The Mole Diaries: Amsterdam (Volume 2)
Ellie is studying English Literature at Surrey University, and is spending her year abroad doing an Events Marketing internship in Amsterdam. Here is her guide to living in the city, getting around by bicycle, food shopping, things to do, and the nightlife in Amsterdam.
Moving to Amsterdam was daunting but of course very exciting also. Having only been here once before for a student weekend, I knew very little about the city and if I’m honest, I couldn’t remember much. This didn’t faze me though and I continued to move here for a year’s internship during my 3rd year while studying English Literature at Surrey University. My internship was for an Events Marketing agency and I found the job first and wanted that and it so happened to be here, so that’s how I chose my destination.
I moved here knowing no one and with the naivety to think I would make friends easily and settle quickly. My first month or so was hard, as I had to learn everything the hard way. Although hopefully this post will save lots of people from the same experiences!
1. Initial move
If you are moving to Amsterdam in the summer check if there is anything going on in the city on your move date as the summer is constantly busy. I didn’t do this and ended up moving on Gay Pride weekend! This is possibly the most hectic weekend in Amsterdam with thousands of people covering the streets and canals. You can imagine how difficult it was to weave your way through the crowds with you and your family members each tugging a suitcase.
I found my accommodation on apartments.nl and was lucky enough that it looked the same, if not better in person than online. This was a risky move, as I couldn’t come to view places to stay before my move. Where I’m living is on the outskirts of the Red Light District, which is one of the safest places to live as it is frequently regulated and policed so don’t be afraid of it. Here are some helpful tips:
1. Birth Certificate
Before you move check if your birth certificate has been stamped. Mine was not as I have never had to use it before, but if you are living in The Netherlands you have to register (at the City Hall). I had to send mine back to the U.K for it to be ‘legalised’ which delayed my registering process.
2. BSN number
After you are registered you will receive a BSN number (burgerservicenummer), which, you can then use to open a Dutch bank account. Opening an account is very easy and the staffs in Rabobank (chain I chose) were very helpful. Also check if your employer has liability insurance for you, if not, you can take this out at the bank for a monthly fee or €40 for the year. This also covered me while riding my bike if I hit an expensive car for example.
3. Dutch SIM card
I would recommend sorting a Dutch phone/sim out quickly. For me it hasn’t such a necessity as EU calls and texts were already included in my contract and you can honestly get wifi everywhere.
3. Health Insurance
If you are staying here for an extended time (more than a few months) you will need to take out Dutch Health Insurance. Unfortunately your EHIC card is not enough; of course you can visit the doctors with this, but to cover costs and to avoid any hefty fines get insurance (they can fine you for all the months you haven’t had insurance if they find out). Luckily for me, my university supplied adequate insurance.
Although public transport is frequent and easy, it is expensive. For example on the trams you can only get an hours ticket for €2.40 and then the next is a 24hr ticket. This is ridiculous as realistically how many journeys can you do in one hour?! You can however buy a discount travel card (OV chipkaart), similar to an Oyster card. However, I bought myself a Dutch bike (yes I did have to get used to the pedal break as apposed to handle breaks!) and I use this to get everywhere. Cycling really is the best way to get around Amsterdam and the city is completely adapted for bikes – they rule the road! The initial cost is something you have to take on the chin because you will save a lot of money in the long run. The most important thing is to buy a good sturdy chain and always try to lock your bike to a rooted object, like a lamppost or the allocated bike stands. I bought a bike with a crate on the front handlebars, which saved me many times after I had done a big food shop. Don’t worry about not having a cool looking bike; you will fit in more if its old, rusty and makes weird noises while cycling.
The best thing you can do once you’ve bought your bike is to take it to Vondelpark and cycle around. This helped me a lot as cycling in Amsterdam is kind of scary, so this improved my confidence significantly and I soon started to enjoy it.
Top tip: If you need to travel far via train try looking up group travel tickets on Facebook. If you find a group of people all travelling the same journey, at the same time then you can collectively buy a group ticket for around €5 each.
5. Food shopping
I know this seems like a strange topic to talk about but I had no idea where to buy food when I moved. The most popular store is ‘Albert Heijn’, maybe a little more expensive so most people shop at markets. Be aware, Albert Heijn only sell wine and beer, you will have to visit a liquor store like Gall&Gall to get spirits (normally located close by).
The Dutch love markets where fresh foods are sold, they have daily markets in places like Nieumarkt and a bigger market every Saturday. Albert Cuyp market is also a very popular place to pick up anything and everything, you will also never be far from a meat or cheese store in the centre.
6. Things to do
I know that to a group of young people saying use social media might seems obvious but you really can find lots of advice and suggestions online! A great discovery is an online blog called ‘yourlittleblackbook’, this vlogger uploads things to go, places to visit, and restaurants…you name it. She started with her blog for Amsterdam but has taken it much further and also has guides for cities all over the world. I found an expat netball club on Facebook and met a lot of great people through that so there are many possibilities.
Although I have visited Anne Frank's house and the Rijksmuseum, I wouldn’t suggest purchasing a museum card (museumkaart) as they are €60 each and if you are like me, exploring the city with your friends is more fun than visiting museums.
Meeting the locals
I am very lucky to have made friends with a group of Dutch girls who have lived here for around four years. This has been great as they are very eager to show me around and for me to experience Amsterdam from a local’s perspective instead of a tourist's. I know this isn’t as easy for some but I strongly recommend befriending Dutch people to ensure you get the maximum out of your year abroad!
In a nutshell, there is always something happening in Amsterdam so make sure you get out there and find it!
When I told people I was moving here they went into show-off mode thinking they know everything about Amsterdam because they came once for a lads' weekend and drank and smoked themselves crazy. Said people told me that Amsterdam has two clubs. Well my friend, they were incorrect. Although Amsterdam does have more bars and pubs, there are also some great clubs:
1. Leidseplein is a very popular place to drink and party.
2. Just off this square is Jimmywoo, a very cool R&B club (pricey) and also Club Nova.
3. Close by is Chupitos a very fun shots bar! You wouldn’t want to spend all night here but it is a great place to dance and enjoy some cool shots.
4. Just off Spui is a small fun club called Disco Dolly, which is very popular with the locals!
5. Also not to be forgotten; Club Air, Escape and Supperclub.
These are my favourite clubs so far and I’ve had some great nights in all of them!
Top tip: Don’t be afraid to talk to people and go out on your own! The Dutch are very friendly but remember they are known for being direct so don’t be alarmed if they are very blunt once you get to know each other.
If you aren’t very confident with speaking Dutch, don’t worry everyone speaks fluent English! This is fantastic in one sense that it is super easy to get by, but then at the same time it restricts how often you practice your Dutch.
Spread the word amongst your friends that you are moving to Amsterdam. I have a different friend visiting me almost every month! It is very cheap to get here (especially if you book in advance) and they will have free accommodation if they stay at yours. Everyone loves being abroad with your bessie and exploring 'Dam all over again. Trust me, everyone will love to visit you if you are in a cool place like Amsterdam.
So get out there and enjoy it!