Every article I read about Amsterdam starts off telling saying there is more to the city than pot smoking and hookers. Since I'm not in the target market for either of those, I'm damn glad there was more or I'd have been pretty bored.
Actually, the image I had of Amsterdam was more of windmills and tulips. And cheese. Never forget the cheese. By the time I left, the major image I had of the city was of young girls flying down the streets on bicycles with their blonde hair streaming out behind them.
I arrived in Amsterdam on a Friday night and spent the weekend then headed off to see more of the country, return for another two nights to meet up with friends. In retrospect, that was a bad, bad idea. I should've headed out of the city for the weekend.
Which brings me to Amsterdam tip number 1:
Do not spend the weekend in Amsterdam if you don't like crowds especially crowds of British chavs on bucks party weekends.
If you do visit on a weekend, don't even think of going to any major galleries or attractions without prebooked tickets. The lines for the Van Gogh gallery were insane. I quit and decided to go back later in the week.
Good things to do on the weekend in Amsterdam (with no crowds or lines):
These aren't off the beaten track ideas. With a few days to spend sightseeing, none of that I'm a traveller not a tourist crap for me. These were just some of the easiest things to do around town if you haven't rebooked or organised anything.
I'm not sure why this gallery lacked the lines of other galleries but I managed to walk straight in with no waiting and it ended up being my favourite out of the galleries I visited. I loved that the art work was accessible - no thick security glass over the paintings so all you see is reflections. I also loved that, while having a solid collection of paintings, the museum offers so much more - lots of design stuff including posters and furniture and even a lego room for you to create your own art (trust me, that was filled with adults not kids!).
Play around with the liqueurs, doing smell tests and that kind of thing,then find out a bit about the history of genever and liqueur making.. At the end of the tour, you get a cocktail and a couple of shots. A good way of getting mellow to face the outside world again.
You can do cocktail making classes and hands on stuff but that didn't fit into my holiday timetable.
The Sex Museum
It's as touristy as fuck (no pun intended) and you'll leave with your eyeballs oversaturated with sex but it seems like the kind of thing you should do on a weekend in Amsterdam. If you are a fan of Benny Hill, you'd probably love this place.
For me, the best part was the vintage porn -- gay guys with handlebar moustaches looking very grim about every position and 'dirty' beachside postcards. The worst were the moving displays that glorified flashers and prostitution.
It's also good to head to some of the more interesting neighbourhoods outside the city centre and just walk around. If you do that, don't forget my second tip:
Do not even think about catching a tram in Amsterdam without validating your ticket.
Amsterdam trams have a conductor in a little booth on the tram. That makes it easy to buy tickets on board and ask questions. But, if you get on board without a ticket or, like me, figure it's better to grab the only empty seat rather than head to the back to swipe your valid ticket, DON'T. The conductor will yell stuff over the intercom like "hey you, the woman in the very cute polka dot dress, valid your ticket." Well I assume that's what she said since it was in Dutch. Then everyone on the tram glares you until you get up and valid your ticket.
When I returned to Amsterdam later in the week, it was a much better experience. I'm not sure if that was because the crowds weren't as intense or being with friends made it more comfortable. We did manage to fit in some more touristing though including:
NEMO Science Centre
Not the kind of place I'd normally go but one of the friends had her young son so we skipped the actual science part and hang out on the upper deck which is build with on levels with water flowing down the middle and lots of games, puzzles etc for big and little kids. The place also has awesome views of the city.
Red Light District Crime Tour
If you want to visit the Red Light District without feeling like you are just there to gawk at hookers, this is a great way to do it. To me, the whole area was kinda depressing and sad but then I find it difficult to work out the point of paying someone for sex.
I thought this would be as boring as all hell but it ended up being a heap of fun. You really do get to see a different side of Amsterdam from the canals. Because there was a group of us, we had our own boat and brought alone snacks and drinks. Our tour guide/driver kept us amused with his commentary about the history and culture of Amsterdam with some not so clean stories.
The first few days in Amsterdam, I stayed at an AirBnB apartment near Vondelpark, which ended up being right out of the centre of the city but still close enough to walk if I wanted. I had my own space except for sharing the bathroom with the owner (he had a separate toilet, he just used the shower). It cost $47 a night, cheaper for me because I had a discount voucher, and I got two bedrooms plus a living area with basic cooking facilities (kettle, microwave and fridge) plus breakfast included.
For the last two nights, we stayed at the Lloyd Hotel which is unusual in that it has rooms from 1 to 5 stars. That worked out well for the group of us because you aren't forced into compromising to suit everyone.
It's also unusual because it's an institutional building converted into a hotel. We thought it'd been a mental hospital but did some research and found out otherwise. It had been used for many purposes including housing immigrants but no mental hospital history. It did have that feeling though.
It's not a hotel I'd wholeheartedly recommend. I felt like it had a vibe of "we are so hipster cool that if you don't like something, it's because you are not hipster enough to understand it."
The things it did well, it did really well but there were a few areas that were totally lacking. My room (the one centre bottom above) had an open shower - just a shower head on the wall. I'm not sure if you can see it in the photo but it's behind the sink. Now, having lived in Japan, I'm used to open showers. Except that you'd assume with an open shower the floor would be designed to slope down to the drain. Nope. I got a squeegee to dry the floor with!
I retired for a short nap to refresh after a day of touristing and stupidly ate some chocolate peanuts while reading my book. Don't ever do that, especially at a hotel. If you drop one and don't realise, the chocolate melts into the sheets and it looks like you pooped the bed!
I tried to clean it with one of the towels then left it for housekeeping.
When I got back to my room later, the bed was made. Yay! Clean sheets. Except the sheets weren't clean. They were the same dirty ones. Even worse, after my shower the next day I got the clean, folded towel out of the cupboard and yep, it was the dirty one from the day before. I have no idea why housekeeping would take a used towel off the towel rack, fold it and put it back in the cupboard.
It was a charming building though with great public areas including play areas for kids. It was only a short tram ride to Central Station on one train and a longer tram ride on another tram to a lot of the tourist areas + gay area (we did hit the gay area for a few drinks). We also caught a bus back from NEMO.
Well, that's a huge post and pretty much everything I discovered about Amsterdam. I felt like I barely scratched the surface during my time there and would love to return again some time.