I found that Amsterdam is a lot more expensive in comparison to Manchester. However, there are ways to live cheaply in Amsterdam. Here are a few top tips to help you navigate Amsterdam on a budget!
Rent a bike – I rented my bike from Swapfiets for €20 a month, this includes any repairs for free and a replacement bike if your bike gets stolen! I found this was cheaper than buying a bike in the unfortunate event that your bike may be stolen. It puts your mind at ease knowing you will get a replacement at a small cost provided you have the key. Biking is not only a good form of exercise, but also free to ride around the city. It is therefore much cheaper than constantly getting public transport!
Buying a museumkaart – this was €64 and allows free access to or discount on over 400 museums in the Netherlands. Going to a museum is a cheap way to fill your day and there are so many museums catering to everyone’s interests, it would be hard to find a museum that doesn’t peak your interest.
Avoiding Albert Heijn – these shops are on almost every corner of Amsterdam, but their prices equate to Waitrose prices in the UK. Therefore, I found going to Lidl and Aldi meant I was getting more for my money than doing my weekly shop in Albert Heijn. Also Jumbo was another shop that is cheaper than Albert Heijn and props up just as frequently around the city.
Shopping in thrift shops – there are a multitude of thrift shops all around Amsterdam, not only can you source cheap clothes but also cheap household items too! Shopping for cheap deals will save you more money in the long run!
Amsterdam has a multitude of museums on offer across the city and in my short time here I have managed to visit quite a few of these spaces. A lot of these museums I have been able to attend for free through purchasing a museumkaart, a museum pass that cost me €64 for a year. Here is a shortlist of the coolest museums that I think warrant a much needed visit if friends and family come to visit you in Amsterdam or to enjoy by yourself!
The Cobra Museum is situated in Amstelveen, around a thirty minute bike ride away from the city centre. Here they showcased an exhibition of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s most famous works. Whilst also retelling their eventful relationship as a couple. I was most surprised to hear that Frida had an affair with Trotsky (the Russian Bolshevik) and that her relationship with Rivera was an open marriage. The cobra museum is known for showcasing art with a critical lens on the world we live in, so will peak the interest of those fascinated by anything anti-capitalist or critical.
I stumbled upon this museum whilst wandering in the city centre. It is located nearby the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Moco Museum. At the time I visited, it presented an ‘Expressionisme Kolonialisme’ exhibition by Kirchner en Nolde, this exhibition focused on colonial African art which created a space to critique the male white gaze in the colonial era. Not only was it interesting for me as an anthropology student, but I think it would interest anyone fascinated in aspects of race, gender and power within art. They host a range of exhibitions all year round so if you are interested in art this museum is sure to offer something for everyone.
The Fashion For Good Museum
This was one of the more interactive museums I visited in Amsterdam. This museum is for anyone interested in fashion, sustainability, effects of global capitalism, fast fashion or activism. It not only told you the negative effects of fashion on the environment, but gave you tips and ideas to change your actions within fashion consumption for the better. I bought biodegradable glitter here, as most glitter has microplastics that contribute to the waste in the world. I definitely learnt a thing or two about how my clothes are made on the other side of the world as well as the science behind making clothes. It was also free with the museum pass.
The Cannabis Museum
The Netherlands are among a small number of European countries that have legalised the consumption and possession of a small amount of Cannabis; and Amsterdam is a particularly popular location where tourists go to smoke weed. Therefore, it is only fitting that there is a museum here that outlines the history and prominence of this drug across the globe. This museum was interesting in a few ways. I learnt about the history of the war on drugs and how the popularity of cannabis use has still managed to withstand this opposition in the states and elsewhere. It also outlined the medicinal benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease, whereby it showed a video of a man who stopped shaking when smoked. Also, I learnt that Shiva, the Hindu God, supposedly smoked cannabis frequently. Whilst the smoking and acceptance of weed is a mixed response, the museum posited useful information on a drug that has widespread popularity across our planet.
Amongst cannabis, Amsterdam is also famous for the sex workers in the Red Light District and the city does not shy away from sex as a tourist attraction. This Museum presents both serious and amusing elements of sex with pictures of erotic women and men in pornographic settings. It is definitely worth a visit, giving a history of sex within pornography and telling stories of key sex celebrities like Marilyn Munroe.
I loved this museum as it displayed a Banksy Exhibition. Banksy being an anonymous graffiti artist with his art represented a powerful anti-capitalist rhetoric, the museum also had some rooms with trippy mirrors and lights which was fun to walk through and experience. Although small, the Moco museum is definitely worth a visit, especially if you are a fan of Banksy’s work! It is half price with the Musuem pass too!
Van Gogh Museum
This huge building showcased most of Van Gogh’s works, whilst outlining his tumultuous battle with mental health and learning the craft of intricate art. I learnt that he cut his own ear off before admitting himself to a mental hospital, this depression was reflected in a few of his key pieces like sorrow. However, the breadth of different genres Van Gogh painted was impressive, my favourite pieces were ‘Skull of a Skeleton with a smoking cigarette’ and his paintings of Japan. I found there was a lot more to Van Gogh than the Starry night and the Sunflowers paintings and his career as an artist was anything but boring.
