The Gap Year Travel Guide visits Amsterdam
We sent our reporter Joe to visit the famous city and find out for himself what Amsterdam had to offer, other than the usual delights.
When considering Amsterdam, most people think of two things: spliff bars and sex shows. And they'd be right; the city is notorious for having both in abundance. But there is so much more to the Dutch capital than its stereotyped seediness.
The Netherlands always gets a bad rap when it comes to food. Yes, to the unassuming tourist one may think it's a load of Argentinian steak houses and chippies. However, by doing a little further research it becomes clear how many great places to eat there are. During my visit over Christmas, I decided to enlist the help of a former student of the city's university and sandwich enthusiast, Philip Roberts. Of his recommendations, all of which were superb. My favourite was Singel 404, an open sandwich cafe that delivered on its Trip Advisor reputation. I went for a chicken, brie and sundried tomato panini that had sprinklings of cress.
Singel 404's greatest sandwich
For the vegetarian who feels lost and astray in an unknown land, there are plenty of places to dine, and De Bolhoed is a fine example of what's on offer. With a range of dishes, including vegan specials, I opted for the Mexican set menu, which was a sensation. The restaurant also houses a fluffy ginger kitten, too, that sat next to me while I ate.
Also, I may have mocked them as an obvious choice, but I think a notable mention should go out to the chip outlets that are dotted around the centre. Sure, you can get them anywhere, but dutch chips, like those from Belgium, have a crispness that cannot be matched. The fritessaus is also a foreign anomaly that is like a mayonnaise that has been mixed with herbs and sweetened a little.
In the reasonably small size of the metropolis, one can find a great array of culture. After a lovely day in the Rembrandt where I perused a great collection of the artist's etchings and paintings, I decided to turn my sights to something more contemporary: Stedelijk Museum, a modern art gallery that is the homestead of works like Picasso's 'Seated Woman with Fish-Hat'. A funny name, sure, but a wonderful painting that looked arresting when seen in the flesh with its beautiful navy and grey shades.
Looking out onto the Rembrandt Museum's second floor
A city's botanical gardens are not something that many city breakers might have given thought to. Amsterdam's Hortus Botanicus, though, is one of the oldest in the world and was stunning. I moved from a tropical rainforest environment that was alive with lush and expansive vegetation, to a desert-style enclosure where more compact plants like cacti and succulents lived.
It feels like before the coffee shops and relaxed attitude to soft drugs were commonplace, the city decided to sort out its transport out, and sort it out they did. Trams run on time and bikes rule the roads. Renting a bike for the day was one of the best things I did. It allowed getting anywhere feel like a 5 minute task, rather than a 30 minute trudge. And as fearful as I am of riding alongside cars back at home, apart from a few junctions, most of the time it was frenzy-free.
Touring the city by bike
Guided boat taxis, too, are a must. Whilst they are pleasant enough in the day, it is the evenings where you can realise see the beauty of city's beauty. What's more, a pre-recorded audio track labeling important landmarks helped me become more acquainted with the city's history.
A boatride through the city centre
Simply just walking around the city is also a great way of beginning an evening. The houses that align the semi-circular canals mainly looked amazing and unique in their narrow and tall shapes. Complementing this, Amsterdam Light Festival's is on until the 18th of January, where light-based installations are dotted around, adding a warm glow to the city's streets.
An installation from the Amsterdam Light Festival