didn’t get around to, but worth looking into if you’re in the city:
- The Holland Casino (right near Vondel Park, and if you’re lucky like I was, you just might come out a few bucks richer!) Entry is €5.
- Cafe De Klos (Restaurant with the best ribs in the Netherlands, make sure you go early, and prepare to wait in line, or across the street at a bar… well worth the wait though!) €20-€30 per person.
- Body Worlds Museum (plasticized bodies on display… looks incredibly cool!)
- Chill Bar (Bar, interior made entirely of ice & snow)
- Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
- Sex Museum/Prostitution Museum
- Sex Shows (if you’re looking for them, you’ll certainly find them!)
- Anne Frank House (make sure you book months in advance and be prepared to wait in line even then).
Make Friends, and Food!
Okay so maybe I had it easy this time when it came to making friends, since David was letting me stay at his place with Segev, and his roommates were all absolutely amazing to us… but let me assure you that just about everything I did in the city was far more enjoyable because I had the right company for it. Big cities like this aren’t always the easiest places to meet people, but there are a ton of hostels and bars around that I’m sure would be excellent places to start.
Another tip if you’re staying with friends like I was, or at an Airbnb or hostel with a kitchen, is to make food! Groceries here are super affordable (just stop by an Albert Heijn Supermarket), and you will save a ton of money versus going out for every meal. Over our week in the city we made several meals with David and his roommates, from pasta to pancakes, and Segev even made us shakshuka one night, an Israeli dish with a tomato vegetable base, and eggs cooked on top. It was delicious, and gave us all a chance to sit down and get to know each other.
I was so lucky to get to spend so much time with David & Segev and we even met up with Johannes for a night, another friend of ours (from Germany) whom we met when we were all in Thailand! Thank you David for hosting us, and a big thank you to Doc, Koos, and Diederick as well for letting us stay with you… Travelling is the best way to learn about other countries, cultures & people… Sometimes you will find differences, but more often than not you will find that you’ve forgotten you’re in a different place to begin with, because you meet people who make you feel like you’re at home. Thank you guys for hosting Seg & I, and for all of the laughs. You will always have a couch to crash on in Canada.
To top off my experience in Amsterdam, my cousin Claus from Germany contacted me and decided that he was going to come to the city and meet up for an afternoon! It was an unexpected meeting, and the last time I met him I was too young to even remember, so it was really nice getting to see him again. We chatted for a few hours and made sure to take a photo together before parting ways, but I promised him that I’d visit the family sometime in Germany, I just had to figure out when (and start practising my German!). Thank you for making the trip, cousin.
Well, there you have it! My complete (ish) list of the best things to see/do in Amsterdam! As always, feel free to comment or e-mail me if you have any questions, and be sure to follow me on Facebook or Instagram for updates!
My time in Amsterdam was absolutely amazing, and it was much thanks to David and Segev for making it so much fun. While I could’ve certainly stayed for another week (or two, or three…), I felt like a week was just the right amount of time to see the city, and I got to do just about all of the things on my list. For now, I’ll have to say goodbye, until my next adventure, Cheers!