Word on the street: Amsterdam

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Amsterdam resident, Holly White, gives us the lowdown on the delightful Dutch capital that’s known for its art, culture and coffee houses

Name: Holly White
Age: 26
Occupation: Magazine Designer

Are you a local girl? No. I was born in England but moved to the Netherlands for work.

What is it like to live in Amsterdam?
Wonderful.  One of the best things about living in Amsterdam is that unlike other capital cities, Amsterdam is very compact. The best way to get abut is by bike (this is a city of 750,000 people and 600,000 bicycles). But before you get on your bike, be warned that the Dutch are aggressive cyclists. Cycle safely by using the designated cycle lanes and be prepared to ring your bell loudly to warn others of your imminent approach. There are dozens of rental companies throughout the city clamouring for your cash, all of whom require ID in addition to a deposit.


What is your favourite thing about Amsterdam?
Probably the café culture. Amsterdam is by no means one of the culinary capitals of the world, but what it lacks in fine dining it more than makes up for in charming coffee shops and cafes. In Amsterdam a coffee shop sells coffee (and often alcohol), but the emphasis is on cannabis.  The most historic and famous type of cafe is the brown cafe – so called because the walls have been stained by centuries of cigarette smoke. Meanwhile beer cafes, as the name suggests, serve beer – often up to 300 varieties.

Why should we visit Amsterdam?
Because it is an accessible, affordable city that really does offer something for everyone. Whether you come for the culture (art is everywhere in Amsterdam), the coffee houses or to enjoy Amsterdam’s tolerance and pragmatism (the city is home to the biggest gay scene in Europe) – you’ll leave a lot happier than when you arrived.

How long do we need?
To really get to grips with Amsterdam, you need a long week-end at least. An extra couple of days would give you time to explore and enjoy the city at a more leisurely pace.

How can tell you locals from tourists?
That’s easy! The tourists tend to head straight for the Red Light District (RLD) where, with their guide books and backpacks, they stand out a mile from the drunks, drug dealers, pimps and nearly naked prostitutes that patrol the RLD.
Tourists also look nervous when cycling around the city, while locals look a lot more confident and can cycle while simultaneously talking on the phone, reading a book and so on.


Best sites?
Ann Frank Huis.
Visited by one million people a year, this is the house that Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl, and her family used as a hideaway to escape the Nazis before being mysteriously betrayed to the Gestapo in August 1944. Queues to get into the museum tend to snake around the block but you can beat the crowds by arriving early or late in the day. You can also save time by buying tickets online in advance and then using the separate entrance for advance ticket holders.
Another must see is the Museum Het Rembrandthuis – a beautifully restored house dating from 1606 where Rembrandt lived and worked during the peak of his painting career. The Museum is especially worth visiting for its near complete collection of Rembrandt’s etchings (although not all the etchings are on display at once).
Finally no visit to Amsterdam is complete without a wander around the RLD. The ‘girls’ pay around 40 to 100 euro a day to rent their window, depending on its location, and typically charge 50 euro for a 15 minute encounter.


Best bites?
Pastries in the district of Jordaan. The former workers’ quarter makes no demand on your cultural conscience but the cosy lanes are home to plenty of pubs and cafes serving a mountain of mouth watering pastries. And obviously a hot waffle after a night on the town is a quintessential Amsterdam experience.

Top shops?
The two most popular areas are Nine Streets, which is chock full of quirky little shops specialising in one offs, and Kalverstraat; this busy shopping street has a branch of Hema – a cross between Kmart, IKEA and a funky urban lifestyle store – and is an Amsterdam institution.
Close to Kalverstraat lies Bijenkorf – the city’s famed department store. It’s not cheap (there’s even a charge even to use the loos although admittedly they aren’t bog standard washrooms) but who says you have to buy? While in town, be sure to check out Bloemenmarkt, a colourful canal side flower market that has been in existence since the 1860s and the place to buy your tulip bulbs, as well as Waterlooplein; the latter is all about antiques and vintage clothes.

Where should we stay?
Good question. Visiting friends and family always stay at Hotel Holly! I can, however, tell you where NOT to stay: step forward Hans Brinker which was voted the worst hostel in the world!


Any insider tips for our readers?
Do venture to Vondelpark. Amsterdam’s answer to New York’s Central Park, is as much a part of the city as the coffee shops and canals. The park – a playground for people from all walks of life – is named after the poet and playwright Joost van del Vondel who died in 1679. Regardless of whether you want to relax and read a book, rollerblade, fly kites or share a spliff with friends – you can do it all in this popular park.

Thanks Holly!
For more on Amsterdam, visit the official tourism site: www.iamsterdam.com

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