,Because this city is ruled by bikers and boaters, I knew I needed to explore via bike lane and canal. Problem #1: I was a little scared to walk among the bikers, let alone ride with them. Problem #2: I don't know how to drive a boat. Luckily, Amsterdam is full of amazing bike guides and teachers. As for the boating, no one there really seemed to mind, care about or question my level (or lack thereof) of boat knowledge. Here is the week's list:
1. Take a guided bike tour I decided to rent a bike through MacBike and take a guided tour of the city. My afternoon's fellow biking comrades and companions consisted of a bachelor party, a mother-daughter pair and one gentlemen (I'll call him Ralph) who did not quite comprehend Amsterdam's rules of the road. By the end of the afternoon, Ralph still did not understand which side of the road he should be biking on, he hit 2 pedestrians, interfered with an ambulance's path, photo bombed the bachelor party's picture and finally, got really, really lost.
On top of all of the extra entertainment Ralph provided us, the tour also took us all over the city: we began at Centraal Station and biked to the south end of the city. We saw Brouwerij t' IJ (A brewery in a windmill) and the zoo before moving up to The Amstel, the skinny bridge and over to museumplein. We also biked through Vondelpark, Jordaan and the downtown core. What was especially great about our bike tour, is that we did it in true Dutch style: in the absolutely relentless, pouring rain.
2. Take a canal tour There are many to choose from: Blue Boat, Canal and Amsterdam Canal Tours to name a few. Depending on what you are looking for, you can purchase tickets for many different types of cruises at varying costs (City tour, an evening cruise, or a ride with wine and cheese, lunch, dinner or a buffet).
I chose the 75 minute city cruise; it cost €14 and came with an audio tour. The boat floated along the Prinsengracht, out to the IJ and up the Amstel River. Some sites included Leidse Square, Wester Church and The Anne Frank Huis, Central Station, De Dam, Amstel Hotel some museums and Vondel Park. I also also saw lots of french fries with mayonnaise and some crazy boat parties that made me want to jump ship, swim on over and join in on the fun.
When I boarded my boat, I realized the captain had not gone over any safety policies or procedures. In order to get good pictures, people were standing, walking, running and pretty much hanging off of the boat. Instead of enjoying the great sights and views, I spent the first 15 minutes of the ride imagining where the life jackets might be kept and planning my own personal evacuation strategy. Luckily, we were only in two minor accidents: The captain overshot a canal wall and later, hit another boat. All in a day’s work, I guess.
3. Rent Your Own Boat I think I kept boaty in business during my stay in Amsterdam. Every time I tried to decide the best way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon, absolutely nothing other than, "Get on a boat and cruise the canals" would come to mind. Weekly, I would grab some good food, music and head to boaty, endure the 15 second boat training course and head off in a canal cruiser (Her name was Nina).
Boaty gives renters a laminated sheet which outlines a couple of boating instructions and also contains a map with different routes you can take (The downtown route, The out of town route, the South East route). My favourite route to take started with the downtown route; I liked to cruise through Jordaan and (obviously) stop in the area for those aforementioned french fries with mayonnaise.
One time however, my cruising companions and I decided to live on the edge and go a little off the map. We took some other canals to check out the flower market, Waterloopein Market and a hotel Alicia Keys was staying at. We enjoyed our own makeshift cruise so much, we kept at it and ventured through some other turning, winding canals. Their names? No idea. I just know they were not the Prinsengracht or Herengracht, which were the canals we were supposed to stay on. Anyway, all was going well until a sudden gust of wind picked up our laminated map and tossed it overboard. We tried to reverse the boat to grab it, but that map sunk faster than my waitressing career. It was a very tense couple of minutes but luckily, we were eventually able to get ourselves back to the Amstel River.
4. Rent a Car and explore Holland I rented a car and followed Road Trip: The Flower Route, Netherlands as mapped out in National Geographic's Ultimate Road Trips. I started in Harlem (If you also plan to stop here, check out this Top 10 Things to do in Haarlem list) and moved on to Lisse, Den Haag and Leiden.
In Lisse, I visited the Keukenhof Gardens (Only open from March-May) which, “Bills itself as nothing less than the most beautiful spring garden in the world, designed to showcase the art of Dutch bulb growers.” Admission to this amusement park of flowers cost 15 euros each and I somewhat reluctantly decided to go in. As I walked through the front gates, I immediately regretted it: Busy. Screaming children. Weird accordion music. Restroom and sausage lineups. Just as I was about to head back to the car, I was passed a waffle and a Heineken. These two items quickly turned it into the best amusement park ever. I spent the afternoon taking in views of beautiful flowers, climbing windmills and racing friends through a giant garden maze.
Afterwards, I checked out Den Haag and Leiden, a small university town. In Leiden, I ate in a little cafe in Van der Werf Park. As I looked at the menu, I couldn’t decide between the chicken club or a hamburger, so I asked the waitress which she would recommend. She responded with, “Definitely the hamburger.” I was sold by her enthusiasm and it was everything I imagined it would be (not!): a deep fried curry burger in between 2 slices of white Wonder Bread. I don’t think I’ve eaten like that since I was a university student myself (I have to admit, It was pretty delicious; but I doubt it will be included in my upcoming Amsterdam Part 3 post, which covers Food + Drinks).
It was so great to hop in a car and have access to such different and beautiful towns so close by. Suggestions for other places to stop? Leave your tips in the comment section below for others to add to their driving lists!