Europe is right on our doorstep so take advantage of the wonderful cities that it has to offer, even if only for a weekend. Isabella Packer took herself off to Amsterdam over reading week and gives you a run-down of her favourite experiences in the city. 

Reading week at university was a perfect excuse to finally visit one of the cities on my very long list of ‘European Cities to Visit Before I Die’. After ticking off Copenhagen and Budapest, Amsterdam had been recommended to me by pretty much everyone I knew, so my sister and I booked cheap flights from Bristol Airport and headed off for a weekend away.

Although Amsterdam is a popular destination for large groups of British tourists, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the culture without feeling like it’s all become commercialised (let’s just say that there wasn’t a McDonald’s at every corner like in America). The transport is cheap, easy-to-use and always on-time!

The train from the airport to the central station was €10 for my sister and I. Similarly, the trams cost €15 between us for a 24-hour day pass, allowing for us to get on any tram that would take us anywhere in Amsterdam. However, the best way to travel is truly by foot. You miss a lot when you’re travelling from trains to trams, from taxies to ferries.

The highly popular cannabis shop - The Head Shop
The Head Shop, a highly popular cannabis shop. © Isabella Packer

Amsterdam offers a unique experience. It’s possibly one of the cleanest cities I have ever been to and has mass numbers of cyclists, so be sure to check at least two to three times each way before crossing a street because they just flyby!

The smell of cannabis on the streets doesn’t flush your senses as often as you might think. However, it’s strange walking past coffee shops (top tip: coffee shops are those that sell cannabis while those deemed as café’s sell the usual tea and coffee) that have people smoking outside of them. I’d definitely recommend visiting The Head Shop, a shop that specialises in the selling and smoking of cannabis, even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s certainly eye-opening!

The main attractions were the Ice Bar, the Anne Frank House, the Sex Museum and the Van Gogh Museum. I had never been to an Ice Bar before and it was definitely one-of-a-kind. Luckily, we had pre-booked before as it had sold out for the entire day. Underestimating how cold it would actually be, we were given coats and gloves as we journeyed into the -10 degree room. We knocked back two free sambuca shots and left an hour later in fear that our noses might freeze.

The main highlight of the trip was the Anne Frank House, as sad as it was fascinating, it’s definitely not one to be missed (it also must be booked well in advance). However, you should mentally prepare yourself as it’s not an easy subject to swallow, but the extracts from her diaries and the commentary from her father are extraordinary.

Amsterdam bicycles. Photo credit: Jace Grandinetti

An unexpected highlight of the trip was the A’Dam lookout – a short ferry ride across the river (which is free!). It allows you to view the city of Amsterdam from a great height and, if you are really brave, you can pay an extra €5 to do the swing over the edge of the building. It gave beautiful views of Amsterdam and in the summer months it doubles up as an outdoor rooftop garden! I recommend going when the sun is setting as the 360 degree views are breath-taking.

Exploring Amsterdam in the sunshine, wandering over little bridges and walking down the canal was magical and fascinating. It’s a city that truly does not disappoint, with the hospitable locals, numerous restaurants, different types of foods to try and a nightlife that gives an equal buzz of excitement.

Words by Isabella Packer
Featured image: “Amsterdam, Netherlands.” Photo credit: Natsuko D’Aprile

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