It’s a thing of beauty and the life of the party. Its reputation precedes it by several miles. It is the incomparable Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam we all hear about, the Amsterdam that draws flocks of college kids every year, is the ultimate illicit fun vacation: everything you wouldn’t want to write home to mom about. Unless she’s the particularly understanding type. In which case, we’d love to meet her. It’s sex and it’s drugs and it’s maybe even rock and roll. The city’s biggest claims to fame are its coffee shops and its red light district. The thing that sets Amsterdam coffee shops apart from Starbucks is the more-or-less legal offering of more than just coffee—if you catch my drift!(If you don’t, I meant marijuana. There you go.) There are tons of unique and interesting coffee shops all over the city, but The Bulldog is the oldest and most well-known, to the point where it’s broken off into a small chain complete with souvenirs. Meanwhile, the red light district serves a different purpose, with a regulated trade and all the ultra-risqué shows you can handle. Nightclubs abound with world-class DJs of varied taste, and to top it all off, the legal drinking age in the Netherlands is under 21. What a country!
The beauty of Amsterdam, however, is that it’s entirely what you make of it. Not being into the whole whatever’s-verboten-back-home scene is no reason to pass this city up—there are just as many wholesome delights to enjoy as there are illicit. If art is what gets you going, check out the Rijksmuseum, home to hundreds of famous works of art, and the Van Gogh Museum which celebrates the native artist’s entire collection from paintings down to letters—and for more adventurous tastes (or maybe for wandering through after a trip to a coffee shop), there’s always the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. If you’d rather go sightseeing, there are several tours available that will run you through the Dutch countryside, which is so fascinating in its rustic singularity that Japan just had to have one of their very own (Holland Village theme park) because they couldn’t bear to leave it. Seriously. Zaanse Schans is like northern Europe’s answer to Colonial Williamsburg, providing tourists with a slice of 18th-century life with handcraft trade workshops, museums, and monumental windmills. Likewise, in the bucolic fishing village of Volendam you can learn how cheese and clogs are made from Dutch girls in traditional folk garments. Really though, you don’t even have to leave the city proper to take in some memorable scenery—the architecture of the city is just stunning.
As is common all over Europe, hostels are cheap and convenient, and cater expressly to young backpackers and tourists. Travel smart, stick with friends, and you ought to be safe as houses and free to have as much fun in Amsterdam as you possibly can, whatever your definition of “fun” may be.
Attractions: Sightseeing, adventure, art, contraband materials.
Pros: You are free to bask in the non-puritan glory of Europe, and party ‘til the break of dawn the best that you know how.
Cons: The dollar doesn’t go as far on the European tender as it once did, so start saving your money now. Likewise, the distance alone means a pretty hefty airfare unless you plan ahead and do some research.