Should I buy the iAmsterdam card? How do I get around in Amsterdam? Should I get an Airbnb in Amsterdam city or Haarlam or Utrecht? Those were just some of the questions I had before my trip. If you share the same queries, read on.
I wasn’t based in Amsterdam, so I didn’t buy the iAmsterdam card, which does grant you free entry to many museums as well as free travel on their public transport.
Personally I didn’t get it also because I didn’t think the iAmsterdam card was worthwhile unless you plan on breezing through the museums to make your money’s worth, otherwise there just wouldn’t be enough time in a day to finish touring the museums since most open at 9 and closes at 5 or 6 (with the exception of Friday where some museums stay open till 10). Besides, I think the joy of going to the museum is being able to take my time to admire the work and understand the history of the art that I’m interested in.
For me, while it felt like I was paying more per entrance ticket, when I worked out the time I had and the opening hours of the places I wanted to visit, it just didn’t make any financial sense.
The card also does not cover the Rjiksmuseum (€17.50) and Anne Frank House (€9) which are the two major attractions of Amsterdam. Also, if you visit Zaanse Schans and want to be able to visit all the chargeable mills (€4 euros) and museum (€10) for free, it’s going to take you almost half a day or more. Then again maybe u want to have lunch, or ice cream and coffee, or take a ferry, which then means you can spend a whole day there. Which then leaves you with almost no time to visit the other museums in Amsterdam (unless maybe it’s a Thursday). So you work the sums.
So without the iAmsterdam card, what were my transport options?
Walking, biking and taking the tram.
While I biked everywhere in Haarlam, I didn’t want to bike in Amsterdam because there were just too many people, bikes and traffic was rather heavy in the city centre. I also didn’t want to have to worry about locking my bike at a proper place each time I want to venture into a shop or lane. So the next best option was the GVB trams. I love them! There are designated tram tracks on the road so that means trams aren’t at the mercy of heavy traffic. In the tram, the stops are clearly indicated on a screen with announcements at every stop. I found the 2-day ticket (€12.50) very worthwhile if you are planning on traveling within Amsterdam for 2 consecutive days.
You can easily buy the ticket when you board the tram. Just note that the maximum note they take is €20.
I also want to recommend this app to help ease all your traveling woes.
Enable your location, select it, then type your destination (it can be the name of a restaurant or shop!) and the app will tell you which tram to take and from where. You can click on the “walk 2 minutes” to launch Google Maps which will show you how to get to the tram stop. If it’s the train you are taking, it will tell you which platform to go to. So all you really need is a data SIM card and mobile phone!
The other thing I thought would be good to share is the fact that in Amsterdam, there are no public toilets. And if there are they always cost money. Even McDonald’s, unless you dine there of course. Typically toilet fees are €0.50-€0.70. For men, there is this round green metal phone booth-like structure at certain public areas where they can go in for free to ease themselves. I was told you can walk into any restaurant to ask and then pay to use their toilet too, but otherwise your best options are McDonald’s or the train station.
Some toilets are located at the train platforms so you might want to go before you check out. If you are at Amsterdam Centraal, there is one at the platform (€0.50) and one really nice clean one (€0.70) at the back part of the station in the direction of the ferry dock. Personally for €0.20 more, I rather go to the cleaner one.
I decided against staying in central Amsterdam because of a few reasons. Prices were more expensive and I read that it isn’t a real reflection of Dutch living. So I picked Haarlam which turned out to be a really nice, less busy neighbourhood. It takes about 15 minutes by train from Haarlam station to Amsterdam Centraal and a return ticket cost €9.50.
Speaking of trains, if you want to use the machine to buy your ticket, make sure you have enough coins, or have your credit card PIN number handy. The machines don’t take notes and some stations do not have a ticket counter or may be closed by the time you arrive.
Market squares are very common in Europe.
This is the Grote Markt in Haarlam. It is a market square that is empty on weekdays but comes alive with stalls on Saturday.
Cheese, fruit, flowers, bread and vegetables are available, and there’s also a stall selling Turkish crockery and lamps. It’s less massive than Albert Cupmarkt, and didn’t feel as touristy.
Too bad tulips weren’t in season. But still the bouquets of peonies and hydrangeas were very lovely!
I didn’t regret staying in Haarlam because I doubt I would have made a special trip to Haarlam otherwise. The place has all you need — you have the Corrie Ten Boom Museum (free entry) instead of Anne Frank Museum, and the Frans Hal Museum instead of Rjiksmuseum. You can cycle to the dunes and the beach (great during summer) instead of through the Waterlands in Amsterdam. It is a different kind of experience.
There is a also direct bus 300 to and from the Schipol airport to Haarlam area (€5 one-way from the bus stop where I embarked to head to airport), which is nice because I didn’t have to battle with broken lifts, big platform gaps or standing with my luggage near the door of the trains because it’s too much work to haul it up or down steps within the train to get seats.
If you are looking to do a lot of shopping, then Amsterdam definitely has more to offer. The museums and landmarks are more renowned too. Although you don’t necessarily need to stay in the central if you are looking for a more authentic Dutch experience (I didn’t like the rowdy behavior of the people in Amsterdam central). I was told there are nice neighbourhoods near Vondelpark, so that could be an option if you don’t want to travel too far.
Wherever you choose, there will definitely be enough activities and places to visit to occupy your time.