In the middle of winter, me and my friend Steph were sat in the pub musing on summer and holidays and dreaming of adventures. A few drinks and weeks later we decided to book a last-minute girls weekend to Amsterdam. I had been to the city once before as a child but couldn’t really remember much other than it having lots of canals and being cold. We managed to get fairly cheap flights costing £80 and hostel for three nights for £180. You can get a lot cheaper deals than this especially if you are flexible about dates, however for something last minute we were happy.
Our flight was very early, leaving at 3:30 in the morning after only three hours of sleep wasn’t great, but it did mean that we had a full day when we arrived. Just as we were waiting to take off and discussing if we had brought enough layers, I realised that I had left my hoodie in airport security. This was a mistake as Amsterdam is cold in March with a scarf and coat I still felt the absence of my hoodie.
Getting from Amsterdam airport to the city centre was pretty simple, it’s all very well signposted in the airport and easy to use ticket machines. It only costs 5 euros and takes about 20 minutes to arrive at the central station. Rather than getting the tram to our hostel, we decided to see more of Amsterdam by walking. Our hostel was in the centre of Vondelpark, this turned out to be useful when looking for signposts to guide us in the right direction. It took about five minutes to realises walking in Amsterdam is stressful and everything wants to run you over. Crossing roads can be particularly confusing trying to dodge cars, bikes, mopeds and trams speeding in every direction. Pedestrians really are the bottom of the food chain.
It was freezing and we were already regretting walking. But it did mean we got to walk along the beautiful streets and canals, past all the amazing bakeries serving all sorts of treats from pastries to crepes to ditch waffles.
From the station, it took us about 40 minutes to get to the hostel. It could have been quicker but we got a little lost and Steph got distracted by crepes. We were staying at ‘Stayokay Vondelpark’ which was right in the centre of the beautiful Vondelpark. The main building was an old converted schoolhouse turned into dorms, it was very striking. Since becoming a hostel it had expanded into four other buildings offering a mixture or shared dorms and private rooms.
It seemed to be a modern busy place with lots of social areas, a bar and free wifi. Our room wouldn’t be ready until 2, so they suggested we leave our things in the pay per hour lockers. We grabbed a few free city maps and headed off to buy me a hoodie as I could no longer cope in the freezing cold.
On the way, we began to realise that Amsterdam was also famous for cheese. Every street had at least two cheese shops on it. While I’m not the biggest cheese fan, Steph was in her element and we proceeded to stop in every cheese store and try all the tasters. If you’re ever running out of money in Amsterdam and are desperate for a snack, they have you covered. The red pesto even had me converted into a cheese lover.
Continuing on we stumbled across Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s tulip market, something else that Holland is famous for. If your looking to buy some tulips to take back home then this is your place!
There were rows and rows of market stalls selling every kind of tulip you could possibly imagine. This really was one of the strangest streets I’ve ever walked down in my life and feel it really set the tone and encapsulates the contrasts of Amsterdam. On one side of the street beautiful and traditional flower markets, directly opposite sex shops selling all sorts of paraphernalia, cannabis and a huge magic mushroom shop. I guess seedy all around!
We were actually very close to one of the main shopping streets e found our way back to the central square and headed to the shopping district. For keen shoppers, Amsterdam has lots to offer from boutiques to big brands. My reluctance to spend lots on money on a hoodie meant that finding one was proving to rather time-consuming. However, I eventually found a suitable one in forever 21. After all the excitement of the morning we had worked up quite an appetite (even despite all the cheese) so began looking around for lunch. We had noticed a lot of hole-in-the-wall places selling chips and a special kind of mayonnaise that seemed to be very popular in Holland. The challenge was finding somewhere to try these chips that we could also sit down and get warm as most places for lunch tended to grab and go. We found a place called burger
We decided to try a traditional dish of Amsterdam which turned out to be chips and a special kind of mayonnaise called fritessaus. Finding somewhere to sit down and eat proved to be difficult as most lunch places tended to be more of a grab and go vibe, we did, however, find a place called Burger Fabtiek Express. Immediately after ordering, we realised that we had failed to order the special kind of mayonnaise and had in fact just ordered normal. So the chips were still good but basically just your average chips you could get anywhere.
If you’ve read any of my blogs before then you will know I always like to start off a new city with a free walking tour. We had booked to go on the new Europe tour at 2 departing from the main square so had a little time to kill before it started. With only a general direction and not much idea of what to expect we set off in search of the red light district. Following the cobbled back streets, we frustratingly found loads of great food places that would have been ideal earlier on. So if you are ever struggling to find food in Amsterdam head towards the red light district and you will find something.
