Alone in Amsterdam...
April 26, 2010 1:06 AM   Subscribe

Help me enjoy a solo trip to Amsterdam.

I'm going to have about a week to myself after a long and unpleasant European business trip, and I'll be heading to Amsterdam in early May. I'm digging through the ask archives and googling around, but I'm generally not a huge fan of solo travel - this is my chance to fix that.

As a rule, I hate the feeling of being "alone in a crowd" at parties/bars, but I'm quite comfortable in big cities. I'm specifically looking for suggestions on places/things that will either A) feel totally reasonable to do alone (museums are the obvious choice but I think I have them covered) and/or B) provide an opportunity for socialization by means other than striking up conversations with random strangers. I'm going to have spent two weeks with no social interaction beyond a small group of coworkers, so I'm probably going to be semi-desperate for "normal" human contact.

Potentially relevant info: I'm male, 25, American, geeky, no language but English. Big fan of getting around by metro and bike.

(I presumably won't be in Amsterdam for the full week; my flight is out of Frankfurt so I'll probably do the last couple of days bouncing around German cities by train. Specific recommendations welcome.)
posted by Tomorrowful to Travel & Transportation around Amsterdam, The Netherlands (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I like finding interesting small walking tours for that sort of thing. No specific recommendations for Amsterdam, but I'm sure there would be one that would interest you and give you an opportunity to meet some people.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:34 AM on April 26, 2010

It's been some time, but I believe Den Haag and Scheveningen were very nice to walk around.
posted by pracowity at 1:46 AM on April 26, 2010

I speak Dutch pretty well (my mother is Flemish), and it's tragically useless most of the time - virtually all Dutch speakers speak English to some degree, and many fluently.

If you're even vaguely interested in Go, Amsterdam has a good scene (by western standards). Check out Het Paarde ("The Horse" Go/Chess shop) and this club.

I also highly recommend renting a bike.
posted by phrontist at 1:58 AM on April 26, 2010

and/or B) provide an opportunity for socialization by means other than striking up conversations with random strangers.

Striking up a conversation with one stranger can be a bit awkward, but it's much easier with a group. There are many groups out partying in Amsterdam. Last time I was in Holland I went into a restaurant to eat (alone) and found myself behind a group of a dozen Scotsmen about my age and just asked "Hey I'm on my own, mind if I join you at the table?" Absolutely no problem. They were very friendly and welcoming and buying the first round immediately made me one of the gang.

The only problem was getting away from them when my liver starting saying "no more."

In general, English, Australians, Scots, Irish have an outgoing and welcoming culture towards strangers. Especially in pubs. You have to make an effort to be alone in any pub full of these people.
posted by three blind mice at 2:07 AM on April 26, 2010

oh, i went to amsterdam. i think...

keep your eyes peeled for pickled herring stands on the street, and something called 'stroopwaffel' YUM!...avoid the fried balls of gravy. they are NASTY.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:12 AM on April 26, 2010

Amsterdam has the largest library in Europe located within a 5 minute walk of central station (turn left as the exit the main doors). It is in a wonderfully designed modern building with great views of the city. On the top floor there is a good, inexpensive restaurant/cafe. You can browse through books, movies, piano music (there are pianos) and get free internet access. It is the sort of place it would be quite possible to hang out in all day.

The Albert Cuyp market is the biggest street market in Europe and would also be a great place to wander through by yourself.

Movies are usually shown in English with dutch subtitles.

Amsterdam has a main tourist drag (station to Damrak then on to red light district - plus all main museums, etc) that you might find you get tired of quickly.

Arendsnest is the sort of place which you can discover slightly off the beaten track. They offer a large range of specialist Dutch (mainly) beers.
posted by rongorongo at 2:24 AM on April 26, 2010

There's a nice park just south of the city centre (Vondelpark) - a good place to visit if you hire a bike. Bikes rule Amsterdam, seriously.

On the people front, you could check out Couchsurfing - even if you're not interested in staying with a random stranger, there are often couchsurfing meetups in big cities, and there are couchsurfers who just want to go for a beer or a coffee. If you do this on the first day or so you can also get some good local information about what's on.
posted by handee at 2:45 AM on April 26, 2010

This is a very obvious suggestion, but stay in a hostel. Yes, dorm beds aren't that much fun, but it's the best way I've found to meet other solo and small-group travelers, and to have a nice home base during a stay in an unfamiliar city. I prefer smaller, apartment-style hostels, which in my somewhat-limited experience tend to have a slightly more mature crowd, and it's nice to go off and do your thing during the day (or hang out with new friends) and have a familiar group with whom to share stories in the evening. And if your budget's a bit flexible there are some very nice and even stylish hostels out there.

I've also stayed in a few hostels that have arranged nightly pub crawls (either solo or partnering up with other hostels), and although this won't suit everyone's taste, it's an easy way to socialize without having to stroll up and introduce yourself to tables full of strangers.

