The canal houses of Amsterdam

Amsterdam, a city quite possibly more famous than the country it sits in, The Netherlands. A city that everyone has heard of for one reason or another. Whether it be the picturesque canals, the amazing architecture, its WWI past, or more likely its free and accepting ways. It is a city, culture, and area that I truly fell in love with in the short time I visited.

Stepping into the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam

After an overnight flight and a quick stop at my hotel in the outskirts of the city (the town of Zaandam). I found myself sleepily boarding a public bus to the Central Station. Upon arriving to the hustle and bustle that is the beautiful spired station I stepped outside into the city center and quickly began waking up. The immediate energy in the city is evident. Whether it be hurried tourist carting their luggage to their hotel, canal boats making their trek down the canals, or the locals biking through the city hub. When I say bicycles, I truly mean bicycles. There are literally thousands and thousands of bikes in Amsterdam. I am confident there are more bikes than cars in the city and even wonder if there are more bikes than people. Seeing so many bicycles only adds to the energy in the city. It also keeps you on alert because these cyclist are prepared to rundown any leisurely stroller who happens to step out in front of them.

Amsterdam: a walk-able city, but don’t forget your GPS

My first order of business was to find the Blue Boat Company for a tour down these famous canals. I knew we would be walking everywhere as the narrow streets and limited parking is a bad ideal to drive on. While Amsterdam is extremely walkable. I would urge you to be prepared to use your GPS. The town is set up in an onion peel way. The streets and bend and arch and leave you heading east when you think you are going south. With a GPS in hand take in the amazing sights and walk straight to Blue Boat. We took the main road in front of Central Station and had an amazing sensory experience. Upon getting to their location (a quick 40 minute walk). We were greeted with a smile and were just in time for the 2pm tour.

The unique canals and canal houses of Amsterdam

The canal tour from Blue Boat was truly amazing. Their use of audio guides with personal headphones made it easy for all travelers regardless of where you are from or what language you speak. They supply the headphones and a narrated journey down the canal in over 20 languages, and even a kids version! I found the audio tour to be both informative and funny. This hour tour takes you on a journey down many of the canals Amsterdam has to offer, past all the beautiful row houses with their forward leaning facades and hooks on every attic. Take the tour to find out why these things are!

I found the canal tour peaceful, amazing, and just exactly of what you imagine for Amsterdam. It was on this boat slowly cruising along the houses, bicycles, and countless houseboats that it truly hit me that I had made it to Amsterdam. What a great feeling that was and what a great few days were in store for me.

Anne Frank House: make a reservation well in advance

After ending the all too short canal tour it was time to make the quick walk (again thanks to Google maps) over to the Anne Frank House. It is highly recommend and at this time imperative to make a reservation well in advanced to tour the building. The spots fill up quickly so plan ahead! I booked my time slot two months in advance it was already half booked. Upon arriving and getting in the already long line for our time it was a matter of waiting to be let in. They seem to have purchased the adjoining few houses and made a modern museum out of it that you tour, audio guide in hand, before reaching the famous living quarters of the Frank’s and their friends until they were discovered and sent away to concentration camps during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. The place Anne’s diary was written that is now read all over the world. The experience was somber, surreal, and a must do for any one. It all takes about an hour.

After that and with our lack of sleep from the last 38 hours of traveling and sightseeing it was time to find a quick bite to eat (a safe on a stomach simple meal at a small burger and fries place off the main street) and board the bus back to our hotel for some rest. The next day found us leaving Amsterdam to explore other parts of Europe with the comfort of knowing we would be back in Amsterdam in a few days.

The whole time we were other places, all of them amazing in their own right I could not help but remember and eagerly anticipate our visit back to Amsterdam at the end of the trip. It is hard to explain the beauty and feelings you get in Amsterdam. It just feels like a great place to be.

Free walking tour is a great way to learn about the sights in Amsterdam

When we finally did make it back we were quickly boarding the bus and ready to get back to the city we fell so in love with. That day’s plans included a free walking tour and a visit to the ever famous Red Light District. The walking tour was amazing, we met near the Red Light District at the Old Church and spent 2 ½ hours hearing about the history of the city, learning about the sights, the Red Light District, and about the “coffee shops” that allow visitors to partake in weed smoking. I would recommend booking a free tour from one of the countless companies in the city that offer them. It is a great way to learn more about the city and know more about all the amazing things you are seeing.

Amsterdam has so much history and even more culture. Whether it be the culture that makes it so accepting of the sex workers and cannabis. Or the yearly Gay Pride events the whole city; even politicians and police get involved in. I truly love the mindset of the city. If it is not hurting you or someone else then they do not really mind. It seems a lot of us could learn from that!

Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam

We then made our way back near the Blue Boat launch location to the Hard Rock Café just across the canal. I have been to many Hard Rock’s in my time. But, none with a better view outside the window. They were gracious enough to treat us to a meal and seat us right beside a window to watch the boats pass by on the canal no more than 20 feet away. It was an amazing meal with an even more amazing atmosphere.

The Red Light District never sleeps, but was certainly in full swing when we arrived just after dark. It is unlike anywhere else in the world with its windows of sex workers eyeing passersby and its sex show theaters advertising their nightly performance in neon lights. I suggest everyone go and experience it when in the city. While it does seems strange it is an experience not to miss. Just visiting a culture that allows so much is so exciting even if you partake in none of it. It was then time to head back to our hotel to sleep before an early morning flight back to the States. Our whirlwind trip was complete.

Amsterdam was without a doubt a major highlight of my trip. It was unlike any place I have ever seen. The uniqueness of the city burst at its seams and quickly welcomes everyone to experience it. I did not step inside one Red Light window or smoke at any coffee shops my whole visit. But, I still had an amazing time. I would venture to say maybe even a better time than those who spent any of their time under the influence or under the sheets. If you are even remotely considering a visit to Amsterdam I would tell you to book now, you should have booked yesterday because from the moment you arrive it is a welcoming, unique experience unlike anywhere else in the world.

Jackson Huff is an Instagram traveler. You can check out his pictures from this visit to Amsterdam or any of his other destinations on Instagram by going to @TheJourneysofJackson