The alternative Amsterdam you haven’t seen

Amsterdam. The place where famously anything goes and our liberal side is set free. Did you know that there’s more to Amsterdam, beyond its parties and nightlife? I found out how, in an extended spring weekend trip.

On arrival in Amsterdam, I remembered I had a full day to myself. My usual travel companion couldn’t join me due to work commitments and my excited family visitors weren’t due to arrive until tomorrow. What would you check out alone in a new city? My current home in Dublin rarely receives warm sunshine. My solution was therefore to take adventure of this brilliant weather, leave the city center behind for now and explore Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest) – sprawling acres of greenspace right next to the airport. Luckily, I’d just caught the tail end of the annual cherry blossom festival in the Bloesempark. Petals fell infinitely slowly with every tug of wind, a magical sight. Families had set up picnics to admire the view for the morning. I was in good company.

Keen to train a little for an upcoming long-distance hike (more on this in a future article), I explored the rest of the forest. Conservatively, I walked 10km around its lakes and discovered a hidden coffee shop within the forest – a worthwhile venture for locals and tourists alike. After heading back to the city, the remainder of the day was well spent exploring canals and surfing Amsterdam’s many trams.

The city feels like it’s bustling, particularly as you step out of Central station. A city filled with great architecture and an astounding amount of cyclists (and bicycles) everywhere. To reiterate: there are bikes everywhere, including multi-layer dedicated bike parks. You could fill an afternoon with people-watching – I saw one guy speeding along on his bike, with a handlebar in his left hand and suitcase chasing him with his right. Impressive!

Meeting up with family, we journeyed around as public-transport-savvy tourists. The Netherlands is not known for its affordability, but the attractions are first-class. A day trip to Keukenhof gardens, in which they have an annual spring tulip display, was a sight to see. Every spring colour you could imagine. The Dutch are immensely proud of their tulip farms (as they should be), and its importance in culture goes way back to “tulip mania” in their tulip stock market. I certainly made good use of my macro lens, and I wasn’t the only one – keen photographers were crawling all over the grass for the perfect shot. What do you think of mine?

The following day saw us feasting on what I can confirm are the best omelettes in Europe at the cleverly named Omelegg. They will make almost any variation of omelette for you, cooked to perfection. The next logical step after a good breakfast? A relaxing canal tour. As touristy as it gets but worthwhile with great views, perspectives and stories only seen from the water.

Of course, Amsterdam is very well known for its museums. We opted to check out Rijksmuseum, famous for its displays of Van Gogh and Rembrandt. We were surprised that the Van Gogh display was actually rather lacklustre.. but Rembrandt’s extensive collection did not disappoint. The rest of the gallery is filled with Dutch historical pieces dating as far back as 1100AD. Don’t miss the sections covering Napoleon and the Dutch Republic; it’s quite interesting. It was a great way to finish the trip – I left the city feeling cultured and looking forward to my follow-up trip in May.

My recommendations and tips for Amsterdam, particularly in early Spring:

  • Book accommodation and everything else early – prices are high from March to October.
  • Pick up either a Holland Pass or Iamsterdam card for the best attraction value.
  • Public transport in Amsterdam is great, especially the trams. It’s included with the passes above too. Amsterdam is also very walkable, built on a flat area.
  • Find some elevated establishments to get a view of the city. The Skylounge at DoubleTree is great (but be prepared to pay a premium for food/drink). Check out this list.
  • If you’re not confident in bike-riding, I wouldn’t suggest trying it in Amsterdam. The city is great for cyclists, but it is chaotic. In fact, even as a pedestrian, watch out for motorised scooters that might mow you down on the footpath.
  • Time your trip to see the cherry blossoms if you can, but they only last about a week.

What was your favourite part of Amsterdam?