With approximately 800.000 inhabitants it is the largest city of the Netherlands. Due to its multinational history, Amsterdam is said to be home to people of 180 nationalities. Many of these have left an influence on the area.
Amsterdam provides an excellent beginning for exploring The Netherlands, a country just as eclectic as its famous capital. Amsterdam emerged from the sea created literally by its inhabitants. The Dutch say that though God created the world, they created The Netherlands, a country which is a masterful design of engineering. Since most of it is below sea level, vigorous pumping methods along with many dikes were used to create the dry land thus making civilization possible. The beautiful lush green terrain remains and is surrounded on all sides by canals lined with elegant gabled houses that lean over the streets as if trying to glimpse their reflections in the canal waters. Today Amsterdam’s myriad of dikes and canals remains a true testament to the devine architectural genius of the Dutch people.
The public transportation system is wonderful within Amsterdam which includes the trams, buses, and the metro or subway. In addition, the rail network is very extentsive from Central Station which is the public transportation hub of the Netherlands. There are seven stations just in Amsterdam alone, Station Zuid World Trade Center, Station RAI, and Amstel Station in the south of the city, Station Lelylaan, Station De Vlugtlaan, and Station Sloterdijk in the west and Muiderpoort Station in the east. Because the transportation system is so highly integrated, all of the railway stations are served by at least two other modes of transportation as well: trams, buses, ect. The Netherlands rail system is the most punctual in all of Europe and it is by far the best way to get to and from Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Zandvoort, and all other destinations in and around the Netherlands.
Here are the best things to do in Amsterdam:
1. Red Light District – De Wallen
Purveyors of sex in this oldest section of Amsterdam were documented as early as 1275, near the harbor for visiting sailors and land-locked wannabes. Over the centuries, despite occasional attempts at control fostered by religious and political groups, the sex industry has thrived in this area ( and a few others scattered through the city as well including one near the Rijksmuseum ). The term however originated in a Milwaukee Wisconsin newspaper in 1894 and was rapidly adopted throughout the world. De Wallen derives from a wall built to shield the low-lying neighborhood from the sea. Prostitution, excluding streetwalkers, was legalized in 2000 ostensibly to diminish exploitation and forced servitude for the women, but probably just as important income became taxable by the government.
The sex workers behind the windows lit in red neon ( and for other ‘variants’ blue neon ) wear next to nothing, knock on the windows to attract interest from likely passerbys, and negotiate through open doorways. Few are Dutch, most are eastern European, with a smattering of other ethnicities. Many are very attractive. Room rentals for the girls are up to 150€ for an 8 hour rental, so services apparently are quite speed oriented. A basic 50-60€ fee ( according to internet services ) gets one some oral stimulation, satisfaction, and a quick trip to the exit, usually within 15-20 minutes. Anything extra, such as a modicum of foreplay, and the fees rise quickly. No pictures, no kissing and mild S&M; at an agreed upon extra cost exclusively at the discretion of the vendor.
As is usually the case in any neighborhood, there is a lot more to this district than its namesake service. The townhouses and narrow pedestrianized walkways are among the oldest in the city, and there are churches including the Old Church, good restaurants and decent hotels. Offerings include sex shows and theatres as well as museums for sex and marijuana ( most all described as tourist traps ). Perhaps the most fascinating venues are the shops selling sexual paraphernalia – amazing open in presentation, with frank and knowledgeably salesmen, they offer an astounding variety of devices of varying complexity at far more reasonable costs than in the United States.
2. Canal Boat Tours
Amsterdam is defined by its waterways, so it is only fitting to see the city from a boat. There are plenty of tour operators, who usually offer 1 hour round trips for a price between 10-15 €. Often, an audiosystem allows you to follow the explanation of a guide in your language of choice via headphones. When choosing a boat, I would advise to book an “open boat”-tour or at last a partly open roof as photography though the windows can be tricky. Departure times can vary, but are usually every half-hour in summer season and every hour in winter season.
3. Anne Frank House
Sited in a townhouse dating to 1635, the Anne Frank Museum is one of Amsterdam’s most visited attractions, a tribute to the diary written by the most widely read author from The Netherlands and a journey into the unspeakable horrors of our past century. The story of her diary is too well known to reiterate but this remarkable and depressing journey through the original site brings new insights and knowledge to the visitor. The long lines to gain entrance are mute tribute to the timelessness of the diary, a United Nation of visitors.
