Amsterdam the capital of The Netherlands is known for its artistic heritage, impressive canal system and narrow houses that have gabled facades. A great way to get around the city is by bike as there are 400 km of bicycling paths.
Begijnohof is an enclosed former convent that dates back to the 14th century. Here you can see fascinating, tiny houses and postage-stamp garden surrounding a courtyard. The Beguines were a Catholic order of widowed or unmarried women who took care of the elderly and lived a religious life even though they took no monastic vows. The last of the Beguines died in the 70s.
Here you can see the lovely Begijnhof Kapel. Inside you’ll see marble columns, wooden pews, paintings and beautiful stained glass windows commemorating the Miracle of Amsterdam. There is also another church here called the English Church, built about 1392. Today it serves as the city’s Presbyterian Church. At number 45 you’ll find a house dating from 1465 making it the oldest preserved wooden house in the country.
A wonderful, small museum is the Amsterdam Tulip Museum with a gift shop full of all kinds of floral souvenirs. Here you can learn about the history of tulips through exhibits, timelines and two short films in English. Lots of fascinating things to learn like how tulip bulbs were used as food during the war years and about modern day tulip growing and harvesting. Among the highlights here are tulip paintings by 17th century artist Judith Leijster and a collection of tulip vases that are designed to accommodate separate stems.
For art lovers there is the Rijksmuseum with many Rembrandts and Vermeers to delight the eyes. In fact they have 7500 other masterpieces on display in over 1.5 km of galleries. Artworks – The Golden Age – offers still life, gentlemen in ruffled collars and landscapes painted in pale yellow light. You’ll also find Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” here painted in 1642. Other things to see are Delftware – blue and white pottery, doll houses with intricate detail and the Asian Pavilion. Take the time to wander through the sculpture gardens outside.
Visitors enjoy the Heineken Experience. This is a newly renovated attraction on the side of the old brewery. Here you can take a self-guided tour and learn about the history of the Heineken family, watch Heineken commercials from all around the globe, visit the horse stables and have the opportunity to make your own music video. One of the highlights here is a multimedia exhibit in which you actually become a “beer”. You’ll get shaken up, sprayed by water and exposed to heat. Afterwards you can drink down some tall cold ones.
For most everything Rembrandt head for the Museum het Rembrandt huis. This is were Rembrandt established and ran the largest painting studio in The Netherlands. Unfortunately he lost the studio to bankruptcy. In the museum you’ll find practically every etching the great artists made – about 250. There are also etching demonstrations several times daily. On display are between 20 to 100 etchings. There are also large collections of Rembrandt’s possessions, seashells, weaponry, Roman busts and military helmets.
Amsterdam’s oldest surviving building dating back to 1306 is the Old Church. It was built to honor the city’s patron saint, St. Nicholas who was the inspiration for Saint Nick with the red suit. The church has the loveliest tower in the city and from it you can get amazing view of Amsterdam including the Red Light District. There are impressive 15th century carvings on the choir stalls, an amazing Muller organ, gilded oak vaults and stained glass windows dating from 1555. Many famous Amsterdam residents are buried here beneath worn tombstones among them Rembrandt’s first wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh.
Fast becoming one of the top tourist attractions is the Anne Frank House. Here you can see her bedroom and the actual diary in a glass case. The main focus is the rear house also called the Secret Annex which is a dark and airless space where the Franks and others hid. Here on the walls they pasted pictures of Hollywood stars and read Dickens until they were betrayed and sent to their deaths.
A sight to behold is the Albert Cuypmarkt. This is Amsterdam’s largest and busiest market. Here you can find all kinds of food from local to foreign. Vendors draw your attention to the wares they sell. You can also purchase clothing and general goods here cheaper than anywhere else. The most tempting are the snack vendors offering herring sandwiches, egg rolls, donuts and stroopwafels – thin waffels with caramel syrup filling. The surrounding area has quaint cafes and eateries.
Nature lovers enjoy Amsterdam’s answer to New York City’s Central Park – Vondelpark. Here residents and tourist can relax and read, stroll, have a beer at a cafe and listen to people strumming guitars and singing. There are lovely ponds, gardens and winding footpaths. If you like you can rent a bike by the park’s main entrance.
