Amsterdam: Cycles, Canals & Cannabis

Amsterdam is truly a prime example of resourcefulness and lateral thinking. Space has always been at a premium in Amsterdam, where much of the land has been reclaimed from the sea.
But the city turned this to her advantage:
Now, Amsterdam’s canals soothe rather than imprison or mess up the city. They provide its order, its calm and its character. (Featured pic courtesy: baltana.com)
That calm is regularly disturbed by the trill of bicycle bells, but as long as you give the cyclists a wide berth, it’s the perfect city for pedestrians.
You haven’t been to Amsterdam if you haven’t had at least one near collision with a cycle.
Where else can you see coffee shops that serve cannabis, legalized prostitution that’s kinda in your face, canals that serve as highways, a train station that’s as much a museum, functional, yet characteristic windmills, and beer?  Ya, they do have a knack for good beer. Just go to one of the many breweries and you will know. No wonder this was the birthplace of Heineken that beat the Eiffel tower in a competition as the most innovative.
This is a city that has so many things to do that every ‘to-do’ list seems woefully incomplete. But these are what I found completely unmissable.

Must see and Must dos in Amsterdam

1. Visit the surreal Rijksmuseum: The Rijksmuseum first opened its doors in 1800 under the name ‘Nationale Kunstgalerij’. At the time, it was housed in Huis ten Bosch in The Hague. The collection mainly comprised paintings and historical objects. In 1808, the museum moved to the new capital city of Amsterdam, where it was based in the Royal Palace on Dam Square. After King Willem, I’s accession to the throne, the paintings, and national print collection was moved to the Trippenhuis on Kloveniersburgwal, while the other objects were returned to The Hague. The current building was put into use in 1885. The Netherlands Museum for History and Art based in The Hague moved into the same premises, forming what would later become the departments of Dutch History and Sculpture & Applied Art.

The building was thoroughly modernized, while at the same time restoring more of Cuypers original interior designs: the Rijksmuseum has dubbed the venture ‘Verder met Cuypers.  The Rijksmuseum is now a dazzling new museum able to satisfy the needs of its 21st-century visitors! The collection includes jaw-dropping paintings by the likes of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and countless more Dutch greats. Its an absolute must anyway you look at this city!

Read more here…

2. Take a Walking or Cycling tour: Very few places in the world can claim to have such amazing sights cramped in such close quarters that a walking tour or a cycling tour does more than just justification. Ths would surely be one of the highlights if your tour with the great insights that come along. We took a tour with these guys…26994108_1569399436430530_3784105813668583498_nThese guys were pretty good. They took us around the Dam square (which is also the starting point) and covered Anne Frank house, the Begijnhof Convent, Multatuli’s giant head, the Jewish Quarter with snippets about the history, coffee shops and prostitution in Amsterdam. All in all, it was pretty interesting the cold notwithstanding (we were here in January)!3. Giethoorn: I haven’t been to Venice, but they say Giethoorn is more peaceful and picturesque than Venice. Which is a pretty big statement to live up to. Giethoorn is at the center of Overijssel’s canal system. The little village is so dependent on its waterways, many of the houses cannot be reached by road. When the postman delivers the mail he travels by boat. Giethoorn always makes it into most Europe bucket lists due to its pure individuality.

Giethoorn’s name originates from the first inhabitants’ discovery of hundreds of goat horns (gietehorens) in the marshland, remnants of a 10th-century flood. Its just a few hours drive from Amsterdam and could well be the highlight of your trip. This place is another one for fairy tales. The best way to explore Giethoorn and the myriad of canals is obviously by joining a canal cruise. Local skippers will be able to guide you through the place and show you the most important places in this quiet village. We took a guided tour and it was as awesome as pleasant.

4. Windmills: For centuries, windmills have helped the Dutch fight water shortages so it is little wonder that they were among the first to develop windmill technology. In the glory days, the Netherlands boasted more than 10,000 windmills and today around 1,000 still stand. Many of the remaining mills are open to the public and a couple has even been transformed into homes, but these are not museums. Many are functional and a sight to behold.1 (2)There are many of them that you can see. We visited the ones at Zaanse Schans at dusk and it was pure delight especially for the little one. You will see a few in the city too. Try and check out the wonderful brewery in a windmill. The Brouwerij ‘t is not just for beer connoisseurs but its a visit just by itself. You cant claim to have had a beer under a windmill anywhere else. Naamloos5De-Gooyer-Windmill

5. Keukenhof Gardens: The Keukenhof in Lisse is Europe’s largest flower garden! It is the most beautiful spring garden in the world. The Keukenhof park is almost 32 hectares filled with 7 million tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils. We couldn’t see it for ourselves as it was closed during our visit. here are a few pictures from when my brother traveled there. No more words needed. Just scroll down!