The tour begins with the offices of Otto Frank, a purveyor of spices, with original documents and commentary on the walls. Then, through the narrow steep staircase hidden during the war by a bookcase, to the four rooms occupied by the Frank family, a second family, and a local dentist for over two years. The rooms are largely unfurnished as per the instructions of Anne’s father Otto, the only one of the eight inhabitants to survive the war. The stove and the toilet ( not flushed during daylight hours to avoid noise ) may be originals. The visit ends with several rooms with filmed interviews of people who knew Anne Frank and informative printed wall hung material. Some of the interviews are with the workers who continued on Frank’s business during the war and secretly provided food and supplies to the hidden Jews ( as well as movie magazines for Anne – on the walls are pictures of movie stars said to have been placed there by Anne herself ). At the very end, a most interesting and worthwhile set of interactive video segments called Free2Choose present modern day dilemmas in which appropriate human rights issues such as free speech, tolerance, and cultural differences diverge – well worth a few minutes, really.
And after what at the least is a two hour visit, the modern airy cafe offers decent pastries, sandwiches, and coffee at surprisingly modest prices for a museum venue.
4. Sex Museum
Entrance fee was 4 euros per person. Please bear in mind, minimum age limit is 16 years old. The museum is open daily from 9.30 am to 11.30 pm.
Greeting us was the statue of Venus right at the front door looking so elegantly naked. I can’t remember how many stairs the place has, but there was a time when we had to climb steep stairs to more exhibits.
In this museum, you will find all sort of things related to sex and private parts of male and female, unique objects, old photographs (you’ll noticed women in the early days didn’t do Brazilian wax) and plenty of human wax statues in many sex related scenes.
What is so special about it? Well, you get to see sex photos, lingerie worn by women in the old days, private parts made from wax, sex toys and plenty others… You will have to check it out yourself.
5. Dam Square
This is where the River Amster was dammed in the 13th century. Before the Damrak canal was filled in in 1672, boats could sail down here and unload their goods. The name Amsterdam derived from Dam square. A village grew around here as boats could sail right up the canal to the square and trade their goods.
The Rijksmuseum is the most important collection in Amsterdam and the one museum you should not miss here. After extensive renovations, it is fully accessible again since spring 2013. The Museum was founded in Den Haag in 1800 and later relocated to Amsterdam; since 1885, it resides in an impressive ochre-coloured building that combines neo-renaissance with neo-gothic influences. The collections include Dutch and Dutch-colonial history, marine models, and of course the masters of the Golden Age of Dutch painting: Frans Hals, Jan Vermeer, Jacob Ruisdael, Rembrandt. The best-known Rembrandt painting – the “Nightwatch” – is the jewel of the collection.
7. Van Gogh Museum
Dedicated to Van Gogh, this museum contains the world’s largest collection by the artist. It also exhibits works by some of Van Gogh’s contemporaries, such as Manet, Gauguin, Seurat, and Monet. I would consider this to be the best museum in Amsterdam, but unfortunately, so does every visitor to Amsterdam. Getting into the museum was a bit of a hellish experience whether or not you buy a general admission ticket in advance. We actually had to return the following day because the queue was impossibly long. The only type of advance ticket that works well is the “timed ticket” that gives you access at a specific day and time. Otherwise, the general admission ticket like ours doesn’t do much good.
8. Flower Market – Bloemenmarkt
Located on the Singel, one of the oldest canals of Amsterdam, the Bloemenmarkt has been in operation since 1862.
The 15 flower stalls are built out into the Singel, floating on the water in houseboat-like structures. Whatever your favorite flower is, chances are good that you will find it here. Take care: flowers, plants and seeds need to have a stamp on the packet that indicates it has been cleared through customs; this will allow you to cross country borders with your flower packet safely.
In December, the Bloemenmarkt market is stocked with masses of Christmas trees, evergreen garlands and wreaths. In addition to flowers, some stalls sell Dutch-themed souvenirs.
Open year round, Bloemenmarkt’s hours of operation are Monday through Saturday from 09.00-17:30 and on Sunday 11.00 to 17.30.
