Meaghan Li

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Meaghan's Guide to: Amsterdam

View from Damstraat bridge, Meaghan Li, 2014

View from Damstraat bridge, Meaghan Li, 2014

AMSTERDAM is commonly viewed as a city of debauchery, hedonism, and immorality. While the Red Light District and coffeeshop system do render the city an oddity and novelty, Amsterdam has so much more to offer than most uninformed tourists believe. Most visitors do not venture beyond the city centre during their visit, and confine themselves to areas that are overflowing with tourists, litter, and questionable behaviour. After spending a summer doing policy research in Amsterdam, I hope that these tips will make your visit as authentic and memorable as possible.

What to eat and drink

A stroopwafel consists of a layer of caramel between two thin sugar waffles. They're delicious when eaten straight from the bag, and absolutely mouth-watering when you place one above a hot cup of tea and wait for the gooey caramel center to melt!

Who needs ketchup when you can slather your fries in mayo?

Who needs ketchup when you can slather your fries in mayo?

Dutch people love drop, their own distinct variant of liquorice. A word of warning: the taste is extremely potent and will make most unsuspecting liquorice-lovers gag! Look out for the coin-shaped ones (munten drop), which are my favourite. They are slightly salty, firm, chewy, and very delicious!

Rather than ketchup, the Dutch eat their fries with fritesauss, a low-fat mayonnaise. The best fries joint in Amsterdam is Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminck.

The Thai Snackbar Bird is a cheap and quick Thai joint, and is a favourite amongst locals. The service is fast and the food is excellent, especially at less than €10 for a meal!

A jam-packed night at Trouw

A jam-packed night at Trouw

Where to party

Without a question, Amsterdam is the best destination to spend your summer if you're a electronic music fan and festival junkie. Awakenings Festival, Amsterdam Open Air, and the much-acclaimed Dekmantel Festival perfectly combine beautiful locations, thoughtfully-curated line-ups, and fun-loving festival-goers.

Trouw is a newspaper-factory-turned-nightclub that is the closest thing that the Netherlands has to the underground super-institutions in Berlin and London. It will be closing once its lease expires this December and its presence will be dearly missed by all, but it has been immortalised as one of the most respected venues of the decade. Go before midnight, when the cover charge will be around €5 - €10 cheaper.

Cruising along the canals is a must-do

Cruising along the canals is a must-do

Where to relax

Vondelpark is Amsterdam's most famous central park. It is the perfect place to people watch, and the entire park is littered by interesting sculptures. For a more peaceful alternative, visit Westerpark - it is much cleaner, less crowded, and just as beautiful.

Take a free ferry to Amsterdam-Nord, where you can visit the EYE Film Museum, or shop at IJ-Hallen, a huge monthly indoor flea market.

Hanneke’s Boom is a rustic waterside bar that also serves awesome food. Nearby is Roest, an industrial complex containing several small bars and food stands that also has it own dockside 'beach'!

By all means, do not go on one of the canal cruises run by tourism companies! Instead, round up a group of friends, hire your own boat, bring a portable speaker, drink and eat as much as you want. Or, pack a picnic basket and a bottle of wine for a romantic cruise around the canals until the sun goes down.

Always lock your bike to a bike rack - it can get confiscated otherwise.

Always lock your bike to a bike rack - it can get confiscated otherwise.

Some (not so) common sense

There are more bikes than there are people in the Netherlands; as a result, Amsterdam is equipped with fully-integrated cycling paths with their own traffic lights! It is highly recommended that you rent a bike during your visit; it will be much cheaper than public transport and nothing beats the feeling of cycling along a canal with the wind blowing through your hair.

Dutch and Germans do not have an unfriendly rivalry, but confusing the two (intentionally or not) is no laughing manner. I once shouted 'nein!' to a group of Dutch travellers, wrongly assuming that it was Dutch for 'no,' and received some scathing dirty glares.

I used to regard the Red Light District as a novel hotspot that gave sex workers full control and autonomy over their bodies and professions. Then, I learned that the vast majority of Amsterdam's sex workers were foreigners, most of whom are trafficked and controlled by pimps. If you do decide to visit the Red Light District, please treat its workers with dignity and respect.

Meaghan LiComment