Exchange to VU Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Semester 2, 2015
When you get the address of your home abroad, one of the first things you’ll do is enter it into Google Maps. If you’ve never been to your host city, the image returned by the search will probably mean nothing to you. It’s safe to assume you’ve discovered a fair amount about your city while researching your exchange options, you’ll know all of the major landmarks and must-do tourist attractions. What you won’t know is where you ‘fit in’ relative to all of these places and the city as a whole.
On my third day in Amsterdam, I took the tram from my accommodation to the end of the line and walked back along it as a way of getting my bearings and seeing the city in a controlled yet independent way. I have turned this route into a ‘tour’ of Amsterdam, demonstrating how to get from Uilenstede, the VU student village, to the city centre via tram, pointing out familiar landmarks along the way. This blog aims to equip prospective VU exchange students with confidence to become acquainted with Amsterdam from the comfort of their computer screens, and provide them with a context for their new city. Even if you’re not interested in Amsterdam, hopefully this idea or format will help you explore your new home.
A background of Uilenstede, Amstelveen
If you choose to organise your accommodation through VU, you will be living in Uilenstede (pronounced Eye-Len-Stay-Der), which is largely a student village but there are a couple of families who share the space. Uilenstede is technically not in Amsterdam, it is located in the municipality of Amstelveen, just south of Amsterdam, but it is literally right on the border of the city. The canal crossing into the village is the border of the municipalities.
The student accommodation is organised by DUWO, a specialist student housing organisation. When you select your accommodation, there are three options. As a generally rule all rooms are private, you don’t have to share your sleeping quarters with anyone. The variation is in the privacy of the other facilities. The cheapest option is shared bathrooms and kitchens, the midrange (which most students, including myself choose) have a private bathroom and a shared kitchen, and the most expensive has both private kitchens and bathrooms, effectively making them self-contained flats. The larger buildings, which mostly contain the midrange accomodation and each house around 300 students, have their own colours and you’ll hear students refer to their buildings in this way. I live on the second floor of the green building.
In addition to forming the accommodation district for VU students, Uilenstede is also home to the University’s Sportcentrum (Gymnasium) and Culture centre, where you can see plays, live music and take classes. You’ll also find a café, mini-supermarket, pizza shop, and printing shop in the square.
Uilenstede – The Tram stop
The tram stop where we begin our tour is conveniently located at the entrance to the village. From here you can take the number 5 tram, and this is the route we will follow. You can also take the 51 Metro but this route is largely underground and has far less to see.
Boelelaan/VU – 3 stops along
The first significant stop is Boelelaan/VU, and as the name suggests, where you’ll find the university. If you’re just going to class, the tram is not the most cost-effective option. The campus is only a 25 minute way or a 15 minute bike ride away so save yourself €2 each day. Fares are based on how far you go, not a timeframe so you will be charged for every stop.
Museumplein – 10 stops along
This is where you’ll start to see the locations you recognise from your research. The Museumplein is essentially a large, grass common, bordered by a number of significant museums and cultural buildings. These include the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Concert Gebrouw, and the Rijksmuseum (Or as your Facebook and Instagram feeds probably know it – That place with the ‘Iamsterdam’ sign).
In the summer, the grass field is often taken over for festivals. Wherever there’s an open space in Amsterdam, chances are it’ll be used for a massive party at some point during your stay.
This is also where you can change trams (Line 16 or 24) for the De Pijp district, the Heineken Experience, and most importantly, the Department of Immigration.
Rijksmuseum – 12 stops along
Obviously, you can also get off here to see the Rijksmuseum. This is the best stop to access the famous Vondelpark. It’s beautiful at all times of the year, especially in summer, and is open at all hours (though it’s not the nicest place to be after dark).
Leidseplein – 13 stops along
Here you’ll find a hub of cafes and restraunts. As soon as the working day finishes, it’s overflowing with people. This photo is clearly during the off peak times. On any given weekend, you’ll probably have a hard time catching a tram from this spot because they’ll be too full.
Koningsplein – 16 stops along
You’ll step off the tram at Koningsplein right into the famous tulip markets. Here you can also find the Kalverstraat mall, where you’ll find a number of brands you’ll recognise and virtually anything you’ll need. The lights are not up year round. For some reason, the first week of October is when all of the Christmas decorations start to go up.
Dam – 18 stops along.
Dam is one of the biggest tourist hotspots. Here you’ll find the Palace, and of course, the Red Light District. As far as must-do things go, the Red Light District is at the bottom of the list. If it’s part of the appeal of Amsterdam for you, you might want to rethink your choice or just visit on a contiki tour. It’s the kind of place you go once to freak out your parents and elderly relatives, and never bother with again. If you’re looking for nightlife, broaden your horizons, there really isn’t much to do and it’s more of a nuisance to the locals than anything else.
Centraal Station – 20 stops along
Centraal Station is in the heart of Amsterdam and at the end of the line. From here you can catch a tram to anywhere in Amsterdam, or a train to virtually anywhere in the Netherlands or Europe. It’s also a great place to go if you’re lost. On most days, you can find City ‘ambassadors’ who can give you directions. They’re dressed in red and are out the front of the station.