Amsterdam. The name that was conceived from the word Amstelredamme – which pretty much means the city’s origin was at the dam of the river Amstel – sparks many different thoughts and opinion from people worldwide. Amsterdam is renown for its casual view on drugs and sexual liberty. It’s often the party stop on a person’s Europe tour and people come and go each day, only being drawn to the racy Red Light District and then to mellow out in one of the many coffee shops. This is the sad part about Amsterdam, that it’s reputation as being the wild, party city overrides what is really beautiful about the city of canals. So here’s a few reasons why you should keep walking through the Red Light District and explore what Amsterdam really has to offer.
1. Sprawl out in the sun in Vondelpark
The largest park in Amsterdam is 45 hectares of lush greenery which is just begging to be picnicked on. Situated close to Museumplein, Vondelpark is a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike, with over 10 million visitors a year. Always buzzing with activity, you will never be short of people to watch as they run, cycle or rollerblade around the park. During the warmer months, the grass is covered with people enjoying the sunny weather with a picnic and a beer. There are often free open-air concerts which draw large crowds and are a great way to see local talent. With the sun not going down until around 10pm in the summer, its the perfect place for you to escape the crazy streets of Amsterdam and relax and watch the sunset.
2. Get cultured in the Museumplein
Museumplein is so aptly named because it literally translates to Museum Square. It hosts the grand Rijksmuseum, which is home to approximately 8,000 pieces of art and paintings. This included many masterpieces by Rembrandt, such as the colossal sized and world famous ‘The Night Watch’. You will also find the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum and the infamous IAMSTERDAM sign, with tourists clambering all over the larger than life letters. Once you’ve been cultured, rest your brain and plonk yourself down on the soft grass to do a spot of people watching.
3. Catch the ferry to the other side of Amsterdam and dig for second hand treasures at the flea market
Instead of walking out of Amsterdam Centraal towards the hustle and bustle of Dam Square, exit the train station from the other side and catch the free ferry across the IJ River to Amsterdam Noord. This industrial area is the upcoming ‘place to be’ in Amsterdam, which is is infinitely better than the Red Light District. Once a month, the IJ-Hallen flea market is held in the old NDSM ship building structures are are a hidden treasure in itself. The markets, which are the largest flea markets in Europe run from 9am until 4:30pm and have absolutely everything on offer at dirt cheap prices. It’s the place where you will find that unique treasure that you can take home and boast to all your friends about how you ‘just bought it in Amsterdam’. As well as the markets, there are several cafes and bars on this side of the IJ which are effortlessly hip. In particular Pllek, the ultra cool beachy bar and restaurant that sits on the banks of the IJ River. Made up of a warehouse and old shipping containers, Pllek attracts all the cool kids with its chilled out vibe and is a great place to enjoy the warm weather. Theres live music on Sundays as well as yoga and massages on the beach.
4. Ride a bike through the narrow streets
There is no better way to see the city of Amsterdam than by bike. Apart from boats, this city was built for bicycles. There are special bike lanes everywhere and with a shrill ‘brrriiingg’ of your bell, you will have people leaping out of your way as you buzz past. Bike riding is a way of life here in the Netherlands, not just a form of exercise. So for a true Dutch experience, get on yo’ bike and enjoy the city on two wheels. Just a bit of advice from an (almost) local – if you can’t ride a bike, don’t begin here. It is a similar experience to crossing the road in Asian cities, just with fancier bikes and taller people. Locals get seriously peeved by stupid tourists trying to steer their bikes around and blocking the roads. And don’t ride a bike if you’re planning on spending some time in coffee shops. Leave the smoking and riding to the locals who have perfected that talent over the years.
5. Visit the house of Anne Frank
This one is a given. You can’t go to Amsterdam without visiting this iconic place, even if you aren’t that familiar with the story of Anne Frank. Located on the Prinsengracht canal, the nondescript building would probably by bypassed except for the multitudes of people that line up outside the doors everyday to witness Anne Frank’s hiding place. A sobering but fascinating place, the Anne Frank House (or in Dutch, the Achterhuis) not only has the original secret rooms that Anne and her family hid in for more than two years, but also a museum that exhibits the life and times of Anne Frank. The Achterhuis is always busy so it’s best to time your visits either early in the morning or in the evening (From March to October it is open from (9am-9pm).
6. Enjoy a beer (or three) in Rembrandtplein
Instead of losing yourself amongst the red lights, keep on walking to Rembrandtplein, where there are bars and pubs are aplenty and the atmosphere alive. The square is, of course named after famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn, who had a house nearby. in 2006, as a part of his 400th birthday, Russian artists Mikhail Dronov and Alexander Taratynov created a bronze-cast representation of his most famous painting, ‘The Night Watch’. Rembrandtplein is a hive of social activity with tourists and residents filling up the bars and restaurants that surround the square. A short walk away is Leidesplein, another popular drinking area. Both are exponentially better than the trashy, touristy Red Light District.
8. See the narrowest house in Amsterdam
Just when you thought the houses of Amsterdam couldn’t get any narrower, there is one that takes the cake (or clearly not enough cake) in being the skinniest of them all. Situated at Oude Hoogstraat 22, this building which would make supermodels envious, is a mere two metres wide and 6 metres deep. There is also Amsterdam’s narrowest street, whose width is no more than 100cm. Known as Trompettersteeg, you will have to traipse through the Red Light District for this one as it’s located right in the middle. Either side of this narrow street is filled with prostitutes posing through red-lit windows. A popular stop for city tours, this teeny tiny street is alway jam-packed with either people wanting photos of Amsterdams narrowest street or a glimpse at the ladies behind the windows. Or both.
9. Heineken Experience
This one only just makes the cut because essentially it is just a big tourist trap. However, despite this, it’s a pretty bloody fun tourist trap. 18 euros will set you back to enter the old brewery and inside you will find plenty of information and history on the brand. You go behind the scenes in the process of making a beer, as well as ‘becoming a beer’ on the 4D adventure which is every bit as cheesy and fun as it sounds. You get free samples of the cold brew and there are plenty of interactive games you can play. The best part is the free boat ride through the canals of Amsterdam that takes you to their flagship store just behind Rembrandtplein. It’s the best way to see the city. Just be wary of the gift shop, those souvenirs might look a whoooole lot more appealing after several beers!
10. Get out of Amsterdam
Unfortunately, most people only spend a few days in Amsterdam before moving onto other countries. Having lived in the Netherlands for almost a year now, I can only emphasise how much more there is to see. Beautiful old cities such as Maastricht and Utretch are full of history and culture. The fast paced industrial city of Rotterdam is way ahead of the rest of the class. With their party hard attitude and flair for new and innovative architecture, it’s not hard to understand why it’s one of the New York Times ‘Must See Cities’ for 2014. The political city of The Hague is where all the big shots come to talk world affairs, but is also home to the popular Scheveningen Beach if politics don’t take your fancy. During the spring, the world famous Keukenhof comes alive and the national flower of tulips pop up everywhere, which have to be seen to be believed. There is also the UNESCO site, the Kinderdijk, where you will find 19 windmills furiously spinning year round and the gorgeous town of Gouda, where cheese is the official language. The best part about getting out of Amsterdam? The country of the Netherlands is so small you can drive from one end of the country to the other in a matter of hours.
So instead of making Amsterdam your marijuana-smoking-drink-all-you-can-and-oogle-at-the-prostitues stop on your Euro trip, get out and about and experience the city from a locals point of view. You (your liver, lung and dignity) will be thankful for it.