Discovering Undiscovered Amsterdam with Strawberry Tours

by - 6:00 PM

'What's so special about Amsterdam?' I murmured to myself on October 13th as my train rolled into Amsterdam Central Station. It wasn't my first time in my country's capital, but my visit in May hadn't been able to show me why so many tourists love the city. In fact, it had only shown me why people in the Rotterdam area, where I'm from, always say that the best thing about Amsterdam is the train back home. On that day in May, a Frenchmen on a bicycle had almost crashed into me and I'd lost count of the number of suitcases that had been pushed against my shins.
So why did I visit Amsterdam again so soon, you ask? Good question. You see, a few weeks ago, an invitation for Strawberry Tours Amsterdam's press tour had landed in my inbox. I accepted and Strawberry Tours got themselves a challenge: convince me and my Rotterdam roots that Amsterdam is awesome.

A few minutes after I got off the train, I met up with Annaleid from Actually Anna just outside Central Station and together we went to the I Amsterdam Visitor Center on Stationsplein, the starting point of our tour. Here we met up with our guide Niek, who grew up in the city and knows it like the back of his hand. A little while later we were joined by Nienke from Strange Towns and her boyfriend Ben. Our little group was complete: we were ready for our Undiscovered Amsterdam Tour. With a length of 6,8 kilometers, it's the longest tour Strawberry Tours offers in Amsterdam. In the following hours, we'd be walking through the less crowded parts where very few tourists ever come. On a day as sunny as that Saturday was, this turned out to be nothing but perfect.

Our first stop, however, wasn't very far away from the crowds. In fact, we were still right in the middle of the masses on Stationsplein when Niek told us about the almost 9000 poles and approximately 40 corpses underneath Amsterdam Central Station. The Undiscovered Amsterdam tour wasn't just about the hidden gems of the city, but also about its (slightly dark) history.
We continued our way to the 'bicycle flat' and 'bicycle boat', places where people can park their bikes. To us Dutch people, that's all very normal and unnoticeable. Until you go on a tour of your capital, when you suddenly see the place through a tourist's eyes. Suddenly my own culture became a whole lot more interesting.

We left Stationsplein behind and headed for the IJ, the river dividing Amsterdam in a northern and southern part. At the waterfront, I found the most morbid piece of street art I'd ever seen: a dead body swinging from a tree. Although still morbid, this made so much sense when Niek told us that the northern part of Amsterdam used to be a prison colony, where criminals were hung. Yup, definitely not shying away from the nasty parts of the city's history.

We walked on and left the hustle and bustle of the streets around Central Station behind. Soon we found ourselves in a part of town that I'd almost call calm (at least compared to where we'd come from). Here we talked about our national cuisine: cheese and herring. Of course we also passed a few coffee shops (I mean the weed-selling kind, not the Starbucks type); an Amsterdam tour would not be complete without them. Niek told us all about herring, why the Dutch always eat it with onions, and the confusing facts behind our coffee shop system. On a subconscious level, I knew weed isn't actually completely legal the way tourists think it is. On a more conscious level, I got a wake-up call when we discussed all the vague laws and rules that most people visiting Amsterdam rarely realize exist.

After this moment of realizing how weird weed legislation is in my country, we headed for a canal that's apparently famous because of an Ikea product (don't ask me about the details, I haven't been to Ikea in 10 years). I internally died laughing when wheelie bins we decided to move wheelie bins to the other side of the street just so we could take decent pictures. Stereotypical bloggers on a press tour, you know.

Don't worry, when we were done, the wheelie bins returned to their original position right next to the red bicycle. It was in a quiet street a few meters away from our picture spot that we made our next stop. We'd arrived at the West-Indisch Huis (West India House), where the Dutch West India Company had had its headquarters. While the VOC (our version of the East India Company) focused on herbs and spices in Asia, the West India Company also had a part in the slave trade. Niek told us about this without shying away from harsh truths, and this is one of the things I appreciated most about the tour. You don't get the romanticized version of Amsterdam and its history, but neither will you get a pessimistic sob story. You'll learn about the city the way it is, the good parts and the bad, the way it once was and the way it now really is.

