My Love/Hate Relationship with Amsterdam

I love being Dutch.  I love Holland.  I love the people.  I love the culture.  I’m split on Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city.  Made up of 1281 bridges, connecting 165 canals (much more than Venice), with 220,000 trees, 600,000 flower blubs and 28 parks, it is hard not to love the look of this city.  Public transportation can get you everywhere, when your feet are unwilling, but even better, rent a bike – which was the dominant mode of transportation in this relatively small big city.  There is a great deal of culture with art museums such as the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, and important historical landmarks like the Anne Frankhuis.  There are flowers everywhere, markets galore, and the old gabled houses have so much charm.

Wandering through quiet residential neighbourhoods by day, or along the quiet canals by night (depending on where you are) may be some of our favourite experiences in Amsterdam.  Enjoying a snack or meal in a park or along the canals with your feet dangling over the edge (but maybe not in…they aren’t that clean) is a great way to spend your time as well.  In our 2 days we managed to enjoy museums, markets, great food and fun photography.  We soaked in the beautiful canals (by land and boat), some wonderful art, great food (ahhh…pannekoeken), and lovely markets.  There is so much to see and enjoy here.

But when you read the guide books or google “what so do in Amsterdam” there are 2 things that come up before all the stuff I’ve listed above.  The Red Light District and the Special Coffee Shops.  There are a fair number of tourists that come into Amsterdam to party.  Beer is popular (and consumed in a desperate-just-turned-legal way by a slew of high school graduates and college students living out of hostels), and weed even more so.  In our 2 days in Amsterdam we saw more “partying” and public displays of rowdiness than in any other city (fortunately we were staying in the museum district, which kept us removed from most of it).  It was hard to get to our hotel without having to walk past the “Mellow Yellow” coffee shop without being assaulted by so strong skunkish aromas (which I find disgusting), and the same could be said for taking a risk and opening our hotel window.  In Rembrandtplein the local sex shop (complete with a 50 shades of Grey starter kit) is right next door to McDonalds and a display for happy meal toys (very different types of toys, by the way).

And the sad part is that I feel, though this has become known as part of the “culture” of Amsterdam, it’s not really the culture of Holland.  When we talk to locals, we get more eye rolling about this than anything.  This isn’t for them.  It’s for the tourists.  It makes good money.

But there is so much richness to Amsterdam, and unfortunately, to enjoy some of it, you are forced to deal with the other.  While some come to Amsterdam FOR those reasons, others, like myself, are there IN SPITE of them.

So to summarize

  1. Amsterdam is a wonderful cultural gem with many beautiful things to see and enjoy and you should definitely go
  2. Amsterdam is not the same as Holland, so you should leave the city and go to all the other wonderful places that we love and consider to be a MUCH better representation of the Dutch culture and people
  3. Amsterdam has a party element, with lots of young people there to enjoy it.  If that’s what you’re after, well, have fun.  If it’s not, shouldn’t be a problem – stick to the museums and canal cruises and you aren’t likely to cross paths
  4. Go to Holland.  It’s amazing

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