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Having some apprehension about Amsterdam & if it's for me--maybe stay in smaller city

Having some apprehension about Amsterdam & if it's for me--maybe stay in smaller city

Old May 11th, 2024, 08:14 PM
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Having some apprehension about Amsterdam & if it's for me--maybe stay in smaller city

After spending a lot of time scouring lodging options and reading about tourism and visiting Amsterdam, I am starting to have some hesitation about a visit to Amsterdam and am wondering if I should base elsewhere instead. (I have done something similar in other countries where I have skipped the major city and instead focused on smaller but very enjoyable cities.) Totally busy, touristy places with crowds of people and long lines donít call to me. I donít need to see all the typical tourist-itinerary places and can find enjoyment in the smaller, lesser-known places and even everyday life in a new town. I am a retirement-aged female traveling solo. I am also not one who plans or needs to be on the go, running around all day trying to squeeze every second out of my trip. And, as I have aged this has become even more apparent. Plus, there will be zero nightlife for me, and I will likely spend my evenings in my room with a glass of wine.

My only past experience with Amsterdam is when we had a long, very early morning layover and went into the city to walk around. We explored a few of the canals and walked past the Anne Frank house when it still just looked like a normal house. We walked through the red light district. But, thatís it.

Here is my scenario. In a couple weeks I will be flying into AMS from the US, arriving late morning on Thursday. I will have three nights available prior to joining a ten night cycling/barge tour between Amsterdam and Bruges. My barge leaves from the harbor in Amsterdam in late afternoon on a Sunday. So, I have flexibility and I also want some down time to recover from jet lag.

We cycle the countryside during the day and then meet the barge in late afternoon. Of the towns that are relatively close to Amsterdam, we will be docked overnight in Haarlem and will have an evening walk there. We will also be docked overnight in Leiden. In Delft we will have a factory visit (doesnít call to me) and an evening walk around Delft. Obviously, this is not enough time to really see any of these places in-depth. Or, maybe a brief taste is sufficient? And, the cycling trip doesnít include Utrecht at all. Realistically this will probably be my only trip to the area.

I am interested in general overall ambience, having some really good (not overly hyped junk or tourist traps) tourist places to visit, lovely gardens, interesting traditional architecture and settings, walking along canals, visiting quality museums in limited doses, and charm (not manufactured for tourists) does call to me. And, I want to stay in a "nice" lodging in a good area.

If you have spent time in Amsterdam (and some of the other locales I have mentioned), what are your thoughts for me? Should I just stick with my original plan to base in Amsterdam and spend my time there? Or should I essentially split my time and perhaps think about staying elsewhere and just make one long day visit to Amsterdam (and of course, return there to meet my barge)? I appreciate the help from those who have experienced Amsterdam.
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Old May 11th, 2024, 09:01 PM
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We loved our stay at Stempel's hotel in Haarlem, a place that checks all of your boxes. Stempels is a boutique hotel perfectly located across from the cathedral and just off the main square. An advantage to Haarlem is that it is just a 15 minute train ride to Amsterdam and there are 4 trains/hour. It is also a good base to travel to other nearby towns. The bus station and train station are together giving you day trip opportunities. DW said Haarlem is a place that she could enjoy as a home. I have to agree.

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Old May 11th, 2024, 09:08 PM
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I only spent less than a full day in Haarlem but loved it and decided the next time I might visit Amsterdam, I'd stay in Haarlem instead (even though I really did enjoy staying in busy central .Amsterdam)
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Old May 11th, 2024, 09:13 PM
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I really enjoyed Amsterdam and don't know enough about nearby places to be able to give you other recommendations. We did take a day trip to Haarlem, which was enjoyable, but felt we didn't need more time there.

I thought the museums in Amsterdam were excellent (we visited the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Amsterdam museum) as well as the Anne Frank house, but we are museum enthusiasts. I had read The Diary of Anne Frank several times when I was younger so the history (not the architecture) of her house appealed to me.

We also really enjoyed strolling through Amsterdam's streets admiring its canals and architecture and took a long walk through lovely Vondelpark.

We did not find Amsterdam overly touristy but tend to stay away from "tourist trap" restaurants and entertainment.

