Amsterdam. I had been curious having connected through Schiphol for years, so I got a guide book and my enthusiasm cemented into a plan to spend four days there as the second half of my trip.
Arrival and Getting Around
The best value to get to and from your accommodation is the Conexxion Bus service. For either 17 € one-way or 27 € round-trip, a shuttle bus will take you and a handful of other guests from airport to the front door of your hotel. Taxis are about 45 – 50 € from the airport to the city. You can take a combination of buses, trains and trams, but what a pain with luggage and being a bit travel-worn. Do the Conexxion shuttle!
There is no shortage of “discount cards,” as is apparent from plentiful signage in the airport. The museum card, the I (Am)sterdam card, etc. didn’t really appear to be much of a bargain. I would take a realistic look at what you truly plan to do before buying these cards and feeling pressured to do it all.
Supposedly, Amsterdam is a great walking city and easy to get around. Both of these notions are untrue. Unless you use taxis the whole time, you will spend a lot of your time back-tracking and lost in Amsterdam. Take a look at the map, it’s insane. The tram system seemed like a nice way to traverse the city on paper, but it looked too complicated when I actually saw it. It wasn’t just to me, other hostelmates confessed this as well. We all walked until we got too annoyed and then took taxis. That’s my other warning: don’t buy a public transportation pass until you actually get into the city and look at what you’re getting into.
I primarily walked, and getting into the heart of downtown from the museum quarters only took about 25 minutes…If I didn’t get lost. As a pedestrian, you are competing with mobs of bicyclists, trams, cars and buses, which didn’t exactly add up to relaxing stroll. Twice I almost got mowed down by a bike. I’m sure it was my fault, but it still means you must be vigilant at all times for bikes whizzing at you, top speed, out of nowhere.
Unlike many cities, taxis are not plentiful. Also, they are expensive. However, one night as I was cold, lost and out of patience, I did manage to flag one down to get back to my hostel.
I recommend joining a walking tour as soon as possible to help get your grounding. My hostel offered a pick up for the Sandeman’s “free” walking tour. You are under no obligation to pay, but if you feel the tour was enjoyable and informative, you may tip the guide. The chance to wander without getting lost and to learn about city history was a great way to spend three hours. Plus, as a lone traveler, I met some lovely fellow trekkers and we all had drinks after the tour together.
Two things I had assumed I would want to do but did not ultimately sign up for were a bike tour and a canal boat tour. I skipped the canal boat tour only because on days I had time for them, the weather was quite cold and windy. It would be pleasant in warmer months.
I saw more than a few tourists struggling to keep up and stay together on bike tours and it was clear they did not ride bikes in their daily life. As someone who also hasn’t ridden a bike on a daily basis since childhood, the bike soldiers of Amsterdam were not riders I wanted to mess with, even with a guide.
Where to Stay
I always stay at hostels. You would be well advised to choose a hotel or hostel away from the city center if you want to actually have a quiet night’s rest. I wisely picked the Stay Okay Vondelpark (Zandpad 5) in the Museum Quarter because I was mostly interested in the art. My bunk in a 4-person single-sex en suite dorm was 31 € a night. This included my bed linens and a good breakfast buffet. The hostel was clean, the staff were friendly and helpful and the bar/café on the ground level was convenient.
Another thing to note is that because Amsterdam is a popular weekend getaway for Europeans, the price of a bed Friday through Sunday can be more than double the weeknight price and it could be difficult to make last-minute reservations. I stayed Monday through Thursday and avoided the worst crowding and got a better price.
It’s also worth it to find a place with breakfast included. Eating out for breakfast is not such an institution as in the States. Everything at joints open for morning diners looked both expensive and ho-hum.
When eating out and taking taxis, a standard tipping percentage is 10.