We were not even halfway and my opinion of Amsterdam was already changing. Sure, I still disliked the enormous masses around places like the Anne Frank House, but we avoided the crowds. Instead of going to the known tourist traps, we walked along quieter but still beautiful canals and visited a market (where I balanced on the verge of a panic attack because there were so many people there that day and no quick escape route and help). This market was the only extremely crowded place we visited, but a lot of the people there were locals who'd decided to make the best out of that sunny day. Afterwards, I got the chance to catch my breath and calm down at the Karthuizerhof, a calm oasis in the busy capital. This place used to be a refuge for widowed and unmarried women who had nowhere else to go. The courtyard was stunning and I easily could have spent all day there with a good book and some tea. Sadly, that isn't an option, as there are still people living in this monumental building.

Another short picture break later, we started the last part of our tour, which led us past the Anne Frank House, the Gay Monument and the Amsterdam Museum. We paid a visit to the latter to look at an exhibition that shows Amsterdam through the eyes of the former mayor, who was immensely popular and passed away last year. It made quite an impression on me, as you could sense how much this man had cared about his city. 

We ended our day at a restaurant on a street called Gebed Zonder End (Never-ending Prayer). This street used to be full of nunneries and monasteries, hence the funny name. I'd highly recommend going here if you're hungry after a walking tour. We went to Kapitein Zeppos, which I absolutely loved. It's the most colorful place I've been to in ages and has an almost tropical vibe.

While I was busy munching on a delicious sandwich, I realized it was time to come up with my verdict on the city. Rotterdam roots are hard to convince when it comes to the rival city of Amsterdam. But now I realized I couldn't really think of a good reason to dislike the Dutch capital, and a lot of that had to do with Niek and his Strawberry Tours branch. The company works on a 'pay what you feel like' principle, which is always great when you're a broke student like me, and of course they have great guides, but what really set them apart for me was their realistic depiction of the city and their Strawberry Promise: every branch of Strawberry Tours donates a percentage of their revenue to a charity of their choice. Strawberry Tours Amsterdam chose Plastic Whale, a charity that fishes plastic waste out of the Dutch canals. If you know me and my hatred towards single-use plastics, you'll understand how happy this made me. And of course there was the route we'd walked that day, which also helped to change my opinion on Amsterdam. We'd really stayed away from all those places tourists flock too. I hope more of those tourists will do an Undiscovered Amsterdam tour to catch a glimpse of the city's true nature. It really is a unique and awesome place (except for when French guys on bikes almost crash into you; I will never let that go).

So did the tour convince me that Amsterdam isn't all that bad? Yes. Yes, it did. I personally think the Undiscovered Amsterdam tour and I were a perfect match, since I don't like glorified and overcrowded tourist traps. But if busy city centers are your thing and you want to get that typical Amsterdam experience, Strawberry Tours still got you covered: they also offer a Red Light District tour, a Historical Centre tour and a Live Music tour. Whichever you choose, I'm sure you'll have a great time and see Amsterdam as you've never seen it before!

x Envy

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3 Fellow Ramblers

  1. It sounds like it was an absolutely fantastic tour! I love when you get to see past the tourist facade of a city, get to discover its secrets.
    Cora |

    1. Secrets are so much better than the polished facade! I feel like you don't get to know a city at all if you only stick to the tourist traps.

  2. I was really looking forward to your review and you've written a fabulous one. How wonderful to have the opportunity to find out so much more about your capital city, including the darker sides. That's quite unusual in a tour, I think. I love that you moved the wheelie bins too, haha, I have to admit I've done similar in pursuit of the perfect shot! I'm also very impressed that SF donate to charity too, kudos to them. Great review, Envy, I loved reading this :) xx

    Lisa |


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