How do you start to get the “feel” of a place? Whether you are traveling, or moving to a new city or a new country, how do you take in more than just seeing the sights? The following 7 tips have helped us the most in getting to know the real Amsterdam.
Ride Public Transportation
Yes, at home you may think that taking the bus is just not going to happen. But when you are in a new place, you can see places and people that you would not see while walking to check the next box off your list. Some buses or trams take you to just the parts of the city you want to see so you are getting a bit of a tour. When using public transportation, just make sure you are doing it right and remember to watch the locals!
If it’s nice out, find somewhere with outdoor seating where you can watch people go about their day. Of course, inside is fine too but try to get a window! See how the locals live. Watch them bike, walk, talk, drive, etc. Watch how they greet each other or how they say goodbye. See how parents interact with children. If it’s really nice out, go to the grocery store (another great way to get a feel) to grab some food and drink and head to some steps, a park, or a bench and just eat while taking in your surroundings.
Eat at Local Restaurants
I don’t mean you have to eat local and organic (although, those aren’t bad things!). But find where the locals have their after-work beer or late-night burger. Skip McDonalds, Burger King, Hard Rock, Subway, or anything you can get at home! Find the authentic. Think a little outside the box, too. If you are traveling to another country, think about what areas they have as territories now or have had in the past. Why? Because some of those people settled in the “home” country and brought their cuisine with them. Did you know that many Indonesian and Surinamese people live in the Netherlands because they used to be under Dutch rule? So, you can find authentic food from those cultures in Amsterdam as well as the pancakes and herring that you probably think of. I’ve been using Yelp! to find places…I still have a lot in my bookmarks to try!
Rent an apartment
Typically we will rent an apartment if we stay somewhere for more than a day or two. This may not be in the center of where you want to be, but it will give you a different perspective. And let’s face it, you’ll be in the center pretty much every day anyway, so try something a little different (and probably quieter) for your sleeping arrangements. Did you know that especially during longer stays, that renting an apartment is usually cheaper? I don’t just mean the price, but you might have a kitchen and can at least make your breakfasts in your apartment and save money that way. We use Airbnb for our rentals and have had very good luck with them. When we started our new life adventure as expats, we started off in an Airbnb! BONUS: Use our referral link to give it a try and get $25 off your first rental. Woo-hoo!
Find a Local Festival
Any major city probably has various kinds of festivals running from April through October. See what you can find and join in! We found a wine festival in Amstelveen during our first weekend here. It’s a town just south of Amsterdam (by the airport) and super easy to get to. So, we figured out how to get there and learned how the festival ran. It is a festival for locals and there was no English anywhere, so we asked a lot of questions to figure out the whole process. But that’s part of it. Go beyond what others might do when visiting, find the unique things you want to do. You may have to get out of the city center to do some of the cooler things, so just keep that in mind. Here’s a great list from Rick Steves if you are traveling to Europe of local festivals.
Walk. Then walk. Maybe take a bus/tram/train, then walk some more. Not only is this amazing exercise, but you can find and see things that aren’t in guidebooks. Today we found a place with macaroons that we didn’t know existed because we had never walked that way before. But we will find our way back to give them a try. When you find a spot that is just right, hang out there for a while and take it all in. You are in this place in this moment. Take some time to really focus on the right now. I have found a couple of these spots in Amsterdam. If you visit, see if they do it for you too: Rembrantplein, Dam Square, or any bench on the side of a canal…stop and watch the world go by — and let me know what it does for you.
Talk to Locals
This may show up last on this list, but that’s only because we hope you found a way to do this through the list above. If you haven’t found a local to talk to by this point, go to a bar, a park, or anywhere, and just start talking. Ask them a simple question, or make a comment. It could lead to a whole conversation! I had a 45 minute chat with a girl because I commented that her breakfast looked good and I missed the cheap breakfast that was on the menu. We spoke about everything from living in Utrecht vs. living in Amsterdam, university, politics, etc. It was a great conversation while we ate and she waited for her train. You just never know!
You will have an amazing time and you might stress out a bit. You will be uncomfortable and you will walk away with stories. And I hope that you learn a little more about yourself in whatever travels you may take.
What would you add to this list? Has any one person had an unexpected positive influence on a trip you have taken? I would love to hear about it!