9. Heineken Brewery
The Heineken Experience takes you through the history of the brand and the process of making beer. This is one of the most interactive ‘factory’ tours I’ve been to. There are lots of little commentaries to watch, booths to send free picture emails to friends and family, a little ‘discotheque’ where you can play DJ in 2 spinning booths, and a live-motion movie that takes you through the streets of Amsterdam on the beer wagon.
And the main reason people go on a brewery tour: free beer. There are two bars serving Heineken, one in the middle of the tour and the other at the end. The price of admission includes 3 drink tickets (1 at the first bar and 2 at the 2nd).
In the Netherlands the sale of cannabis, marijuana, in small amounts for personal use is permitted and tolerated by the authorities. Licensed coffee shops, or coffeeshops as the Dutch spell it, sell grass in the form of joints, for smoking and in baked goods for eating. Most of these coffeeshops also serve drinks (even coffee!) and food. Coffeeshops are not allowed to serve alcohol or other drugs. Sales to minors is prohibited, as is selling without a license or selling hard drugs.
The sale of grass in coffeeshops was introduced in the 1970s with the explicit goal of separating hard and soft drug usage. Dutch coffee houses that do not sell marijuana are called koffiehuis, translated as coffee house.
11. Begijnhof – The Wooden House
The Begijnhof dates back to around the early 14th century and was built as a community for a particular group of women who were not nuns but lay women who were only bound by vows whilst they remained in the community. They were free to leave whenever they wished e.g. to get married etc.
As with so many buildings of note in Europe over the centuries the Begijnhof was damaged by fire and then rebuilt. Here you will find the oldest wooden house in Holland.
There are some wonderful stories attached to the Begijnhof so be sure to check them out.
We were lucky to be there when there was a wedding in progress. There are two churches in the complex which overall is very attractive.
There are still people living there today.
12. Madame Tussaud’s
If you have been in one Madame Tussauds you may well have been in them all. Thats always assuming you can get in at all. Last year we went to London and were faced with four hours queues, so this time when we visited Amsterdam we thought we’d try again. Purchasing our tickets online beforehand, we arrived at opening time and were inside less than one minute later… much better!
After going inside and taking a lift up foor floors, you are led through a series of rooms in which recreations of the past life and glory of Amsterdam are seen. Then through a series of rooms recreating an old pirate jail… but be warned: some of the wax pirates are still alive and will jump out and grab you.
After all this excitement, its down to business as the rest of the building is taken over by famous wax people giving you an opportunity to get your photos taken with the rich and famous and infamous people the world knows so well.
Leidseplein is a vibrant outdoor eating area even in the depths of winter. Most restaurants have covered outdoor seating and patron’s comfort is greatly enhanced by the large heaters situated in the awnings. The famous Boom Chicago bar is located here and the tram runs through the heart of the square. Busking and musical entertainment is always going on and Leidseplein square is a lively place to people watch both day and night.
14. Artis Zoo
The Artis Zoo is a great place to visit with your children.
Artis is more than just a zoo, it’s also an Aquarium, Botanical garden, Zoological Museum, Geological Museum and Planetarium. In fact, Artis is the Royal Zoological Society “Natura Artis Magistra” founded on May 1, 1838 at the initiative of G.F.Westerman.
The garden is the oldest in Amsterdam and some of its unique trees are over 200 years old.
Each day 9AM – 5PM.
Admission: Euro 18.95.
The Vondelpark is a beautiful landscaped public park located near the Museumplein, perfect for a relaxation break after visiting the nearby museums. Features of the park include ponds and fountains, several sculptures including one by Picasso, a large rose garden and four cafés. There is also an open-air theatre with performances taking place during the summer months.
16. China Town
The Fo Guang Shan He Hwa Temple is the biggest Chinese temple of the I.B.P.S. (International Buddhist Progress Society) in Europe that is built in a tradional style. It is part of a world-wide Chinese Buddhist organisation, the I.B.P.S, which was founded by Venarable Master Hsing Yun.
The function of the temple is expressed through its four aims:
- To spread Buddhism, partly through cultural activities.
- To help develop the talents of people.
- To help further positive developments in society by means of chairty programmes.
- To purify the hearts and minds of all people by giving them the opportunity to learn how to practise Buddhism.
Every sunday, from 10.30 am onwards, there is a Sutra recitation in the trational Chinese way.
Every year, in may the birth of the Budda is celebrated at the Nieuwmarkt.
The temple was opened by queen Beatrix on 15 september 2000.
