Amsterdam vs. Barcelona

Right just got back from a little hols in Amsterdam and I must say, damn that’s a fine city! It’s also a travel writer’s dream what with the colourful goings on of the Red Light District, the chilled coffeeshops (this is where you can smoke weed legally in case you’re out of the loop), romantic canals, bikes, boat houses and seemingly infinite supply of cool restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Of course my current home of Barcelona boasts more than its fair share of attractive qualities (hence why I came here in the first place!), but even so it did get me thinking whether I’d be tempted to ditch mincing about on the beaches of BCN for a life of trundling around canal-side paths on my city bike, crawling around cafes and coffeeshops enjoyably intoxicating myself, and no doubt ending the majority of my nights in the bed of a 6ft-tall Sylvie van der Vaart look-a-like. (After watching Black Book, I’d also settle for the more modest charms of Carice van Houten. Hopefully she’s listening – Carice?).

Time to bring the two heavyweight cities together in an epic battle, to decide which of these two metropolises will claim me as one of their honoured citizens…


Whilst I did enjoy the melancholy skies, humid air and autumnal smell of damp leaves that greeted me in Amsterdam, it really did rain a hell of a lot. Then it got cold. My ears nearly fell off on one bike ride. Overall, whilst Amsterdam’s climate wins points for atmosphere and romance, only a masochist would opt for that ahead of the glorious weather in Barcelona, with its nearly perma-blue skies, well-behaved temperatures and general LA vibe. First blood to BCN!


It’s hard to judge from just a long weekend, but if what I saw in four days of Amsterdam’s nightlife was representative then it boast much more variety and invention that the often two-dimensional Barcelona nightlife (which is basically either posh house club, or alternative student rock/cheese rubbish). Yes the bars mostly close at 1am (although some continue til 3) and the clubs from 3.30 to 5am, however as the Amsterdammers go out a full two or three hours earlier than the Barcelonins then it’s just the same amount of partying – only done earlier. The jury is still out on this one, as Barcelona does have its hip places lurking in hidden corners and surprise events…. hmmm we’ll call this a draw until I get to do more ‘research’ in the ‘Dam!


A hands down win for Amsterdam! The Dutch people are actually friendly. Dear Catalans you should try that sometime! But seriously, whilst foreigner-ennui has killed any interest that the Barcelona locals might once have had for their guests, it is still possible to make friends with the locals of Amsterdam who are open, unsnobby, helpful and just damn nice! Oh and the girls are all tall, thin and cute. What is it about girls on bicycles that is so sexy???


Whilst my local Dutch host assured me that bicycles get stolen all the time and he had been mugged twice, I have to say Amsterdam felt like the safest place in the world. At least compared to a nighttime walk in El Raval. I saw plenty of unlocked bikes and people even daring to hang up their coat on a coatstand… instead of the paranoid clinging onto possessions that is necessary in every bar and restaurant in Barcelona. Plus, despite its reputation for sleaze, I was accosted by far less prostitutes, drug dealers and thieves in Amsterdam’s Red Light District than I usually am in Las Ramblas – plus at least the prostitutes are good looking! (A bit too good looking… just what does happen behind those red windows???). Another victory for the ‘Dam.

Things to do

Well Amsterdam has museums aplenty, canals to cruise down, a great park in Vondelpark for hanging out in during sunny days, plenty of cool markets and naturally loads of bike paths…. but still can’t really touch Barcelona in this respect. What with the city beaches, Park Guell and Park Ciutadella (to name the biggies), a constant stream of fiestas and festivals and concerts and events (many free!), not to mention an abundance of day trip possibilities and even the Pyrenees mountains if you fancy skiing, Barcelona really is the dogs’ cojones when it comes to entertainment and cool things to do! Oooh it’s getting tight…


I’d rather learn Spanish, Catalan and ancient Greek than take on the Dutch language! I couldn’t pronounce a single word, despite my host’s patience. Advantage Barcelona? Not necessarily, as everyone speaks fluent English! But then it is nice to think that one day, even if it takes five years, as an expat you will be able to speak the local dialect at some stage. If I went to Amsterdam that would almost certainly never be the case… I’m going to award this one to Barcelona!

