Whenever I heard of Amsterdam from someone, it was accompanied by a tone of mischief the way you hear about Las Vegas. The Red-Light District probably makes the city a lot more popular than even Rembrandt the great artist who is most important to the Dutch Art History. As fortune would have it, while planning my travel to Italy this July, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days by myself in Amsterdam. A solo girl in Amsterdam! Before you raise your eyebrows, go through my experience here. Despite all that Amsterdam is famous or infamous for, it felt quite safe.
The flight landed at 10 p.m. which still meant daylight in Amsterdam. While checking into the hotel around 11 p.m, I couldn’t help noticing that it felt like early evening with the city being alive even at that hour. After much search, considering it was peak holiday season, I had zeroed in on the Best Western Dam Square Inn. A no-frills hotel right at Dam Square which is the hub of activity at the center of the city.
After an early breakfast the next morning , the first thing to do was a recce of the city with a canal tour. Since the hotel was at walking distance from the Centraal Station and that’s where all canal boat tours started their cruise, got the advantage of taking the first boat and avoid the queue. The tours typically start around 9:30-10:00 a.m. The boat we had was filled up earlier as there was a group booking so they could start the tour before 9:30 a.m.
The canal tour took us around Amsterdam showing us Anne Frank’s House, Rembrandt’s house, the antique house boats, the Skinny Bridge, floating Flower Market, the world’s largest floating Chinese Restaurant and many others. It was interesting to see the very small houses nearly juxtaposed on each other. An interesting point was to see the dancing houses (houses that have tilted towards or away from each other due to levelling differences and look like they are in a dancing pose). The tour was for an hour and dropped us back at the Centraal Station. You can buy canal tour tickets at your hotel, any of the Tours and Tickets outlets or at the Centraal station where the ride starts.
While I am not much of a museum person but visiting Amsterdam and not having a rendezvous with Rembrandt and Van Gogh would have been a shame. So, I bought tickets for the Rijks Museum and Van Gogh Museum from the same Tours & Tickets outlet that I bought the tickets for the canal tour from. They were a bit steep at around 17 Euros each. The Van Gogh museum has specific time slots for entry so plan your visit accordingly. Both the museums are near each other so a tram from Centraal Station (number 2 or number 5) would take you there. These two teams are the best for all touristy destinations in Amsterdam. A tram ticket for 2.9 Euros is valid for an hour irrespective of the number of rides. There are also 24 hour and 48 hour passes available but I didn’t need them since most of the stuff was at walking distance from my hotel.
So I got onto Tram Number 2 and reached Rijks Museum at around 1:30 p.m. My suggestion is that you do some research on what you really want to see at the museum before reaching there. It is huge and I didn’t want to get tired by the time I got to Rembrandt. So I actually started my museum visit with the Gallery of Honor on the 2nd floor and walked my way backwards. Apart from Rembrandt’s The Night Watchman, the Battle of Waterloo on the first floor is also not to be missed. Honestly everyone has their preferences but if you want to do the museum in a couple of hours then select where you want to spend your time and energy as the walk around can be very tiring.
The IAmsterdam sign where you may have seen many people posing is right opposite the entrance to the Rijks Museum. Difficult to get an exclusive picture there due to the number of people literally hanging onto the various letters of the sign. I reached Van Gogh Museum a little ahead of my time slot. They were pretty strict. They only let me enter 30 minutes before the time slot not earlier. Van Gogh’s work is very different from other artists in the Rijks Museum so you wouldn’t experience monotony. Unlike Rijks Museum where photography is allowed, you cannot take pictures of any of the paintings in the Van Gogh museum. Of course, that helps people admire the paintings more than clicking away.
After the museum stint, I had all evening to myself. The main shopping area Kalverstraat was just steps away from my hotel. The prices and sales would make any keen shopper salivate. Would suggest, if you like shopping, go there with empty luggage. Anyways, not much of a shopper myself, I did find some good stuff to buy there at really and I mean really steal away prices. Given the long daylight hours, I headed to the famous Red Light District around 8 p.m. It looked like any other shopping and food street at that hour. The fact that it is just behind Dam Square with the Royal Palace and the War Memorial next to it, somehow adds a lot of respectability to the RLD. It took me a while to even figure out whether I was at the right place. It is rightly said, if you want to see the true spirit of the RLD, go after 10 p.m. Given it had been a long day, I planned to do the RLD exploration the next day.
The next morning, I started my day with the floating Flower Market. Unfortunately, the tulip season gets over in May. However, the market was replete with all kinds of wooden and plastic versions of tulips as well as seeds and bulbs to be exported all over the world. Being surrounded with flowers is one of the best beginnings of the day I could experience. In the afternoon, I booked myself on a tour to Zaanse Schans, a quaint traditional Holland village just 20 minutes away from Amsterdam.
The visit to Zaanse Schans was an awesome glimpse into traditional Holland with windmills, cheese making, quaint villas that people still live in and an insight into the typical clog ( wooden shoes) making that Holland is known for. The tour was for a couple of hours. After a demo of clog making and cheese making, we were left on our own to explore the village including experiencing the actual functioning of a windmill.
The tour starts from Amsterdam Tower which is the tallest building in Amsterdam and across the river from the Centraal Station. There are free ferries running every few minutes between the Centraal Station and the Amsterdam Tower. That is where the tour ended as well.
After my share of hanging around exploring the dam square area, I headed to the RLD at around 10 p.m. True to the recommendation, it looked different as it got closer to the darkness. I was amazed at the matter of fact way people went about their business there. The Red Curtain Windows don’t really intimidate or shock. The girls were busy with their phones while they waited for their next customer. Also the cops were patrolling pretty regularly so I didn’t notice anyone misbehaving with anyone around. There are 2 major night clubs there that offer live shows. The Casa Rosso and the Moulin Rouge. The Casa Rosso is slightly more expensive and crowded than the Moulin Rouge. Don’t think there is much difference in the show. The folks at the clubs are very friendly and do not allow any misbehavior, which is why the clubs are thronged by both men and women. For more details, following the Vegas principle, I guess you have to experience yourself!
As I wrapped up my trip, a few thoughts and tips I packed with myself when I left Amsterdam:
It truly gives you the feel of a carefree city (not careless). Nobody is watching, making judgements, making comments. This attitude probably plays a big role in the lack of crime in the city.
- There are more bikes than people in the city (this is for a fact). For a population of 832000, there are 1 million bicycles in the city. One must be careful of getting hit by a bike as they drive really rashly. I nearly got hit thrice.
- The city truly never sleeps. I found it to be pretty safe if you have a sense of adventure and a sense of humor. Each one of us have our own yardsticks of safety but I did not feel the need to rush back to my hotel at any point.
All kinds of cuisines are easily available. I even found an Indian restaurant called Gandhi restaurant near my hotel which served authentic Indian food (not diluted to the Dutch taste).
The abundance of flowers in the city adds to the warm-hearted feel.
All this makes Amsterdam one of the must visit destinations in Europe and one of the most enjoyable ones for solo travellers. Happy visiting!