It’s easy to say that I’ve had a pretty good year of traveling in 2015 and my final trip of the year started off with a weekend in Amsterdam and then a week in Tuscany/Florence. Amsterdam has always been on my bucket list and this city offers far more than its deviant reputation of the Red Light District and legal marijuana. It boasts several amazing museums, canals and bridges that arguably trump those in Venice, and a great nightlife. And it is all very doable in a 3-4 day weekend.
Our trip didn’t start off too well however. I won’t get too much into the details so I’ll truncate it a bit. First off, don’t fly United Airlines internationally. Just don’t. Secondly, if you’re going to use AirBnB be aware of a few things. 1) Their help numbers didn’t work when I tried to reach them in an emergency. 2) If you book an apartment through AirBnB, be sure that the apartment you’re choosing has been thoroughly reviewed positively. It should have at least 15 reviewers give it a thumbs up. We rolled the dice on a place and let’s just say our first morning of Amsterdam constituted of an unguided walking tour of the city with our luggage. (In the end, we got into the apartment we rented, but it was completely unprepared, dirty, and smelly and the apologetic owner claimed that she had cancelled her AirBnB account the week prior…)
After that unfortunate morning, we put aside our frustration because we were set to explore. The first thing you’ll notice in the city is how big of a biking culture it is. I’ve never seen so many people on bikes in my life. Be sure to be careful on the sidewalk, because unlike in the US, the bike lanes are part of the sidewalk and not the street, so if you stroll into one, you will most likely get in the way of the cyclists.
Getting around the city center is easy by walking and almost all of the locals speak impeccable English. With words like “flüggåәnkб€čhiœßølįên” (for you EuroTrip fans) you’d think getting around Amsterdam would be more challenging, but the Dutch are all very fluent in English (at least the ones we met) and it came close to feeling like we weren’t even in Europe at various points because of how comfortable we felt.
One other thing we were told is this, and you should know it going into your trip. GET ALL TICKETS IN ADVANCE. It’ll save you a ton of time waiting in line for the museums. They offer package deals as well that include various combinations of canal rides and museums that I would highly recommend you take advantage of to save some money. Also, apparently the locals don’t go out on the weekends because they don’t like dealing with tourists, so their “going out” nights are Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Here are a few of the things we did on the first day:
This is worth checking out, especially if you’re a beer drinker who’s done a few brewery tours in the U.S. This is like a U.S. brewery tour on steroids. No need to get an audio guide because the whole thing is in English. The tour itself begins with a pretty standard history of Heineken, the beer making process, and then a tasting. Then it gets a little wild. First you go on a “Star Tours” like ride where you’re in a room that moves and sprays mist and stuff at you while a movie plays showing the beer making process as if you were in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”. Then you walk through an Epcot Center like multimedia chamber with all sorts of random games, light things, music, etc. The end of the tour consists of a lounge area that looks like a nightclub where you can get two fresh, cold Heinekens as part of your ticket fee. Be sure to check out the tables with the electronic table tops. You’ll notice that wherever you set your beer, an electronic “coaster” pops up underneath it.
NJOY Cocktail Bar
Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 93
1017 PX Amsterdam, Netherlands
Be sure to grab a drink at NJOY. We actually just chose this place randomly to get a quick drink before exploring for the evening and it paid off. First off, the drinks were amazing. Expensive, but amazing. If you’re lucky enough to get the bartender we had, order an Envy (it’ll be a flaming cognac drink) or a “Rum Old Fashioned” which isn’t on the menu but a libation that our guy put together himself. Secondly, the bar looked like it was owned by Prince. Everything was in purple. For the people in DC, imagine if Little Miss Whiskey’s on H Street was actually a classy place — that’s NJOY. What really set the place apart though was the staff. The staff were friendly and sociable enough, but what put them over the top was that they went out of their way to put together a full two page list of things we needed to see, do, where to eat, drink, etc. And we utilized this list to a great degree throughout the trip and never came across anything on it that wasn’t a very good experience including where we went to dinner afterwards…
Castell BAR-becue Restaurant
1017 RK Amsterdam, Netherlands
Which brings me to Castell. In general, Danish food isn’t anything to write home about. In fact, they love American hamburgers in Amsterdam so much, there was practically a burger joint on every block. But this place Castell could arguably be the best meal of the trip (it was definitely my buddy’s favorite, though I reserve my favorite for a Tuscan place I’ll blog about later on). The place was packed when we got in, so make a reservation. We just happened to be lucky enough to grab two open seats at the bar. Castell has a dive bar vibe, but at the same time hip, trendy and classy. The bar area ended up being pretty awesome because it had really, really comfortable bar chairs, and the counter was cushioned on the end to put your elbows on comfortably. The steaks, oh my god the steaks. Perfectly done. Can’t say anything else about it, just perfect. Now admittedly, we were drunk when we ate here, but I’m fairly confident the food is amazing there no matter what condition you’re in.
Next up: I’ll get into what Amsterdam is notorious for — The Red Light District.