I bet I can guess what first comes to your mind about Amsterdam…
Canals, right? 😉
Of course, this place is known for its Red Light District and leniency when it comes to marijuana, but there’s so much more to Amsterdam than a wild weekend getaway.
It’s actually a bit funny to just stroll around Amsterdam, because you’ll suddenly realize you’re in the Red Light District, with no warning at all… save for the sex shops, museums, and even brothels everywhere.
Amsterdam prides itself on its tolerant attitude, and prostitution is actually legal here. Just not on the streets. So, they stand in windows and have their own room. The name ‘Red Light District’ actually comes from the hundreds of red neon lights highlighting these windows where the women are working. Side note: watch for pick-pocketers here, and do not take pictures – it’s strictly forbidden.
There’s over 800 000 bikes in Amsterdam. That’s more bikes than people. They’re everywhere. And they will happily run you over, so keep an eye out and look both ways constantly.
The boats pictured above floating in the canal are actually there making up what’s known as ‘Bloemenmarkt’. This is the world’s only floating flower market, comprised of a row of 15 barges with souvenir and gift shops inside. The market was founded in 1862, coming from the days when flowers were carried into the city from the countryside daily via boat, and you can buy tulips of nearly every colour here. Or you could even buy your own cannabis starter kit…
We were here in February, when it was pretty chilly, but I like to think it was still just as enjoyable despite the cold. The flights were fairly cheap, as many tend to be over here, but once you get to Amsterdam, it’s surprisingly expensive. We spent Shrove Tuesday here, so naturally, we had to have pancakes. While this was delicious, I’m not really sure it was worth the €15 for one crepe-style pancake…
There’s all kinds of things to see and do in Amsterdam. We were here for just three days, and barely made a dent on my list of things to do. But everything we did get to see and do, we all really enjoyed.
One of the biggest attractions (for me anyway) is the Anne Frank House, which I think is a must-see for everyone who’s read her diary. The tour of the house where she and her family hid from the Nazis is a chilling experience, and it’s pretty incredible to actually see some of the magazine cutouts she put on the walls, as well as the bookshelf which hid the annex for years.
The tour is very in-depth, with audio guides describing everything from when the Jewish people started getting their lives restricted to the final outcome of Auschwitz, and how her father Otto dedicated his life to sharing Anne’s diary. All in all, well worth it – I highly recommend.
Note that Anne Frank House tickets are only available online and should be bought in advance – they release 80% online two months in advance, and 20% on the day. For adults it’s just €10, or €15 if you choose to add the half hour introductory program to the museum visit.
We also went to check out the Body Worlds exhibition, which as a healthcare professional, I especially enjoyed. It’s amazing to see the displays of actual human bodies, even for people who don’t know human anatomy so well.
There’s seven stories with 200 real, plastinated anatomical specimens on display, and it’s just fascinating to see things like a normal, healthy human brain compared to the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s, or a normal lung compared to a smoker’s lung. It’s entertaining, but also educational.
In conjunction with the Body Worlds ticket, we got tickets to the Amsterdam Dungeons. I can’t remember how much it was, but it saved a couple euro to purchase them together.
The Amsterdam Dungeons is a bit of a cheesy tour, but enjoyable all the same, and actually pretty informative. There’s theatrical actors telling stories of the dark days of Amsterdam, often trying to scare people throughout. Good for a laugh and a bit of a spook, and takes about an hour and twenty minutes or so, so a decent way to spend a rainy afternoon.
We also took a canal tour, which pointed out many buildings and had some interesting facts about Amsterdam and its architecture. It’s fun to see the city from a different perspective, and you can hop on one for as little as €8. We even passed the smallest building in the city, which you may not have noticed if you were just strolling by. I’d just love to see the interior of the tiny little place.
The Heineken Experience brewery tour (€15 online) is also a must for beer drinkers when in Amsterdam. But even if you don’t like beer, it’s quite interesting to see the production and learn how Heineken came to be. It’s quite interactive, and you even get ‘brewed and bottled’ at one point. Much like the Guinness Storehouse, but without the rooftop bar at the end. This tour concludes instead with the ‘Best ‘Dam Bar’, where you get two free beer at the end of the tour.
One of the highlights of this trip for me was going up to the Skylounge. It’s actually a bar on the top of the DoubleTree by Hilton near Amsterdam Centraal Station. You get an absolutely beautiful 360° view of Amsterdam, and we managed to arrive just at sunset, so watching the sun go down over the city was just gorgeous.
You can get food and drink up there, but it was quite busy when we were there so we just went up, outside to the patio area, and watched the sunset there.
Other things to do on my list which we didn’t get to on our quick trip include…
Although there’s many, many museums in Amsterdam, one of the most popular and grandest museums here is the Rijksmuseum. It’s dedicated to arts and history, and has a vast collection of art including works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh. We didn’t go in, but just walking by the place you can tell it must be pretty impressive inside.
The Van Gogh Museum houses over 200 paintings as well as letters and drawings, and has the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s works across the world.
The Rembrandt House Museum is the former home of Rembrandt, where many of his most famous paintings were created. It is now a museum which you can tour and learn about the history of Rembrandt while enjoying some of his most famous works.
Westerkerk, or West Church, is the most popular church in Amsterdam. Not only have many royals been married here in the past, but the Tomb of Rembrandt can also be found here.
The Royal Palace is the official residence of the King of Holland, built in 1648 to mirror the architecture of Rome. Situated on the west side of Dam Square, it’s open to visitors as much as possible, but hosts New Years receptions and royal galas often as well.
Conveniently located underneath Amsterdam’s biggest windmill is small local brewery, Brouwerij’t. You can cross two things off of your list with a visit to this place – a brewery tour and a visit to a windmill.
The NEMO Science Museum is supposed to be one of the most fun places to go – an interactive science museum full of experiments.
The best place for a picnic (maybe not in February) is Vondelpark; a big, beautiful park in the middle of the city.
The famous Albert Cyupstraat Market is where the locals go shopping, but also one of the best places to try stroopwafels – a thin waffle with a layer of caramel in the middle. You can find anything at this market, from cheesy souvenirs to fresh seafood.
And of course, you can’t visit Amsterdam without snapping a picture next to the Iamsterdam sign. One can be found next to the Rijksmuseum, but there’s also one at the airport – one that will be significantly less busy than the one near the Rijksmuseum.