Amsterdam: Charmed by the Canals, at Last

I didn’t like Amsterdam.

Believe it or not, the first time I visited, I just did not connect with the city. I expected to fall in love with the picture perfect canals, but instead I felt “meh” about the whole place, waiting to be amazed but never quite getting there. Looking back, it’s clear there was one major problem with my trip:

It rained. And rained. And rained. And then it rained some more.

Usually, I’m relatively immune to weather issues when traveling. Sure, dealing with the elements can be a pain, but knowing I only have a limited amount of time on a trip forces me to make the best of it. Usually.

With Amsterdam, however, I could not do it. The rain was near-constant during the days my sister and I spent in town, and I found it difficult not to become depressed by the weather. Our sad situation came to its disastrous apex when we rode the tram to Dam Square only to have it downpour the minute we stepped out our tram car. Like, legitimately downpour: think heavy rains, blown by the wind straight into our faces, shoes soaked through, guidebooks turned into soggy messes, and rapid-fire photo-taking so as not to ruin my camera in the deluge.

Amsterdam Canals8

We barely glanced around Dam Square before moving on, spirits low. We walked to the Floating Flower Market, a place that I, by all rights, should have loved (and indeed I did love it, this time around), and I felt ambivalent about it. We half-heartedly browsed through the tulip stalls, but our minds were really on one thing: finding a restaurant where we could sit down, dry off, and warm up over good food. It’s hard to focus on the beautiful city around you when all you can think about is getting inside.

Fast forward three years, and I found myself once again in Amsterdam. To be honest, given my spotty history with the city, it was not my first choice plan: I had wanted to spend Easter weekend in Istanbul, but flights turned out to be way too expensive. So, Amsterdam it was. A bunch of factors led me to return, but one of the big ones was this: I needed to give the city another chance.

Amsterdam Canals9

In the weeks and then days leading up to my trip, I checked the weather forecast religiously. Most of the days were projected to be sunny, with a light drizzle thrown in here and there. A little rain, I can handle, I thought. A little rain will be fine – just not a lot. And then I crossed my fingers and hoped the weather would hold.

Hold it did, and my weekend in Amsterdam turned out to be absolutely lovely. It rained once or twice, but overall, the skies were sunny. And, to my delight, with the weather came an entirely new perspective on Amsterdam.

I did what I always do in a new city: I walked, and walked, and walked some more. I wound up and down little streets, crossed bridges over the canals, and snapped a million pictures of bicycles. Hell, to be honest: I snapped a million pictures of every single thing, every place I went. While I was doing that, I kept having a reoccurring thought: how could I have been so wrong about this place?

I stayed in the Nine Streets neighborhood, and I think that location contributed to my newfound enthusiasm for Amsterdam. I could not have loved the area more: I found “my” place for breakfast just around the corner (and I ate there three days in a row), I window shopped at the cute boutiques lining the streets, and I ended each day with a long walk, usually as the sun was setting. The canals are always lovely, but they just may be at their peak in the early evening, bathed in golden light and feeling oh-so-magical.

Amsterdam Canals10

Of all the places I have revisited, I don’t think I have ever experienced a complete travel 180 like I have with Amsterdam. I went from ambivalence to adoration in the course of four short days. I replaced memories of hiding out from the rain in our hotel lobby with staying out as long as possible, determined to soak up as much canal-side charm as I could.

I’m so glad I gave the city a second chance.

12 thoughts on “Amsterdam: Charmed by the Canals, at Last

    1. Totally agree – so much of the city looks picture-perfect, but there’s a lot of grittiness too. It’s definitely become one of my favorite cities.

  1. Before I even read the third line I thought to myself, “Oh no! It must have rained the whole time she was there!” Because that totally happened to me the first time I visited too! I’m so glad that you gave it another chance, because it was that second time around that truly made me fall in love with the city. I mean, Amsterdam is amazing, but it is not an easy city to love in the rain!

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