We knew we were in the right place when we turned a corner and stumbled into a street of a million sex shops, selling everything you could possibly imagine.
There was also the famous condom shop I had read about in a tour guide of Amsterdam. We went inside to see what all the fuss was about. They had a few amusing displays that if you in the area it’s worth checking out but I wouldn’t really go out of my way to visit.
Continuing on our quest we went down a few more alleys until we found the central canal of the red light district. Believe me, you will know when you find it. In broad daylight seeing beautiful half-naked women in windows, selling themselves and that being okay is just a bizarre concept. If you have never been believe me it’s not at all how you would imagine it, I thought it would be a lot shadier and closed off with women in windows and men entering dark houses to negotiate with their pimps. But not at all it’s right in your face in the street as if a spectacle in itself. The windows, in fact, being huge glass doors for anyone passing to enquire with the girls directly. It was a strange feeling and honestly, I found it all very uncomfortable suddenly feeling like a prude and trying to avoid making eye contact.
We then headed back for the start of the walking tour. The tour covered so much, starting off with the history of the square itself.
We then returned to the red light district which was far larger than we had first realised with over 400 windows in various alleys. We delved deeper into the history of Amsterdam itself as being entirely manmade from swamplands, and how sailors had made red-light district for their own convince before returning home to their wives. We learned how in turn the Catholic church had benefited from this by building a large church in the heart of the red-light district, so sinners could pay for there sins to go away. We discovered how it’s broken down into different sections depending on peoples tastes, with names such as big momma alley, silicone valley alley and tranny alley. How a red light meant they were available and blue light meant half price.
Moving on for more of a historical contrast we walked around the Jewish quarter and the memorial circles from the Holocaust for the three main groups of victims, the Jewish, homosexuals and the disabled. We walked past the old headquarters of the East India trading company that helped put Amsterdam on the map. We saw one of the smallest houses in Europe (the red house below) and learned how houses in Holland get furniture up to the higher floors. By using a system of pullies and putting it thought the higher level windows.
Finishing up in front of Ann Franks house. I feel like we crammed so much in and Amsterdam has such a long and diverse history it was one of the best walking tours I’ve been on. Our guide even gave us advice on how not to get lost in Amsterdam by always following the canal in a certain direction.
This clearly was no use whatsoever for me and Steph and we ended up being incredibly lost trying to find our way back to the hostel. In the end, it took over an hour to get back after walking in totally the wrong direction for a very long time as everything in Amsterdam looks very similar. However, Steph was preoccupied by her love for birds and excitement that there were wild herrings everywhere, which apparently isn’t common in England.
We finally made it back to our hostel and got to see our room, we were very impressed we had a private room and it was nicer than many hotels I’ve stayed but still had that fun and easy-going hostel vibe. I would 100% recommend staying here. With two large single beds, towels and shampoo our own bathroom and power shower, it was more than we could have hoped for. We even managed a twenty-minute power nap before dinner which was seriously needed.
Food in Amsterdam is expensive there was no avoiding it with the average main course costing 15 euros, so whilst getting ready for dinner we had to hunt on TripAdvisor to find somewhere close that was a reasonable price.
We walked about 15 minutes out of the centre of town, passing the Rijksmuseum and I am Amsterdam sign, to a Thai restaurant called Pheun Thai food.
It was very quiet with other one other customer, the decor was a bit bland and there was no music, but the food was very good and large portions for a reasonable price which was exactly what we were looking for. It looked so good we had already eaten half before I thought to take a photo.
Heading back to the hostel just in time for happy hour we somehow manage to push through our exhaustion after being awake for 16 hours. We made friends as you do in hostels with a few Americans and some Germans. It wasn’t long until we were all happily arguing about other countries politics. After a few more hours and drinking games later, Steph was adamant she wanted to go and see the red light district at night. We wrapped ourselves up for the cold again and headed out. We took a short detour while the Americans tried to convince us to go to the casino however at 60 euros entry we were having none of it.
We had one map between us all and already discovering Steph has no sense of direction I was left in charge of getting us there. We made it for the most part after Steph asked some people to confirm we were going in the right direction, we arrived at 3:30 just after all the bars were starting to close. Somehow at night, the red light district wasn’t as absurd and seedy as during the day time, after walking around and checking that all the bars were closed, we decided it was time to get food and I finally got my Nutella Dutch waffle. I had also learnt from the many errors of getting lost earlier in the day and managed to get us all the way back without consulting a map. I think I am finally learning my way around Amsterdam.
Overall our first day in Amsterdam really felt like a lifetime after being awake for over 26 hours, walked the length of the city multiple times and witnessed its continuous battle between its beautiful heritage and its drunken tourists looking for sex and drugs.