Amsterdam, Netherlands — for the Ignorant Traveler

Amsterdam, the Netherlands is a wonderful walking town.

It is also The City of Bicycles.

It’s an art town, and known for years for its legal Marijuana bars and Red Light district. The Vincent Van Gogh Museum is headquartered here.

The city is full of canals and open-air cafe’s and is lively after midnight. It is one of the fun cities of the world.

I spent a week in Amsterdam on a work trip in August, 2013 — and ignorantly traveled the town, discovering many things — revealed here. This article has been updated with recent information on Amsterdam gleaned through internet searching.

There are videos below that give you a real feel for walking the streets of Amsterdam, a pretty good list of important things to know in navigating around, and ideas on what to do and where to stay.

I’ll also take you on a bit of a work tour below — so you get a feel of what it’s like to work in Amsterdam (and The Hague).

Amsterdam from 30,000 feet — so you know going in where you are. You are in Netherlands — not Denmark. Some people get the two countries confused.

1. Getting to Town from the Airport

Once you land at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS), there are 3 ways to get to center city — which ps is called Amsterdam Centrum — or the old city center:

  • Train: 15 minutes and costs about $5.
  • Bus: 30 minutes and costs about $7.
  • Airport Taxi: 20 minutes and costs about $50.

Without enough knowledge of the train system yet, I took an airport taxi. The first thing I noticed upon walking out into the bus/taxi area of the airport was how many Tesla’s were being used — and this was in August, 2015. Tesla’s everywhere.

2. The City of Bicycles — But Also a Walking Town

Amsterdam is the City of Bicycles, but it is also a great walking town. When walking you do have to watch out for people on bicycles — they drive aggressively and expect you to know the rules and get out of their way, if they have the right of way.

You can walk around town after midnight — it is still very lively as any of the world’s major cities would be — as seen on the video above, where I walk around by the Rijksmuseum at midnight on a Tuesday night.

Many restaurants in center city close at midnight.

There are bicycles everywhere — either being ridden by people or stored at a bicycle stand. At first glance the bikes stored on stands do not look locked up — but on closer inspection, most bikes have a lock on the wheel. A quick internet search shows that despite this, bike theft in Amsterdam is rampant.

You can rent bicycles as well. There are numerous bike shops (look for the word “fiet” (which means “bike”) in the name of the shop. Current prices as of this writing in August 2023 are 8-10 Euros a day, but you can rent a bike for as little as 3 hours for less money.

3. The Canals

As you walk around Amsterdam center city (aka Amsterdam Centrum), the first thing you notice are the canals — you are constantly running into and/or walking alongside a canal.

Taking a birds’ eye view — you will see the canals are designed as a spider’s web mesh within Amsterdam’s center city.

This makes traveling the center of town difficult by car, but perfect for walking or by bicycle. Or by boat I suppose.

There are 9 streets and 9 bridges in Center City — as explained by a Tesla Taxi driver to me and a co-worker named Jog Raj, on day 2 in Amsterdam, when we were taking a taxi from the client back to Jog’s hotel.

The Tesla Taxi driver also showed us where Anne Frank’s house is as well as some other highlights.

4. The Red Light District

The famed Red Light district goes for several blocks with numerous whore houses that have a glass front and a prostitute standing in the window — it is kind of odd and unnerving seeing this for the first time — this woman standing there inviting you in. It is against the law to take pictures of the prostitutes so I didn’t. I took a picture of the main blocks from afar — which is legal — it is below.

6. The Marijuana Bars

Amsterdam became famous long ago for making Marijuana (aka Cannabis) legal. When I visited in 2015 this was still unique, as the United States was just beginning to go this route. In Amsterdam there were numerous bars where you could sit and buy a Marijuana cigarette and smoke. I read that the Marijuana was very mild.

I found such a bar and had a Marijuana cigarette and a coffee, and indeed the Marijuana was very mild. You get more kick from a Pale Ale. Maybe there were stronger brews I could have ordered but it didn’t really interest me. Just to have sat down in a bar in Amsterdam and smoked a Marijuana cigarette was enough.

7. The Cafe’s

There are many cafes in center of town — you can sit outside and have a coffee or cappucino or a drink, and watch the people go by.

8. The Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum is a popular attraction in Amsterdam. The Museum is located just outside of town center — see map picture above (with the canals). The museum is multiple stories and features Vincent Van Gogh’s art from his early days to the end, and tells his story.

