Day 4: Journey to Amsterdam
Although I had enjoyed Ghent, I wanted to have enough time left to enjoy Amsterdam. I left early morning for the train towards Amsterdam. At the time of my travel, the only way to get there was through Thalys, with a connection in Antwerp. However, it looks like now the connection can be made through Brussels. Use this site to find the most up-to-date tickets. Travel time is approximately 2 hours.
Getting off the train at Amsterdam was complete chaos. There are tons of people, bikes everywhere, and people screaming. It was definitely a change from my arrival at Ghent.
PRO TIP: Watch for bikes ALWAYS! Stay off the bike paths other than crossing. Be alert. They cannot and often will not stop for you. I also DO NOT recommend riding a bike in Amsterdam if you are not a local or professional biker, unless you want to be completely stressed out.
My first order of business was checking into my hotel. At first I had decided to walk, but with the number of people around, dragging my suitcase through the streets of Amsterdam was just not going to happen. I caught an Uber and checked into my hotel, Moxy Houthavens. Note this is NOT a hotel I would typically be able to afford, but I had a stash of Marriot points I was able to use for a free 2 night stay.
Houthavens is a neighborhood located near Amsterdam’s port, and it is a bit of a walk to the Center of Amsterdam (2.2 miles). However, I had time and wanted to see all that I could, so I opted for the walk (this time!).
Once I reached the center of Amsterdam, there is so much to see and do. I passed canal after canal, heading towards Rijksmuseum (Dutch National Art and History museum) as I knew the “I amsterdam” sign was there. It was IMPOSSIBLE to get a picture there, and was crawling with people, so I opted for just a “dam” picture, because I thought it would be funny.
PRO TIP: As of December 2018, the “I amsterdam” sign has been moved. Check here for a list of where you can now take a spot with these iconic letters.
If you are into art, now would be a good time to check out the Rijksmuseum. Instead, I headed towards Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s floating market. This market is full of gifts shops, fresh flowers, and more! Make sure to take a stroll by and smell the tulips!
The rest of the night was spent getting lost through the maze that is known as De 9 Straatjes (the 9 Streets). These are the main streets full of restaurants and shopping. If you’re into that sort of thing, Amsterdam also has over 100 “coffee shops”, which act as legal dispensaries of marijuana.
Day 5: Giethoorn
This day was the entire reason for this trip. I had seen a picture of Giethoorn, a fairytale-like village in the Netherlands, and KNEW that I had to visit it! The rest of the trip was just a bonus.
There isn’t an easy way to get to Giethoorn (Goat’s Horn) from Amsterdam without your own car, so I booked a full day tour. This tour did not disappoint! This “Venice of the Netherlands” is completely car-free, making it such a peaceful destination (besides all of the other tourists – but it IS possible to get away from them). Once we got to Giethoorn, we took a canal boat ride and learned all about the history of the village (and how it used to be just one large swamp!).
After the informative canal tour, we were left on our own to explore the village for a few hours. I had a great time walking along the canals, looking at all of the adorable houses with thatched roofs. I grabbed lunch in the village and talked to some of the locals for a bit.
After a full day of exploration around this small village, we took the one and a half hour bus ride back to Amsterdam. When I arrived back at my hotel, I was surprised to find there was some type of Bacardi promotion party happening that night, with unlimited drinks for all hotel guests. You can probably guess how the rest of my night went.
Please see Volendam location page for Day 6 activities.
Day 7: Keukenhof, A’dam Tower, Anne Frank House
As it was springtime when I went to Amsterdam, I was ready to see some tulips! Keukenhof Gardens, located right outside of Amsterdam, has an annual tulip festival. Over 7 MILLION tulips bloom there every spring, so I knew I had to go check it out. I opted for a tour that included transportation and skipping the line.
The Gardens were magnificent, although a bit overcrowded. If I were to do this again, I’d opt for a tour through the bulb fields. I was told later that you can even rent bikes from Keukenhof and ride to a bulb field, so if you are serious about the tulips, I’d definitely recommend looking into this option.
After wandering the Gardens for a few hours, I hopped on the bus back to Amsterdam and ventured towards the A’DAM Lookout Tower. The elevator takes you up to an observation deck overlooking all of Amsterdam. To be honest, this is probably part of the day that I could have missed. However, I DID find at the bottom of the tower another “I AMsterdam” sign that was not completely overcrowded.
My last tour of the trip was one that I was highly looking forward to: a walk through Anne Frank’s House. I purchased my tickets online way in advance, and read her diary in anticipation of the trip.
PRO TIP: Tickets to the Anne Frank House sell out VERY quickly. 80% of tickets are released exactly two months in advance at noon (Amsterdam time), 20% on the day itself. There are no tickets sold at the door.
The Anne Frank House was the HIGHLIGHT of my time in Amsterdam. Walking through those rooms was extremely moving. I could just feel the fear and pain those people endured, and being in that house made everything real for me. I recommend you DO NOT miss this tour!
As it was my last night in Amsterdam, I decided to take a canal cruise to make sure I didn’t miss any highlights. Tours are available all over the place, and it’s not necessary to book in advance, but you can do so here. You can even do one with pizza and drinks!
I thought the hour long tour was interesting, talking lots about the history and architecture of the city. We passed the Seven Province Houses (seen below), as well as many other prominent bridges and landmarks.
After grabbing dinner nearby, I watched the sun go down on the canals and multitudes of bikes.
For my last night in Amsterdam, I had to of course see the Red Light District, or De Wallen. This area was crazy – tons of people, lights everywhere, half naked women in the windows. I didn’t stay very long, but it was definitely interesting to see. If this is up your alley, there’s also a prostitution museum in the area!
PRO TIP: Do NOT take photos of any of the sex workers of the Red Light District without consent. They WILL come out to yell at you, and force you to delete the photo. Just don’t do it.
Day 8: Amsterdam to Dublin
After having the free breakfast provided by my hostel, I headed back towards Amsterdam Central Station and took the train to Schiphol Airport.
Lastly, once I returned home, a friend made me aware of Below the Surface, a website that catalogs all of the items that have been recovered from the canals in Amsterdam. Over 20,000 weird and unique items have been cataloged, and gives us a sense of the every day life in the history of Amsterdam. I found it really fascinating!