(Note: I wrote this on the plane right after leaving the city, and only just got around to publishing it now — almost a year later.)
This morning, en route back to the US for the summer from Astana, I was stamped into my 30th country, the Netherlands. I booked a KLM flight from Astana to Detroit with a 7 hour layover in Amsterdam, and with that much time its insane not to go into the city and wander around the old city centre.
Taking the train from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal station is probably the easiest airport-to-city transport experience ever. A return ticket from/to the airport is only 9.20€ and the trains depart from platforms under the arrivals hall. The airport also has tons of luggage storage options so you don’t have to lug around a carry on through the city.
Amsterdam Centraal station is very aptly named, as its in the heart of the historic city centre. Walking straight out of the station will lead you along the main street, Damrak, and its beautiful canals. If you are lucky like I was, you can see the buildings reflect off of the water like a mirror. It was a very calm morning with few people around which made the view all the better (but honestly who would be voluntarily be wandering around at 7:30 AM?).
Following Damrak will take you to the Dam Square, and continuing roughly in the same direction from that point you’ll reach the Rijksmuseum and the famous IAMsterdam sign after crossing a few canals. Along the way you can stroll through the Bloemenmarket to see the tulips and tulip bulbs for sale from the surrounding countryside. If you are as lucky as I was, you may witness a bicyclist crashing into a Mini Cooper in what is quite possibly the most Dutch thing ever.
Once you reach the museum, you’ll see that the park/square has a number of other musuems inside of it, such as the Momo Museum and the Van Gogh Museum. The Momo Museum had a Banksy exhibition and a couple of pieces were visible from the street, which was super cool (also free wifi that worked from the park outside). Unfortunately, due to the early morning timing of my layover I wasn’t able to go into any of the museums and have enough time to make the ticket worthwhile.
Running along the canals parallel to Damrak are a number of beautiful streets, including some which hold the infamous red light district. I walked along one of these roads on my way back to the train station, though this street mostly held restaurants with a few sex oriented businesses scattered about. The bulk of the district was one street/canal over, though I did see some of the stereotypical glass rooms as I was walking along (all empty, as business is probably not so great at 9 AM on a weekday – almost everyone wandering around were over 50 and in a tour group).
I went back to the airport after about 3 hours of wandering around in order to make it back for my connecting flight. For anyone looking to explore the city on a layover — and you’d be crazy not to — be sure to be back at the airport 2.5 hours early because security is incredibly strict and slow. Immigration is quick and easy for US/Canadian/etc. citizens with self-service lanes, but the rest of the security process took seemingly forever (why is it necessary to remove every charger from bags?!), so don’t waste too much time on the land-side of the airport.