My first impression of Amsterdam

“Good girls go to Heaven, bad girls go to Amsterdam”

For some reason, I always wanted to visit Amsterdam. When I was planning my winter trip to some of the most interesting European cities such as Brussels, Berlin or Oslo, I had to include Amsterdam in my plans as well. This place was always intriguing me for being so open in relation to same-sex relationships, the legalization of soft drugs or prostitution. Unlike Poland, this country is by far one of the most liberated in the world. Would you agree?

A girl sitting on Amsterdam letters
Hello Amsterdam!

 

I came to Amsterdam by a van from Poland. I arrived at Remi’s house at around 8 pm after exhausting more than 9 hour ride. Remi is a guy who I found on Couchsurfing, who hosted me for 3 nights. I was nicely greeted by him and his best friend he lived with – Menzo – the guy who made me believe nice guys still exist!

A Dutch guy sitting in a bar drinking a beer
Meet Remi – my Dutch host in Amsterdam. That was our first night out enjoying Heineken together.

 

Remi was my third Couchsurfing host, who turned out to be an extremely friendly and a nice guy, who tried his best to spend as much time with me as possible. He was quite shy though, but after few hours he was talking more than me which does not often happen! ;-) Right after I arrived, he took me out and showed around the city.

A guy sitting on Amsterdam letters
Remi on the top! We explored Amsterdam together on my first night.

 

It was freezing cold and we were walking down the street while Remi was describing every single detail of Dutch churches, galleries or museums. That was a very quick lesson of Dutch history and tradition.

What was my first impression of Amsterdam back then?

#Stunning night scenery

I was simply blown away by Amsterdam’s view at night. Here are a few shots to see how beautiful this city looks at night:

Amsterdam at night
Light reflections in the water making the city so colourful
Wonderful canals
Wonderful canals
Amsterdam at night
Bikes everywhere
Amsterdam at night
And the view of the city

 

I couldn’t take my eyes of it! Beautiful, beautiful and once again beautiful!

#Friendly locals

Not only Remi and Menzo were kind and polite, but I found Dutch people very well-behaved. The staff in hotels/ restaurants/ bars and supermarkets are very friendly and happy. They keep asking you how are you, despite they are always in such a rush. Actually I have noticed Dutch people rush everywhere and they walk very fast, even faster than British I would say.

I also noticed how close neighbours are with each other. Remi told me there is a saying in Dutch language that “It’s better to have a close neighbour than far away friend”. So nice – you don’t really see that in many places.

Dutch people riding a bike

# Bikes everywhere

If you would ever forget where you are and you turn around and there are thousands of bikes surrounding you, that means you are in Amsterdam! I saw bikes everywhere I went. Some of them were locked to poles, some of them were dropped on the ground and left overturn. Some of them were black, other blue and red, nice and old, mountain bikes and simple bikes. Here are some of them:

Cute red one
A bike in Amsterdam
Long brown one
A bike in Amsterdam
Simple black
A bike in Amsterdam
And one with a trailer
Bikes in Amsterdam
A typical view in Amsterdam

 

#Tourists behaving like animals

You can’t really miss tourists who sometimes behave like a wild animals released on freedom from a cage. They keep walking the red street and make dirty jokes, spend hours in coffee shops to smoke weed or even smoke it in the street feeling like a boss. They make a lot of noise and make the city really dirty by dropping rubbish on the floor. For locals the soft drugs are pretty normal so they are not overexcited when they see them, unlike foreign visitors.

Amsterdam

#Limited outdoor activities

Amsterdam is a small city so there is not so much to see, especially in winter. There are few churches around, parks and museums, but I was missing the old market square or Christmas market like in Berlin for example (on the day I went sightseeing, most of the churches were closed). One day would be absolutely enough to look around, especially if you get one of the Amsterdam tours. There are plenty of shops for anyone who loves to do shopping (I don’t).

