Amsterdam tends to bring to mind sex, drugs and rock n roll – maybe it’s the triple X on their flag…but Amsterdam is so much more than marijuana and prostitution. It does seem like that is what everyone thinks of first, though.
Then again, people also think of windmills and tulips.
Let me start by saying that Amsterdam is beautiful and the feeling of freedom is tangible. The Dutch are very pleasant, friendly, welcoming people overall, but you should still stay out of their way if they are bicycling! Amsterdam has a lot to offer any visitor in terms of culture and fun;
You may have heard of “the Venice of the North”, Amsterdam earned this nickname due to the major canal ring area which is found on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The 3 major canals form loops around the city and are surrounded by other notable sites.
The canal is my favorite way to get around Amsterdam; the iconic pictures seen of this area are often from this vantage point and there is just something so “Amsterdam” about it. In addition to it being fun and affordable, the canal can take you to, or near, many of the major sites in Amsterdam.
The Rijksmuseum is a national heritage site and is worth the visit; generally plan approximately 3 hours to enjoy the art and history of Amsterdam. This is top visited museum in Amsterdam and it houses hundreds of thousands of objects from the 1200’s to the 2000’s. You will also find a library inside the Rijksmuseum which is the largest public art history research library in the Netherlands.
The Van Gogh Museum is modern and there is enough English to learn about Vincent Van Gogh’s life as well as explanations about his paintings. Plan 1-2 hours to visit. The Museum houses his early, unsold works as well as popular prints everyone recognizes. You don’t want to miss the stolen painting “The Potato Eaters”.
The Anne Frank House is another stop from canal bus (a hop on/hop off boat that travels via the canals). I am sure that everyone is rather familiar with Anne Frank’s story, so I will just give a quick blurb:
Anne Frank was a 12-year-old, Jewish girl who went into hiding from the Nazi’s with her family and four other people. During the two years they hid, Anne wrote about her experiences in a diary. Anne died at 15 years old in a concentration camp after they were found. Anne’s father was the only survivor of eight people from the hiding place. Anne’s diary was published as The Diary of Anne Frank which has been read by millions.
The secret annex in which they hid is open to view, refurbished to look they way it looked at the time of their hiding. The Anne Frank House is kept as a permanent exhibition of the life of Anne Frank.
If you are arriving by train to Amsterdam (maybe from Brussels, Paris or Cologne) you will arrive at Centraal station. The trains cater to thousands of people daily and so it is a very busy place. Happily, it is very near the main points of interest in Amsterdam and walking distance from an array of hotels.
The Second oldest church in Amsterdam; a 17th century house with hidden church in the attic; Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder AKA Museum of Our Lord in the Attic. During the 17th Century there was a lot of religious persecution and people were no longer free to practice any faith they chose. This Catholic church was built in 1663, when Catholics lost their right to practice Catholicism. It can actually be found in the Red Light District which seems a little ironic/genius to me. When the Church of St. Nicholas was opened, the house was no longer needed as a church and became a museum instead in 1888.
Okay, now that you are in the RED LIGHT DISTRICT – don’t take photos…people will take and/or damage your camera if you take pictures of the prostitutes, or point your camera down the wrong alley. But since you are here, take a walk around – it is interesting, even if it isn’t where you would spend a family day with the kids – if you are with other adults I’m sure you will be amused.
The Museum of WWII Dutch Resistance is an amazing introduction to the 1940’s when the Netherlands were occupied by Nazi Germany. The museum is bilingual (Dutch and English) and there is a permanent exhibition that helps to set the scene for climate and authenticity of the times. They offer photographs, film, documents and history of the people who experienced the German occupation, the dilemmas those people faced and how they made the difficult and dangerous decisions they made in the face of repression. Pair it with the Anne Frank Huis for a day of remembrance.
Since my visit to Amsterdam, I have heard about glowing bike paths in The Netherlands, unfortunately they are not actually in Amsterdam (though I have heard that they have recently put solar powered panels on a bike commuter path outside of Amsterdam in Krommenie – but I do not know if they are also art or merely glowing), but in the country about an hour and a half drive from Amsterdam in a Dutch town called Eindhoven, where Van Gogh was originally from, you will find the glow-in-the-dark artwork on the bike paths. These are Daan Roosegaarde’s interpretations of Van Gogh’s classic painting Starry Night – one of my favorites, which is why I’m sorry to say that I have not seen them first hand…yet.