I remember the conversation well. I was a young professional looking to travel to Europe and visit some old friends. In the end of the trip, I wanted to see what the buzz was about in the largest city in the Netherlands, Amsterdam. The trip would be complicated by the fact I was taking along my college-aged cousin as my travel buddy and his parents knew too well about the sinful delights of Amsterdam. My job was to convince them that there were some educational values to this trip.
Thus my review and guide to a cheap three day trip to Amsterdam will be filled with details of both spectrums of their tourism.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you live in America, you will likely be flying. My suggestion is to bookend an Amsterdam trip in between England, France and or Germany. I make this suggestion for two reasons. Firstly, those countries have bigger international airports than Schiphol in The Netherlands. Therefore you will save a little money on transatlantic airfare. We dug into the internet and found three airlines that offer quick and inexpensive trips from neighboring European Countries. These airlines included RyanAir, Air Lingus and Easy Jet. We opted with Easy Jet. It was a 1 hour flight from London. For the two of us a R/T cost us less than $150 all together.
For Western European countries, Amsterdam is equivalent to what Las Vegas presents for Americans. I n terms of activities and practicality. it is senseless to dedicate your entire European vacation to only Amsterdam. 3-4 days is more than plenty to wet your appetite on this trip.
WHERE TO STAY
All roads lead to the Old Centre. This is the only place to be in Amsterdam. You can hop a short train ride from the airport to The Old Centre (The exact stop is Centraal). Once you hop off the train, you will be surrounded by vendors and stores. If you want to save on hotels then you should book a room at the train station. Let me reiterate. Whatever rates you find via the internet or a travel agent, will likely pale in comparison to rates you will find last minute at various vendors at the Centraal train station. The reasons are that most Amsterdam hotels don’t have a web presence and those that have a web presence, charge you more money so that they can have that web presence. Lastly, any hotels you book at Centraal Train Station are all within a 3-4 mile radius of every major attraction in Amsterdam.
We took the chance and booked a 3 star delight with two full beds and an oversized bathroom for $65 a night. That’s less then $200 for our 3 night stay. The Hotel was called Nova. It was about 1 mile from the train station and around 3 blocks from the Red Light District.
MUST SEE PLACES
For purposes of saving time, I will outline a few sinful activities to enjoy. Then I will list some activities that you tell your cousins parents about to get him to come as your travel partner.
THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT
Since this is somewhat of a family friendly publication, I will state the obvious and recommend you proceed cautiously with your imminent activities at The Red Light District. The district, also known as DeWallen, is lined with what can only be described as 300 mini storefront showcases but instead of fashionably dressed mannequins, you have a variety of scantily clad women beckoning for your attention and money. It is widely known that intimate relationships with these women can usually be arranged for around $65 American dollars. You usually have 15 minutes to complete your “sale.”
This activity is legal, regulated and by all accounts safe (believe it or not). It is considered a tourist attraction. Much like riding on Space Mountain in Disney World. Except this attraction may find you in hot water with your wife. I was not married at the time but being overly cautious, I was not interested in testing their safety standards. I will say that it was fun window shopping. Let me also set the record straight and say that my cousin also kept his $65 to himself.
The Red District, which by the way is a few blocks long and is surrounded by gorgeous canals is also home to dozens of “Coffee Shops.” Let’s be clear, they sell coffee there but that’s it’s not their main product. When you walk into one of these joints (pardon the expression) you will be offered Ice Blue Velvet and Orange Bud, which ironically are not alcoholic beverages. Instead they are items on the coffee shops “weed menu.” Once again, these shops are legal. As long as they don’t “overfeed” customers. There is a 2 gram limit and they are not permitted to serve harder “menu” items. Lastly, they are prohibited by law to advertise their true menu choices thus they advertise themselves to be coffee shops. I would like to once again embarrass myself by saying that I’m the only tourist who actually goes in there and orders a coffee. Save your money, Starbucks is better.
I should also mention the wonderful other attractions that intertwine the sexy storefronts. Such as Theater Casa Rosso. Where they boast some lively entertaining erotic shows. There are a few other small places that offer these services but they don’t compare to the talent and quality of Theater Casa Rosso. If you are into museums, you can also see the world-acclaimed Erotic Museum and to keep our coffee shops in quick supply is the Hash Museum, where you can learn and experience everything you want to know about harvesting cannabis.
A few other notes about The Red Light District. At night, the streets are paved with lots of florescent lights and tons of pedestrians. Even though the activities are sinful, it is well-policed and very safe. I would still be mindful of petty theft. They also have a strict photo rule. Obviously you will not be allowed to take any of the women for sale or those dancing exotically. There are few limited picture opportunities in some stores and museums. The last little factoid is that when the sun comes up, the street scene changes drastically. Gone are the women and in walk Amsterdams’ finest professionals. It turns into a legitimate business district with doctors, lawyers and tradesman whose very businesses are open daily. Believe it or not there are also apartments and residents that live in the vicinity.
WHY WE TELL PARENTS WE GO TO AMSTERDAM
As previously mentioned, every one of the places to see are within a reasonable walking distance. The farthest being around 1.5 miles. The landscape of Amsterdam is really interesting to see. The city is lined with over 160 canals. Taking a boat ride through these canals is a must. Honestly there are tour companies on every corner. The rides can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours, from sight-seeing to dinner dancing. We did a 30 minute canal ride for around $10 each. It was relaxing and quite scenic. It should be mentioned that having a houseboat is quite common too. You will even have the option of renting them as a source of lodging during your stay. Although I recommend hotels because they are cheaper and also sway less.
You will also notice that Amsterdam has an enormous amount of bike-riders. It’s reported that there are over 500,000 bikers in Amsterdam and you will definitely see them. It’s really the main source of transportation and as a pedestrian you should always keep an eye out for them. They also encourage you to ride. As can be said about the canals, there are bike touring companies on ever y street corner.
My absolute favorite place to visit is The Anne Frank House. It was one of those out of body experiences. Many of you know the story of how Anne Frank and her family lived in an office annex hidden behind a fake bookcase for two years. It was a 500 square foot / 2-room / 1 bathroom layout. She shared this space with her mother, father, sister and 4 other Jewish people hiding from The Nazi persecution. The space is now a museum and you literally walk in the same area that was described in her now famous diary. It’s an odd feeling as you literally walk by the one porcelain toilet shared by all of those hiding in the annex.
I also recommend a visit to the Van Gough Museum. It houses most of the famous artists work. Over 1.5 million visit the museum each year. It ranks as one of the top 25 art museums in the world. You are prohibited from taking pictures but even if art isn’t your thing, it is still really neat to see his work. Personally, I was unaware of how many famous paintings were actually done by the Dutch born artist. Even if you are a quick museum hopper, you should still allow at least 2 hours to experience this museum.
My final choice of places to see is The Heineken Brewery Experience. Honestly it was one of the neatest things I’ve ever done. It’s a combination of interactive activities, with a fun-guided walk through tour on the Dutch beer. The tour includes leisurely samples of the fine beer. The tour felt hokey but fun. They encourage you to participate and learn about every element of how the beer is brewed and bottled. Besides beer samples, you will also get a free mug and other little things to bring home.
IT’S CHEAP FUN
Amsterdam is a guilty pleasure. It’s a mixture of good and evil that can be added as a fun 3 or 4 day quick squeeze trip along your European adventure. There are even plenty of places to shop for wooden shoes and windmills. If you follow my guidelines, research restaurants and go easy on the prostitutes, you and a friend should be able to sleep, eat and enjoy this great city for under $500.