Hostels come in all shapes and sizes, degrees of clean and with or without amenities. By booking hostels on the go you just have to expect that once in awhile you will run into a horrible place. That is exactly what happened in Amsterdam last summer and I want to warn all of you who plan to visit one of the most memorable cities in the world you will ever visit.
Generally I would not single out a particular hostel like this and warn my readers about it. Advertising a place I dislike makes no sense. This hostel just happens however, to be the place that the tourist office will send you too when you show up looking for a bed to sleep in(or come down from whatever drug you might do). To make matters worse the tourist office is directly outside the central train station and is the the very first place most travelers make a bee-line too right after their train arrives. Therefore they seem to have a grasp...no, no, a trap on unsuspecting, unprepared and desperate travelers. My first advice then is to plan ahead and book your hostel before arrival in Amsterdam...if you don't, by all means avoid any suggestion that you stay at The Heart of Amsterdam.
By all accounts the name of the place does do it justice and the tourist office may or may not tell you that the establishment is in the middle of the redlight district. Having been to Amsterdam before I was not really put off by this initially. The Redlight district can make some uncomfortable and appear unsafe at times but all in all your biggest worries should be yourself giving into temptations you may regret later. (of course if you aren't the type of person that would regret anything done here...go forth and enjoy! This is the place to do it) That being said, its location is not the worst thing about the hostel...in fact the prostitutes window directly across from the lounge window can make for some interesting people watching.
What does come as unexpected is the room you are likely to be placed in if you are directed here from the tourist office. While it appeared from pictures of the place on various hostel booking websites that the rooms were clean and comfortable you will most likely be directed to "around back". Going out the back door you will notice the bathroom/shower area that is not exactly attached to the main part of the building. It is here that you will have to shower and use the restroom in a facility that is lacking in cleanliness and privacy. To your right is a outdoor meeting area that in all its glory consists of an old bench which if any wooden bench could give you tetanus this would be it.
A few more steps bring you to a precariously steep and cave like stairwell that brings you to a basement type area. Right outside the room are cheaply manufactured "lockers" which you will have to leave a deposit to use. Essentially plywood with two hinges and cheap turn key locks you will want to be sure you do not loose the tiny piece of paper given to you as receipt of your deposit. If you do happen to misplace this scrap of paper be prepared to, in turn, have your deposit misplaced. Somehow the key they give you for your locker is not sufficient proof that you did in fact pay a deposit. If you are lucky enough to get the one key that accesses the room you will soon enter your room to find a damp, once yellow walled dungeon that houses 8 or so beds. Although there are about 4 windows that potentially at one time opened about 3 inches to allow for fresh air, only one now stands open about 1 inch. The ceilings are so low that if you are any taller than 6 foot you will have to crouch during your entire stay and even if you are "lucky" enough to be shorter than that you will constantly be on guard against banging your head against the even lower hanging smoke detector. Considering the size of the room and the smoking that Amsterdam is famous for, I doubt the smoke detector worked anyways. The walls and ceilings are interestingly decorated by previous tenants by what appears to be the burning of various pictures (mostly penis') and dirty limericks through the use of a lighter and a small TV which may have one day gotten reception is placed on a small shelf above one of the beds.
As I mentioned there is only one key to this room. If you are the last person to leave you will return it to the less than friendly front desk clerk and hope that others do the same. Truth be told, the room is rarely locked and if it is you must ask various other guests lounging around the hostel if they have the key. As for breakfast...well, I can't complain too much about this. They do provide a sampling of various meats (above and beyond the usual bread and jelly) with which you can put together sandwiches that will cut down on your spending for the day. This fact however does not out weigh the general sense of being stuck in a germ and bug infected prison that you will put up with for the duration of your visit.
Having spent many nights in hostels throughout Europe I have come to expect that not all places will live up to the standards of others and in all fairness it is a cheap bed. Hostels, by their very nature have a rapidly changing clientele and must deal with the repercussions of travelers grime. The Heart of Amsterdam however was probably the single least pleasant hosteling experience that I ever had and I truly spent much of my wandering the city with new hostel searching in mind. There are any number of "famous" Amsterdam hostels to choose from (The Flying Pig & the Bull Dog) and I recommend seeking them out for a more pleasant stay in this vibrant city whose heart is far from the failure of this place.
click to download a video shot in the room of this hostel!