Amsterdam
One of the canals

#Lack of traditional food

When I asked Remi what the traditional food of Netherlands was, he actually said “We don’t have a typical traditional Dutch food.” What I have noticed is that Dutch cuisine is not as sophisticated as the French or Italian. It consists of simple and succinct dishes such as stew with potatoes in the base, cooked and smashed potatoes, other vegetables, meat and fat.

Chips are a good treat for any occasion and eaten for lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Only chips with salt or topped with mayonnaise, ketchup, onion and even a peanut sauce. I didn’t have any chips in Amsterdam as I wanted to eat them in Brussels at the Christmas market. Instead, I tried traditional Dutch Oliebollen – oily cookie balls filled with fruits and raisins.

A plate of Oliebollen
A plate of Oliebollen, €1 each

 

I found a great and cheap place for having a piece of cake or grab a croissant called Rene’s Croissanterie, located on Damstraat 20, Amsterdam 1012 in the Red Light District. Easy to find, great and fresh baking served by a nice staff.

Dutch pastry shop
My favourite Dutch pastry shop
Dutch Boterkoek - Butter cake
I also had a piece of Boterkoek – a butter cake, so delicious! Price: €2.50

 

However, nothing could beat Oliebollen :-) which would be a perfect combination with a cold Heineken beer I guess.

Dutch Oliebollen
Loved the raisins inside and the thick consistency

 

For my lunch I always had some fish with mashed potatoes and salad. The other day, Remi took me to a cosy restaurant called Kam Yin (Nieuwebrugsteeg 10-12) where we had a proper dinner: Roti Kipfilet with a pancake and vegetables topped with a nice stew sauce. That would be my recommendation for a nice and cheap night out.

A plate of Chicken roti
A plate of Chicken roti. Price: €7.50

 

#Dynamism 

Amsterdam is full of locals and tourists who make the city so vivid and lively. People always do something – either ride a bike, stroll down the streets, go shopping or dine out in restaurants. Streets are occupied by active people which I found awesome!

Streets of Amsterdam

Amsterdam canal

Amsterdam souvenirs

#Affordable prices

Amsterdam is a very affordable place for both – holiday makers and backpackers. Dining out in local restaurants or bars can help you save a lot of money. Of course the rule is always the same – look for small local places to eat and avoid city centre areas. I did couchsurfing as I have mentioned before which saved me a lot of money. If you don’t overspend money in coffee shops and will be careful with souvenirs you can easily survive for less than €20 per day.

One of the canals in Amsterdam

#Tolerance

Amsterdam, as the rest of the Netherlands, is a place incredibly open to different points of views regarding religion or politics. People openly talk about topics that are taboo in Europe, and their views do not discriminate against others which I really liked.

Amsterdam canal
It was so hard to say goodbye to Amsterdam!

 

#People speak fluent English

Wherever I went to -whether it was a small local shop, a church or a gallery, people spoke English to me, which was a great surprise. It made my stay much easier ;-).

I know that 4 days are not enough to judge Amsterdam, but this was my first impression right after I arrived here and spent a few hours among Dutch people. I promised Menzo I will come back in summer 2013 or 2014 to hang around a bit and hit one concert of his favourite band – the Toppers. I will keep my promise, so Amsterdam – wait for me!

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47 Comments

  • Fantastic article Agness!! It looks like you had a great time, and what a great host. What a fun experience. I loved your photos! I was in Amsterdam a few years ago, and loved it. Very relaxed, friendly people and so easy to get around. I’m glad you’re going back, I need to plan a trip back there too. :-)

    • Thanks Michelle. Nice to hear you also had a great time in Amsterdam. It is a very relaxing place indeed, easy to chill out. Keep me posted maybe we can travel there together next year!

  • Hi Agness, I’ve been to Amsterdam a couple of times, once when I was at Art college, as a mature student, and once on a company weekend away. Neither time allowed me to really see Amsterdam properly as much of it was spent in the pubs so I must go back sometime on my own or with the right companion!

