My go to guru for all things travel (especially city breaks) is the wonderful Becky from http://gotthepostcard.wordpress.com/ and she was full of some really helpful advice when it came to planning a trip to Amsterdam.
Ever since having read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars back in January 2012 I have desperately wanted to visit Amsterdam and experience all the aspects of the city John Green describes through Hazel Grace. Luckily, I was able to visit in early September and had an amazing time, thanks to TFiOS and Becky’s advice! Her top tips can be found in her Amsterdam blog post here http://gotthepostcard.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/49/
With my (second) copy of The Fault in Our Stars clutched in my hand, I boarded the 7:25am flight from Heathrow to Schipol and stepped off the plane into blazing sunshine, which was a pleasant surprise! Having checked the details with Becky, transfer via train from Schipol to Amsterdam Centraal Station was easy, and relatively cheap – our tickets were €4.40 each. The double decker trains meant that everyone on the platform got on easily and 15 minutes or so later we arrived in Amsterdam. A mere five minute walk down Martelaarsgracht and Nieuwezijdsvoorburg Wal we were at our accommodation, The Avenue Hotel. We did pretty extensive research into whereabouts we would stay and were assured by several people that anywhere around Dam Square is ideally located in the centre of everything but not too close to the Red Light District. Reviews online for The Avenue Hotel were largely positive and compared to other hotels it was great value, great location and a great breakfast and free wifi included.
Dam Square is only a few minutes walk down the road from The Avenue Hotel, and was our first stop on our Amsterdam adventure. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect price wise in Amsterdam, but generally if things equate to less than London prices I’m happy. The bill for two coffees and a hefty slice of Dutch apple pie in Dam Square was perfectly reasonable. The city itself is set up around the man made canal rings, meaning it is incredible easy to wander around and not feel lost. You are rarely more than a 20 minute walk from your hotel and most big attractions are easily signposted.
The city itself is full of museums, but my top two were Anne Frank’s House and the Rijksmuseum. I was particularly moved by visiting Anne Frank’s House. Following Becky’s advice we went at around 7pm, and the queue was barely a fraction of the size it had been at 11am. For only €9 a ticket, this is easily the best value and most thought provoking visit of our trip. The annexe is left unfurnished, with the pictures Anne plastered on the walls, etchings on the walls marking the children’s heights, and the original bookcase concealing the entrance. As you clamber up narrow staircases and shuffle through the rooms, the floors creaking beneath you, you get just the tiniest glimpse into what their lives were like during their time in hiding. The exhibition of Anne’s life that accompanies the house is incredible and I found myself fighting a lump in my throat towards the end. The final room of the exhibition is an incredibly thought provoking and well done interactive piece, looking at prejudice and inequality in society. You are shown short video clips that raise an important ethical question, such as the bill for equal marriage, and then the museum visitors are encouraged to vote on their opinions. This was a really beautiful and well thought out way to end the visit to the Anne Frank House as it really brought home that inequality and prejudice are still hugely contentious and active things in society today.
You can’t visit Amsterdam without taking the obligatory picture with or on the I Amsterdam sculpture, just outside the Rijksmuseum. We had tickets for the hop on – hop off Canal Bus which turned out to be great value €20 each for a day pass. This took us around the city, gave us some useful information about what we were seeing and meant our legs didn’t end up absolutely wrecked by the end of a long day sightseeing. The Canal Bus has 4 routes that run around the city, and 19 stops along these routes. They run fairly regularly and are, in my opinion, a great and appropriate way to get around Amsterdam. We took the Canal Bus down to the City Hall and Opera House, had a wander through the flea market and then hopped on again down to the Rijksmuseum and Vondelpark stop. I was desperate to visit the Vondelpark and recreate my own Hazel and Gus picnic, and my wish was granted!
We explored the Red Light District at night and during the day, and had some lovely meals around the city. Food ranged from around €10 for a pizza or €20 for a fancy meal in Rembrantplein. The best place to grab lunch if you can is Albert Heijn. There are full supermarket size locations as well as smaller Greggs size ones throughout the city and you can grab yourself a sandwich and some Knoppers (absolute best sweet snack in Europe) really cheaply. I might do a further post on the Red Light District as the whole area really fascinated me. Local beers like Heineken and Amstel are super cheap throughout the city, and almost every Cafe will serve beers as well as coffees throughout the day. I found Amsterdam a really chilled out and friendly city, easy to get around with loads to see. The Flower Market, museums, Damrak, Dam Square and Rembrantplein are all really beautiful hubs of culture and of course, you can’t leave the Netherlands without the obligatory pair of obnoxious fluffy clogs!