Backpacking can be a rite of passage for most and with good reason – it transforms your perspective towards life! Planning a backpacking trip to Amsterdam seemed intimidating initially but the tales I have to tell will explain to you how it changed my idea of travel forever!
As a true gipsy soul, I wanted to explore the world out of my comfort zone and witness a destination in its rustic form. Exploring the nightlife, letting loose, and seeking freedom; well! What better place to create this experience than Amsterdam. Here’s an ode to the backpacking adventure of an IT professional turned farmer, who occasionally displays his vagabond-ish traits!
Known as the ‘City of canals’ and the ‘World cycling capital’; Amsterdam packs a punch with the abundance of museums, windmills, picturesque countryside and freedom. These facets have helped Amsterdam establish a permanent slot on every traveller’s bucket list. A lot has been said and written about ‘Amsterdam’ and I have nothing new to add, except sharing my personal escapade. Amsterdam is a city where each moment will unfold effortlessly and you won’t even have to try to make that moment fun! Every moment spent there is groovy and amusing! However, planning and prioritization must be made on the basis of one’s interests!
The moment you land in Amsterdam you can feel yourself transitioning into a well-managed city. I would definitely recommend the use of public transport to get to the main city so you catch the rhythm. The cobbled streets will entice you to walk as much as you can with the picture-perfect canals setting the background. The streets lined with trees and gingerbread-shaped houses will take away any fatigue and soothe your soul.
Amsterdam is one of the most liberal cities in the world that I have ever visited where everything is tolerated or as they say in Amsterdam,‘Looking through the Dutch eye’. This literally means that as long as the activity doesn’t scandalise the public, is regulated, you’re on your way for an experience of a lifetime. It is a common misconception around the world that cannabis is legal in Amsterdam, but there’s a slight twist to it; it is only decriminalised for personal use. Lighting that perfectly rolled stick out in the public can land you in a Dutch prison, so keep the cannabis fumes restricted to the ‘Coffee Shops’. From high-standard weed to a ‘Shopping District’ for everything sex, there is nothing that Amsterdam doesn’t offer. The beauty of Amsterdam changes in every season, both nature-wise and crowd-wise.As I visited Amsterdam during Christmas time; the city was bustling with huge Christmas markets across the city and tourists gathered for festivities from around the globe.
Explore the windmills on a bicycle!
Amsterdam is not called the ‘World Cycling’ capital without a reason. Cycling is not just a mode of transportation in the city, it’s a culture. Cyclist-friendly traffic regulation, separate lanes for cyclists, renting stations, parking spots across the city, not only makes it extremely convenient but it’s also the optimum way to see the beauty of the city in and out. Rent a bike for a day and go for a ride across the city and within 20 minutes you’’ find yourself in the suburbs amongst the scenic windmills, which seem straight out of a movie set. Cycling in Amsterdam will let you absorb the true Dutch spirit and will make you wonder how futuristic the Dutch are about their sustainable society.
Munching savouring and snacking the local way!
When it comes to trying local cuisines, ‘Herring fish’ is the first thing that must come to the mind of every traveller. This cuisine is easily available at food stalls on most of the streets. One must indulge in fresh, hot, crispy, salty and topped with chili sauce, mayo, BBQ sauce ‘French fries’ and sit by the canals to soak in the serene and picturesque scenery. Dutch cheese is a specialty that one must not miss! It is as cheesy as cheese should be and comes in a plethora of flavours that one can indulge in.
One for the beer lovers!
If the mention of the word beer makes you drooling, the ‘Heineken Experience’ is the experience of a lifetime for you. It’s a fun, informative and engaging experience showcasing the processes involved behind the manufacturing of one of the finest beers in the world, the Heineken. It is certainly a beer lover’s paradise; take the Heineken special canal cruise, experience the brewing of beer in 4D and participate in beer pouring competition with fellow group participants are some of the highlights that come with the package.
A walk to remember -‘Red District’
Funny experiences can happen anytime and anywhere while in the Red light area. One can converse with the girls who would then try to entice you to their harems or one can visit the famous strip clubs which are at your disposal 24*7. Reminiscing one of my visits to a club, a performer took me by surprise when she dragged me on stage for a striptease. The sheer excitement of spontaneity made it fun and thrilling.
One strict rule that all tourists must adhere to while in the red light area is that no photography is allowed, which must be respected at all times.
In my opinion, one must take a guided tour first, instead of just strolling through the famed red-light district area meaninglessly. The guided tours will showcase the rich history of how organized, safe, and interesting the red light area is. In popular media, the red light area is overhyped, whereas it is a professionally run and managed place with a deeply rich history attached to it.
Find nirvana at the Coffee Shop!
A must-have experience in Amsterdam is the unique ‘Coffee shops’. Don’t confuse between the ‘Coffee shops’ or ‘Koffiehuis’ as both of them are different. The coffee shops must not be confused with their American counterparts where only hot java and baked goods are served. In Amsterdam’s coffee shops, one can try the ‘Cannabis’ which is blended locally. There are various etiquettes to adhere to while visiting a coffee shop. One of the coffee shops that must be on every traveller’s list is the ‘Bulldog Café’, which pioneered the culture in Amsterdam. My recommendation is to try the ‘Black widow’ at the Bulldog Cafe. There is an abundance of Coffee shops in Amsterdam and each of them offers a customized experience, which makes it a must-do thing while in Amsterdam.
An incomplete trip without a boat/ferry ride in the beautiful canals!
The famous canals of Amsterdam are picturesque and one cannot expect to complete a trip to Amsterdam without cruising through its illustrious canals. Riding in a canal will give you a different perspective of the city and will leave you with the desire to explore the city via the beautiful passages of the canals. Some of the cruises/ferry rides are accompanied by guides who’ll indulge in storytelling and unfurl folklores while cruising through the waters. Do push them for the story behind the ‘Kissing Bridge’ while you pass the structure on your ferry ride.
Even though Amsterdam is relatively small in size as compared to other cities and you might be suggested that three days are enough to explore the place, but if my opinion is counted Amsterdam has a lot to offer if you tread off the beaten track established by conventional travellers. The city has a very mellow and international vibe to it. I recommend spending at least five days in Amsterdam to soak in the rich culture and take a slice of the story with yourself to cherish for the rest of your life!
Facts no one will tell you:
- The most essential part of visiting any European city is to walk as much as you can. Walking will help you to embed the vibes of the city and explore the little nuances of the destination, you’d miss otherwise.
- Eating local food in each city is a must to get hold of the local flavour and tradition. You can have Starbucks, McDonald’s and KFC almost anywhere around the world, but the thing you can’t have everywhere is the authentic local European cuisine. The local food can be scrumptious or it can be totally disgusting, but it’ll still be an experience to remember.
- Travel like a local! Don’t take taxis even when you get tired by walking around all day; relax in a park or a roadside bench in between walks to catch your breath and rest your feet. Try to use local transport as much as you can! Be it a bus, tram, metro, travelling like a local has its perks. You can witness local art, tradition, unexpected encounters only if you travel locally. Like I came across skateboarders at a metro station and watch them effortlessly manoeuvre their skateboards across the streets was a sight to behold and something I had never experienced before. So, remember it’s the little things!
- Even though all the cities are safe, taking certain precautions never hurt. Stay vigilant; try to avoid encounters with questionable people and steering away from shady places.
- Last but not the least, have fun! Nothing should keep you from exploring the cities even if it is midnight. In fact, especially at midnights; because they say the colours of the night leave the most lasting impacts. Just be aware of your surroundings and you will cherish each and every moment!