by Niall Doherty

I spent most of the past five years traveling all around the world, visiting dozens of different countries and living in several for months at a time. That was fun for a while but eventually I began to crave a more settled existence.

Given that I work online, I had the option to settle pretty much anywhere, immigration laws permitting. But it wasn’t a difficult decision for me to choose Amsterdam above all, and in this article I’ll explain why.

Before I get stuck in, please note that, as of this writing, I’ve only been living in Amsterdam for 3.5 months, so methinks I’m still very much in the honeymoon period. I’ve yet to encounter a Dutch winter, and I’m also a white dude who can afford to live in a nice apartment in a fancy part of town. Those facts undoubtedly color my perception and experience of the city.

Arriving in Amsterdam back in June.

Arriving in Amsterdam back in June.

With all that said, here are fourteen reasons why I love living in Amsterdam:

1. Good memories

My first visit to Amsterdam was back in 2011, right at the start of my trip around the world without flying. I spent three weeks here and had a blast. Never before had I fell for a city so hard and so fast. And you never forget your first love.

2. It’s so purdy

The city is beautiful. Not all of it, of course — hey, even the Mona Lisa’s falling apart — but enough to leave you feeling like you’re living in a magical wonderland of canals and bridges and gables. It’s impossible to point to one specific thing that makes Amsterdam beautiful. It’s the combination of a thousand little streets and buildings and parks and cafes that give it such a unique charm.

3. Bicycles rule

I love the bicycle culture. Apparently there are more bicycles in this city than people, and cycling is easily the most popular means of transport. The city is flat so it’s easy to get around; you can get almost anywhere within fifteen minutes. Bike lanes are ubiquitous and cyclists often have right-of-way. There’s little I like better than riding my bike in this town. Every time I cross a bridge or glide alongside a canal is a moment of bliss.

Bicycles everywhere!

Bicycles everywhere!

4. Healthy lifestyle

Related to the bicycle culture, most people here seem to be in good health. You rarely see anyone obese or even overweight. The city seems to encourage a healthy lifestyle, with regards to both diet and exercise.

5. Tis like a big village

There’s a real neighborhood feel to the place. You have your McDonalds and Starbucks and H&M and all the big chain stores, but you also have an abundance of small, independent stores and cafes and restaurants. Walk into a bar on the corner and there’s a good chance it’ll be the owner serving you. I always like that in a city because it makes it feel more personable. There are more stories, more character.

(Speaking of all the stories and restaurants to be found in this city, my friend Jess is writing an epic book about that very topic.)

6. Never a dull moment

Amsterdam is a hive of activity. There are always tons of people passing through, and lots of things to see and do. I can jump on meetup.com any day of the week and find a bunch of things happening. (I just looked on there now to see there are 23 different meetups happening today!)

Cruising the canals.

Cruising the canals.

7. Diverse population

There’s a good mix of people here. There’s a big expat community (180 different nationalities represented), but you also meet plenty of locals. And for the most part I find the majority of people here easy to befriend and get along with.

8. Everyone speaks English!

Having spent the last few years of my life living predominantly in non-English speaking countries, this was a big plus for Amsterdam in my book. I’ve been here 3.5 months now and only twice have I met people who didn’t speak fluent English. I do plan to learn Dutch eventually — they say you never really understand a people until you learn their native language, right? — but I like that I don’t have to and can communicate with most people on a deep level without it.

9. It’s close to home

Another big one for me. Having seen very little of my family and friends back in Ireland the past few years, I wanted to settle somewhere close by so I could easily pop back for a visit. Living in Amsterdam, I can hop on a plane in the morning and be hugging family by lunch time. A direct flight from Amsterdam to Cork is pretty cheap (about €130 return), and Ryanair have just started a route between Amsterdam and Dublin, which means I can now catch a flight home for the price of a half-eaten sandwich.

10. “The world’s most liberal city”

So claims Russell Shorto, and it’s hard to argue with him. I don’t pay for sex or smoke marijuana, but I like that those things are legal here (well, not strictly legal in the case of marijuana, but you can do it no trouble). Same with euthanasia and same-sex marriage. There’s a real sense of live and let live. You can be whoever you want to be, even that dude in his sixties who races around town on a bicycle wearing nothing but a thong.

Gay pride in Amsterdam :-)

Be whoever you want to be.

11. Stories everywhere

Back in the 17th century, with the Dutch having become the dominant player in international trade, Amsterdam became the city at the center of the world. The golden age came and went, but this low-lying metropolis has persisted through the centuries as a refuge for all kinds of philosophers, artists and rabble-rousers. Walk down a random red-bricked street here and you may well be following in the footsteps of a Spinoza, Van Gogh or Anne Frank. If street corners could talk, you get the sense that every intersection in Amsterdam would quite have a few fascinating tales to tell.

12. Nobody seems to hate the government

Granted, I don’t keep up with or know much about politics, so this may just be my ignorance showing, but I don’t notice as many complaints about the government here as I do in other places. Taxes are quite high but it seems public money is put to good use for the most part and the people are well looked after. Look up pretty much any list of the world’s happiest countries or those with the best quality of life, and more often than not you’ll find the Netherlands sitting pretty in the top ten.

7am along Reguliersgracht, the famous canal of seven bridges.

7am along Reguliersgracht, the famous canal of seven bridges.

13. Dutch people

The vast majority of Dutch people I meet seem to be well-educated and open-minded. They also seem to have their shit together, even at a young age. I’m constantly impressed by how mature your typical 19-year-old Dutch person is compared to their counterparts in the US, UK and Ireland. In general, the Dutch seem to have a better sense of who they are and what they want out of life.

14. Beautiful women

As a red-blooded male, I’d be remiss not to mention this. If I were to stick my head out my front window right now and take a look around, there’s an extremely good chance that a stunningly beautiful woman would enter my field of vision before I could count to ten. It’s altogether ridiculous, and somewhat distracting 😉

What I don’t like about living in Amsterdam

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows here in Amsterdam. In fact, sunshine is a little hard to come by, and there are a few other things about this town I’m not so crazy about. So, lest you think I’m a completely delusional fanboy, let me list out a few downsides to living here:

  • First and foremost, the weather ain’t great. And I say that with my first Dutch winter still ahead of me. As I write these words in mid-September, I have about six months of cold, wet and grey skies to look forward to.
  • The service can be quite poor in restaurants and such. I’ve had several experiences where servers appeared openly hostile or just plain ignorant. Many of them don’t seem inclined to give the customer their full attention or the benefit of the doubt.
  • Depending on how you look at it, you might find the city very expensive. I personally don’t mind the expense of living here because I love it so much, and feel I’m getting excellent bang for my euro. But it’s probably not the best place to live or visit if you’re on a tight budget.
Street performers in front of the famous I Amsterdam sign.

Street performers in front of the famous I Amsterdam sign.

Things To See & Do In Amsterdam

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Your Thoughts On Amsterdam

Have you ever visited the city before? Ever lived here? Or maybe you’re from here? I’m sure there are plenty of pros and cons to Amsterdam that I forgot to mention or have yet to notice, so please do me a favor and have your say in the comments below.

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