Most of the time when we travel, we travel to cities. Further, we almost always travel to large cities. Cities with neighborhoods. Neighborhoods with wildly varying personalities and offerings. One of our favorite cities in the world is Amsterdam, and that’s fueled partly by the fact that they’ve a wide variety of neighborhoods, all with something different to offer locals and visitors alike.
The last time we visited Amsterdam was March of 2014 for four nights and five days. This was part of a larger European vacation, and since Amsterdam is one of our favorites, we stopped there first and for the longest duration. This was Jeremy’s fourth time to Amsterdam, and my first time that wasn’t just for a few hours (we stopped in 2010 on a long layover on our way to Istanbul). Amsterdam is a highly walkable city with numerous neighborhoods and sub-sections of town. With so much to choose from, we figured a four night stay would allow us to see a good portion of the city, without selling short the remainder of our travels.
One of our favorite parts of arriving in Amsterdam is taking the train from Schipol (the airport) to the heart of the city. We departed the train and walked over to our apartment in the Plantage. This was a bit of a trek but was completely enjoyable for us, since we love walking. We arrived early in the morning, and the air was crisp and brisk. Along the way, we stopped at a pub so Jeremy could get a beer. I savored a coffee. We were the only two people in that pub, and it felt so great to be in Amsterdam.
To maximize our accommodation funds, we opted to stay further out from the heart of the city. Mind you, this meant we were a 5 to 10 minute walk from where more of the action was, so really, that wasn’t much of a sacrifice at all. The advantage was that it allowed us to walk to other neighborhoods and parts of the city, thus seeing much along the way. We’re avid walkers, but those who love bike riding or tram rides can easily choose those as transport modes.
Opting instead to decide what we want to do once arrive at a destination, we don’t overly plan our trips. Ahead of time, we study our guidebooks and read up online, but we don’t make many firm plans. We like to be in-the-moment and flexible when we travel. Preferring to take it easy and see how the locals live, we don’t spend our time in museums or visiting tourist destinations. Instead, we go for walks and take in the city itself. We seek out coffee shops, restaurants, and bars. We don’t just visit the cities we travel to, we try to live in them.
Our approach to visiting a city like Amsterdam is simple. In the morning, we consult our guidebook and decide what our destination will be for the day. We make a plan to get there and depart with at least our first destination in mind. Sometimes we sketch a plan for the whole day. More often, though, we note where we want to go generally, we pick a neighborhood, and then decide in the moment what we’re feeling up to.
A typical day in Amsterdam looked like this: We’d walk 30-45 minutes from our apartment to the desired neighborhood or part of town. We’d grab something to eat akin to brunch: maybe breakfast, maybe lunch, maybe both! While there, we’d have enjoy coffee and linger over the meal. We’d talk about our next move, and when we were ready, we’d depart. Typically, our next stop was a coffeeshop to imbibe in local delights. After that, we’d walk and explore: taking pictures, stopping in interesting shops, getting bread at a bakery, a beer at a bar, whatever felt good to us. In the evening, we’d head back to our place, stopping at the grocery store to pick up something for dinner, ending the evening at home, quietly. That’s pretty much how we did it for four nights and five days. We had so much fun!
If you’re into urban exploring, taking a neighborhood approach to seeing a city can be an effective way to ensure that you maximize your time and what you end up doing. Traveling to different parts of a city in one day can be ineffective because you to spend more time in transit than actually doing things. Use a guidebook or if you’re great with a map, use that to decide how you’ll systematically tackle a city. You’ll find that in the end you can see and do more, all while keeping your transportation fund in check.