Amsterdam is best known, especially among younger people, for its blasé attitude towards marijuana and red light district. If you’re planning a trip there, the best time to go is May, June and July. Unfortunately, these are the most expensive months to travel to Amsterdam because the Dutch flowers are in bloom. I suggest using websites like www.farecompare.com to do research on flight prices throughout the year.
If you’re flying there, you’re most likely going to land in Schiphol Airport. I strongly suggest you take the train because a taxi could easily be around $60 USD to the city center, depending on the exchange rate. Try to take advantage of available airport and hotel shuttles as well. The cheapest way to travel around the city is walking, but if you get tired you can take the trolleys that run through the middle of the streets. It’s interesting to see that the ticket collection is based on the honor system.
If you can afford it, I would like to recommend the Amsterdam Marriott Hotel across from the Holland Casino. From my personal experience, it’s one of the nicest and best rated hotels in the city. Their prices are competitive and you’re walking distance to many of the main attractions in the city.
My second choice for a hotel would be the Best Western Delphi Hotel. It’s only a half a mile from the Marriott and at only 60% of the cost. When I stayed there, the staff was very friendly and they had a free breakfast available. When I was there, they were still in the middle of their remodeling phase and I was lucky enough to enjoy one of their new modern rooms. The beds were comfortable, design contemporary, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get one of the rooms with a mini balcony to look down onto the streets.
Please do not exchange your money for Euros at the hotels or airports. They usually don’t have the best rates and may sometimes charge you a fee. When you call your bank(s) and credit card companies to tell them you’re leaving the country, also inquire about the fees and charges in taking out cash in foreign countries. With American Express, you might have to provide them of the exact weeks you’ll be away. It’s tedious, but necessary to secure your identity in case anything happens. Luckily for me, I had multiple checking accounts across different banks and I had the best exchange rates plus no fees, with my HSBC account.
The best museums in Amsterdam are the Rijks and Van Gogh museums. They’re located virtually next door to each other and they are around the corner from both the hotels I mentioned. The Rijks museum has an interesting game you can play, similar to a scavenger hunt. You have a list of things located all over the museum and your job is to search the entire museum to see if you could find them.
There are many great restaurants in the city, but I learned there is no such thing as authentic Dutch cuisine. In fact, I was eating a lot of Surinamese food there. If you didn’t know, Suriname used to be a Dutch colony and all the people from that country are allowed passage into the Netherlands very easily. Remember, in Amsterdam it is customary not to tip, but you may if you wish.
A note for the foodies, make sure not to miss the Sea Palace. It’s a floating Chinese restaurant that boasts world class dim sum and authentic Chinese dishes. It’s located very close to Amsterdam’s Central Station. The views are spectacular and it just seems kind of a novel eating experience.
For a higher end dining/lounge experience, you might want to try a fairly new place called Bo Cinq. Not only do they have the longest bar in Amsterdam, their clientele regularly consists of models, celebrities, and members of the European elite. From personal experience, you have to try the Bocinq Wagyu burger. It’s an unbelievable combination of high end beef with pan fried duck liver.
Red Light District
For the naughty folk, the red light district is packed with tourists on the weekend. Located right next to the Chinatown, it boasts scantily dressed women in the windows trying to lure you in. There are actually lines to get into live sex shows. Some locals even walk through the crowds asking young men if they want to buy drugs like cocaine and ecstasy. While strictly regulated, smoke shops and cafes can be found on every other block in that area. Each shop usually sells marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, hash brownies, and drug paraphernalia.
If you’re looking for something less psychedelic, the party animals can start with the Heineken tour during the day. Alcohol content in Amsterdam beer is usually stronger and their tour usually comes with two free beers. In the evening, I suggest you head over to Jimmy Woo’s or Bo Cinq, which I mentioned earlier. Jimmy Woo’s is known for their high-class bar with dancing downstairs. Bo Cinq is more of a high class lounge and has some good music, but I don’t think it’s a get down and party place. There are some mega clubs out there for those who like to dance with hundreds of people. It’s called the Milkweg and located right around the corner from Jimmy Woo’s.
Finally, if you have the time, take in a few tours. From the Marriott I suggested, you can take a coach bus into Belgium. The day tour stops in Brussels and Antwerp, which only cost me about $60 USD at the time. Across from the hotel, you can take a tour of the canal. I don’t remember how much the price was, but it was a great way of seeing the city from the water.