One of the greatest things about living in London is that when your friends tell you they're planning a trip to Europe, you can get on a plane or a train and pop over to wherever they are with relative ease.
In this case, my friend Kaitlin found a great deal on roundtrip flights from DC to Amsterdam and she had to do little convincing to get me to join her there.
Like most people, Amsterdam had always been on my bucket list. I wanted to see its mismatched buildings standing along iconic canals and to get that perfect bicycle shot that everyone seems to post on Instagram.
A city known as well for its charming culture as it is for its hazed nights, a trip to Amsterdam is entirely what you make of it.
During our trip, we danced the night away, celebrated Kings Day, explored the city, visited the Red Light District, and spent a Sunday among the tulips.
I met Kaitlin late Thursday night at our hotel. We caught up quickly while I changed and drank the glass of wine she poured for me on arrival, and were out the door in no time.
Our first stop was a dive bar in Jordaan; soon we saw a long line of people across the street, so we left and hopped in.
A few minutes and a cover charge later, we were standing in a massive underground club.
The place was cavernous, with psychedelic lights, bumping music, and more people than I could count.
Like most single girls on holiday we immediately began scoping the crowd to see if anyone piqued our interest. Kaitlin found herself talking to a Spanish Dutchman and I found myself talking to a regular Dutchman. He was really tall so naturally my opening line was "How tall are you?" (He was 6'8").
Soo smooth right?
But hey, it worked, so no complaints here.
Fast forward a few hours, drinks, and dances later and all of a sudden it's 5:30 in the morning and we haven't left yet.
I'd tell you the name of the club we went to but I have absolutely know idea what it was called. All I know is that I recommend it.
Friday morning was comical. We were in absolute shambles, bumping into each other as we got ourselves ready for the day, laughing at our night, and chatting excitedly about our upcoming day. By some miracle, we made it over to the docks for our 5 hour boat cruise to celebrate King's Day.
king's day 2018
King's Day is a National holiday celebrating King Willem-Alexander's birthday.
Every year on 27th April, more than a million Dutch, expats, and tourists flock to the Amsterdam for the celebration.
Attendees, decked out in orange in honor of the Dutch Royal Family, can make their way through street carnivals, performances, open air markets, or spend the day on a boat cruising through one of the city's many canals.
We bought tickets to a 5 hour boat cruise along the border of the city. There were three levels, each with it's own DJ, filled to the brim with people decked out in ridiculous outfits. We made some friends along the way, like these guys who were there as part of a Stag-do (what European's call a bachelor party).
After the cruise was over we found our way to a local pizza place because there wasn't any food on the boat cruise. I'm pretty sure we set the Guinness World Record for the fastest eaten pizzas. I ate mine so fast I barely remember what it tasted like.
We spent the rest of the night wandering along the canals. We sipped on some wine and hung out with a crowd that had gathered along one of the canals. We had a funny encounter with two South African's, one lives in Amsterdam and the other coincidentally lives in London, swapping travel stories and talking about the places we all live.
It goes without saying that we slept in on Saturday morning.
Amsterdam markets and culture
Saturday was a day spent exploring the city. We ventured through the city's many markets, searching for souvenirs to commemorate our trip. The city's market culture started in the early 18th century with its first market in the Jewish Quarter. Today, there are 12 daily outdoor markets and 15 seasonal markets. We walked through two of the most well-known markets, the Waterlooplein Flea Market and Dappermarkt.
After the markets we made our way to the Van Gogh Museum and the I AM AMSTERDAM sign.
Because if you didn't get a pic with the sign did you even go to Amsterdam?
Unfortunately, we weren't able to get into the Van Gogh Museum because we didn't know that tickets need to be booked in advance. The I AM AMSTERDAM was absolutely over-run with people. We snapped a few pics but resolved that we would go back early Sunday morning to get better shots (which we did).
We wandered around for the rest of the day with no particular destination in mind and accidentally landed in the Red Light District.
Red light district
The Red Light District needs no introduction; it's the very root of Amsterdam's notoriety, and most people have heard of the it whether they've visited the city or not.
As early as the 1300s, women carrying red lanterns (due to their flattering light) met sailors near the port, and bars, clubs and entertainment venues flooded into the area. But prostitution wasn't legal until 1810, and brothels weren't legalised until 2000.
Within the District you'll find outrageous sex shops, haze-filled coffee shops, peep shows, brothels, a sex museum, prostitutes in the windows, and lots of neon red light. The women were of all shapes and sizes, with their hair and makeup done to the nines. In the age of escorts and online hookups, it seemed backwards to see these women on full display, but in a field that generates around €650 million annually it is clearly still a major contributor to the country's culture and economy.
We'd made a pact at the beginning of the day that we weren't going to stay out late Saturday night, and surprisingly we were back in bed by 11:30pm (yes, that's considered early in Amsterdam).
Sunday was my favorite day - the day we went to Kuekenhof.
It's no exaggeration when I say that Kuekenhof is one of the world's largest and most beautiful gardens in the world situated in Lisse, South Holland, Netherlands. It is accessible by bus from the train stations of Haarlem, Leiden and Schiphol.
Only open from March to mid-May each year, over 7 million bulbs are planted each Spring and a variety of 800 varieties of tulips bloom. We spent hours wandering around the gardens, taking in the strange varieties of tulips and the special exhibits.
I have never in my life seen such bright colors.
Bursts of colour everywhere you look. Some so bright that I think my brain had trouble processing them. I felt like Jonas after he saw the color red for the first time in The Giver.
While the gardens are known for their tulips, you can also see hyacinths, daffodils, crocus, orchids, and other spring flowers. I could go on and on about this place. Truly, it was beautiful.
Kuekenhof was the perfect way to end the trip.
Amsterdam has so much to offer,. Whether a romantic weekend away or a getaway with a bunch of friends, Amsterdam caters to everyone’s needs. I was very happy to have Amsterdam as my first city break after moving to London, and I highly recommend it to anyone considering going.
Trust me, it's worth it.