17. Nemo Museum
Where to start once you’re inside NEMO? That is a question that can’t be answered. I guess everybody first visits the spots he or she is truly interested in. Funny thing is that everybody that enters the museum immediately starts to get into (inter)action. Right at the entrance you can make the biggest soap bubble and see if you fit inside. This is a very crowded part of the museum and once you’re past this point (near the cloakroom) you’ll see everybody split up and go their own way.
It’s a great museum! Just enjoy the space shower (cosmic rays will bombard you), find out how unique you are at “Codename: DNA” and learn the secrets of gravity, light, sound and static electricity at Phenomena section. Don’t forget to visit the roof terrace. Why this particular part was built is quite interesting. The architect came to the conclusion that Amsterdam was missing a ‘piazza’, in contrast to other world cities. Therefore he created this elevated viewpoint of which you’re able to look over the city. It is truly a breathtaking viewpoint.
18. Old Church – Oude Kerk
Its name means the “Old Church” which is appropriate given that it is not only Amsterdam’s oldest church, but also its oldest structure. It was first built as a small wooden chapel in the early 13th century, then it was reconstructed in stone as a proper church dedicated to Saint Nicolas in the early 14th century (though it continues to have a wooden roof!). Thereafter, following successive expansions, alterations, and damage, it was rendered as it is today. The damage mostly came during the struggle between Catholics and Protestants, but Oude Kerk was claimed by the Protestants once and for all in 1578 and has remained Protestant ever since. Nowadays, it finds itself adjacent to Amsterdam’s red light district – quite inappropriate for the city’s most important church.
19. Bicycle Tours
The city is definitely bicycle-friendly, with clearly marked bike-lanes and only the slightest inclines over the canal bridges. And having our yellow bikes really let us do everything at our own pace. Didn’t have to wait around for trams and we could park anywhere. Maybe watch out for scooters. For some reason, these high-speed vehicles are allowed on the bike lanes in Amsterdam but then again everyone seemed so civilized and considerate that I didn’t notice any dangerous type encounters.
20. Diamond Factories
Make time to visit at least one. The diamond trade was first introduced to Amsterdam during the 16th century and today the city continues to be one of the world’s most important diamond centres. During the World War II, more than 2000 Amsterdam Jewish diamond polishers vanished into concentration camps in Germany and Poland and by the end of the War practically nothing was left of the trade.
21. Koninklijk Paleis – Royal Palace
This architectural beauty, adding Baroque touches to Neoclassical style and imposing over Dam Square, is the Royal Palace, known in Dutch as Koninklijk Paleis. It was completed in 1655 by the architect Jacob van Campen as the city hall of Amsterdam (and to me still looks like one), but was converted into a royal palace in 1806 by the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon, who became King Louis I of Holland. Although the turbulence of that period passed, this edifice has continued thereafter to be the Royal Palace of Amsterdam.
22. Scheepvaart – Maritime Museum
The Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum) is housed at Lands Zeemagazijn, build in 1656 as a storage building for the Navy (still present at the neighbouring Marine Etablissement at the Kattenburgerstraat).
In the water next to the museum you can visit the Amsterdam, a replica of the former ship that sailed to the East Indies.
Along the Oosterdok you also can visit the Amsterdam Museum harbour.
The museum went through a renovation and reopened at October 1, 2011.
Entrance fee: 15 Euro.
If you don’t have much time and want to see more – the best way is to take guided walking tours. Guides are very enthusiastic and funny. You will find out many interesting facts about the city… and more. The tour lasts 2 hours and is based on tips. Highly recommend it.
24. Erotic Museum
Once an old warehouse, this museum is situated in the heart of the Red Light District. Set on three floors, there are various exhibits of Erotica such as paintings, photos, sculptures, waxworks and animations. An extensive display on the Red Light District, old condom machines, John Lennon’s lithographs and a section on bondage are just a few of the highlights of the museum. A small gift shop on the bottom floor sells erotic memorabilia as well as sex toys and postcards. In my opinion a lot better and cheaper than the sex museum with much more to see.
25. Rembrandtplein Area
The Rembrandtplein is a square in the innerpart of Amsterdam which once was named Botermakrt (Butter market). It got the name of Rembrandtplein after the square was honoured with a statue of Rembrandt Van Rijn, Dutch world-famous painter, created by Louis Royer in 1852. This statue was placed right in the middle of the square.