It’s difficult to some up a major city in just a few words, and many suffer from something of an image problem based on stereotypes and generalisations. However, the adjectives typically used to describe Amsterdam are more accurate than most.
The Dutch have a reputation for being open, tolerant, relaxed and innovative, and while Amsterdam can occasionally suffer from the same social problems that afflict any major city, the capital usually reflects these values pretty well.
Dominating the cityscape in Amsterdam are its famous canals – themselves a perfect example of the innovative approach taken in the city. When immigration was peaking in the early 17th century, the city’s response to managing transport, trade, water supply and providing defence for the area was the creation of a series of canals in concentric semi-circles around the port. The architecture of Amsterdam meanwhile is a real mish-mash of almost every style imaginable: Renaissance, baroque, neo-gothic, art nouveau, art deco – the list goes on and on. These buildings sit comfortably alongside each other as if they were built at the same time, each seeking to utilise space as best it can.
Amsterdam is a very popular tourist destination, offering something to suit almost every taste. This includes the local hotels- with a bit of careful planning you can find some really interesting accommodation for bargain prices.
If you fancy taking a trip to see what the city of Amsterdam has to offer, here’s a few things to look out for:
While the Van Gogh Museum provides more than 200 paintings and 500 drawings from perhaps the city’s most famous former artist-in-residence, there is so much more on offer. The Rijksmuseum houses the largest collection of classical Dutch art, with masterpieces from the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer permanently on display. Moving into the modern era, the The Stedelijk Museum boasts pre-war works by everyone from Cézanne and Picasso to Matisse and Chagall.
The museum dedicated to the life of Jewish schoolgirl Anne Frank, whose diary famously documented her family’s – ultimately unsuccessful – attempt to hide from the Nazis in occupied Holland, is definitely worth a look. Taking a tour of the Frank’s 1940s hideaway provides an eerie authenticity you don’t get in many other museums. However, the queues to get in are famously long, so those on a short break might want to save it for another time!
Food and drink
Half the fun of Amsterdam is exploring the narrow streets and small cafes and bars that seemingly appear out of nowhere, but Twee Zwaantjes and Wynand Fockink are popular haunts, and the Jordaan area is worth getting lost in. For a unique dining experience, the kitschy Latei on the Old Side serves up a range of vegetarian dishes based around couscous; what’s more, everything in the cafe – even the wallpaper – is for sale. Real night-owls should try out the Nachttheater Sugar Factory, which is a place where performances meet clubbing, the actors mixing with MCs, 80s synth pop and techno. For something really cutting edge, the Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ in the eastern Docklands, is a state-of-the art music complex and one of the most innovative in Europe.
The Vondelpark is not just Amsterdam’s largest open space, it’s a social and cultural hub at the centre of the city, hosting music, sculpture, cinema and providing a place for groups to gather and relax together. Also in the heart of the city, the Begijnhof is home to the secluded gardens of a 14th century convent, the perfect place to rest and relax away from the noise of the street.
Lastly, if you’re going to indulge in any clichés while in Amsterdam, get on a bike – it’s by far the cheapest and easiest way to get around the city.
photo by MorBCN on flickr