Amsterdam XXX

XXX…a symbol you will spot everywhere in Amsterdam. But what does it mean? Is it somehow related to the city’s liberal views? No, not at all, it is just a coincidence. The symbol is formed out of three white St. Andrew’s Crosses on a black stripe on a red background, that dates back to the 16th century. Amsterdam and St. Andrew are connected: legend says that St. Andrew was a fisherman crucified on an X shaped cross, while Amsterdam was founded in the 13th century as a fishing port and that all ships registered there displayed the three crosses.

Four days. It sounds enough for a trip to the capital of Netherlands, but the plans from back home didn’t match the reality. I would have liked to stay longer. Amsterdam has the power to generate a multitude of mixed feelings. The city is vibrant, beautiful and unique. Nicknamed the “Venice of the North”, it has 165 canals, almost 1300 bridges, tens of museums and more bicycles than people. Everyone speaks English. Soft drugs are legal and sold in every coffee shop. You can feel the smell of marijuana everywhere. Prostitution is legal and regulated, everyone has heard of the famous Red Light District. That’s Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Rijksmuseum by night


How to reach the city from the airport?

Schiphol, one of the major European airports, is located just outside the city. For most of you, it will be the first interaction with the Netherlands. After a 20 minutes train ride (€5.20), you’re at Amsterdam Centraal, the place where it all starts. This iconic building is more than 100 years old, and was designed by the same architect of the Rijksmuseum, another landmark of the city. During my visit, it was undertaking serious renovation and its facade was completely covered.


Accommodation

Hotels are very expensive in Amsterdam, especially during summer, and finding bargains is almost impossible. Many factors impact this price, from the concentrated city center, which lacks space, to the high number of tourists. When I booked the hotel, about three months in advance, Booking.com was showing a 85% occupancy for the month of August. Airbnb prices were quite high as well, there wasn’t a good offer inside the city. After searching for several days, I decided to book a room at Hotel Casa Amsterdam (Eerste Ringdijkstraat 4), which was a bit over €100 per night. Not cheap for a hotel situated 2-3 kilometers away from the city center, but the room was comfy, clean and had a great view. Plus I was able to check some of the neighborhoods from outside the city center, while walking to and from the hotel.


What to eat in Amsterdam?

For local food, I recommend Albert Cuyp Market, in De Pijp. Start with a raw herring sandwich, seasoned with onion and pickles, followed by bitterballen (a popular fried meat-based snack) and vlaamse frites (fries with different sauces, the Dutch people love them). All of these won’t cost more than €10. Add a local beer besides; Heineken and Amstel are two brands known worldwide, but there are also many local craft beers – not as popular, but tasty. You can even visit Heineken’s old brewery, which is open to the public – it didn’t present much interest for me, but if you love beer, go for it. For dessert, you need to try either a stroopwafel (usually comes with caramel filling), or poffertjes (small pancakes with different toppings). Or why not both?

Dutch street food in Albert Cuypmarkt
Albert Cuypmarkt Dutch pastries

A tip for the burger fans: go to Lombardo’s (Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 50), a small restaurant from the city center, specialized in this type of food. No fries, no salad on the side, just good, juicy burgers. Quality ingredients and pure awesomeness. And believe me, I’ve tried a lot of burger places so far. This one is in my top 3.


Guide to Amsterdam

  • Right after you exit the central train station, you will spot the famous canals and the slim, high, deep houses. On the left, the Sint-Nicolaas Church dominates its surroundings. If you follow Damrak street, you will end up in one of the busiest places of Amsterdam, the Dam Square. What’s here? Some of the most notable buildings the city has to offer: the Royal Palace, former city hall and currently used for official receptions, the 15th-century Gothic Nieuwe Kerk, the Madame Tussaud‘s Wax Museum, the department store De Bijenkorf.

Amsterdam houses
Amsterdam - Dam Square

  • Close to the square, you will find one of the most interesting and beautiful places in Amsterdam: the Begijnhof inner court, surrounded on all sides by historic buildings from the Middle Ages. It’s a great place to sit down and have a snack/drink.  But not on the grass, it is not allowed. There are some benches next to the English Reformed Church, also part of the inner court.

The Begijnhof

  • Explore the canals and bridges from Amsterdam Centrum, which are stunning from my perspective. You can do it either by foot or by bicycle. There are a lot of bars and cafes around, where you can enjoy a beer, a glass of wine or a coffee.

Amsterdam canals
Amsterdam - Dutch traditional houses

  • On the Singel canal, the Bloemenmarkt (the world’s only floating flower market) awaits its visitors, with a wide range of flowers and souvenir gifts.

Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt

  • Nieuwe Spiegelstraat is one of the coolest streets. It has many antique shops and art galleries, free of charge.
  • Museumplein and Vondelpark (biggest park of the city) are great places to enjoy the sunny weather – of course, when it’s the case, because the weather in Netherlands changes in just a few minutes. Many people will be on the grass socializing, reading, working out, eating, resting or smoking.

Museumplein and Rijksmuseum
Vondelpark in Amsterdam

  • Museumplein (Museum Quarter in English) is also the home of – you guessed it – some of the most important museums, like the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum, plus the Diamond Museum and Moco Museum. Rijksmuseum is mostly dedicated to Dutch art and history. It is huge, you can easily spend a full day there, admiring the works of Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer. I was pretty impressed by the Asian pavilion and by the Cuypers Library.

Rijksmuseum Research Library
Rijksmuseum Asian Pavilion
Rijksmuseum Naval History Section

  • De Wallen is the largest and best known red-light district. It’s Amsterdam, you have to check it out! And don’t worry, there are no safety issues. But it’s a touristic area, crowded all the time. There are also some pretty unique museums here.

Red Light District houses

  • De Pijp neighborhood, situated south of Amsterdam Centrum, is the hype! There are a lot of restaurants and cafes of all types and tastes, and this is the place where you’ll find the locals.

De Pijp District

  • Closing the tour with the list of places for shopping. I have already mentioned De Bijenkorf, the several storeys high store located in the Dam Square. Add to the list Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat, two of the main shopping streets in Amsterdam. But if you want high-end brands, then P.C. Hooftstraat is the answer, located between the Museumplein and Vondelpark.

That was it, my first Dutch experience. I know I’ve missed a couple of places and some fun activities, but hey, there is always a second time.

Amsterdam - Dutch traditional houses

Overall, my expectations were fully met. Amsterdam is truly a city that never sleeps. It’s full of energy and definitely has the cool factor. Its history and artistic heritage are impressive. There are so many other museums that I haven’t mentioned. It’s a place that you must visit, at least once in your lifetime. I’m glad I did it now. It’s your turn.

Vaarwel!

Author: Marian Bulacu

Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.

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