Amsterdam was one of the cities that all of my friends have seem to have visited besides me, despite all the places I've gone to. I decided to take the leap into making the effort to coming here because of all the great things I've heard, and it did not disappoint! You don't need to be a fan of weed and things like that to fully enjoy the city! After spending a few days here in Amsterdam, I really look forward to exploring the rest of the Netherlands someday.
If you are looking for an affordable option to stay, I recommend the Stayokay hostel chain! I stayed at the one in Vondelpark and it was very nice.
I decided to try something new and take a night bus from London to Amsterdam in order to save on a night's accommodation and to save money. I booked my bus through National Express, which operated an Ouibus for this particular route, a French carrier. My bus left from Victoria Coach Station at around 10pm and the entire journey went OK. The idea was good in practice, but in the future there would have to be a significant difference in savings if I were to do another night bus.
Victoria Coach Station is somewhat similar to an airport, where you report to your gate before the bus arrives. You'll want to arrive early to line up to board, and you'll see later on in this section. Once it was time to board, the driver clearly told everyone to take out their passports to show him so he could check your name off and give you a temporary assigned seat. However, some people couldn't follow these simple directions, leading to a delay. I got on the bus and sat in my seat, but then the girl next to me went to another open seat to sit next to her friends.
This left an open seat next to me, and both a mom and her son were supposed to take the seat next to me. It looked like there were no seats left besides the one next to me, so they sat as a mom and a baby would sit in a coach seat on an airplane. The driver saw and said there was a seat near the steps of the entrance of the bus which folded out, and asked one of them to move to that seat. At this point, I could tell both of them were getting very anxious about being separated, so I volunteered to move to the front - which turned out to be an interesting decision.
So, I was able to basically sit next to the bus driver for a good 6 hours, which gave me a unique vantage point. After this experience, I have mad respect for bus drivers and the things they have to go through. As the bus was getting out of Central London, I could clearly see that the bus driver was supposed to take a certain tunnel out of the city, but it was blocked off forcing him to make a detour. The driver seemed a little stressed because his navigation system was taking him through roads that were obviously too small for the coach. However, after a few U-turns and swearing, he was able to get on the main highway towards Folkestone to cross the English Channel.
Before this experience, I assumed that all cars trying to cross the English Channel to France and vice versa just all got put on a ferry. However, I was dead wrong. The first step was getting our passports inspected by French officials at what seemed to look like a huge rest stop. Then, security officials inspected the coach a few times. After that, the driver had to maneuver through a maze of construction cones to go to a certain platform, and I finally understand why he was so stressed about driving. It turns out that we were taking the Eurotunnel, which is basically a train for cars that goes under the English Channel to Calais, The train had fixed departure times, so if we didn't make a certain time, then we would have to wait an hour for the next departure time. The entire experience was a little wild as we drove into a compartment with numerous other cars and then we were off. The whole thing was bizarre to me as a "train" was transporting our coach under the English Channel! After that, the driver started to head towards Brussels as one of the stops and this was the point I fell asleep.
After half the passengers got off in Brussels, I was able to move to an actual seat in the bus and thus fell asleep. I literally woke up right when we were pulling into Amsterdam Sloterdijk.
I woke up feeling extremely groggy, so I went inside the train station to find a bathroom to freshen myself up. Afterwards, I bought a 3-Day Amsterdam Travel Ticket, which gives you unlimited travel on buses, trams, and the metro for 3 days but only in the Amsterdam area. Then, I took the train to Amsterdam Central, where I was supposed to meet up with my friend. I was really excited to see her because we met when I was staying at a hostel in Beijing a few months prior, and she was letting me stay at her place while I was in Amsterdam!
I took the train to Amsterdam Centraal and went to the luggage storage lockers to leave my backpack for the day. Note that the lockers only accept cards, not cash. Then, I went to the main lobby to wait for my friend, Dorine. We were scheduled to meet at the piano in the main hall.
We ended up meeting each other and it was very exciting to see her! To start off the day, we went to a little store inside the station to rent bikes for the day. Then, we just started to bike around the city, which was really fun! I'm not going to lie, it was a little stressful navigating the city because I had to hold my phone with one hand and ride my bike with the other. Also, bikers in Amsterdam are aggressive and the sheer number of bikes was overwhelming! However, throughout my stay here, nothing bad happened to us and we were able to navigate the roads fine.
We ended up stopping by Bloemenmarkt, which is a market that sells all sorts of flowers and flower seeds. It was interesting to see how most of the flower seeds looked like onions. I wished I could take some back with me, but I had no space in my luggage and declaring the seeds at every airport I was going to fly through would be a pain. But, the market was very beautiful and great to see!
