Most people I know who have been to Amsterdam have raved about the beautiful canals and charms of this supposedly ‘incredible’ city. Marijuana is legal, the stroop waffels are great and you can get everywhere by bicycle. Unfortunately, I just didn’t get it.
It’s probably my least favourite city I’ve been to. I don’t want you to assume that I hated Amsterdam. There were lots of things that I did like about the city so I want to give you an honest review which includes the good and bad points of such a popular place. Let’s start with the good points.
September is a great time of year to visit Amsterdam
I always choose to visit cities in the cooler parts of the year so I don’t over heat when sight seeing but it was complete luck that made us choose the month of September for visiting Amsterdam.
We couldn’t have visited at a better time. There was one morning when we were wandering along the canal about 9:30 and we were one of around 5 people on the streets. It was bliss but also really strange! I couldn’t believe we were in one of the most popular cities in the world.
The weather was also cooler but warm enough to just wear a jumper. It only rained 1 day out of the 4 we were there.
The canals are beautiful
When you think of Amsterdam, you immediately associate the city with canals. Amsterdam has 165 canals meaning you cannot miss them. They are framed by picturesque walkways and trees with hundreds of bridges where you will find the iconic dutch bikes padlocked to them (whether just for show or they actually belong to someone, I’m not sure).
It’s well worth doing a canal cruise like we did which cost around $15 each for an hour. You can take all kinds of cruises such as food and drink canal tours or a hop on, hop off tour at varying prices.
We took an evening tour at 7:30 which was lovely as the sun was just setting and we could get some great photos. We were given a pair of headphones and listened to a historical commentary of the city which was interesting and informative.
There are lots of houseboats on the canal as many residents cannot afford the expensive property prices and instead opt to live on a boat. However, they still pay taxes.
Once you’ve seen one canal, you have pretty much seen them all but travelling on them by boat feels a bit more scenic.
The Anne Frank House is incredible
Whether or not you have read the Diary of Anne Frank, you will be amazed by how well put together this museum is.
I arrived with pretty low expectations, assuming visitors would be allowed to see the small room that the family lived in and a museum to buy souvenirs.
I was so wrong and pleasantly surprised to find out it was so much more than that. You are given a handset upon arrival to the museum and enter a small, empty room. On the wall is a plaque with the number 1 on it. You then point your handset at the plaque which beeps and begins to tell you the story of Anne Frank.
You then move around 20 or so rooms which have artefacts from the families’ time in hiding and listen to the commentary on your handset which includes excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary and videos from her father, Otto Frank, who was the only survivor of the Holocaust from the annex. You are also able to see Anne Frank’s original diary and walk behind the original bookcase into the annex in which the family hid. It’s an incredibly interesting and moving experience and one that I will never forget.
Vondelpark is pretty
We walked from the Anne Frank house to Vondelpark which took around 40 minutes and was one of my favourite places in Amsterdam.
It’s a huge green space much like Central Park. We cycled round the park on our last day which is probably the best way to see it all as the space is so huge.
There are lots of places to chill out on the grass, take photos of the lakes, walk your dogs, admire the fountains and eat lunch in the restaurants. Well worth a visit.
Now I’m going to move onto the parts of Amsterdam that I wasn’t so enamoured by.
Amsterdam is incredibly touristy
I’ll start with the most obvious one here. Amsterdam city centre is built purely for tourism. Our hotel was right in the centre and you only had to walk a few yards to find a fast food joint or a shop selling weed.
Even though the city wasn’t massively busy in September, it attracts tourists from all over the world. So much so that our taxi driver told us that most people who live in the centre of Amsterdam aren’t actually Dutch. The locals don’t like living there because of the sheer amount of tourism the city attracts. It makes me feel sad that those who originally called Amsterdam their home, are now abandoning it for places further afield.
Everyone speaks English, which whilst this is nice, doesn’t lend itself to a particularly cultural place. Whilst we were there, we were lucky enough to meet up with one of Rich’s friends who lives in Amsterdam (and is Dutch).
He was able to tell us about the local area, the best beer to drink and how cheap the university was there (1,200 euros per year!) This brings me nicely onto my next point which is the lack of culture within Amsterdam.
Amsterdam doesn’t have its own delicacies
Whilst Amsterdam has a few items it’s synonymous for such as tulips and clogs, it doesn’t have much in the way of traditional food. There are of course the stroop waffles and Edam (which comes from the place Edam rather than Amsterdam) but we found ourselves eating out in Chinese and Italian restaurants.
This was slightly disappointing as it didn’t feel like we were experiencing the true culture of the city and it was just food I could eat at home. I also struggled to find any nice restaurants among the tourist offering and found that fast food was the choice for many.
We did venture further out of the city centre where the was a wider choice of places to eat but there were far more bars and weed cafes than actual restaurants.
The smell of weed is EVERYWHERE!
Okay, so that might be a very slight exaggeration but the city centre reeks of marijuana as there are cafes selling it on every corner. It’s actually illegal to smoke it on the streets but we saw plenty of people doing this along the canals meaning you were breathing a whole lungful of it wherever you went – lovely! The only place we didn’t smell it as much was in Vondelpark but even then I saw a group of guys lighting up.
Riding a bike round the city is not recommended
When you visit Amsterdam, one of the first things you will notice, is the amount of people riding bicycles. At first this seems like a great way to get round a very flat city but DON’T DO IT!
We hired bikes on our last day and cycled from our hotel to Vondelpark. Cycling round the park is fine but you’ll be fearing for your life if you cycle on the roads.
There are cycle lanes on the road but locals and tourists will overtake you, often veering out into the road to get round. Vans like to pull up in the cycle lanes to unload so you’re constantly moving round them too.
Whenever you get to a cross roads, it is quite literally a free for all and bikes and cars come at you from all directions. In fact, bikes have the right of way over cars in most cases.
When you finally get to the canal roads, the frenetic pace starts to slow but it takes a bit of getting used to as you cycle on the right side of the road. You can also only cycle down one side of the canal as they’re one way. Confusing!
Even when you’re not riding a bike round the city, you always feel like you’re in the way of one!
I didn’t feel safe
I’ve been to a few big cities and had been made aware of pick pocketers before. However, I have never felt so much like someone was going to steal my bag as I did in Amsterdam.
I’m not a particularly cautious person usually and have felt safe in many other cities including Rome which is notorious for pick pocketers. I don’t go to cities worrying that I’ll be pick pocketed so it was strange to me that I felt so on edge in Amsterdam.
It might have been the smoking culture, or the fact that most people we saw were men under the age of 35 often in groups, on stag do’s and from other countries. No one else felt particularly unsafe out of the four of us – so it might just have been me over reacting slightly!
It’s very expensive
I knew to expect high costs in Amsterdam but it was still a shock to find that some pancakes could set you back 16 euros and it was 20 euros to get into the Rijksmuseum! Even a magazine at the airport cost me 10 euros…
Food was also expensive and a meal for 4 was costing upwards of 80 euros in some places. We probably fell into all the tourist traps but we did try our best to find places that didn’t charge the earth.
That is my honest opinion of Amsterdam. It was a pretty place to visit from the architecture to the canals and it wasn’t a dirty city which was a nice surprise. It was just over rated in my opinion. I didn’t mention the red light district which we did pay a visit to. This again wasn’t a highlight of our trip and just seemed like a sleazy opportunity for tourists to gape at half naked women.
All in all, I probably wouldn’t go back to Amsterdam. I think if we had stayed further out from the centre nearer the parks, I might have enjoyed the experience slightly more but it just wasn’t a place I fell in love with like so many other cities I’ve been to.
Have you been to Amsterdam and what did you think of it?