How to Enjoy Authentic Amsterdam
Amsterdam is an exciting, beautiful and creative city. Its long stretching canals, breath-taking architecture and array of parks, bars and markets can make anybody fall instantly in love with it. I know I did. From living there on my semester abroad for six months, I got a real taste of authentic Amsterdam. I found out that the city has far more to it than ‘coffee’ shops and the red light district.
There are a few things I really wish I had known before venturing on my study abroad quest to the Netherlands. So, I have put together my best tips and tricks on how to get the most authentic Amsterdam experience.
Splash out on a high-quality bike
Biking is the easiest and the most exciting way to see the city, and with the amazing bike lanes its an extremely safe way to get around town. On day two of my Amsterdam semester, I was warned that if I didn’t get a bike soon I would be left out on some great first week experiences. I hopped onto the metro the same day and made my way to Waterlooplein, the best bike market. I bought what I thought was a good bike for 50 euros. As I cycled away I realised that not only was it very wobbly, but only one brake worked! I’m not a great biker anyways, so riding a faulty bike when you are a newbie on the bike lanes is a recipe for disaster. Whilst my peers seemed to be biking care free, there was me wobbling from side to side trying to balance and maneuver the brakes so I wouldn’t crash into another person or fall to the ground!
I always opted for the cheapest bikes, meaning that I bought a total of six bikes in six months (yes, one a month!) because each would break. So, don’t be afraid to splash out on a good quality bike (around 80-100 euros) that will last your whole trip. Be sure to get a strong bike lock too, such as a D-lock, and lock your bike up at all times. If you don’t want to buy your bike at the market, you can check bike selling groups on Facebook, such as ‘Bike Marketplace – Amsterdam’, for a quality second-hand bike.
Google maps can only get you so far
For me, getting lost is a natural occurrence, but Google Maps always comes to the rescue. Not in Amsterdam. The city is filled with endless twisting streets and many tiny bridges due to its intricate canal system, creating a nightmare for anyone trying to follow Google Maps. On three separate occasions, when using the app to get home (a 15 minute bike ride away), it took me over an hour to cycle! The cycle paths and various routes in Amsterdam are just too complex to solely rely on Google Maps. Put down the app and use your eyes! Take a trip through the city with someone who knows the area well, paying attention to the landmarks you pass, the districts you go through, and the fine details of the canal system. Start challenging yourself to make it home by memory; this is the only way you will truly know the city. Once I stopped using my phone and just used my eyes I could find my way back in no time!
Don’t be afraid to enjoy a night in with your buddies
Yes, there are many awesome places to go out at night in Amsterdam, but some of the best nights of my trip were inside our halls, surrounded by all the brilliant and amazing friends I made.On a night in, we would typically play music (Spanish-psytrance seemed to be the most popular genre), cook a big dinner together, and dance and laugh into the night! Study abroad is equally about spending time with the people you meet as well as exploring the local environment. So don’t feel like you’re failing in having the ultimate study abroad experience if you have a few nights in.
Go further than the city
Amsterdam itself has a lot to offer, but once we ventured further out of the capital, we found some real hidden gems. Make sure you take a bike trip to Amsterdam Bos, where on sunny days, you can spend all afternoon relaxing by the lake, or take a canoe out for 5 euros an hour. Watch out for events and festivals held in Amsterdam Bos too, such as the well-known techno event, Dynamic Festival.
Utrecht, a city 30 minutes’ train ride from Amsterdam, offers a more authentic view of Holland. Its footpaths run directly adjacent to the canals, meaning it’s a perfect place to take a picnic.
Another of my favorite places just outside of Amsterdam was Haarlem. This smaller city has with many boutique and vintage shops, great for clothes lovers like me.
Do some research
It is always good to do a bit of background research on the country you are going to study or travel in. It’s important in the Netherlands to research things like biking laws, how to open a Dutch bank account, what your health insurance will cover and which medications can be legally prescribed there. For all this information, visit the FCO’s advice page for travelling to the Netherlands, and the travel checklist to make sure you have everything you need.
Go explore, make new friends, and have an authentic Amsterdam experience.