After that, we went to the I Amsterdam Sign, which is pretty much one of the touristy things in Amsterdam. The sign is pretty big itself and you could climb on top of the letters, but it was hard to do because there was so many people! I was trying really hard to get a picture of just me in the background but I pretty much gave up on that. I ended up having Dorine take a picture for me, which ended up looking pretty good.
Then, we ended up biking to Foodhallen, which is basically a food market. There was all types of cuisines, like Vietnamese and Chinese dim sum! It was hard to choose something to eat because everything looked so good. I ended up going to this one stall (Jabugo bar iberico) and getting a platter of olives, ham, cheese, and bread. It sounds very basic and bland, but it turned out to be really tasty! It was definitely something I could imagine preparing for myself once in a while.
Afterwards, we ended up biking to Rembrandtpark and Vondelpark. Both parks were really nice and pretty to bike through! Rembrandtpark was more peaceful and had less people around. On the other hand, there were lots of people, families, and tourists walking and sitting around Vondelpark. It was one of the highlights of the day as biking along the path allowed me to see so many different types of people relaxing on a weekend. It was something I could definitely imagine myself doing!
We ended up picking a place to lock our bikes and rest for a while since we were both pretty tired and our butts hurt from the bike seat. We both ended up lying down in a shady spot and just observed the types of birds around us! Then we definitely fell asleep for quite a bit and then woke up to realize that we had to return our bikes soon. Thus, we began to work our way back towards Centraal Station. On the way back, we passed by the Skinny Bridge, Hermitage Amsterdam, Waterlooplein Market, the Royal Palace, the Anne Frank House, and Nieuwmarkt before eventually returning our bikes. I would have made reservations to visit the Anne Frank House but when I checked a few months before my trip, it was completely booked!
We were feeling pretty hungry, so we decided to go to Cafe Restaurant De Reiger to eat dinner. My friend recommended this place, so I was excited to try it. We both decided to get one of the specials, and it turned out to be amazing! My friend got the mussels, while I got a filet dish - both were made in such a delicate way and it tasted great. Our waiter was friendly even though we could tell he was a little nervous.
To finish off the day, we decided to walk through the Red Light District on the way back to Centraal Station. Now, either the US is very conservative or the Netherlands is very liberal because it was very bizarre to see prostitution, etc. out in the open where the average person can see it. The act itself wasn't weird, but the fact that it was commonly accepted - you would never see any of that in America, no matter where you went. I was also quite surprised to see a bunch of people go into an erotic nightclub at 8pm - but I suppose the party starts early. It wasn't as interesting as I expected, but I feel like later on at night is when the real fun begins.
We ended up taking a train to Leiden, which was where my friend lives. She lives in a little charming area near the university, and I thought Leiden was quite quaint. I wouldn't describe it as a city per say, but more like a small village. But, I could definitely see the appeal and charm of a small town, and it would be somewhere I would make a day trip to if I wasn't staying here overnight. We ended up both sleeping pretty much right when we walked through the door because we were so tired.
During the night before, my friend and I decided to make Day 2 a museum day. So, we decided to dedicate the whole day to visiting Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. We bought tickets online the day before for both museums, even though it's technically required for the Rijksmuseum (but we didn't want to wait in a line). For the Van Gogh Museum, you pretty much have to buy tickets beforehand and choose a time to visit, but we were able to book tickets the day before with no problem.
We started off the day by walking to Leiden Centraal and taking a train to Amsterdam Centraal, and then taking the tram to the museum. We ended up visiting the Rijksmuseum first because you could go at any time for that, but we made appointments for the Van Gogh Museum at 4pm. As we went in, we were told that our bags weren't allowed in the museum. So, we had to leave it in one of the free lockers that they provided, given that you need to make a 50 cent deposit. After taking care of that, we started to look around the museum.
I have no knowledge of any art history whatsoever, but it was definitely cool to see all the old pieces of artwork. It was something that I haven't really seen before, even though I've seen paintings before and all. There were various exhibits on all sorts of items from various periods in Dutch history. The most famous painting we probably saw was The Night Watch by Rembrandt, which basically had its own room. It was definitely pretty impressive, and I like how they provided information cards about various paintings so you could actually learn what was going on and the history behind the painting.
As we were walking through the museum, my legs were definitely getting a little tired. We ended up walking through the entire museum before 4pm, so we decided to walk someplace nearby for lunch. We decided on eating at Hans and Grietja Cafe, which seemed a little touristy but there was a table that had an excellent view of the street below. It was perfect for people-watching, so we decided to sit at the table. I got the apple pancake, and the dish wasn't like American pancakes at all! It was basically bigger but more flat and thin, with the apple slices molded on top of the pancake. I also got powdered sugar and syrup to put on my pancake. My friend told me that this was a Dutch pancake. I decided to just pour the syrup and some of the powdered sugar and distribute it equally. It turned out to be really, really good! When I usually eat pancakes, I get full very quickly but this pancake didn't give me that feeling, and I was satisfied at the end. I would be a fan of Dutch pancakes if they all tasted like this.