139927Keukenhof-5-1024x682139928

6. Coffee shops: Don’t let the broad term ‘coffee shop’ take you by surprise. From psychedelic to hipster-ish but also from very local ones to more touristic places, each of Amsterdam coffeeshops has its own atmosphere. You will surely find one that suits you perfectly. They are not only to smoke weed. They are real social places where you can easily meet people and spend some good times with friends. Watching TV, playing chess or card games and much more can be done here. And always in a very relaxing way.

Due to the allowance of cannabis consumption, the Netherlands is very well reputed to be a very liberal country. This is true but you should be aware of the Dutch law and the rules inside a coffee shop. The menu too gets really confusing. Just ask the bartender if unsure.

easy-times-coffeeshop-amsterdam-2017-december

7. Other museums: Though Rijks is the trump card; there are a lot more museum all located conveniently within cycling distance. Do check out Museumplein for a dedicated Van Gogh museum, Stedelijk museum of modern art, FOAM photography museum and of course the Anne Frank house. I felt the Anne Frank house to be kinda over-rated unless you are a huge fan of the book. But its worth a look if you have time to spare.

8. Vondelpark: It’s not just a park. Its a huge island of completely serene greenery with ponds, play areas, swans and more. Ideal for an afternoon brunch. Take that wine along. Websitepond-tulips-vondelpark-amsterdam-347267199. Heineken Experience: The jury is out if it should be on this list. But Heineken experience, a boat tour, and the ADAM tower is a decent package. It’s well worth the money. We got three free beers each with the tour and they do work into making the tour a full experience. However, it is quite superficial if you are looking for something more in depth. The boat tour was relaxing but not a lot of information was given about the city during the trip. The tower was worth checking out and there is a free ferry to get back across. The trip is one way from the Heineken experience to the tower or vice versa. Website

I’m pretty sure I missed a few. But you will need to spare a week just in the city to see more. Guess its worth it too!

Practical Tips:

