The Dutch love their large, tall windows, natural light, earthy warm tones and Aesthetic™ and that's all I really needed to be totally on board for Amsterdam.
It was hard to resist the urge to draw the perfectly complementary buildings, some slightly crooked, quaint in their imperfections, but even attempting to paint a handful of the houses made me keenly aware of just how precisely everything was designed, measured and coloured. Even the bicycles in Amsterdam commit to the Aesthetic by having long handles, which gives anyone peddling through the (enviously) flat streets a certain insouciance that I - with my straight bike handles, heavy backpack and lack of fitness - definitely do not have in Denmark.
It also does not escape you that people actually do live in these exceedingly photogenic houses. I felt this most keenly as I sat on a bench writing in my diary and watched a guy come out of a gorgeous looking house on the other side of the canal, pausing on the doorstep to check his phone and then just casually go on his way. The sonder really just hits you in those moments: in your world, you're having a tourist day seeing the most amazing photo opportunities and wandering a city of new things and to someone else, it's Thursday.
Amsterdam Life Pro Tips
- Rijksmuseum - Buy your tickets online and go as soon as it opens! The museum was just the right size to not feel completely overwhelming but also like you could easily spend a day there if you wanted to do it properly. I spent about half a day and felt like I got to go through all the museum, though I didn't listen to the audio guides on every piece. Vermeer blew my mind.
- Van Gogh Museum - make sure you book this in advance. A nicely organised and curated museum that really takes you through all of Van Gogh's life, though with fewer works than expected. You must go to see 'Almond Blossoms' in person though, I adored it. No photography is allowed in there );
- Amsterdam Foodhallen - this is definitely a thing in Europe but the Food Hall is basically an enclosed warehouse full of stalls boasting relatively inexpensive street food from an impressive range of cultures.
- Book early for the Anne Frank House - It was straight up booked out 2mths in advance, so I didn't get to go ):
- Rent a bike - I chose to walk because you can't take photos on a bike but god did I envy them after awhile, Amsterdam is very walkable but a girl gets tired and wants to go faster
- Groenburgwal - Go here for a particularly picturesque canal photo.
- Don't bother going to the Floating Flower Market unless you want to find packets of tulip and plant seeds - I think I saw a grand total of about 2 stores with real tulips (though, to be fair, it wasn't the peak of spring at that point). It's also not so much 'floating' as 'stalls that are mounted over the water on concrete pillars'.
- Buy your cheese at the supermarket: The flagship stores of Dutch cheeses around the Floating Flower Market mark up their cheeses as you might expect - you can find many of them in local supermarkets' cheese sections
- The School of Life is one of my favourite Youtube channels and has a physical store in Amsterdam, full of relatable merchandise (albeit somewhat expensive), a cafe area and home of many workshops and events. Worth checking in advance to see if you can make any of the workshops. I literally saw it as the tram went by and doubled back to check it out.
- Stays: Lloyd Hotel is actually such a cool and quirky hotel.
Gallery Boekie Woekie - a store featuring one-of-a-kind books and comics by independent artists in Amsterdam. It's retro and intriguing and is literally quite a sensory overload. I think I lingered for about 20min in there just trying to process all the comics and novels and stuff there. In the end I didn't find a comic that really called out to me, but you really feel like you could in there.
Rembrandt House - A small museum where Rembrandt's studio used to be. You get a free audio guide which is nice because there aren't many of Rembrandt's works there (though a nice little collection of his etchings), but still worth checking out
Solo-traveller-who-doesn't-own-a-selfie-stick pastimes: watching other people valiantly trying to climb the famous 'I Amsterdam' installation. Better hope you have a friend to give you a leg up!
The one thing I will say is that I think 4 full days solely in Amsterdam is a bit much unless you're intending to do a museum deep dive or have some sort of concert/event to fill your time. And if you have Ellen studying in Leiden, who you haven't hung out with since you were climbing illegal stretches of the Great Wall of China in Beijing, it's worth the 30min train ride to go and oogle at her ceiling to wall window and her university town, which happens to be even more quintessentially Dutch than Amsterdam and boasts a cute Botanical Garden to boot. It completely didn't register to me that it only takes about 2 ~ 3hrs to get from one end of the Netherlands to the other, or that you can literally cycle to the next town over in fifteen minutes, according to Ellen (Aussie amateur mistake) or I would have planned more day trips out. Next time, next time.