FYI, there are plenty of sites online, but I've had good success with for getting recent reviews and a good feel for a place before I visit - is it solo-traveller friendly, is there a common room (important for meeting other people), is it a non-stop party or more laid-back, etc.
posted by nicoleincanada at 2:58 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine in Amsterdam is signed up with like a local. It is a bit like a walking tour but many are more personalized, such as people giving you a meal in their home or showing you their favorite spots around town!
posted by vacapinta at 3:43 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm specifically looking for suggestions on places/things that will ... feel totally reasonable to do alone

I would suggest tripping out. Peak in your hotel room, then venture out when you are feeling in control. Sadly mushrooms are no longer available, but the "fungus" in the smart shops is a reasonable alternative.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:53 AM on April 26, 2010

my first trip to europe was a solo trip to Amsterdam.

i really enjoyed actually NOT talking to anyone for a week. i just walked around and did what i felt like.

the Anne Frank House was not completely depressing and well worth going even if you're alone. also, the Van Gogh museum was wonderful - i went twice!

i also went around the same time you did. i believe there may be a huge festival for queen's day (the queen's birthday) where lots of people come in from other countries and wear lots of bright orange. you may want to check on the date for that. it made the whole schipol - train station - hotel thing a bit more of an adventure than i had anticipated (no taxis, too many people, so i had to walk there and it was pretty far, took me over 3 hours with all the people crowding everything. and i was carrying my fortunately very little luggage.)

however, when i was leaving and was on the train back to schipol, these two business-y guys struck up a convo in english a few seats ahead of me. there was some enormous annual flower show happening near the airport (flyers on the seats for it) and they decided to go together since their flights weren't until much later and they seemed to have a quite a botany bug. (i have never seen anything like that happen in america where i guess we are all antisocial heathens.) i'm also assuming it wasn't some sort of gay pickup but was actually just two guys saying they both liked flowers and had been on the fence about going since they had no one to go with.

short version of that - possibly cool flower show happening.
posted by sio42 at 7:29 AM on April 26, 2010

Seconding the hostel recommendation. Even if you can afford a regular hotel, hostels are the best way to meet people. Look for reviews of hostels that seem to cater to a slightly older crowd and you'll be good.
posted by lunasol at 7:55 AM on April 26, 2010

I would tie into a hostel/couchsurfing community. IIRC, the local couchsurfers had a gathering once a week or so, which would be a great opportunity to hang out with some locals, if that's your thing.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:27 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

We found the De Piip area to be less touristy and more local, we often had conversations with locals in restaurants.

There is also a service where you can get a boat ride from a local, maybe through the tourist office.

Overall, I don't think you'll find a lot of locals downtown to chat with. If you're into coffee shops, visit one outside the center that caters to locals and you'll find people to chat with.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:41 AM on April 26, 2010

Go on a bike tour! Great way to see the city (the highlight of my last trip) and you might meet some nice people in your group to have drinks with after.
posted by mckenney at 8:51 AM on April 26, 2010

Seconding mckenney -- specifically, I recommend Yellow Bike's country side tour. I did this a few years ago. It took all day, was tons of fun, there was another 'soloist' on the tour, and I did end up finding some dinner friends for later.

Additionally, I had a great time at the City museum...spent all day there looking at museums aren't rreally my thing, but this was more about city history and amsterdam is one of the more interesting city histories, i believe...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:54 AM on April 26, 2010

If Amsterdam starts to feel a bit stale after a few days, I strongly suggest taking the train to Utrecht. It's only 20 minutes away by train, walkable, and less touristy than Amsterdam. Charmingly provincial, and less overwhelming than Amsterdam.

Also, if you want to be greatly amused, check out NEMO, the science museum on the harbor (past the train station.) My American self was taken aback with the museum's frank displays about evolution, sex, and drug use that you would NEVER see in the States. It was quite refreshing. However, if you find that subject matter sensitive or upsetting, you probably shouldn't go.
posted by cleverevans at 6:18 PM on April 26, 2010

Try looking into Some of the groups are broad and generic so that you can meet a different types of people.

If you are considering stopping over to Brussels (Belgium), and I'm available, I can show you around a little bit, especially the delicious beer!
posted by JiffyQ at 11:37 PM on April 26, 2010

Local (Dutch, though not from Amsterdam) girl here.

About the responses above:
- Queen's day is on April 30th. Not the queen's birthday, but her (late) mother's.

- Other days to note that will impact Amsterdam pretty heavily: May 4th (Remembrance of the dead) and May 5th (Liberation Day).

- NEMO and the Central Library are interesting indeed, and (especially the library) won't be weird to do alone. NEMO strongly focuses on kids but is still entertaining for adults as well. I have never looked at it from an American viewpoint, but cleverevans might have a fair point.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to memail me.

- I find Utrecht very enjoyable, once you get out of the train station and its mall.

- I've heard good things about Yellow Bike. They have bicycle and walking tours.

- Stroopwafels are indeed appreciated by many tourists. Kroketten (that's probably what sexyrobot had in mind with fried balls of gravy ) apparently not as much. I recommend to try them anyways, look for snackbars that sell the 'Van Dobben' brand and try those.

Feel free to memail me if you have any specific questions, I might be able to help!
posted by Ms. Next at 3:08 AM on April 27, 2010

That was one invitation to memail me too many :-) I remembered typing it, but couldn't find it and then typed it again...
posted by Ms. Next at 3:09 AM on April 27, 2010

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