I am always interested in talking to people about their favourite places they’ve been to, since I think it can actually be quite revealing about what they’re like as a person. For me, a big part of my love for Amsterdam is a personality thing, and it’s always difficult to describe my love for the city when people start questioning me (sometimes with a bit of disdain on their part). Amsterdam was a place I had been told I wouldn’t I wouldn’t even enjoy, and I arrived there worrying that I wouldn’t fit in with the Amsterdam scene. Instead, I found a vibrantly alive city that manages to be grossly misunderstood. While we all have different tastes and different favourite places (or maybe no favourites at all), here are my top nine favourite things about Amsterdam, looking beyond the infamous Red Light District.
1. The People
Canadians and the Dutch have had a good relationship since the liberation of the Netherlands during World War II, and maybe that makes me biased. People were very kind to me once they found out I was Canadian, but I think they would have acted similarly no matter where I was from. People would engage me in conversation as I walked by, a random man stopped me to tell me he loved my eyes, and I spent an afternoon in Jordan helping an elderly gentleman find his dog, while we talked about the neighbourhood. Despite living in a major city, the friendly atmosphere in Amsterdam doesn’t feel urban at all.
2. The Canals
Probably the most iconic thing about Amsterdam, aside from the Red Light District, is the canals. I visited Bruges beforehand, and wondered if I would be less impressed by Amsterdam’s canals after seeing so many in Bruges. That wasn’t the case at all. Filled with houseboats, the canals that run through the city are uniquely and make the quintessential Amsterdam.
3. The Size
It’s the perfect city: full of interesting things to do, but small and compact. From my hostel in Jordan I could walk everywhere I needed to go, never having to take the tram or the metro.
4. The Shops
Amsterdam is littered with unique and interesting shops, not to mention the many private art galleries. Perfect for the hipster set, I feel like there’s something for everyone while shopping in Amsterdam. If you’re hungry, free samples at the various cheese shops (and the Cheese museum) are ideal. The sprawling Flower Market is also a great way to see and buy the Dutch Tulips.
5. The Beauty
Even with the bad weather while I was there, Amsterdam is incredibly beautiful. From Vondelpark to the merchant houses, there is no doubt that Amsterdam is a gorgeous city, even if there are some not so ideal looking places (sorry Red Light District.)
6. It’s Safer Than You Think
It’s hard to believe now that I was nervous about being out at night here, or visiting the Red Light District at all. I felt safe at all times, even in the Red Light District, day or night. While every major city is bound to have crime, I think the most common thing you’re likely to see is bike theft. Like anywhere you have to be cautious of pickpocketing and play it safe, but I felt comfortable and at ease roaming the streets at night, even as a girl traveling alone. There were a lot of police in the Red Light district, and while I felt a bit dirty after walking around the area, my preconceptions about it were more dramatic than the reality.
7. The Culture
Even if all people will ask you about when you go home is the coffeeshops, there is so much to see and do in Amsterdam besides that. The Anne Frank is a must see, and you can easily buy tickets online to avoid the massive line. The Van Gough Museum and the Rijksmuseum are among the most famous attractions, accompanied by the famous I Amsterdam sign. There’s something for everything: I personally enjoyed the Dutch Resistance Museum, the Amsterdam Museum and the Houseboat Museum, since I am fascinated by Amsterdam’s history.
8. It’s Perfect For Biking
The common saying is that there are more bicycles in Amsterdam than people, or that the canals are one metre of water, one metre of mud and one metre of rusty old bikes. Amsterdam is perfect for biking, and you can even take a bicycle on a ferry behind Centraal Station and go for a bike ride outside of the city. Bikes are everywhere, and parents even have wheelbarrows bikes for taking their children to school. There is no better way to appreciate Amsterdam than riding around on a rental bike.
9. The Personality of the City
When it comes down to it, your favourite place is going to be someplace that grabs you. I loved the intimacy of a smaller city like Amsterdam compared to London or Paris, but at the same time there was so much more to do than in smaller cities like Bruges. There is something unique about Amsterdam, and its atmosphere helps it have a laid back vibe in a major European city. Amsterdam sort of reminds me of a person you know who everyone judges and dismisses, when in reality they are intelligent and interesting. When you look past the swarms of British teens flocking to the coffeeshops of the Red Light District and the men gawking at the sex workers, Amsterdam is a city full of art and beauty.