“Oh! Amsterdam, eh?”. I have seen the look more times than I can count since moving to The Dam. The look that says there are only a handful of reasons why you would move to the European capital and they know exactly why you would. After only three months in my new home I am increasingly defensive when I talk about my new residence and “there is actually much more to the city than the Red Light District you know” has become my rather brusque standard reply. And I don’t think I have ever said anything truer in my life.
In my travels around Europe I had never made it to Amsterdam before I moved here in September to start my Masters at the VU. All I knew of Amsterdam was the airport, which I had transited through a few times. Like many people I now realise I had made the same assumptions as those people I have just mentioned: that Amsterdam is only an attractive location for its liberal laws and unusual attractions. As I have never been particularly interested in any of these ativities, I chose other places for my adventures. In truth I had wanted to avoid the very reaction mentioned above; that immediate assumption that I am only after the quintessential tourist experience of red windows and “funny cigarettes”.
In the end my decision to move here was one based purely on education and the fabulously unique Masters’ programs the university offers. In all my investigations I found nothing like the LLM in Law and Politics of International Security anywhere in Europe or even North America. With a contemporary curriculum and mix of political science and international law it was an attractive alternative to another round of pure international relations studies. The fact that it was in a major European city was simply a bonus.
The very first day I arrived in the city I walked around the corner of my hotel to Museumplein and found myself in the middle of the last day of the annual Uitmarkt (http://www.uitmarkt.nl/). The square was covered with people, families, couples, groups of friends, all enjoying a cold Heineken or some hot food from one of the stands and the live music coming from one of the stages. The square was electric with life and people, open to all those who wanted to enjoy themselves in the fabulous city. “If this is night one in Amsterdam,” I thought to myself, “I am definitely going to enjoy myself”.
Living here these past months I have found a city bright with vitality, busy with activity and bursting with youthful energy. Although a smaller city geographically than I had been expecting Amsterdam offers every individual with every different type of interest something to do, to visit, to see or to appreciate and the size actually makes it that much easier to get around and enjoy it all.
My three months here have been full of research, exploration and discovery. Expatriate websites have been my best friends in helping me to find the things I need from a city and steering me clear away from the tourist traps of Leidseplein which remind you of the common misrepresentations of what Amsterdam is really like and reasons you should come here. This is predominantly how I have stumbled upon the more palatable trends and draws of the city and find itself a tender place in my heart.
All it takes is a little effort, combined with determined persistence, and the city will start to feel like home. Force yourself out of the house and into the fabulously international mix of the city. It’s easy to find things to do. There is always a new exhibit, festival, market, parade, celebration or a trending new bar or eatery. While moving to a new city can always be overwhelming the welcoming nature of Amsterdam and Amsterdammers makes it an easier transition than most. So strap on your walking boots, pack your umbrella and hit the streets. Here are some of my top recommendations to make you feel like a local in no time.
G’s – a really nice place
Amsterdam has a growing café culture, much similar to that of my hometown Melbourne in Australia. Brunch is also successfully making waves from over the Pond. It is getting increasingly easier to find somewhere fantastic to enjoy your challah French toast or eggs Benedict.
Head to G’s, a small space dedicated to drinks on Thursdays and Fridays and transformed into one of the best weekend brunch places. With a fabulous menu and the requisite selection of Mimosas and Pimm’s Cups on offer this is one of the best brunch places I have ever stumbled upon. Booking essential as this place is a popular hotspot in the north of Jordaan.
1015 JK Amsterdam
One of my favourite finds, indeed my culinary saviour is Bar Spek in the West. I have found Amsterdam restaurants can be quite expensive with food quality that does not match the prices. Not so this little gem. With an extensive menu for those of all tastes and an impressive wine list this is the perfect place to share some starters for a full flavour experience.
Café de Tuin
Doing a little research on the areas you are heading to also helps find the more local haunts and avoid the swathes of tourists that flood the city. Local places have better atmospheres, better menus, and better prices. They are also great places to head with friends and mix with the friendly Dutch locals.
Café de Tuin is one such place. Packed at weekends with people of all ages and professions this place is certainly popular! With a great selection of tap and bottle beers, friendly clientele and the tight space will make you feel like part of the Amsterdam life in no time.
Café de Tuin
Tweede Tuindwarsstraat 13
1015 RX Amsterdam
Still a local bar with a slightly more upmarket feel and a food menu is Café Louter. In a relaxed atmosphere you can enjoy a good selection of local and Belgium beers with great service from the bar staff. Louter also offers a good menu of food for when you get a little hungry!
De Clercqstraat 82
1052 NK Amsterdam