Pros: beautiful city, great museums, interesting culture, good food
Cons: expensive food, confusing to get around
The Bottom Line: Very fun place to visit for a long weekend!
I went to Amsterdam during February for reading week from university in London. My friend Jesse and I took the overnight bus using www.gobycoach.com since we had started our planning too late and flying was a bit too expensive. However, when we got to Amsterdam, we went online and booked a return flight from Easyjet.com which was 100 Euros including taxes ($90). If you plan in advance, you can fly from London to Amsterdam for under £30.
We were in Amsterdam from Saturday morning until Wednesday afternoon.
The Go By Coach experience
I think it would have been worth the extra money to fly both ways since the coach was a rather unpleasant experience. The coach departed from Victoria Station in London at 7:30 PM and arrived in Amsterdam at 7:30 AM. (There is a one hour time difference, so it was 'only' an 11-hour journey.) There were several obnoxious cigarette smokers on our coach who kept trying to light cigarettes, causing the driver to stop the coach and yell at them. Other times, these smoking fiends would walk down the aisle of the bus to ask the driver to stop for a cigarette break, often knocking into me on their clumsy way toward the front of the bus. Needless to say, my travelling companion and I didn't sleep more than one hour total on the way. To cross the North Sea, we took a large ferry which took an hour and a half. It is nice to be able to get off the bus for a while, but I felt a little sea-sick on the ferry. Also, we had to wait on the bus for almost an hour before boarding the ferry.
When we arrived in Amsterdam, it was still dark and we had to figure out how to get on the subway into the city. The trains are very efficient and always precisely on time. Also, everyone in Amsterdam speaks English and are very helpful. The city is full of tourists!
We emerged from Central Station and were awed by the beauty of the city. Even the station is gorgeous! There are canals throughout the city and hundreds of attractive bridges which span the canals. We took a canal cruise one day for 8 Euros which is definitely a worthwhile thing to do since the narration tells many interesting facts about the city and the canals. The city has very interesting architecture. If we had gone to Amsterdam in the spring, we would have seen many beautiful flowers (tulips are the specialty, of course.) But even in the winter, the parks were very pretty. The weather was similar to London with rain and wind most days. Probably the most beautiful building in Amsterdam is the Riks Museum which houses many Rembrandts and Vermeers.
Another wonderful museum is the Van Gogh Museum. We went to an exhibit of Van Gogh and Gauguin, which was incredible. It went in chronological order and had interesting facts about the artists' collaboration and rivalry. At 13 Euros, the exhibit was slightly pricey, but definitely worth it. You will never get the opportunity to see so many Van Goghs in one place!
We also went to the modern art museum. This museum is much different from other modern art museums I have been to (ie London's Tate Modern) since it featured many works by each artist. This can be good or bad depending on whether or not you like the art of the artists featured, so find out what the exhibits are before you go.
All three of these museums are very close together and are right near where we stayed. I would recommend staying farther away from the city center since it will be cheaper and the city is really not very big. We could walk from the museums to central station in around a half hour or we could take the trams which run down the center of the street.
The first two nights we stayed in the Hotel Roemmer Vischner which was right near the Van Gogh Museum and the Vondel Park. We were in a large room in the basement for 65 Euros which included breakfast. However, we had to go up two flights of very narrow steps to get to the bathroom and the room was not very well lit.
The next two nights, we stayed in a hostel, which I recommend-- The Flying Pig. There are several of these in Amsterdam and they are clean and safe and cheap. We paid 18 Euros per person for each night which came with a free breakfast and bedding! The people staying there and working there were very friendly. They have free internet access on a computer next to the reception desk, as well! There is a bar/common room in the basement with cards and board games where people hang out and smoke. Which brings me to...
I must admit that part of my motivation for going to Amsterdam is that marijuana and hash (along with prostitution, gambling, and magic mushrooms) are legal there. You go to a 'coffee shop' that has a green and white sign on the door, designating it as a legitimate coffee shop that can sell you weed. You can buy pre-rolled joints or bags of hash or weed. They actually have menus with the different types of pot listed on them! I definitely got a kick out of that. Since it is legal and there are so many coffee shops throughout the city, pot is VERY CHEAP! In fact, it is probably the cheapest thing to do in the city. However, when you smoke, you get hungry and then you have to pay for food, which is not cheap, but i is very good. We had excellent Chinese, Marrakesh, sandwiches, and pizza while we were there. If you bring your own weed to a coffee shop, you can smoke it provided you also buy a drink from there. Most coffee shops do not serve alcohol but some bars allow you to smoke. You are not supposed to smoke on the street since it can be offensive. I can't recommend any particular coffee shops since we went to 10 or 12 different ones, but walk around and sample several of them.
One warning: the pot is VERY STRONG! It is much stronger than most of the pot you will find in the U.S. unless you have paid a lot of money for pot. I knew this before I went, but I was still surprised at the potency of the weed. The first day, without any sleep, it definitely hit me hard. Take it slow if you are a smoking novice.
Also, it is really easy to get lost in Amsterdam, since (another Oasis reference, along with my title) all the roads are winding. And the names of the streets are hard to remember since they are in Dutch.
The Red Light District
It is definitely worth walking around the Red Light District, provided that you are with a group of people. Also beware of pick pockets. The prostitutes stand in windows wearing lingerie and it is very bizarre. There are also live sex shows and lots of sex shops. (No, I didn't hire anyone or attend any sex shows!) The Sex Museum is kind of fun, as well, as it shows the history of pornography. You thought the 1890s were tame, but, boy, were you ever wrong! The Sex Museum is on Damrak.
The Heineken Experience
They no longer brew Heineken in this old brewery, but it is tons of fun to visit. For 5 Euros, you get a fun tour of the brewery, 3 half-pints of Heineken, and a lovely souvenir half-pint glass! It is definitely the best value in town. Plus, you get to send a free video postcard of yourself in the brewery to let your friends and relatives know that you are still alive in Amsterdam. :)
The airport is great and it is really easy and cheap (especially compared to England-- it cost me five times as much to get to central London from Gatwick as it did to get to the Amsterdam airport from Amsterdam) to get to the airport. Easy Jet really was easy and the pilot even had a good sense of humour.
I really liked Amsterdam, but I was definitely ready to leave. 4 nights was DEFINITELY enough. I was exhausted from all the pot smoking and being confused and lost all the time. I recommend doing much more research than I did before you head to Amsterdam. You'll get better deals and you'll probably have a better idea of the layout of the city.
Best Suited For: Students Best Time to Travel Here: Mar - May