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A CITY GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM
Welcome to Amsterdam, a city with a perfect mix of history and culture – not to mention other distractions! This colourful European city certainly leaves little to the imagination; the houses with narrow frontages lining the narrow streets don’t have shutters, coffee shops litter the canal routes and the windows of a certain district will long continue to fascinate tourists. But Amsterdam is above all a city full of history with many cultural and historical roots. This is the city of tulips, Rembrandt, Vermeer and of course, the place that hid Anne Frank from the Nazis. It is impossible not to be amazed by the historic centre and its network of canals, which has been given a UNESCO heritage stamp since 2010. So whether you have an artistic soul, a budding historian or just love to party, Amsterdam has it all!
Amsterdam takes its name from the river Amstel and was first called ‘Amestelledamme’ which translates as ‘the dam on the dam.’ It was given the nickname ‘Amsterdam’ in the fourteenth century. The city became a financial and commercial centre of importance in the seventeenth century as it was situated in the heart of the network of international trade for the European market. Artists such as Rembrandt and Vermeer made cultural and artistic references to this in their paintings of the city’s merchants and high society. Occupied during the Second World War, Amsterdam enjoyed a revival from 1960s when the construction of new neighbourhoods and green spaces shaped the beautiful city we know today.
- Get your history on at the House of Anne Frank and absorb some culture at the Van Gogh Museum
- Try some local cuisine in the form of a herring and Eel sandwich!
- Jump on a bike and get out of the main city to visit some of the iconic windmills and rolling hills the surrounding countryside has to offer - if you’re more of a city dweller then the flower market on Singel Canal will keep you content.
- Partake of Amsterdam’s fantastic nightlife, the perfect end to every evening lies in one of the city’s countless bars.
The Kalverstraat and the Leidsestraat are the most well-known shopping streets in Amsterdam. Both have a good range of high street shops, shopping centres and department stores. But one of the most unique places to shop is the Flower Market on Singel Canal. You can buy everything from cut flowers to seeds and bulbs. Another great place to shop is the funky Jordaan district. The Boerenmarkt on Jordaan’s Noordermarkt is a Saturday farmers’ market where you can find everything from Dutch cheeses to fresh waffles. Elsewhere, the Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) has art galleries, jewellers, boutiques and vintage stores - plenty to keep the most discerning of shoppers happy.
Amsterdam’s coffee shops and red light district are known throughout the world, but the city has a lot more to offer. Restaurants like Pancakes! serve classic Dutch crepes, and great Indonesian cuisine – a relic of the colonial past - can be found at places like Tempo Doeloe. Nightlife is definitely the main event in Amsterdam though, and the perfect place to sample the bar scene is at 't Doktertje, one of the smallest—and coolest—bars in the city. While there, try the local jenever spirit, a precursor to gin. For other evening entertainment, the Paradiso club, housed in a former church, is a great place to spend a night out.
Amsterdam has a lot to do and see, starting with its famous canals. No trip is complete without a canal tour, either on foot, by bike, or on a boat. The city’s museums are worth visiting, too, as the Rijksmuseum is home to works of the most famous Dutch Masters, and the Van Gogh Museum has a wide range of the artist’s paintings. The Anne Frank House, where the famous diary was written, is also worth a visit. Elsewhere, beer lovers can enjoy the Heineken Experience, and those wanting a relaxing afternoon can sit in or cycle through the expansive Vondelpark.
- Watch out for the trams! They are ghostly silent and can sneak up on you while you’re out and about. Make sure to avoid walking on the tracks.
- The best way to get around Amsterdam like a local is by bike. There are many places around the city where you can rent them inexpensively and cyclists take priority.
Off the Beaten Track
Most people know Amsterdam for its canals and tall, narrow houses, but it’s worth renting a bike for a day and cycling out to the countryside, which is surprisingly close to the heart of the city. Buildings give way to open fields full of windmills, and the famously flat Dutch countryside makes it easy to cycle for miles.
In the springtime, don’t miss the chance to take a bus or train out to Lisse to visit the famous tulips at Keukenhof Gardens. Thousands of bulbs paint the landscape in bright colours and you can spend all day exploring the grounds.
As for museums, Amsterdam has some quirky ones. The Cat Cabinet is dedicated to all things feline, with a collection exploring the role of cats in art and culture throughout history. Equally offbeat, the Spectacles Museum showcases spectacle fashion and history over a 700-year period.
Julie Falconer is a London-based travel writer and consultant. She writes an award-winning travel and lifestyle blog, A Lady in London, for which she has travelled to 97 countries. She is also an online strategy and social media consultant, public speaker, and freelance writer and photographer. Originally from San Francisco, Julie attended Brown University and came to the UK in 2007 after leaving a career in finance, during which time she worked for Goldman Sachs and a hedge fund.