Popular weekend and short break destination for hens, stags and stoners, Amsterdam is much more than a place to get wasted.
I never used to get Amsterdam. Not being a smoker, I didn’t understand the draw of the city. Why not just roll a reefer in the comfort of your own home if all you wanted to do was get stoned for a weekend? Then I ventured to the Dutch city myself to discover one of Europe’s most interesting and culturally diverse metropolises.
The first thing about Amsterdam is its size. A population of under a million people makes it one of the smallest of Europe’s major cities. This means it’s easy to get around. You can join the thousands of locals riding their bikes around town, jump on one of the myriad of boats ploughing the canals, or simply walk. Whichever you choose, the relatively vehicle-free roads are a pleasure to journey around; just remember to listen out for the sound of the bike bell and avoid the omnipresent bike lanes, unless you want to end up spread across someone’s handle bars!
I opted for the I Amsterdam city card, which you can purchase from within the airport or across from the Central Station. In addition to free transport on the Metro and trams, it gives you access to most, but not all of the city’s museums.
Unfortunately, the big three – Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum – are not included. It also includes a free trip along the canals. The great advantage of this is that you can pop into a museum to give it a go, and if it doesn’t appeal then you can walk out without worrying about whether you’ve got your money’s worth.
Museums worth checking out
The Amsterdam Museum
The Stedelijk Museum
Dining and drinking in Amsterdam
Amsterdam on a sunny weekend is not a place to spend stuck inside a museum, nor a coffee shop for that matter. The city is awash with festivals from classical music to house parties, techno and folk – it is literally impossible to take everything in.
After dining at the Stilveren Spiegel restaurant set in an old building that dates back to 1614, I headed for the city’s streets to hit the bars.
This was a quaint drag show bar where the ageless performers crooned to a mixture of Latin and disco classics while intoxicated patrons drunk in the intimate atmosphere. Fun as it was, I could have been in Bangkok.
Café Krom on Utrechtsestraat
Entering this cafe was like going back in time to an era before the hordes of weekend party goers had descended upon the town. The bar has changed little over the years, unfortunately something that can not be said of many others in the centre that are slowly being transformed into homogenised outlets.
A jukebox with nothing more recent than the 70s eclectically entertained me for hours as Dylan morphed into Armstrong and the Stones and I sat at the thick wooden counter and smiled vacantly at the locals.
Where to stay in Amsterdam – The Volkshotel
I soon discovered that the party never stops in Amsterdam’s long summer nights. Upon returning to my hotel in the early hours, I found DJs playing in the downstairs bar, while revellers had taken to the rooftop to watch Amsterdam’s nightlife flicker on the horizon. Showing my age, I opted for bed.
When to visit
Head to Amsterdam during the Uit Markt. This festival really acts as an open house for the city’s repertoire of music, art, theatre, dance, opera, literature and cabaret.
Taking place over three days, Uit Markt marks the official launch of the cultural season with 2,000 performers taking to almost 30 Amsterdam venues, entertaining 500,000 visitors throughout the weekend. However, it also portends the end of the summer as Amsterdam’s festival goers start thinking of indoor ventures.
Amsterdam really is whatever you wish it to be. And in this increasingly consumer driven sanitised world, that really is something that should be celebrated – perhaps with another festival.
For more information about festivals and events in Amsterdam, visit: http://www.iamsterdam.com/en/.
Mark Bibby Jackson