April 21, 2012

0 Seven Tips For Your Visit to Amsterdam

1. American travelers take note: we found very few businesses in Amsterdam that accepted swipe credit cards- they only accepted chip-and-pin cards found in Europe.  Most of the major tourist sites did (Rembrandthuis, Van Gogh Museum) but little shops, bakeries, and restaurants did not.  Euros are the local currency, although we stumbled across a couple of shops that wouldn't even take cash- sadly, this meant we couldn't give them our business.

2. If you're visiting in tulip season, buy some gorgeous bunches at street markets or street stands!  We saw bunches of 50 flowers for a low as €8, whereas the train station and airport had them for sale for as high as €15 for 50.
From the Saturday morning market in Jordaan, on Lindengracht.

3. Prebook your tickets to Anne Frankhuis and Keukenhof.   The lines at Anne Franhuis are very long, at any time of day.  You can pre-book a specific time, and with those printed tickets in hand, go past the line to a barely-marked door to the left of the line's entrance.  Here you'll see a sign that says "Online tickets press ringer" (or something like that).  Press it, go in, and there you go!  Keukenhof was a bit trickier- we opted to do the Combi ticket with the bus from Schipol, so we first took the train to Schipol, then followed the signs at the bus depot for the Keukenhof bus.  From there we got in a long line that seemed to split off into those who still needed to pay and those who didn't, but no one checked our tickets until we got to the park.

4. Trains are easy and great!  We took the train to Zaanse Schans, we took the train from/to the airport, we took the train to The Hague.  This recommendation seems a bit uneasy since we were there for the biggest train collision Amsterdam has had in recent history, but, it's not a common occurrence and train travel is generally easy and stress-free.  We did have to buy our tickets at the service desk, paying a €0.50 charge, since our cards wouldn't work in the ticket kiosks, but the representatives were helpful and wrote down stops we needed to look for.  The seats are spacious and comfortable, too- far more so than in the U.K.!

5. Another tip for tulip season: if you're wanting pictures of tulip bulb fields, the ones at Keukenhof are a bit of a walk down the road, then you have to tell yourself that the sign asking you to stay out of the tulip fields means don't walk in the flowers... but the dirt paths between the fields are okay.  (Grey area, I know... we were careful and didn't touch any flowers!)  However!  On the train to The Hague we saw several miles of gorgeous fields of tulips, all between the towns of Leiden and Haarlem.  You could either ride the train to one of the cities and then walk, rent a car and drive there, or bicycle.  I'm not sure the rules on these fields, but we did see walkers, joggers, and cyclists alongside the fields.

6. The I Am Amsterdam card could be a benefit for your trip- but crunch the numbers first!  We did some adding up and the "must-dos" on our list that were available on the card's discounts didn't add up to the cost of the card for a 24-hour period (the cheapest option at €40).  While there were enough things on the card's list that were potential "maybes" for us, we would have had to make sure we did them in order to get our money's worth.  We opted to not purchase the card, but it was a close draw, so I wanted to pass the information on to you!

7. Here's the big info on a place to stay!  We had THE BEST holiday apartment!  After getting bug-eyes at some of Amsterdam's hotels' prices, I decided to check with Airbnb- the site I booked our Barcelona stay through.  It had pages of options, but I settled on a one-bedroom Jordaan apartment, since that neighborhood offers beautiful canal-side streets with lots of restaurants and local bars.  The apartment was perfect!  It had a small but full-functioning kitchen, a living room, dining table, comfortable bed, shower and bathtub, and overlooked both a courtyard garden through the bedroom and large windows to the street in the living area- although no street noise!  The prices were (comparably) reasonable, coming to around $180/night.  I highly recommend this apartment- and not just because the bookshelf offered work by some of my favorite photographers:

I'm not doing a separate Seven Tips for The Hague, since we were only able to be there for half of a day- but the city seemed lovely and charming, and I hope to get back someday and give it the time it deserves!

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