I Am Amsterdam
Of all the cities in Northern Europe, my choice for the title of ‘Venice of the North’ would have to go to Amsterdam. This city of canals, cafes, and cobbled streets is nothing short of a traveller’s paradise with something for every taste. Amsterdam is known globally for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system, and narrow houses with gabled facades; all legacies of the city’s 17th-century Golden Age.
The main tourist attractions are all within easy walking distance from the iconic Centraal Station and include Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt House Museum, Dam Square, the Heineken Experience, and, of course, Amsterdam’s famous red light district in the old town. Furthermore, dotted around the city are pockets of high-end shopping districts and numerous markets, many of which feature bric-a-brac stalls.
But to really get a flavour of the city, a one-hour canal trip is the best option. Try catching a boat at the many piers located at Damrak close to the Centraal Station. From here the boats loop around the city and the guided tour is offered in 11 languages, including Thai. Some of the boat services allow ticket holders to jump on and off at certain points around the city, so check in advance if your tour offers this option.
From the top of Damrak looking towards the city with Centraal Station at your back, Amsterdam is laid out in front of you and from this vantage point you’re certain to get a wonderful snapshot of the famous narrow houses, canals, and a few cyclists. Grab an early morning latte at one of the many cafes that line the busy Damrak and take a seat on the elegant boulevard and watch the city come alive.
A short walk from Centraal Station is Anne Frank House, a living museum dedicated to the memory of the Jewish wartime diarist. Here you can see the hiding place where Anne Frank and her family, as well as four other people, hid from the Nazis. There is also an exhibition on the life and times of Anne Frank. In 2015, the museum drew over a million visitors and became the 3rd most visited museum in the Netherlands, after the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. That’s why it is best to buy tickets in advance from the Anne Frank web site (www.annefrank.org) otherwise you’ll have to wait until 3.30pm to purchase a ticket at the museum’s entrance.
A stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle at Anne Frank House is a peaceful monument dedicated to all gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their sexuality. The Homomonument takes the form of three large pink triangles made of granite and is set into the ground so as to form a larger triangle. One side of the triangle has steps that lead down to the Keizersgracht canal where people come to lay flowers.
The wonderful Magna Plaza shopping precinct is now close and by crossing three canal bridges you can find a lovely spot for lunch or some retail therapy at one of Amsterdam’s best loved shopping arcades. From here you can easily reach the centuries old Dam Square home to the Royal Palace and De Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th century church that today offers high-profile exhibitions on art, photography, and culture. During our visit we managed to catch ’90 years of Ms. Monroe’ an exhibition detailing the life and death of the iconic Marilyn Monroe.
If you fancy joining the hundreds of thousands of people who regularly catch one of the hundreds of city-wide trams, now is the time for a short trip to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Heineken Experience. On Damrak catch tramline 16, 24, or 25. You can buy an ‘I Amsterdam’ card (www.iamsterdam.com) for one, two or three days, which also gives you plenty bonus features such as free entry to museums, boat trips, and more, or you can buy a ticket on the tram and get off at WeteringCircuit roundabout.
From this huge transit point, all three tourist attractions are only a few minutes walk, while one of Amsterdam’s largest outdoor markets, Albert Cuyp Market and its surrounding streets is also here. The museum quarter is home to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum of modern and contemporary art and design, while the Heineken Experience offers visitors the chance to get to know the beer giant a little better with a behind-the-scenes tour.
Of course, no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit to the old town and the red light district. Located close to Damrak and Centraal Station, the red light district has been somewhat tamed by government officials but it still offers visitors a glimpse of the past. A mish-mash of sex shops, ‘coffee shops’, beer bars, and brothels, the colourful neighbourhood is best enjoyed after-dark.
For an alternative night on the town try either Rembrandtsquare or Spui. Rembrandtsquare has been especially developed as a centre for nightlife and is home to the city’s hippest bars, clubs, and restaurants. A hub of activity for both locals and visitors by day and night, Rembrandtsquare is the place to go for vibrant nightlife and live music. Spui on the other hand is more cultured and offers an array of restaurants and bars in and around the main square.