Written by: Aubrey Aguilar
People always say that travelling is the best way to learn about the world. Every place I’ve ever wandered to has relentlessly taught me one thing: travel can educate you in ways that you can’t even imagine. A trip that I took recently was no exception. On the evening of June 11, 2016, I hopped on my first solo flight to Europe–my first time on European soil! In 18 days, I explored the Netherlands, England, and Ireland.
Amsterdam was the first place I visited as a new backpacker. I met up with 2 of my high school friends at the Schiphol Airport when I touched down from my layover in Iceland. I’d met up with them back home many times before, but there’s something special about seeing familiar faces in a city you’ve never been to and are dying to explore!
It only took a few moments to realize that I completely fell in love with Amsterdam. It has the kind of beauty that almost seems other-worldly. It all started with our first trip to the city centre after getting settled in our AirBnB apartment. We walked down the canal streets, townhouses, and bridges, admiring the many flowers and bicycles that frame the canals perfectly.
The weather was cool and cloudy, but that didn’t take away from the liveliness of the city at all. Rain or shine, Amsterdam has an energetic vibe that sticks with you, and it spreads way beyond its colourful architecture and Red Lights. We walked past the Rijksmuseum and made a relaxing picnic spot out of the beautiful Vondelpark–a rolling blanket of green, flowers, and a love lock bridge. The best thing about this beauty is that it was free, and after that night, we officially made this place our official picnic spot.
In the next few days, we basked in the picturesque canals and structures of the city. Amsterdam offers a tourist card (iAmsterdam) that provides discounts, access to attractions, and transportation–these all come in very handy, especially for first-time travellers! We visited the Van Gogh Museum, which features Van Gogh’s life as told by his paintings (excluding Starry Starry Night). This experience gives you a sense of appreciation for his masterpieces, and how they changed with him.
But if you had to choose one museum to visit in Amsterdam, I would definitely suggest the Anne Frank House. This museum includes a tour of the building and the Secret Annexe, an overall in-depth look at Anne Frank’s life before and after the hiding. Being able to see this in person was so surreal and bittersweet. When I went into the building and climbed the steep stairs leading to the Secret Annexe, it all sunk in to me how real all of this was.
Seeing the bookshelf that hid the entrance to the Annexe for the first time almost brought me to tears. I realized that I was walking up the same steps, standing in the same rooms, and walking through the same doors that supported the Frank family through their horrible circumstances… and the wave of emotions that come with that realization is what makes this experience so unique and moving. There’s only so much you can grasp when you hear a story in the form of words or print, but you never truly realize the depth of those words until you see them come to life in front of you. This is such a unique way of experiencing a compelling fragment of history. Don’t leave Amsterdam without visiting the Anne Frank museum.
Museums and exhibits aside, we explored some amazing buildings and architecture, including the Westerkerk church. Its clock tower was mentioned a lot by Anne Frank in her diary and is in view from the Anne Frank House. We also explored the Muiderslot, also known as the Amsterdam Castle. It was another great way to experience history, as we were able to tour the castle and the town surrounding it.
One thing I recommend to anyone going to Amsterdam is to experience the city at night. Whether you want to take a stroll by the canals or go toward the red city lights at the Red Light District, spend at least one of your nights exploring the city centre until dark. Just be careful in the areas surrounding the Red Light District the later it gets, as it’s not the safest place to be during the later hours.
One of the best experiences I had in Amsterdam is just sitting by the canals, enjoying the views of the colourful buildings and illuminated bridges. Amsterdam is bright during the day, but even more so at night. There’s just something so relaxing about sitting by the water and watching the lights add more colour and energy to an already lively city. Another incredible experience is the canal cruise, an hour-long guided boat tour that takes you all over the city via the canals. Seeing Amsterdam by boat is one of the best ways to absorb the city. The canals add so much to Amsterdam’s unique charm.
There’s so much about Amsterdam that I love, and it’s a place that I would go back to in a heartbeat, a million times over.