Last edited by KTtravel; May 11th, 2024 at 09:18 PM.
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Old May 11th, 2024, 11:13 PM
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Haarlam is very easy to use as a smaller town to stay in. We stayed there and especially loved the railway station's decorations but maybe that is just me.

You might also like https://www.bedandbreakfast.nl/ which we use in the Low countries to find local places to stay that might be nicer than a larger hotel
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Old May 11th, 2024, 11:29 PM
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OK, Haarlem is lovely but is still touristy in many ways as people stay there rather than in Amsterdam.

If you want somewhere different then maybe Enkhuizen, north of Amsterdam. Plenty to do - admire the old sailing ships, visit the museum, or you could take a day trip to Friesland on the ferry. One change on the train line at Amsterdam Sloterdijk.

Or Utrecht, a bigger city, or Zwolle further north or even Leeuwarden which is on a direct trainline, but is 2 hours away.
I would say Harlingen would be perfect for you but that is another half an hour from Leeuwarden. It's where I live a small city - fifteen thousand residents - but a port so lots to see, and a wide range of restaurants.

'S Hertogenbosch also known as Den Bosch is another option maybe.

All, with the possible exception of Utrecht will be cheaper to stay than Amsterdam.
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Old May 12th, 2024, 03:54 AM
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We have always stayed at Amsterdam on previous visits, the museums being my main draw. Yes, it is busy and touristy, but we like being able to come to the hotel for a break mid afternoon before heading out again later. The NH hotel you mention in your other post is in a quieter neighborhood and you couldnít go wrong with it.

We have made four days trips to Haarlem over the years and itís a lovely little town, much more calm and quiet than Amsterdam, could be ideal to chill and get over jet lag before a busy cycling tour. I highly recommend Wigbolt just off the main square for their craft gin cocktails, a small bar with friendly owners.

IMO you need to figure out if you want to see/do anything particular during the two free days you have, that will help you decide where to stay.
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Old May 12th, 2024, 04:24 AM
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As I wrote you before, I had wished we had spent more time in Delft, but that was only because we had seen the few remaining Vermeer landscapes of Delft in all the museums we had visited in the prior 10 days. I don't think I'd spend three days there, even though its convenient access to the Mauritshuis might be worth the stay. We ourselves stayed the night in Den Hague (not that much of a fan), spending most of our day at the old Mauritshuis (big fan) and I know we would indeed enjoy seeing the new one, although I suspect that larger facility might exhaust us.

But the Mauritshuis and/or Delft is an easy day trip from Amsterdam, and I think you'll be fine staying in Amsterdam as long as you seek out some things off the beaten tourist trail in the city.

Don't get me wrong--I loved all the museums and experiencing the Anne Frank house enough to do them again only two or three years later with more of my family. But my youngest and I knew that what we'd REALLY like to do there, if time had allotted, would be to take one of the private house tours along the canal. Our first visit we could only take a special boat canal tour along the historic houses simply because we had been so very ill before the trip and had little stamina. We've done house tours in New Orleans and Charleston, etc., and it's always amazed us how seeing historic homes has given us a sense of time and place in later reading.

We never had time to spend in the Dutch Resistance Museum. I had also read about Our Lord in the Attic and wished we had had time to take a peek at that, too.

Something else that we did not do in the various Amsterdam museums we enjoyed that we have done several times in big museums in Washington DC and NYC is to take a private tour with an expert. Often these types of tours have special entrance times and ways of maneuvering that get one away from the crowds and we've always found them to give us special insights into the artist or the collection. I know that the Van Gogh museum has such a tour. One huge benefit to taking tours like this is that your guide is the best resource for things like an out-of-the-way good restaurant, another secret history site, etc.

I just looked online to see if there was an Amsterdam cooking class and I'm not seeing anything but the touristy ones. The reason why I'm looking is that during our few days in Paris after our stay in Amsterdam, my daughter and I had recovered our strength enough to take a cooking class on Montmartre with a local chef. We had been to Paris maybe 10 times by then for long and short stays, but the idea of shopping with the chef and then cooking with him is nothing we'd ever done. We learned so much about the various markets near his house, including which French "fast foods" (roast chicken!!!! those roasted potatoes at the bottom!!!) are highly regarded, and we enjoyed meeting everyone else who took the small class, people who had decided to stay in Paris for weeks. We've always felt bad that my husband and our other daughter never got to "see" Paris the way we did that day. Ever since, I've looked up cooking or food tours in various cities.

