Amsterdam is iconic for its canals and its historically liberal policies, but the city has so much to offer in the way of culture and history that it would be a shame to neglect this facet of the city. Amsterdam is one of the most walkable cities in Europe. If you prefer to bike, you will be in the majority, as I have never seen amongst so much bike traffic in my life. However you decide to explore it, Amsterdam and its canals beg to be explored.
Amsterdam was the first city I explored on my seven-week stay in Europe. As soon as we had checked into our hotel after our 13-hour flight we headed towards the heart of Amsterdam and decided to take a canal tour via boat. The canal tour was a great way to become acquainted with the city and its strange format. During the tour you can take in the unique architecture, the houseboats that people still live in to this day, and the interconnected web of canals that intersect the city. There are options to have a meal on the boat or go at night when the canals are lit, but we opted for the simple daytime tour and that was definitely enough for us.
In addition to a boat tour, walking along the canals is an equally rewarding experience. You can get an up-close view of the houseboats and are able to see the unique architecture of the homes that line the canals. Along the canals are also a great place to find little cafes and stores.
A cluster of museums in the southeastern part of the city. The Museumplein itself is an expansive park that acts as a large courtyard for the various museums that surround it. The Museumplein is the site of the famous “I amsterdam” letters that beg to be climbed upon and photographed.
Van Gogh Museum
Tickets can be bought in advance which I highly recommend doing. Once inside the building, the museum takes you through the various stages of Van Gogh’s life and the works of art he created in each stage. The narrative format of the museum really allows you to understand Van Gogh as a person first and an artist second. However, the museum is still a great place to enjoy some of Van Gogh’s greatest pieces including “The Potato Eaters” and “Sunflowers.” Van Gogh’s art, with its thick globs of paint has to be seen up close to appreciate the mastery of Van Gogh in creating a cohesive image when seen from farther away. The museum is housed within a modernist building and has a nice little cafe where we enjoyed lunch while looking out onto the sunny Museumplein.
The Rijksmuseum is a world class art museum adjacent to the Van Gogh museum that holds many pieces from the Dutch Masters of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh but also has works of art from around the world. I never made it to the Rijksmuseum, which is my greatest regret of my time in Amsterdam, but its reputation precedes it and every travel guide of Amsterdam recommends a visit to this museum.
The Heineken Brewery is definitely a tourist trap, however, it is really well done and provides you the opportunity to see how this small Dutch brewery became one of the most recognizable brands in the world. The brewery explains all aspects of the company: production, distribution, and advertisement. At the end of the tour you can enjoy some of their wares that were bottled in the few days prior.
One of the largest parks in Europe, Vondelpark is a great place to enjoy a sunny afternoon in Amsterdam. The few times that we went, the park was bustling with people of all ages.
Leidseplein is the first square to greet you once you cross the main bridge into the heart of the city. Lining the Leidseplein are a multitude of restaurants and bars that don’t fully come alive until nighttime. During the day the restaurants serve customers under a covered area in the middle of the square.
Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank house is deservedly one of the top tourist destinations in Amsterdam. The house is the actual place in which the Frank family spent several years hiding from the Nazi’s during their occupation of the Netherlands. The museum allows you to tour several rooms that have been recreated to show how the Franks lived. The museum is small and lines can get long so make sure to get tickets beforehand and to get there early.
The Versetzmuseum is also known as the Museum of the Dutch Resistance. This museum showcases the bravery and courage that the Dutch people showed in the face of Hitler’s tyranny. The exhibits show the various ways in which the Dutch people tried to undermine the Nazi’s, attempts both public and clandestine. Coupled with the Anne Frank House, the Versetzmuseum is a great place to gain perspective on what life was like in occupied Netherlands and the important role they played in keeping Hitler from achieving his goals.
The Jordaan is Amsterdam’s chic neighborhood that is speckled with art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. The Jordaan is one the western side of the city’s heart and is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Amsterdam.
It is the best place in town to wander aimlessly and look at all the interesting shops.
Amsterdam is an extremely diverse city that has a huge percentage of expatriates and immigrants. Because of this diversity, there are so many different cuisines represented throughout the city. During my time there I had an excellent sampler called the ‘Taste of the Herengracht’ that included many Dutch delicacies including cheeses, prawns, and shellfish. We also ate at a great Italian restaurant and sought out a delicious Mexican restaurant we heard about online. Of all the countries I visited, the Dutch embraced global cuisine the most. There is something for everyone and you don’t need to fear being stuck with cheese and tomato sandwiches like you do in Paris.
Amsterdam is an extremely hostel-friendly city and I encourage you to explore HostelWorld to find all your options. Because it was the first stop on our adventure we chose to buy a triple occupancy hotel room with three singles beds. We stayed at the Hotel Sipermann, which did the job but wasn’t luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. There are plenty of hotels that surround the city center than are cheaper than those contained within the canal circuit. I encourage you to explore those to find the best bang for your buck.
Amsterdam is an extremely quirky and unique city, not only because of its aqueous thoroughfares. The Dutch seem to embrace their awkward and syncretic culture and have created one of the gems of Europe in the form of Amsterdam. Keep an open mind in Amsterdam because you truly never know what you will stumble upon.