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11/3/13

[TRAVEL TIPS+TRICKS] a day in amsterdam


















With this being the last post about my one-day and very spontaneous trip to Dutch city Amsterdam I wanted to ramble randomly about a few tips and tricks to keep in mind and look out for if you are in the city. This was my first visit to Amsterdam, so my points will be rather short and for some maybe obvious, but I want to mention them nevertheless, as I guess there are plenty of people that, like me prior to this trip, have never been to Amsterdam, let alone the Netherlands in general. So here we go: 


- First things first, and something that was of great help to us: if you travel to Amsterdam with your car, please do save yourself the trouble of driving right into the mess of the city center by car (it is actually not that messy, only if you DO decide to try and drive around everywhere in your car). Especially if you are only visiting for a day or so. It is so much cheaper and easier, saving you time and energy and nerves. Go ahead and have a look on google maps from which direction you will be approaching and then have a look which Park and Ride is nearest to your arrival area. Here is their website. You pay one fee (around 8 Euros if I remember correctly) for the day which includes a metro ticket into the city center, which is usual only 5 to 10 minutes away. In our case I think it only took a bit more than 5 minutes and we arrived at the central train station. Since the parking lots are under surveillance they are quite safe. But whatever you do, do NOT leave any valuable items in your car, as break-ins are unfortunately common in Amsterdam (according to the P+R website and several other blogs, although I have never personally hear of any incidents or experienced one)

- so once you have arrived in central Amsterdam, try to get a clear understanding of how the city works within it´s urban fabric and composition via a map. We went so spontaneously that we forgot to take any kind of map (very naïve yes). It is nice to be able to 'read' the streets and your built surroundings whenever you are in a new city though, so I always try to get a good sense of how a city works and how parts of the city differ from one another and so on. The canals and bridges, that Amsterdam is obviously known for, are the most important elements within the city center. You can easily navigate by knowing the main, concentric half-circled canals of the city center for a general overview and then follow the interconnecting canals. Since the historic city center with it's cozy and picturesque streets and their typical 'Grachten' houses can look quite similar upon turning every corner, I think it is good to know where you are and where you are heading. 

- You might want to rent some bicycles to explore the city, however you might want to do that only if you have a clear view of what you want to see and where you will be going. We, for example, like to randomly wander all over the place to get a good feeling for a city and just see where the streets take us, so that we tend to stop every few steps and have a good look around. This would be quite annoying with bicycles, so we just walked everywhere for the day, which was perfectly fine. I do however think that for future visits, we will rent some bicycles in a true Dutch fashion. 

- this brings me to my next point: beware of the bicycles! More the bicyclists than the bikes themselves. They are everywhere and some are speeding through the small streets as if they were a race-track. Just know that they are the primary tool of transportation in the city, so they always seem to have the right of passage. On the other hand, it is quite nice and unique to see so many bicycles and so little cars in a big city like this (and this is saying a lot for me, as I currently live in a German city also known for the many many bicycles, but Amsterdam just takes the cake)

- note how the street life is quite open-minded, lively, and unique. I am not sure wether this is typical for the Dutch or only Amsterdam in particular. I noticed how so many street leveled homes and rooms are opened to the public streets. And I don´t mean in a way that the room just flows onto the streets, but that the life supposedly happening within them does. For example, I walked passed many kitchens or even some bedrooms that were unabashedly faced towards the public realm, seemingly trying to connect to whatever is happening on the streets. So many little tables and chairs were set up directly in front of the (kitchen)windows and entrances. It seemed like an extended living/dining room on the streets. A lot took pace in front of the steps/doors/entrances of these homes. I really loved that impact on the street life and vibe. Maybe this is because of the canal-and-street system, not always allowing for much (or any) backyard space, so the open-minded and very friendly people of Amsterdam just sit and enjoy some time outside on the streets within the public space of the city. This kind of reminds me of the typical New York Brownstones and their iconic steps, where people also often mingle and chat, sit and drink coffee. I love this. In Amsterdam it is a bit different, as the steps are obviously not part of the equation as is in NYC, but the usage of public space in front of residential homes is I think similar in a way. Have you noticed this in Amsterdam? Would love to hear some thoughts, especially of some people that call Amsterdam their home! Please share!

- Amsterdam has so many great and beautiful cafés along the canals, so it goes without saying and without naming any special one, to go and pick one to enjoy the atmosphere and the vibe of the streets outside if the weather allows it. 

- Also, their small boutiques and shops are wonderful, so just walk into some of the shops and through those beautiful doors and see different worlds unfold in book shops, clothing stores (such as Tenue de Nimes, which I talked about previously) or chocolateries (check out Puccini, which I also mentioned previously) just to name a few categories. 

- as an architecture enthusiast, I of course advise anyone to have a look at the entire harbor area of Amsterdam. The entire city center with the historic side of architecture is one thing, and it goes without saying that it is noteworthy, but in contrast to that, the harbor boasts with contemporary and huge architecture projects of renown architecture practices. Have a look here for a more detailed post about Amsterdam's architecture, or here for my personal highlight, the EYE Film Institute, which I definitely recommend visiting. 

- I have only been to the Vondelpark, which is probably the most known one in Amsterdam, but also the most touristy one I bet. Since we visited on a weekday and off-season, it was perfectly fine and enjoyable, but for a bit more quiet and less crowded time within nature, maybe check out some of the many other parks, which I will do on my next visit. 

- For some more impressions, tips on where to go and where to eat, have a look at my other Amsterdam related posts


Check out any of my other travel impressions and city tips and tricks for some travel ideas and thoughts!

Travel to: Amsterdam | Barcelona | Cuba | New York | Norway

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