It’s an ugly spectacle. Groups of British lads mosey on down, swaggering, swaying and swigging beer as they pass porn stores, peep shows and ‘coffee’ shops, where the air is thick with cannabis smoke and the joints come pre-rolled for beginners. Outside, whispering dealers offer every illegal substance under the sun (or full moon, as it is tonight), while shadowy figures lurk outside the windows bearing red lights. Not everyone is discreet about their intentions, however.

“I’ve just been offered a blow job for 20 euros and shag for 50,” cries a disbelieving Geordie to howls of laughter from his mates.

I’m not really enjoying this, my first night in Amsterdam, probably because I’m alone and haven’t got my buddies for back-up.

I don’t feel in danger, just taken aback. I’ve seen some seedy sights on previous nights out around the world, but I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed such an outlandish display of debauchery. I had to see it, though. You can’t come here and avoid it.

The next morning I wake struggling to breathe through the thick, invisible clouds of drug-tinged air in my hostel (where pot smoking is allowed), so I quickly shower and head out exploring.

I join the New Amsterdam tour, which is free and runs on a tips basis. Our cheerful Dutch host Jules proceeds to take us on a whirlwind walk around the city, revealing much about its long history and culture, and, by the end of it, I’m thankful.

Last night I pretty much hated Amsterdam. Now I see it in a better light. For a start, it’s more beautiful in the daytime, thanks to its canals and the lofty houses that run alongside them, topped with stepped and curved gables.
Even the red-light district is not quite so vulgar. A few red lights are on as we pass by, and we’re waved at (and beckoned) by some of the scantily-clad prostitutes, but the abscence of stag parties and drunks makes the general atmosphere more chilled.

Jules tells us the history of the city’s legalised prostitution, the decriminalisation of soft drugs and its licensed coffee shops.

That evening, along with a few people I’d met on the tour, I go to Dampkring, the coffee shop in which George Clooney and Brad Pitt filmed a scene for Ocean’s 12. We end the night clubbing in the throbbing Leidseplein district.
I wake slightly fuzzy-headed but keen to make the most of the day. I hop on the tram to check out the Rijksmuseum, which offers a great insight into the Dutch Golden Age (the 17th century, when Holland was the unofficial capital of world trade and art). Then it’s on to the Van Gogh Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of works by the troubled Dutch artist.

I spend a couple of hours in both and, after a bite to eat (I can’t resist the Amsterdam favourite of chips doused in mayonnaise), I visit the moving Anne Frank Museum, the former hiding place of the little Jewish girl who wrote a famous diary on what it was like living under the Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II.

I also pop into the Sex Museum, which boasts that it’s ‘the leading museum of the theme of sensual love and erotica’. In truth it’s unbelievably graphic and not a place for prudes. But parts of it are absolutely hilarious.

The next morning, I take a walk around Rembrandt’s House, the former abode of the 17th century Dutch painter and, after taking a relaxing cruise round the canals, it’s time to go.

I leave with an entirely new view of Amsterdam – an intoxicating city in so many ways.