Life in Amsterdam: 5 Things I’ve Noticed

By Maya Ward, WSA Intern
Wofford College


I’ve been studying abroad in Amsterdam now for a little over two weeks. I’ve been recording my first impressions of the city (and Europe in general, really) since arriving, and am sharing some of them here. Please keep in mind, though: this is all coming from the perspective of a girl from suburban South Carolina.

  1. This may be obvious, but bikes really are everywhere in Amsterdam. Bikes are the kings: they have their own parking lots, special lanes, and even cute bike-specific traffic lights. But, despite all of that, it will always be impossible to find a good place to park yours. 

    There are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. People own their road bike, their grocery shopping bike, and a dingy extra bike they take when they go out and bang up when they bike home trashed. And bikers here are aggressive, and often have no patience for tourists walking in the bike lanes. If you plan on staying in the city for a while, get one. Cars aren’t really a thing here, public transport is expensive, and walking around with your groceries sucks.

  2. The men are so well dressed here. Women too, but I’m talking about men specifically. In the US, when you see a man wearing nicely tapered pants, a button down, and some great Oxfords with nicely-styled hair, you can't help but question his sexuality. But here, this the norm. If you plan to blend in, pack dark jeans and some nicer tops! You can’t get away with "athleisure" here.

  3. Something I've struggled with in Europe is the amount of smoking. Back home smoking is heavily regulated; there are very limited places where it can be done. And there is a stigma against people who do it that discourages the practice (no one wants lung cancer). But here people smoke everywhere. There are very few rules for smoking, and smokers aren’t polite enough to consciously attempt to blow the smoke away from you.

  4. One of my favorite parts by far is the endless cheese! Cheese is central to Dutch culture. And it's not the heavily processed orange crap we have back home! The cheese you eat here went from milk to curds to cheese just a few kilometers outside the city.

    There are cheese shops on every corner, and at the grocery store there are at least thirty varieties to choose from, if not more. A standard meal consists of some fresh baked bread and two or three varieties of cheese.

  5. It is incredibly difficult to navigate through the city center. All of the canals are gorgeous, all of the buildings are historic, and all of the streets are full of life, but they all look the same. Everything looks so similar that you think you know where you are and then realize you are a solid kilometer or two from where you need to be. These two pictures were taken about four kilometers apart.

    Even my program advisor, who has lived here for three years, says she doesn’t really know where she is going half the time. Fortunately, once you learn the names and order of the canals, it gets a bit easier to navigate, and public transport isn’t too terribly difficult to figure out.

  6. Bonus observation (because I just feel like going that extra mile) Mayo is so popular here! They put it on everything. If you don’t love mayo and plan on visiting, be sure to make sure your order doesn’t have mayo on it. A really popular thing here is grabbing a cone of fries with mayo dumped on them. Not sure why.




Lauren Hill, University of Notre Dame

Happy Backpackers

I did the WSA program in Barcelona with my college friends and we all absolutely loved it! Great company, great plans and activities, and fully worth the money. Would recommend for any college students travelling together and looking for someone to show them the sights but in a very...

Lauren Hill, University of Notre Dame ~ University of Notre Dame, London, Summer Break 2016

Read more Reviews

Spots are limited!

We keep our groups small, so save your spot now! Check out our Tripadvisor, App Store & Facebook travel love below.

Multi-City Adventures:

Andy Steves' Europe

Check out Andy Steves' Europe: City Hopping on a Budget!

Pick a city and go! All new budget guidebook from Andy Steves, Founder and Chief Backpacker of WSA.