While it certainly attracts a lot of attention for very particular reasons, Amsterdam is so much more than its reputation gives it credit for. Simultaneously quirky and quaint, it’s a city with a lot of character. Amsterdam was the first stop on our Interrail trip, and in the four days we were there we got to see so much of what the city has to offer. From endless canals to unique museums, Amsterdam is to expect the unexpected.
As this was part of our Interrail trip, we travelled to Amsterdam by train. There is a direct service between London St. Pancras and Amsterdam Centraal on the Eurostar which runs three times a day. It’s also possible to go via Brussels, which is what we ended up doing on account of timings. Our route took us from Brussels to Rotterdam, and then from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, all in under seven hours including transfer times. All of the trains were spacious and comfortable, so all in all the journey was very easy.
For the three nights we spent in Amsterdam, we stayed at The Bulldog, which is a hostel about a 10 minute walk from the train station. We didn’t realise when we booked that it has a very strong association with the weed scene in Amsterdam, and the fact it was right next to the Red Light district. However, neither of these had much of an impact on our stay in the end (other than the odd occasion of looking at the wrong kind of window). The hostel had a great vibe, always busy and social but never claustrophobic or noisy. Our dorm was nothing special, and there was one guy who just always seemed to be asleep and snoring, but a bed is a bed and we were out so much it was all we really needed. There was a free breakfast too, which is always a plus.
What we did
We arrived in Amsterdam just before 6pm, and after checking in and settling down a bit in the hostel we decided to have a little explore of the area. As I said before, The Bulldog is located right next to the Red Light district, so we definitely saw a bit more of what it was about than we were expecting. Maybe I’m a bit naive, but I did think it was all going to be a bit more behind closed doors on the whole sex and drugs front. Definitely a very misguided approach.
The hostel was also very close to Dam Square, the town square in Amsterdam which has a bunch of cool monuments and buildings. By the time we ended up there we were quite tired what with all the traveling, so headed back to get something to eat and drink. The bar at The Bulldog had a relaxed atmosphere, kind of like a traditional cosy pub in the UK. We got some pints of Heineken and some bar food and settled down for the night. We tried Bitterballen, which are deep-fried balls of spiced beef with a gravy centre. Basically amazing stuff.
The next day started off pretty wet, so we set off to visit the Rijksmuseum. We opted for this over the Van Gogh museum because we were limited on time and money, so figured it would be better to see some Van Gogh among other artists rather than just him. If I were to go again I would definitely check in out. Entrance was €18. Rather frustratingly it was free for under 19s, so my 18 year-old boyfriend didn’t have to pay whilst I, only months older, did. There’s a good variety of things to see at the museum, such as Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ among other art dating from the Middle Ages through to the 20th century.
By the time we had finished the sun had come out, so we had some lunch from the local supermarket in Museumplein. We took a walk around Vondelpark and then headed over to the Oude Pijp district (Dutch for “Old Pipe”). We didn’t need to use public transport at all the whole time we were in Amsterdam because everything was so close together. The streets were all so pretty, with lots of tulips growing outside windows and the iconic tall house architecture. On our return we found Bloemenmarkt, a vibrant historical flower market. As the afternoon drifted toward evening, we headed to the roof of the NEMO Science Museum to enjoy the sun while it lasted. Without actually going into the museum itself you can get a great view of Amsterdam from the top. Pizza slices in Dam Square for dinner, then Stroopwafels at ‘van Wonderen’.
Early start in the morning as we had booked a slot for the Anne Frank House Museum. You have to book months in advance to get a slot, but it’s definitely something you should make time for on your trip. You get a little audio guide which talks you through Anne Frank’s life and what happened in the house as you walk through. It was incredibly moving. It just so happened that we were there on what would have been her 90th birthday, so got a commemorative postcard.
In a complete shift of tone we next went to the Cheese Museum which was just across the canal. The term museum can be used very loosely here, as it’s more or less just a cheese shop with an informative basement. It was a bit of a laugh, and we even got to try some cheese too! We continued to wander around the city, visiting the Rembrandt House and the Portuguese Synagogue. A storm cut our wandering short, so we headed back to the hostel to start packing up our things. The trip had flown by.
There are a lot more things I would have liked to have done if we’d stayed a bit longer or had a bit more cash to splash. But in a way, I think that’s how you know a city has been worth the visit, because it makes you want to come back and do it all over again. So visit Amsterdam if you’re curious for the quirky, if you want famous art and cheese, history and beer. I would certainly make the effort to visit Amsterdam again and see more of what it has to offer.