    Lovely to hear Remi looked after you so well. Couch surfing is a great idea although I’ve not tried it yet!

    Great post and pictures.
    Kat

    • Hey Kat!
      I did not know you visited Amsterdam during your collage. Art must have been an interesting subject to study. I also did not have that much time to explore the city properly, but I tried my best to see as much as possible. Remi was a nice guy indeed, felt like home. That was a really good CS experience.

  • I have visited Amsterdam over 10 times- when I was younger, it was ‘the’ place to be because of it’s tolerance.

    I fell in love with so much about the city, though, the views, the people, the culture, the museums….

    A great city for sure.

    • 10 times in Amsterdam? Are you kidding me Erik? I am so jealous. That was my first time, but surely I want to come back next year. I liked everything apart from the “local” food which actually does not exist :)

  • Hi Agness, glad to see you had an amazing time in Amsterdam. It’s such a fun city. I’ve been there three times. One of my visit was over winter. it was cold but i loved the it was not crowded during that time. Did you try the “rijstaffel?” It’s an Indonesian inspired dish that can only be found in the Netherlands.

    • No, I have never tried it unfortunately, never heard of it either. I will google it and read something about the dish and will definitely try it next time :) Thanks for telling me! I’m a real food lover.

  • I only spent a day in Amsterdam, but I really enjoyed it – it’s such a cool city. I loved seeing bikes everywhere. I remember that there were so many bikes chained to one bridge, that some were literally hanging off the edge, suspended over the water. Crazy!

  • Enjoyed the post. Good points. So true about foreigners getting overexcited in Red Light district. Amsterdam is a lovely city. However, visitors assume that Red Light district is the place for unleashing their craziness. It might get really nasty :(

  • I’m glad you had a great time. We were there in late Nov. a couple of years ago for 2 days. I’ve always wanted to go back but during Spring. You’re so right about the food. We ate Argentinian and Indonesian food plus Danish pastries while there. I loved their bike culture. Looks like you had some good weather for the beautiful shots.

    • Thank you Mary. I’m glad you had the same experience exploring Amsterdam. Otherwise, I would feel like a weirdo ;). I had some Chinese food as you can see, didn’t try Danish pastries though. Maybe next time. It was raining a lot on the first day, but on the second and third day it was lovely! :)

  • Hi, Im glad that you enjoyed your stay in Amsterdam. Ive been there few times and even lived there for a bit. Amsterdam is huge! I love flea markets, busy high streets, bars, restaurants, little shops that sell handmade stuff (jewelry, clothes, bags!). I dont agree, you need definitely more than one day to see it all (but I’d pick different season). And for me, 20 euros is not enough! Not if you plan to “taste” the city! :)

    • Hey Aleksandra! Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing your experience with me. My nearly 4-day stay can’t compare to your local life and travels. I explored most of Amsterdam, but yes it was still not enough. Handmade stuff were great and I liked the night views of Amsterdam a lot. Yes, I kinda regret not going to Amsterdam in summer, could explore the city by bike and see much more, but I am planning to go there next year so hopefully I will see what I missed this time. 20 euros could be not enough for many people, but I managed to have fun and taste Amsterdam a bit for this amount of money :).

  • Brilliant post Agness. Your photos are amazing and it sounds like you had a great time. Amsterdam is certainly a very exciting city and has a very unique feel to the place.

    The bikes are everywhere all over The Netherlands. I often head north to Drachten and it can be a little bit of an adjustment getting to know the rules of the road when driving. Cyclists have a lot more right of way than they do in the UK. Thankfully they are well catered for with all the cycle lanes.

    Did you enjoy it enough to make a plan to return?

    • Thanks a lot! I didn’t know the bikes are all over the Netherlands, good to know. I thought only Amsterdam is full of them. Of course I did enjoy it enough to get back there. I liked the city a lot except drunk and drugged tourists and lack of many outdoor activities, but the real reason I am coming back there next year are the people I met – friendly, hospitable and so funny! There are some places outside Amsterdam such as local villages and towns I am planning to explore during my next trip there.

