Does amsterdam live up to all the hype?

Amsterdam: probably one of the most talked about cities in the world. Myself and two friends made a four night stop-over in the Dutch Capital this year and were not disappointed.

Being a student, luxury was not even an option when travelling, so we stayed in a basic but comfortable hostel in the middle of the Red Light District. 

It was called Hotel the Globe and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. Be warned, on first appearances this hostel is a bit run-down, drab and dull, but over the week it provided us with three comfortable beds in a small, basically furnished room which was always clean and warm. 
The hostel’s main feature was its large sports bar on the ground floor. In fact the bar doubled up as a reception. Bar food is served every day from 12am to 9pm. The food was average at best, but seeing as restaurants, cafes and food stalls are so readily available around the city there really is no need to experience the food here. 
At €31 a night for a private triple room that could not have been more centrally located, the room really was a steal. 
As mentioned above, Amsterdam is not a place that will let you go hungry. There is restaurants, cafes and food stalls to be found at every corner, offering every cuisine imaginable. 
Food prices average at about the same as Ireland and so are reasonable enough. However, be aware that the Dutch are much more expectant of tips than the Irish. We were practically harassed into tipping in some places. Pancakes and waffles are incredibly popular throughout the city and are absolutely delicious. Bakeries are also very prominent and were the perfect place to pick up something delectable for breakfast or simply a midday holiday treat. 
Architecture in Amsterdam is simply stunning. The channels which run through the Dutch capital sculpt it beautifully and create an atmosphere of serenity throughout the city.
Amsterdam is where modern architecture developed organically between facades of historical buildings.The mixture of the modern with the archaic is something so wonderfully unique and definitely my favourite aspect of the city.
Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s public park consisting of 120 acres of land and is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon strolling. There is also an open air theatre, playground and many statues dotted around the park. Be sure to have your camera at the ready, both when in Vondelpark and around the city, because there is always something worthy of a photograph. 
Of course, by staying in the Red Light District we were truly in the thick of Amsterdam and its liberal culture. Possibly one of Amsterdam’s main claims to fame is its legality of soft drug use and it is a law that attracts millions of people to the city each year. 
I have to admit that it was a point of curiosity for me. Not having smoked myself, I was sceptical as to how a city could function when a lot of its inhabitants are high for the majority of the week.
It has to be said that weed is definitely one of the central focuses in the ‘Dam’. Everywhere you turn there is either coffee shops housing hundreds of people smoking, shops selling weed merchandise or simply an overpowering smell. However, its legality caused no problems for us as tourists. The only places that we saw people who were obviously high were in the actual coffeeshops.
The streets themselves, both during day and night were completely well composed (much more so than the typical Irish street on a Saturday night) and we never came across any trouble. However, as we stayed in the Red Light District we came into close contact with Amsterdam’s other liberal law of prostitution. 
From as early as 3 in the afternoon, semi-naked women began to appear in windows throughout the Red Light District. I have to admit I was very taken a back at first, but after a day or two failed to even notice it. Outside of the Red Light District there wasn’t a hint of its legality and so it is easy to avoid if you’d prefer to.
Overall I was very impressed with Amsterdam, a city whose appearance is so quaint and old fashioned, but yet is among the most liberated and modern in the world. As well as being beautifully scenic, it offers loads to see and do and easily kept us entertained for five days. Without doubt, the Dutch capital is a must see. 

Photo: Bert Kaufmann/ Flickr