  1. Amsterdam accommodation has always been in short supply. Some of the best hotels in Amsterdam cluster around particular districts: the Museum Quarter and the Canals district have plenty, whereas the Pijp and Jordaan, alas, contain only a few hotels. A general rule of thumb has been to avoid those Amsterdam hotels near Central Station, but this may soon become a thing of the past: see the arrival of the swanky new art’otel just across the tracks. The interiors are unmissably whacky in most places.
  2. The economy hotel sector has been just as creative. After all, it’s had to face some fierce competition from the likes of Airbnb and Couchsurfing which both proved popular in this town where its residents are both relaxed and hospitable
  3. We stayed at Eden Hotel Hampshire. It was pretty good and centrally locatedUnlike elsewhere in the Netherlands, it is not necessary to present a certificate of residence in order to be able to enter a coffee shop. The locals have a relaxed attitude to soft drugs, but smoking isn’t accepted everywhere, so use discretion. Outside of Amsterdam, public consumption of cannabis is largely unacceptable.
  4. Foreigners found with harder drugs should expect to face prosecution from the authorities.
  5. Indian Consulate: Address: Buitenrustweg 2, 2517 KD The HagueTelephone Numbers: 070-3469771 (General), 070-3469771 Extn : 208/211/213 (Consular Section) Telefax Numbers: 070-3617072
  6. Service charges are included in hotel, taxi, bar, café and restaurant bills. However, it’s polite to round up to the closest euro for small bills or the nearest five for larger sums, although tipping 10 percent is becoming more common (leave the extra in change rather than filling in the credit card slip). In taxis, most people tip 10 percent.
  7. Visa for Indians: As a part of the Schengen countries; you will need a pre-approved visa to get in. I used VFS global. Takes about a week.
  8. Whether you’re visiting for the great shops and markets, stunning music and nightlife or the city’s best restaurants, finding your way around Amsterdam is very easy: there are efficient, cheap and integrated trams, metros and buses, and in the centre, most places can be reached on foot. Locals tend to get around by bike, and there are also boats and water taxis. Public transport provision for those with disabilities, however, is dire.
  9. An OV-chipkaart (‘chip card’) system operates across trams, buses and metros. An OV-chipkaart has a one-time cost of €7.50 and can be purchased at ticket vending machines at stations, various tobacco specialty shops, at many supermarkets and at GVB Tickets & Info. The card is valid for four to five years. You can load the card in the ticket vending machine, paying with cash or a cash card, and use it immediately. You can also load the card in a yellow add value machine you’ll find at tobacco specialty shops and various other shops. An unlimited 24-hour chip cards for one day cost €7.50. You can also buy unlimited 48-, 72-, 96-, 120-, 144- and 168-hour cards (ranging from €12 to €32). With any type of OV-chipkaart, you have to check in or check out when boarding or disembarking a tram, bus or metro, using the card readers in the trams and buses, at the entryway to metro stations or on the metro platform. Hold your card in front of the reader and wait for a beep and green light to flash. Follow the same procedure on the way out.
  10. An alternative to the OV-chipkaart is the I Amsterdam City Card, which includes unlimited use of the public transport system and free entrance to 38 museums and attractions. It can be purchased it at several shops and newsagents across Amsterdam, or at one of the Amsterdam Tourist Offices. Cost: €42 (24 hours), €52 (48 hours) or €62 72 hours). Don’t even think about travelling without a ticket: inspectors make regular checks, and passengers without tickets are hit with €35 on-the-spot fines. The Amsterdam city pass is absolutely worth it
  11. Most taxis are operated by the central office TCA. They’re hard to hail on the street, but ranks are found around the city; most central are the ones at Centraal Station, by the bus station at the junction of Kinkerstraat and Marnixstraat, on Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein. Cabs can be ordered on 777 7777.Getting a taxi in Amsterdam is relatively straightforward, but check that the meter starts at the minimum charge (€2.80). Even short journeys are expensive: it costs €2.03 per kilometer) and ask the rough cost of the journey before setting out. You can also ask for a flat rate. If you feel as though you have been ripped off (cases are relatively rare), ask for a receipt and contact the TCA (650 6506, 24 hours) or the police.
  12. Uber works well here too!
  13. To drive a car in the Netherlands, you need a valid international driving license and many car hire firms to favour photocard licenses. Car hiring and driving are great in the whole country. There are well posted English signs everywhere.
  14. Parking is a nightmare: the center is metered from 9am until at least 7pm (midnight in many places), setting you back up to €5 an hour; ticketing is very common. Parking passes for daytime (9am-7pm, €30; 24 hours, €45) and weekly passes (9am-7pm, €180; 24 hours, €270) can be bought at Cition service points or online via www.cition.nl or at parking ticket machines (day passes only). Bear in mind that after controlled hours, parking at meters across the city is completely free, and prices can vary between neighborhoods.
  15. Always, always walk on the sidewalk and avoid the bike lines. They get preference everywhere.
  16. While biking, be on the right side of the street. Stay on the right as possible to ensure that others can pass you.
  17. Don’t take photos in the red light areas.
  18. Tap water is perfectly drinkable
  19. Download an offline google map for better navigation
  20. Everyone speaks English fluently. So you are good there
  21. Try and allow at least ten days for Netherlands 
  22. Check this for an inspirational three day Amsterdam itinerary.
  23. In spite of all these Amsterdam can actually be a pretty kid friendly destination.
  24. For teenagers, there much more to do here.
  25. What I Read: The Diary of a young girl is a simple yet seminal work by Anne Frank that’s an absolute must. 41CxgI8GeqL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_
  26. What I Saw: The movie Soldier of Orange is a story is based on the autobiographical book Soldaat van Oranje by Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema. Its takes you into surreal Europe that it was during the World War II. 220px-SoldierOfOrange.jpg

105 thoughts on “Amsterdam: Cycles, Canals & Cannabis

  1. I live in Denver where weed is now legalized but I must say, it looks like it’d be more fun to visit a coffee shop in Amsterdam. Keukenhof park looks absolutely stunning — when is the best time to visit to see the most flowers?

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  2. Great post! I have never been to Amsterdam despite having been to Europe on a few occasions. Not sure I keep skipping The Netherlands when I know I would love it so much. I have heard so much about the “coffee shops” but that menu selection is mind blowing! And I have been to Venice and Giethoorn is a far cry from it. Giethoorn looks absolutely magical and I reckon I’d much prefer it:)

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  3. What a great guide, I’ve been to Amsterdam a couple of times but haven’t done half these things. I love the look of Giethoorn and even though it’s considered a bit overrated, I still want to visit Ann Franks home, because I couldn’t get in last time!