No matter what you decide, I can't wait to read your eventual trip report.
Happy Planning,
AZ
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Old May 12th, 2024, 05:02 AM
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AZ, not wanting to hijack this thread, could you send PM me info about this class or how to find them?

julies, I have nothing to offer but have been reading your posts and wish you a wonderful trip and am looking forward to a trip report

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Old May 12th, 2024, 05:46 AM
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We spent five days in Haarlem last month (used it as a base for Amsterdam). I didnít care much for Amsterdam but loved Haarlem, especially at night. Itís a beautiful and walkable little city. Plus, it takes about 15 minutes to get into Amsterdam so thatís easy, too.
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Old May 12th, 2024, 08:06 AM
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Haarlem has the Frans Hals Museum to be visited.


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Old May 12th, 2024, 09:57 AM
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I knew all of you could help me out with some thought provoking replies. Thanks.

Stemples Hotel in Haarlam has been renamed to Hotel ML and it has no availability. In fact, I think heitismij2 may be correct about Haarlem being touristy too since so many people stay there. In fact, on booking.com there are only about a dozen lodging hotels available in Haarlem for my dates so that alone may assist in my decision. And, I also tried Bilbo's B &B site without much luck.

geetika is right; I need to make u my mind about what I want to see and do while in Amsterdam. And, thanks for reinforcing that if I do just stick with my original 3 nights in Amsterdam plan I'd probably be fine in the location of the NH hotel I was contemplating.

Kureiff-- could you elaborate a bit on why you didn't particularly care for Amsterdam?

AlessandraZoe--I had both the Resistance Museum and the Our Lord in the Attic church on my list of things I possibly wanted to see. And, I read somewhere about a food tour (not cooking class tour) that sounds intriguing because it more focuses on the ethnic foods in De Pijp.

Michael, thanks for the photos.

So I have 3 votes for staying in Haarlem as a base and visiting Amsterdam and about an equal number for just staying in Amsterdam. And, I still need to investigate heitmidj2's further away suggestions.

So now I really have a lot to mull over. And, I have to sit down some more with my guidebooks. Thanks all.
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Old May 12th, 2024, 10:02 AM
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Michael, on our Northern-Painters blitz with youngest daughter throughout Belgium and the Netherlands, we became big Fran Hals fans.

gomiki--I'm sure Julies will forgive the hijack. This cooking class experience was eons ago, and it was just a fledgling business then--Cook n' with Class. Eric was just starting out, and we all were cooking then in his tiny-but-well-designed home kitchen in Montmartre. My daughter and I stayed a bit after everyone had left with him because he realized that we were repeat visitors from Paris, that we were of two age groups he wanted, etc. We for sure felt his design had a future because it was an "under-the-layer" learning opportunity, and we'd do our best to recommend him back home to our friend group of educators, professors, lawyers. As I said, the market experience alone was worth the class, and when my same daughter who attended went on a few years later to spend her year abroad in Paris where she shopped in markets almost every day, it paid back bigtime. The company seems to have done well.

But this swings back to why I like food tours and cooking classes and recommended doing something like this to Julies in Belgium, too. First, these opportunities are not part of a "If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium" crowd or a cruise crowd. Second, it's the chance to see real life in whatever location you are in. Third--and the more important one for Julies--one doesn't need to be a couple or a family. Many singles have been on these tours with us. Several times we've dragged a "singleton" to a drink or dinner later because we've enjoyed their company so much that we want to hear so much more about them.

