Here are five places you can’t afford to miss during your first trip to Amsterdam:
The first time I set foot on a continent other than North America, it was at the Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, Holland. It was the starting point to one of the best trips of my life, a little 14-day excursion into Europe.
I had planned everything for months, zoomed in on the coordinates of my Airbnb from Google Earth, even planned how I would walk to the entrance of the place. What awaited me was a whole new world.
The first thing I immediately noticed was the difference in transportation. In America, there are usually two lanes: one northbound and one southbound (eastbound, westbound). In Amsterdam, it was still relatively linear, but the number of lanes for different modes of transport was astonishing.
Beside the houses were normal sidewalks. Pedestrian foot traffic and bikes took up this space. There was a second sidewalk as well, meant for bikes and mopeds. The car lane was next, and automobiles and mopeds could use the lanes freely. And right in the middle of the street were train tracks for two lanes of train travel. Recognize that this was just for only one side (northbound/eastbound or southbound/westbound). Granted, this was on main streets only, but the same general premise could be seen everywhere.
I’ll start with the Oud-West neighborhood of Amsterdam simply because this is where Jay and I decided to rent out Airbnb. It was on a corner of a busy street but granted us access to the quaint neighborhood. I’ve said it once and I’ll probably say it a million times; getting a cultural experience while traveling abroad is so much more rewarding than playing tourist in hotels. I really felt like a local by staying here for five days.
In Oud-West, you are always less than a half-mile away from a canal. I liked to get up in the early morning and explore the city, and I’m glad I did. The streets were silent and empty and I felt like I had the city to myself. I walked over at least ten different intersections with canals right under them, the waterways making a semicircle pointing in the direction of Centrum.
The houses don’t have spaces between them in most places you go in Amsterdam. Oud-West epitomized the rolling structure system. The steps are steep, the people are beautiful. Hit up Derde Helmerstraat if you go to Amsterdam and say hi to Ivar for me.
Museumkwartier translates to Museum Quarter in English. This is where most of the must-see tourist attractions lie. The Rijksmuseum gives a history of Holland and illustrates how Amsterdam was used as a port city for hundreds of years. The famous Van Gogh Museum call also be found here. This is the collected works of Vincent Van Gogh’s tragic journey from childhood to mastermind to self-inflicted death in the early 1900s.
Other lesser-known attraction such as the Moco Museum – a museum that displays alternative art forms – and the Stedelijk Museum, which provides its viewers modern displays, can also be seen in this district.
Don’t forget about Vondelpark! Between Oud-West and Museumkwartier lies the biggest park in Holland. Think Central Park, only in Amsterdam. This is a great place to bring some food, a boombox, some beer, or a bicycle. Whatever you like to do, you can find somewhere to do it in Vondelpark.
Boobies. Prostitution. Weed. That’s what most people think about when they think Amsterdam. You’ll find all three in Centrum. Home to one of the biggest Sex Museums in all of Europe, Amsterdam’s Red Light District is world-renowned.
Go down to this party community nearest Het Ij – the inlet of water that runs into the Markermeer Bay – and you’ll get to see a bunch of red lights.
Centrum is going to be the most hedonistic place you go to in Amsterdam. From marijuana bars, to regular bars, to naked girls in windows, it’s definitely for a certain crowd. Please don’t buy drugs from the guys slanging on street corners. The goal isn’t for you to get locked up in a foreign prison.
This community, which lies directly north of Oud-West, is the former home of Anne Frank. If you are interested in Jewish culture or WWII history, this is a must-see. Word to the wise: book your tickets ahead of time or wait in line for five hours.
Jordaan was my second favorite neighborhood behind Oud-West. Traveling north from our Airbnb, it’s obvious in both street layout and architecture that you have walked into a different time period of the city. This is unfiltered Amsterdam and with some careful observation, you can get a real feel for how the locals live. Children play in the streets and on the stoops and students and employees hop on their bikes at 8:00 a.m. like clockwork to make the daily commute.
Littered with canals, another cool part of Jordaan is the number of outdoor cafes. It was summertime when Jay and I went here, but the number of minutes I sat indoors for food was zero. Wait, okay 45. If you like ribs, go to Cafe du Klos – you’ll be glad you did.
Across Het Ij is Amsterdam Noord. Think of Noord as Amsterdam’s suburbs. The vertical urbanization of Amsterdam’s inner neighborhoods turns into a spread out housing arrangement. Houses, duplexes, and apartment complexes sprawl out like suburban America. There are more cars out here, but still a good number of bikes.
Westerpark is home to the city’s second biggest park with the same name. The community of Westerpark lies directly west of Jordaan and northwest of Centrum.
In comparison to the most famous iAmsterdam sign in Museumkwartier, a second, less-popular sign can be found at the entrance of this laid-back and relaxed park. This is a great place to people watch, take a nap, or listen to the birds chirp away.
De Pijp is the old school prostitution area and some red lights can still be seen here. De Pijp (pronounced day pipe), is best known as the birthplace of Heineken. Take a tour, get lit, or just take a walk through this area with enough food options to make your head spin.
If you like shopping, De Pijp is also for you. Albert Cuypmarkt – Holland’s largest outdoor supermarket – has a little something for everyone.
The above neighborhoods are where Jay and I spent most of our time. There are countless other neighborhoods that surround Amsterdam that surely have charms of their own.