Afterwards, we went to the Van Gogh Museum and we were again told that our backpacks weren't allowed. So, we left them at the free cloakroom service that they had and started to walk around. Now, this museum seemed a little smaller even though it spanned 3 floors. However, there was so much to see. You could easily spend an entire day here. The museum was so detailed about Van Gogh's life. In addition to his paintings, I was also able to learn about his life, the relationships he had, the types of paintings he did, and more! It was definitely such a unique experience that I would highly recommend, even if you aren't knowledge in art history. The only thing that bothered me was that you couldn't take pictures in a lot of parts of the museum, but I was able to sneak a few pictures here and there. Also it was very crowded when I went - I would suggest going early in the morning or late at night to avoid the crowds.
After we walked through the museum, we decided to take a rest in the nearby grassy field because our legs were so tired from standing pretty much all day. We ended up taking a nap again before heading out to eat dinner at Hummus bistro d&a, which was another place my friend recommended. I ended up splurging a little and got a trio of Mediterranean sauces and hummus. This was definitely a good choice as everything we got was AMAZING - I got so many dipping sauces with my pita bread that I didn't know where to start. I just ended up putting random sauces together with the hummus, which turned out to be surprisingly good. You could definitely tell that the hummus was homemade and not from anything you see at the supermarket. I would recommend going to this place! After eating dinner, we took the tram back to the train station. For the trams, you have to tap on and tap off! Then, we took a train back to Leiden to take a rest - it had been a very long day!
To start off the day, I slept in VERY late mostly because I was very tired and I stayed up late the night before doing some research. Also, the only thing I had on the agenda today was to go on a brunch boat at 2pm through Gs Brunch Boats. My friend recommended it to me so I decided to give it a shot! It took me a little longer than I had anticipated to pack everything, and I barely made it in time to get onto the boat.
I was really excited for this part because it seemed like it was going to be a great time, and I was right. When I got on the boat, I was promptly seated and asked what drink I would like. I decided on sparkling water, and then the boat took off on one of Amsterdam's numerous canals. I definitely would recommend this particular canal tour over a traditional canal tour because there is nothing like eating brunch on a boat while taking in all of what Amsterdam has to offer. I couldn't track our entire route, but I think that we ended up making a circle around Amsterdam. Throughout the tour, there was always something new to see and it was very pretty!
Also, the brunch was pretty good as well. I got the Bae, which had some things (avocado, a poached egg, etc.) on some bread but it was definitely more technical than that. However, the way that it was presented was very nice, and it tasted amazing! Okay, I'll be honest: you can probably make the same dish yourself at home for 1/4 of the cost, but you're really paying for the experience. I spent at least half the time taking in the view just because it was so relaxing.
After the brunch boat, I decided to go to Winkel 43 to try their famous apple pie. When I went, I was able to find a seat right away but I was confused by their menu. This was because their menu didn't list their apple pie! However, the waitress told me that the apple pie was indeed available to order, along with a few other Dutch side dishes. I decided to get a slice, and it costs 4.50 euros (it doesn't say on the menu!). The apple pie was surprisingly very tasty and rich and it was one of the best apple pies I've ever had. When I eat pies, usually I find them a little too sweet and have a hard time finishing them. However, with this pie, it was sweet enough to make it taste good, but not too sweet. It definitely had the perfect balance.
After finishing the apple pie, I decided to head to Oosterpark as my last stop in Amsterdam before I had to head to Amsterdam Sloterdijk for my bus to Copenhagen. This park was also very spacious and had a ton of people just having picnics, talking, or playing with their families! It definitely had a very nice atmosphere to it. I ended up walking around and sitting on a bench for a while just to catch my breath and take a break.
On the way to Sloterdijk, I bought a wrap and some water at a nearby convenience store for the long ride. Then I took the train to Sloterdijk to wait for my bus. There was a lot of people just waiting with their suitcases for their buses. As I was waiting, I was wishing how I could have dedicated more of my vacation to the Netherlands - I'll definitely be back!
*** If you have the time I would also recommend getting Dutch pancakes at De Carrousel Pannenkoeken and walking around Albert Cuypmarkt. If you have even more time I would definitely add a half-day trip to De Zaanse Schans to see the windmills.
Often linked to the iconic colorful houses by the waterfront, Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and known to many as the happiest city in the world.
As the capital of England, London is a city that has a good list of historical sites, amazing food and nightlife, making it fitting for any individual to visit.