I wasn't expecting much from Amsterdam — a touristic city that's shrouded by over-excited youngsters in coffee shops and wandering eagle-eyes through the now-tourist attraction that is the red light district. When we arrived, refreshing sights of a lively café scene, bikes galore and dreamy canal-side houses filled my eyes with delight, and the reality of Amsterdam far exceeded my expectation.
Amsterdam, quite frankly, stole my heart. Perhaps it was the lack of expectation that allowed me to fully appreciate it for what it was, but wandering through the cobbles streets out onto another canal lined with perfectly imperfect houses was my idea of heaven. There were cosy cafes and restaurants dotted in between independent shops and businesses. Layered up in over-sized coats, thick scarfs, gloves and woolly hats; hundreds of people would cycle to get around, diminishing the need for cars. The city itself felt peaceful and safe, with only the touristic centre feeling busy and what you would imagine Amsterdam to typically be like. Out of these areas, Amsterdam felt homely and full of life in the otherwise rather dull and grey month of February. It’s charming character, built from cute cafes, boutique shops and hearty food options, welcomes you with open arms.
Utrecht is Amsterdam’s innocent younger sibling. We wandered pretty, yet quieter, streets and the smell of freshly made pastries and bread oozing from delightful street cafes never seemed to leave the air. The cycle lanes were full, and people would pull up to the side, run in to grab a morning coffee before hopping back on their bike to work. Cosy pubs with strong blonde beer, chess boards and games were a frequent nighttime affair, just like our morning coffee stops at one of the snug cafes for breakfast as we watched the world go by. Utrecht can be explored at a slower pace compared with Amsterdam.
Rotterdam was an urban surprise after visiting the likes of Amsterdam and Utrecht. Filled with contemporary architecture, high street brand shops and a big city buzz, we felt slightly out of place and wishing we were back by the canals and wonky houses that lined the streets. For many, Rotterdam’s multicultural and modern feel is a big draw. There’s various different areas to the city with lots to discover, eat and experience. For us, Rotterdam lacked a bit of personality. It felt confused, over-developed and too big to wander and get lost down pretty lanes.