    • I guess you can’t really not love them and yes, it is (at least it was for me) a budget-friendly city. Backpackers love Amsterdam!

  • So good to read something about my country! Glad you liked Amsterdam, everything you wrote feels like a big compliment!
    Next time you come to Holland, make sure you visit Haarlem. It’s really close to Amsterdam (a 10/15 minute train ride) and it’s the best city in Holland. It’s like a small Amsterdam, but more friendly and without all the tourists. You will love it!

    • Thanks Angela a lot. I’ve heard of Haarlem, but unfortunately I had no chance to go there. No tourists? COOL! That is what I need to fully enjoy the Netherlands. Thanks for sharing. I will definitely go there next time :):)

  • Looks beautiful! It’s great you found such good hosts! :) We tried Oliebollen in Brugge, but it didn’t have all the yummy stuff inside–it was just plain. It was still good, but yours looks even better!

  • Ahh, Amsterdam! It’s one of the cities in Europe I’d love to live in for a while. It reminds me a lot of my home city of San Francisco because it has such iconic scenery, a tolerant and relaxed culture, and of course those ill-behaved tourists! I’ll have to get back there sometime soon…

  • You hit right on two points of my own that bothered me slightly about Amsterdam, a city I love with all my heart & could happily settle down in.

    1) Tourists Behaving Like Animals – For this, I apologise on behalf of the whole British people. Most weekends Amsterdam fills up with the UK’s men – young & old – looking to celebrate a birthday, a stag do or just reap the benefits of relaxed soft-drug laws.

    2) Lack of Traditional Food – We had the same problem. We tried our best to find a local restaurant, or anything remotely similar, and it’s not too easy. There are some, but you really have to venture out of the centre.

    • I agree, there are many British travellers and tourists in Amsterdam coming for a weekend, but I don’t really blame them. They just have fun and relax and that’s their favourite way to have a blast on their weekends off work. I was pretty disappointed with the food thinking that maybe that was my fault I couldn’t find anything local but I’m glad you had the same problem.

  • Hi Agness,

    I stumbled on your website whilst researching Sri Lanka (I’m going there for two months soon). Being Dutch and living in Amsterdam for the past seven years, I still find it interesting to read foreigners’ views on this city and my country. Just wanted to say something about the Dutch cuisine for when you’re back here. Our typical food is, in my opinion, not that great. Typical “Old School” Dutch food, like boerenkool met worst (kale/mashed potatoes and sausage) is something we make at home, you hardly ever see it on a menu. Since we have a long trading history and colonial history, this is reflected in the food we eat. I’d highly recommend going to a good Indonesian restaurant or take out, ask for a rijsttafel (you’ll get rice, sate, veggies, the works!).

    • Hi Miek. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing the info on Dutch food. As you can see, I did not experience any of traditional Dutch meals while being in Amsterdam and that is a real pitty. Just googled Boerenkool met worst and it looks delicious :). I am coming back to Holland this August so I will definitely go look for Rijsttafel :-)! Good luck with your Sri Lanka trip and if you need some travel tips let me know. Will be more than happy to help :)! LOVE X

  • Amsterdam is a beautiful place – I haven’t been yet but I hope to visit Europe and backpack for a month or 2. I really want to go to the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany! (my dream!!!!)

  • This made me laugh! I loved reading your first impressions from SO long ago and knowing you now. I’m a little sad that I didn’t write down my first impressions my first time in 2001 (but I was only here a day on a bus trip) or in 2013 when we were here for a week.

    I’m so curious if you still think that you can see Amsterdam in a day. I just think of all the spots I love now, and all the places I haven’t taken the time to see (Anne Frank, all of the Rijks, the various parks, other museums, etc).

    So glad I caught this on Twitter! Have a GREAT time at home!!

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