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  4. Great post. I’ve only spend a few days in Amsterdam but it looks like there’s so much more to explore. I love the Giethoorn, you’re right it looks gorgeous. Not hard to imagine it would be more peacful that Venice!. Certainly looks more picturesque as well. Thanks for sharing, I’m filing this one away for future reference.

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  5. The poetic name of the post – Amsterdam: Cycles, Canals & Cannabis drew me to read more. The place looks so pretty. We enjoy the active travels and walking tour sounds just perfect! There is so much that can be explored. Looking at the pictures, it definitely is a calling as so far we have crossed Amsterdam on a transit – twice and both the times, wished we could see the place! The practical tips are very helpful.

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  6. Such a nice post! I just spent one day in Amsterdam so I missed most of those things you listed. Rijksmuseum looks really nice with lots of paintings, and Giethoorn is so beautiful. I didn’t know that the Parking fee is so expensive there! I’d love to return to Amsterdam and explore the city more.

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  7. I loved your comprehensive detailed guide for Amsterdam. I would love to take a walking tour as this tour takes us to hidden quarters and during walking we can feel the natural vibes of the city. Also, those colorful tulips at Keukenhof Gardens are so photogenic and I would have taken thousands of pictures here. Windmills are also photogenic. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Very recently I found out Amsterdam gets it’s name from “The dam of the River Amstel”. Beautiful pics to compliment your write-up. And I just love it’s mix of old world charm and modern eccentricities.

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  9. Reading your story feels like I am virtually in that place and enjoying those gorgeous tulips! You make me dreamy, and of course planning in my head for my Amsterdam trip. I would take that walking and cycling tour – that’s the best to enjoy the whole city.

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  10. I love Amsterdam! it’s such a unique city. My favorites were the Van Gogh museum, vondelpark, Rijksmuseum, and Anne Frank Huis. I do have to disagree with you on Anne Frank, I don’t think it’s overrated at all. It’s such an important testament to history and the suffering during WWII. I thought it was amazing to see where she hid and lived. I thought Rembrandt huis was little overrated but still worth a visit if you have time.

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  11. I’ve got to get back to Amsterdam! I spent less than 24-hours there, but managed to go to a coffee shop and the Red Light District. I really want to hit those museums, and mostly, the Anne Frank. I taught that book when I was a literature teacher and have wanted to go ever since.

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  12. Such an in-depth guide! I visited Amsterdam once on a 10-hour layover but I’ll definitely have to bookmark this post for when I go back and see everything in more detail 🙂
    (Especially Giethoorn, it looks like something out of a fairytale!)

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  13. Missed going to Vondelpark. It really would have made for a fab afternoon with my family. But I loved walking around the canals in the heart of the city and looking at all those people swishing around on their cycles.

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  14. The cycling tour sounds like something I’d love to do! And the Anne Frank house would be top of my list on the tour. I am INLOVE with the Keukenhof Gardens – just WOW! 🙂 So much exploring to do in Amsterdam!

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  15. I love the 26 tips! What a wrap up and it’s really very helpful! I’ve always wanted to go to Amsterdam. You know, mostly for the parties, but what a great place it seems to be as well!

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  16. Thanks for sharing this helpful guide. I haven’t been to Amsterdam, but I can understand how the canals are a soothing influence. Water is so calming, especially in a busy city. Giethoorn looks a lot more peaceful than Venice. I’m glad the Heineken experience made your list – it’s on mine for when I visit.

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  17. There is no place like Amsterdam and its on my bucket list specially for bicycle and canals. Would love to visit old Rijksmuseum which looks like a treasure trove of history and art. Giethroon looks like a perfect setup to have leisure time. Very nice shots of this place which is the center of Overijssel’s canal system. Soon going to watch The movie Soldier of Orange.

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  18. I lived in Germany for a few years and hate that I never made it to the Netherlands. Seeing the Keukenhof Gardens has always been a bucket list item for me. And I’d definitely take a walking tour. I think those are so great to really get your bearings in a new city.

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  19. Amsterdam is a place I know very well as I used to live there. You’ve definitely covered the best places of interest to see, and yes, coffee shops are a bit different! I haven’t seen Giethoorn yet, but will make a point to visit the next time.

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  20. Despite living in the Netherlands, albeit in the southern part of the nation, for nearly four years, I’ve never had a chance to visit Giethoorn. This is one of the few things I have left to do in this beautiful nation that I got to call home. Hopefully my next trip there!

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