Unfortunately, after visiting the museum, I became convinced Van Gogh may be the most overrated artist of all time — in the museum you come face to face with the fact that much of his famed work is extremely rudimentary. His use of colors — using new paint technology at the time — was what differentiated him.

What I learned at the museum:

  • Van Gogh only sold one painting.
  • He cut off his ear after an argument with another male artist, most probably because he was going insane due to syphilis. It is said he went into town and threw it at a whore (perhaps the one he thought gave him syphilis?).
  • Van Gogh only got into painting late in life, and spent his life poor, living off his brother (owner of an art gallery) who also came down with syphilis and died.
  • Van Gogh spent time in mental hospitals, which were full of people with syphilis.
  • It was only after Vincent’s death when his brother’s wife made him famous by marketing and selling his paintings to survive.

Van Gogh is massively marketed today at the expense of so many other living artists who struggle to pay the rent.

Others would argue that Van Gogh was a great impressionist — with an amazing use of colors and feel — part of the impressionist movement of the late 1800s; a time when painters were struggling prove their worth after the invention of the photograph seemed to make them passe. Van Gogh spent two of his most productive years in Paris — from 1886-1888.

This tweet thread — wherein Artificial Intelligence is used to make Van Gogh’s art come alive — can make even the ardent Van Gogh skeptic like me a Van Gogh fan again:

9. Where to Stay

On my week-long trip to Amsterdam, I stayed at the Dutch Design Hotel Artemis — which is a 20-minute tram ride from center city on the outskirts of town.

I highly recommend Hotel Artemis. It is gorgeous, and the price wasn’t bad (it is $126 US a night at this writing in 2023).

The hotel lobby has high ceilings and plenty of art displayed.

When I was there in 2015, the Cloud was all the rage in the computer industry — not sure if that is why they had clouds in the lobby.

One wall in the lobby has a mural painted on it of a young girl watching TV. A quick check of the Hotel Artemis today in 2023 shows the mural is still there.

10. Getting Around by Tram or Bus

If you are staying at a hotel on the outskirts like I was, getting in and out of center city is extremely easy using a network of trams. You can buy a City Card which gives you access to the trams and buses for the whole day for about $5.

I had a 10 minute walk from my hotel (the Artemis) to a street that had a tram, which took me into center city in about 20 minutes.

11. Where to Eat

There are numerous steak houses in center city — I ate at two different ones. Good steaks in both. The first was a restaurant named Rancho Leidseplein. Excellent. Their website:

On the tram I noted and took a picture of a lovely bakery — I did not get off the tram to try it out but wanted to. An internet search shows there are a number of Brood Baker Simon Meysson bakeries around Amsterdam.

12. Working in Amsterdam

I was in Amsterdam for a week on a work trip. We had several days of meetings with one customer, then also a meeting with another customer in The Hague.

This allowed me to see how Amsterdammers worked. As an IBM’er at the time, first stop was the IBM office in Amsterdam. It is beautifully designed — just like the city it is feathered in thought-provoking art that serves to stimulate the brain.

We met other IBM’ers to go over how we would help our customer.

Even the mundane office cube areas were ordained with art.

Our customer was ABN Amro and what incredible offices they had.

My co-worker Joe and our team put up our ideas for enhancing the customer’s solution on the walls of our meeting office.

Joe L. puts up solution ideas on meeting room walls.
Jog R. on laptop preparing for meeting.

ABN Amro had some private meeting booths, which I have seen at other European customers and look quite invigorating.

13. Taking a Quick Train Trip to the Hague

After several days of meeting with ABN Amro we were off to the Hague to visit another customer, Shell Oil.

Joe and I and an IBM’er from Amsterdam jumped on a train to the Hague. It was an hour’s train ride. The cost at today’s writing is 10-12 Euros (aka $10 US).

I did not get to see The Hague — we came up off the train station, walked to the customer, and after leaving, went back to the train.

I saw a few city blocks of The Hague — but it looks like an interesting town and maybe someday I can return to it and explore it.

According to wikipedia, “The Hague is a city on the North Sea coast of the western Netherlands. Its Gothic-style Binnenhof (or Inner Court) complex is the seat of the Dutch parliament, and 16th-century Noordeinde Palace is the king’s workplace.”

Train from Amsterdam to The Hague (and back).

After arriving back in Amsterdam from The Hague, Joe L. and I caught a taxi back to the hotel. A Tesla Taxi. Work mission accomplished for this trip, it was back to the USA the next day.


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