What to do in Amsterdam

What do you think of when you think of Amsterdam City?

I confess that the only thing I actually knew about Amsterdam before I arrived was that you can consume marijuana at cafes and that there is a Red Light District. While I was vaguely aware of the canals and the bikes, these things were not what popped into my mind when I thought of the city.

During my short stay in the city I learnt that Amsterdam is more than just a city devoted to debauchery. It is a place of beautiful buildings, odd hotels and near death experiences at the hands of the billions of bicycles that populate the city. Before arriving in Amsterdam I was concerned that I would have nothing to do given I was travelling with a group of people whose sole plans for Amsterdam were to try every legal drug possible. As someone who doesn’t take drugs and rarely drinks alcohol (for no other reason than because I just don’t) I actually enjoyed my time in Amsterdam more than I thought I would and had some great (sober) experiences exploring the city. So here are a few of the things I got up to during my (incredibly) shot time in Amsterdam that don’t involve a trip to a café.

Stay somewhere unique

A large white boat with giant orange letters on the roof spelling out B-O-T-E-L
We at the hotel, botel, holiday inn!

Want to guess what the name of my hotel was when I was in Amsterdam? That’s right, it was called the Botel. Now, I confess that I didn’t actually choose and book this accommodation since it was part of the tour and it honestly wasn’t great. The bathrooms were tiny, there was a strange smell when I opened the window, and I defied death every time I used the stairs; but I actually recommend staying there. It was simply a funny place to stay and a lot of fun singing “we’re at the hotel, botel holiday inn!” Also, the letters spelling out BOTEL on the roof of the boat were the most INSANE rooms I have ever seen.

Go vintage shopping

Amsterdam had quite a few cute vintage clothing shops spread throughout the city so if this is something you enjoy, make sure to get your shop on.

Take bike ride

Chasing Emma on a bike tour around the city of Amsterdam

The first thing you will notice in Amsterdam is the two-tiered bike racks that everyone uses to lock up their bicycles. Quickly following this you almost be flattened by at least five bike before you realise that you are standing in the bike lane and make a hasty retreat onto what you hope is safe ground. It is after this experience that you realise that perhaps the safest place for you to be is actually on the seat of a bike. Or at least this was my experience.

I cannot more highly recommend taking a bike tour while you’re in Amsterdam. It’s such a great way to see the city and having the wind in your hair is liberating.  If you haven’t ridden a bike since you’re centre of gravity was that of a child’s, you have nothing to worry about since the bike lanes are wide and the streets are relatively flat making for easy riding.

Dinner cruise on the canals

Chasing Emma smiling at the camera while she is on a dinner cruise on the Amsterdam canals

Once you’ve survived your first encounter with the billions of bikes that occupy the streets of Amsterdam, you will then notice the canals. Want to learn an interesting fact about the canals? Apparently they pull out over 15,000 bikes from the canals every year. How ridiculous is that!

Canal cruises are highly popular in Amsterdam and for good reason. It’s a nice, calm way to see the city, the food tends to be pretty good, and if you fall out of the boat (which you won’t), the water is only about 3 metres deep.

A boat tied to the side of the Amsterdam canals on chasing-emma.com

Walk through the Red Light District

I think this is just one of the things that you will end up doing whether you want to or not since it is right in the centre of the city so it’s actually difficult to avoid. Even if this makes you uncomfortable, I think everyone should learn about why the Red Light District is actually a thing (it aims to protect women from sex trafficking) and in many ways it is sex positive. However, as you will know if you read my embarrassing post Life Lessons: Why you shouldn’t attend a sex show with your brother, my feelings about the Red Light District are troubled and I haven’t quite come to peace with them.

Visit the Ann Frank House

The Anne Frank House Museum preserves the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family during World War II. It’s a great place to learn more about the girl behind the diary we’ve all read while at school. I unfortunately didn’t get to go since you have to book tickets in advance which is something I didn’t realise.

Buy some cheese

Chasing Emma looking excited at the thought of eating cheese in Amsterdam
Can you see my excitement?!

Who doesn’t love cheese? Cheese has a long history in the Netherlands thanks to their fertile country side which is perfect for dairy cows. All cheese shops in Amsterdam have a large variety of cheeses available for both tasting and purchasing including lavender cheese and coconut cheese, both of which I actually enjoyed in moderation. During my visit to one of the cheese shops (I think it was one of the Cheese Company shops) we were given a brief demonstration of how they make their cheeses which was pretty cool. After we left Amsterdam I discovered that there is a Cheese Museum in Amsterdam that is located very close to the Anne Frank House which is genius, since you can use the museum to lift your spirits after immersing yourself in the depression that is the Holocaust.

As a side note just in case you haven’t picked up on how much I love cheese, I visited at least 4 cheese shops during my short time in Amsterdam and brought back enough cheese to feed an army when I returned to Australia.

Go to a sex show

When I signed up to attend a sex show my tour guide sold it to me as a “tongue in cheek show” (that’s right, I’m quoting you Danny). I’m not sure if it was because my brother who I was travelling with was there or if it was because the show was actually pretty gross, but it wasn’t my cup of tea that’s for sure. However, if you want to see what all the fuss is about go for it.

Read: Life Lesson: Don’t Attend a Sex Show with Your Brother

Visit the Amsterdam Flower Market

The canal on which the Amsterdam Flower Market floats

Did you know that in the Netherlands in 1637 tulip bulbs were so popular and so expensive that they caused the first speculative economic bubble? If you’ve ever seen a field of tulips I’m sure you can understand this insanity even just a little. While I wasn’t visiting during the best time for seeing fields of brightly coloured tulips, I did get to visit the Amsterdam Flower Market which is the only floating flower market in the world. While all of the shops are mostly the same, it does look (and smell) very pretty.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.

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