Anne Frank museum
This is one of the most popular museums in Amsterdam and rightly so. The museum is actually the annex where Anne hid. It follows the famous story of Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who spent two years in hiding during the Second World War in the Netherlands, fleeing Jewish persecution from Nazi German takeover. There is an audio tour that you follow throughout the museum and it is free with the museum card! Due to its popularity you will need to book in advance but it is a must see when in Amsterdam!
Homesickness is a natural and common thing most people will experience when moving to a new country to study or work. The best way I found to tackle a feeling of dislocation and feel more grounded was rooted in bringing slices of home with me on my adventure. Here are some top tips I found helped:
Bringing home comforts with you – some of my flatmates had a blanket they always slept with, their favourite perfume or their favourite snacks from home. I had my childhood teddy bear. These simple items make you feel more comfortable in a space in which you are not familiar with.
Decorate your room – there are so many ways you can decorate your rooms, I had pictures of my friends and family, politics posters and a tapestry. You can also buy things within your time abroad. My first few weeks in Amsterdam gave me plenty of opportunities to buy decorative items in vintage flea markets (which were really cheap too!)
Download/ buy a VPN system onto your laptop – I paid for NordVPN which allowed me to watch UK netflix and Amazon Prime shows. This allowed me to stay more connected to the things I was watching at home whilst also enjoying streaming shows playing in the Netherlands.
An important ‘top tip’ to tackle any feeling of displacement is to keep the mind distracted – I spent the first few weeks of living in Amsterdam learning origami and visiting museums. I also strongly suggest making plans of things to do and lists of places to visit – making lists gives structure to a situation that may seem chaotic to your body and mind.
Go to welcome events/ make friends with flatmates, I would urge you to make friends with people from different cultures and countries around the world. Not only does it give you companions you can visit in the future, but it brings up interesting conversations of cultural comparisons. Talking about home with a person with a completely different perspective can help to ease feelings of dislocation as it helps to see the world in different ways.
Take lots of photos and pick up mementos of your activities to keep a track of your international experience. I keep a scrapbook of the places I have been to. Within this book I write down my thoughts and feelings about the year as well as sticking in pictures and postcards of places I’ve visited.
Feelings of dislocation come and go when you’re suddenly immersed in a different culture with new people. But feelings of disarray and disturbance are not all bad. Taking time to relax and reflect on your exciting travels grounds you to your surroundings in encapsulating ways.
You’re in a new place with exciting opportunities to try new things, embrace it!
I have been in Amsterdam a little over two weeks now before the semester starts at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VUA). This list is a little snapshot of the peculiar places I have been to and experienced in and around the city which I recommend to any city newcomer!
Thrift shop – T Hartje
This quaint shop had really cheap and funky trinkets with a mixture of clothes, jewellery, glasses, books and vinyl records. I bought shot glasses here with my flatmates; which we bedazzled with beads also brought from this shop! It is perfect for the student budget to buy little mementos of your travels! It was only a twenty minute bike ride from my accommodation in Uilenstede in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is known for being a really green city with beautiful parks. Beatrixpark is one of these large parks with bike lanes passing through it, meaning you can admire the beauty on the bike or on foot. There are also plenty of benches where you can sit and observe the green spaces. It truly is a place oozing with peace and tranquility. There is also a cool sculpture (image two) designed by Rehwinkel-Windenburg and Van Pieck to Beast – it reminded me of the Black Lives Matter movement of power to the people.
This beautiful brewery/restaurant is a converted church with an amazing high rise roof. Not only was the beer a reasonable price of €5 for a pint, but the atmosphere was relaxed and chilled – a vibe that encapsulates a lot of the Dutch people’s lifestyle in the capital! I also highly recommend the food, I had prawns and fries which were delicious.
This is one of my favourite parks in Amsterdam so far! It is located only a thirty minute walk from Uilenstede in the south of Amsterdam. This huge area is home to a multitude of sculptures by local artists (see one of the sculptures in the image four) which you can explore via an audio trial describing all of the pieces of art within the grounds. Additionally, they offer a fun train ride around the park every weekend!
Mini Cars – Canta Cars
These mini cars are all over Amsterdam, designed originally for disabled people, these mini cars go up to 45 Km per hour – a lot faster than bikes! They’re beyond adorable and amused me to no end as I was biking around the city. If you ever visit Amsterdam, be sure to look out for these minicars, once you spot them they’re very hard to ignore!
SLA – Vegan/Vegetarian restaurant
My flatmates and I stumbled upon this restaurant randomly whilst perusing the city. It offered the freshest, delicious and reasonably priced vegetarian/vegan food. I had the vegan ice cream and bliss balls which were amazing and gave me much needed energy to keep on cycling for the rest of the afternoon. Even if you are not a veggie, the food is too good to pass up!
Cobra Museum – Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Exhibition
This exhibition not only displayed Kahlo and Rivera’s best works, but shed insight into the pair’s interesting relationship as lovers. I was shocked to learn that Kahlo had a sexual relationship with the Russian Bolshevik Leon Trotsky! In image six were shoes I was dying to buy (but weren’t for sale) in the exhibition – a must see in Amsterdam.
IJ-Hallen Flea Market
This flea market is the largest in Europe! With an entrance fee of €5, you will find a myriad of things for sale. From earrings to clothes to household appliances. You will be sure to get some really cheap deals! I bought two vintage jumpers for €5, a deal unheard of in Manchester! It is definitely worth a visit even if you aren’t a fan of shopping!