Its Amsterdam 2.5 points vs. Barcelona 3.5 points! Looks like I’m staying put for a while yet. You lucky lucky people.

7 responses to “Amsterdam vs. Barcelona

  1. Interesting blog post. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference – both Amsterdam and Barcelona are wonderful cities. I’m an expat living in Amsterdam and I have to say that the more I travel around Europe, the more I appreciate and love Amsterdam. It’s so dynamic, cultural, beautiful, laid back, and the amount of creativity here is beyond inspiring. But of course no city is perfect, and at times the grass does seem greener… coming from Los Angeles the weather is my biggest and only complaint about A’dam. But I have to admit that Dutch isn’t that difficult actually. I’ve lived here for only 15 months and I already speak on a strong intermediate level. And if you’re weak in the linguistic department – English is the unofficial 2nd language.

    • Thanks Stephen for your input! I certainly wouldn’t mind spending a bit more time in Amsterdam and may even engineer a move there if possible for a few months at least…. one thing I forgot to mention in the post which really annoyed me however is that you are constantly being harrassed by cyclists to get out of their way!!! I’m all about pedestrian power! That’s encouraging that Dutch is manageable…

  2. Haha! True about the cyclists. But once you’re a local, you seem to develop a second sense for maintaining that pedestrian safety zone (part of that is the Dutch quick dive reflex when you hear an angry little bell behind you). On the other side of the game, the more you cycle, the more you appreciate having high priority on the road 🙂 Most of the time the tourists don’t even realize they’re lugging their roller bags happily down the middle of the bike path! hehe

    On another topic – I read in your bio that you’re a travel writer. May I ask how you got into that line of work?

  3. It all started in Krakow… (please excuse the self-promo tone, but this page is kinda my CV too!)

    If you fancy trying your hand at travel writing pls. take a look around anotehr project of mine and see if you have any good ideas for a post (sadly Amsterdam City Guide has just been taken by someone else!).

  4. I love your post! I’m from Belgium and I’m living in Barcelona. I know well Amsterdam as it’s very close to my home. I totally agree with what you wrote!!
    Lifestyle Barcelona.

  5. Really really enjoyed reading this! I absolutely love your way of writing. I’m half Cuban and half Dutch but I’ve lived in Spain most of my life – 10 years in Madrid and 1 wonderful, unforgettable year in Barcelona. I couldn’t agree with you more about the Dutch being so friendly and the Catalanes.. being a bit “difficult”, to say the least – especially the older generation. I recall one incident with our 70 year old neighbour who refused to speak Spanish to me and demanded that I learn to speak HER language because I was in HER country (yes, she used the word “country”). At the time I wanted to say…”I don’t speak Catalan, but how about English, Spanish or Dutch? – take your pick.” Unfortunately, I was 16 at the time and didn’t dare to.

    I’m going to Amsterdam tomorrow for the first time (I lived in Holland when I was younger but nearer to the Hague) and am so glad I stumbled upon this post because it’s making me even more excited to get back in touch with my roots!

    Anyway, keep it up! I’m going to go through the rest of your entries as soon as I’m back from Amsterdam because I can already see from a quick skim that there are endless posts on what it’s like to live in Barcelona! I just have to say this blog is very inspiring – when I graduate from university in 2 years I’m hoping to travel and explore as much as possible. The Caribbean will be my first destination! In case you haven’t been to Cuba or Puerto Rico yet, start working on that because they’re the closest things to paradise one can find on Earth!

    P.S. Where are you from?

    • Hey Gabriella, thanks a lot for your comments! Sorry was away travelling and only just got around to replying! SO what did you think of Amsterdam? I’d love to know!

      I’m originally from London and have been here in BCN, on and off, for a little over 3 years.

      Will try to get out to the Caribbean soon… we published a Havana guide recently on another blog of mine. Seems like a fascinating and completely one-off place.

      Best wishes

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