AZ

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Old May 12th, 2024, 10:21 AM
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I agree with AZ, these cooking classes add to the whole experience. We did one on the Amalfi Coast and in Naples in April/May 2022. Last week we were in Krakow and my sister and niece did a pierogi making class and loved it. Adds to an extra pizzazz and is so much fun 😃
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Old May 12th, 2024, 10:45 AM
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We have stayed in Amsterdam twice, and also once each in Haarlem, Leiden and Den Haag. I would be happy to stay again at any of them. Amsterdam can be low key if you stay away from the red light area and Central Station. Our last time in Amsterdam we stayed walking distance to the Rijksmuseum due to visiting the Vermeer exhibit multiple times, and also the Van Gogh museum. We thought the area was fairly low key with multiple good restaurants in walking distance. As many locals in some restaurants as tourists. For us any time we go to the Netherlands we are going to spend some time in Amsterdam for the museums, and we will always go each trip to Den Haag for the Mauritius Museum and The Girl with the Pearl Erring painting. Den Haag is worth it just for that plus has plenty else to see. Haarlem and Leiden were fine too and we enjoyed a day trip to Delft and the factory tour.

The Anne Frank house and the Rembrandt museum are well worth it.

I think it really depends on what sights you really want to see and what you donít want to miss.
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Old May 12th, 2024, 01:31 PM
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I think touristy is in the eye of the beholder. There will be a lot of people coming to look at the Anne Frank Huis or the Rijksmuseum. Does that make them touristy? Undoubtedly. But are they worth seeing? Yes. And if I didn't want to fight the crowds I would not visit them.

You can choose to see lesser sights if you are really so concerned about crossing paths with tourists. The stag do-groups will be frequenting different sights and will be in bars most of the time, where you won't be. Pick the NH hotel. It will put you in a district where you are less likely to meet those people.

If you really have misgivings about Amsterdam altogether (and I would not), stay in Den Haag. There will be a lot fewer tourists there. You can go out and visit Scheveningen or see the Panorama Mesdag.

Lavandula
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Old May 12th, 2024, 01:43 PM
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AZ, thank you so much for the details. It sounds like a wonderful experience. We are just back from Paris and as we always say, "Next time!"
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Old May 12th, 2024, 01:48 PM
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kurieff, what didnít you like about Amsterdam? It is a relatively small city and we enjoyed it. Harlem - did not really care for it and havenít returned there in subsequent trips to the NL. But we really love being in cities.
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Old May 12th, 2024, 04:40 PM
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Originally Posted by HappyTrvlr
kurieff, what didnít you like about Amsterdam? It is a relatively small city and we enjoyed it. Harlem - did not really care for it and havenít returned there in subsequent trips to the NL. But we really love being in cities.
I think it was our Airbnb and the neighborhood. We loved our accommodations: half a block off the canals and about three blocks to the church square. We had great weather and kept our door open when we were there, and the cutest three year old wandered in to say hi.

We ran into many bachelorette and bachelor parties in Amsterdam. It was less clean than Haarlem. We did have a great dinner at Cornerstore, though.

In the evenings, the squares were full of people and I liked how beautiful and uncrowded it was at night. But it was easy to get to Amsterdam less the party scene.
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Old May 12th, 2024, 06:38 PM
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I think I am probably going to just end up sticking to my original plan to lodge in Amsterdam, especially since I am picky (not about luxury, but about other lodging details) and there just aren't that many places to stay in Haarlem. And, I figure if I do get the feeling that I want to take a break I can take the train somewhere else out of Amsterdam for the day. I'll be honest in that another issue for me is that I like serendipity which is not possible in a place where bookings for the most popular places/sites/attractions have to be booked long ahead of time. I know we are all different, and some people absolutely need to have a plan way ahead of time for each day; that's not me.

Yes, I think part of my apprehension is definitely the party scene. And, I am also thinking about hordes of people, shoulder to shoulder like they are at a US state fair--my version of hell. But, I think I can figure out how to avoid places that might conceivably be like that. While I am definitely interested in the Anne Frank story and read her book the first time (of many times) when I was in junior high school, I won't be visiting her house. I know myself and know that I really dislike being in a shuffling herd of people who are moving through an overcrowded exhibit in what is usually a one way direction.

And, I definitely know Amsterdam will be busy. I started researching possible food tours, and some of the more popular ones (not the ones I might be interested in) are nearly fully booked for 3 weeks from now. The one on Indonesian cooking that I am quite interested in is also fully booked for my dates; I am on the waitlist.

I just found this Amsterdam love it or hate it thread from 20 years ago, and it was fun to read. I wonder if things have changed significantly in the past 20 years.
Amsterdam. Love it or Hate It ? Your opinion?
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