Amsterdam. The city known for it’s Red Light District has so much more to offer than just “Ladies of the Night” and some good green. The captivating charm of this Dutch city welcomes tourists from all over the world, yet still maintains a unique personality. The enticing, welcoming vibes of the city are contagious, making one feel completely at home in a new city.
Fresh off the red-eye flight from Atlanta, I couldn’t wait to explore and experience the canals and culture of Amsterdam. Holding a special place in my heart, it became the first city I have ever traveled outside of the United States. Amsterdam was the beginning of my study abroad adventure in 2016. While I couldn’t understand a single word of Dutch, I was so excited to do all of the stereotypical tourist activities: canal boat tour, Van Gogh Museum, Bulldog Cafe. For anyone traveling internationally for the first time, going off the beaten track is daunting, so I followed what the guidebooks said and headed for the museums.
To beat the jet lag and cross off an item on the bucket list, my mother and I headed straight for the Van Gogh Museum. Gazing at some of the world’s most infamous and beautiful paintings while functioning on 4 hours of sleep made me feel closer to the mad mind of Vincent. The carefully curated collections aren’t the only beautiful thing about the experience. The architecture of the museum itself is intriguing. The open center and winding galleries guide visitors through the evolution of the artist. The next morning, I decided to step out on my own and spend my day alone in the Rijksmuseum. I was blown away by the work of the Dutch masters, such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch. But the piece of artwork that took my breath away was the library. Looking like something out of a Disney fairy tale, the dark stories of stacked books, illuminated by the massive skylight, smelled of old leather and cedar. I left the library of my dreams, only because my stomach decided to inform the other museum-goers, as well as the numerous art students studying below, that it was time for lunch.
Two years later, the city was once again the starting point for a new adventure. To celebrate graduation from university, I dragged my best friend and partner in crime through Europe for three weeks. Twenty hours of traveling, and a horrific AirBnB, lead to us dragging our suitcases further into the city. Under the bright summer, we stumbled upon Sarah’s Boutique Hotel. The modern vibes of our new lodgings gave Katta and me new energy to explore the kooky city. So we walked from our home base near the Rijksmuseum to Centraal Station and hoped on a canal cruise. Sometimes, the easiest and best options for traveling are also the cheesiest. Our aging, but charming, tour guide knew the way to our hearts: bottles of wines and beautiful views. The sunset cruise wound through the amber-lit canals as I proceeded to get more tipsy off cheap white wine.
The next morning, breakfast and museums were the only things on our minds. Katta has a superpower that is extremely useful when traveling; she can find the best coffee shop, no matter the city. She had spotted a bagel joint that looked promising the night before, and it once again turned out to be a delicious way to start the day. Cappuccinos are a necessity to powering through jet lag and hangovers.
Katta chose the first activity of the day, so we set off towards the Tassen Museum (Museum of Bags and Purses). For two fashionistas, we were in heaven staring at vintage Chanel, Dior, and so much more. The tea room and adjoining garden made the quaint museum feel cozy and classy. Between the gorgeous architecture of the museum and the couture, we left feeling like high-class ladies of society. Of course, the activity I chose for the afternoon was more crass than class. I felt like two Americans on a European adventure couldn’t break tradition and not visit the Sex Museum of Amsterdam. Katta and I laughed our way through the exhibits to the point of tears. We probably shouldn’t have been laughing, but when you have bad 1980’s robots doing obscene gestures it’s really hard to keep a straight face!
During my last visit to Amerstdam, the nightlife was a highlight. From fancy cocktails to jazz dive bars, the options are endless. The first place Katta and I stopped on our “Dutch Night Out” was an exclusive bar bathed in pink lighting. NJoy has an assortment of specialty drinks to match the sophisticated, darkly romantic vibes of the lounge. It’s a great place to make a move on your crush or cheers to new chapters with your best girlfriend.
A New Orleans-style jazz bar was the next watering hole what Katta and I gravitated towards. The smoky vibes seemed to make the melodies infect the air.
The mixture of old architecture and young culture create a unique experience for travelers. One minute, you are staring up at the beautiful buildings or breathtaking views of the old canals; the next, you are checking out the red silhouettes dancing in the windows. Amsterdam’s old hippie personality, great food, and endless museums create a new experience each visit.