Quickly becoming a popular attraction is Hermitage Amsterdam which opened its doors in 2009. This is the local branch of St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum in Russia. You’ll delight in such exhibits as treasures from the Russian Palace or artworks by Matisse and Picasso.
The Van Gogh Museum has a glass entrance hall and the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh artwork. There are also artworks by contemporaries Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet and Bernard.
The oldest zoo on the European continent is Artis Royal Zoo. You can see a variety of animals such as alligators, birds, chimps and so on. There are ponds, statues and leafy, winding footpaths. There are also themed habitats like the African Savannah and a tropical rainforest. There is an aquarium complex featuring coral reefs, shark tanks and an Amsterdam canal from the point of view of a fish. You’ll also find a planetarium here and a petting zoo for children.
Known as the New Church this 15th century late-Gothic Basilica was used for Dutch coronations. Inside you can see a magnificent carved oak chancel, a bronze choir screen, a massive organ and huge stained-glass windows. Today the church is used for exhibitions and organ concerts.
Of special interest is the Royal Palace of Amsterdam located on Dam Square in the center of the city. It was built as a city hall for the magistrates of Amsterdam. It was the largest secular building of Europe in the 17th century. Nowadays it is one of three palaces which the State has placed at the King’s disposal by an Act of Parliament and is used for Royal Event such as reception of the foreign heads of state during their visits to The Netherlands, the King’s New Year’s reception and other official receptions.
An amazing and large square on which the above mentioned palace is located is Dam Square. It was created in the 13th century when a dam was built around Amstel River to prevent the Zuiderzee Sea from flooding the city. Here you’ll find food stalls, restaurants and plenty of shops. Here something is going on all the time and there is plenty of entertainment in the summer. One of the main attractions is the Royal Palace. In the square is the National Memorial Statue that was built in memory of Dutch soldiers and members of resistance who lost their lives in WW II. It was unveiled in 1956 and stores soil from all of Holland’s provinces as well as the Dutch East Indies. On the back of the obelisk are crests of the provinces.
The one thing you must see at this square is Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. It is located above Peck & Clopenburg Department Store. It has been modernized and is equipped with multimedia effects just like an indoor amusement park. A huge roof has been added to accomodate Claas Janszoon – the world’s largest animatronics’ wax figure that greets you at the start of your visit. Your visit starts at the top where an elevator will take you and then you start your walk downwards. Here the wax figures have all been made taller and prettier than in real life. This is quite popular with teenagers as there is a chance to dress up like Michael Jackson and have your photo taken. For great picture taking head for the round window at the top of the building.
No visit to Amsterdam would be complete if you didn’t take a boat out onto the canals. This city has been referred to as “The Venice of the North”. A canal tour is exciting by day and romantic by night. Lots of the houses by the canals and bridges are illuminated at night. There are four main city canals – Prinsengracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Singel. There are smaller canals in the former working class area – Jordaan. Check to find out when but there is a great event about historic sailing ships called Amsterdam SAIL.
The city’s most famous bridge is Magere Brug or Skinny Bridge. It is a traditional double-leaf, Dutch drawing bridge that connects the banks of the Amstel River. The bridge opens up about every 20 minutes to let boats go through.
Of interest is Jordaan where you’ll see converted warehouses now inhabited by students, business men and creative professionals. Wander through the narrow streets, past picturesque canals, look through art galleries and shops and relax at quaint cafes.
Amsterdam’s Red Light District has become a popular tourist destination. There is a kind of beer and party atmosphere in the streets here. The stores offer hardcore videos, magazines and sex toys. You can see the famous red window lights and even the lights lining the bridges are red. This is considered a safe area if you are curious to take a look but do be careful. There is a very strict no photo policy.
Hortus Botanicus is a large and amazing botanical garden. It is one of the oldest in the world dating from 1632. There are over 6000 plants. Some like the 2000 year old agave cactus are really incredible to see. The Orangery has been made into a lovely cafe with a large terrace that opens up to the gardens. It is a wonderful place to do some relaxing.
Amsterdam also offers eight stunning windmills in the heart of the city.
If you wish to take in a movie there are more than 50 cinemas in the city where films are shown in their native language with Dutch subtitles. A most impressive theater is The Tuschinski Theater. It was constructed in 1921 – a mix of Art Deco and Amsterdam’s school style. It has a luxurious foyer and is thought to be one of the most beautiful cinemas in Europe.