When you mention Amsterdam, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most people, their initial thought is the debauchery of the Red Light District or the marijuana friendly cafes. While those are big parts of the Amsterdam culture, the city has so much more to offer. While traveling for business in April of this year, I got to see some of the things you’d expect. However, even with some of the well known aspects of Amsterdam, I fell in love with the people, culture and history that makes it a place that I will return to visit someday.
One of the first things I noticed once I got situated at the hotel and ventured out were the bicycles. The main form of transportation is undoubtedly riding bikes. I was curious as to how many bikes there may be in Amsterdam – this is what I found –
Amsterdam is trying to keep its hordes of bikes under control. In a city of 800,000, there are 880,000 bicycles, the government estimates, four times the number of cars. In the past two decades, travel by bike has grown by 40 percent so that now about 32 percent of all trips within the city are by bike, compared with 22 percent by car. via the NY Times
For art lovers – Vincent Van Gogh is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters ever. The Van Gogh Museum is also located in Amsterdam. Housing the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings and illustrations in the world, the museum has more than 750 pieces of Van Gogh’s artwork. The Van Gogh museum also houses artwork from Van Gogh’s contemporaries. I didn’t have the chance to check this out for myself, however it’s on my list for next time for sure!
One of the most important historical places is the Anne Frank House. I loved taking the time to visit this historical spot. You are able to tour the building where the Frank family hid during World War II. While the house is empty, it has been said that the spirit of the time is heavy in the house. The museum has several interactive multimedia exhibits about not only the Frank family, but World War II in general. You can also see Anne Frank’s original diary, photographs, documents, and other artifacts of the time. They didn’t allow photos while touring, but I can say that the images are embedded in my mind. It was not hard to imagine what life was like for the Frank family during that time after spending a short while on the tour.
Owner description: A Museum with a Story. Visit the hiding place where Anne Frank wrote her diary during the Second World War. For more than two years, Anne Frank lived secretively with the other people in hiding in the back part of her father’s office building at # 263 Prinsengracht.
Since Amsterdam is built on the water, you can’t miss the canals. In fact, Amsterdam’s name literally means “Dam in a Watery Area.” Their canal system has many uses such as transport, defense from invaders, and directing the water somewhere away from the town. With more than 65 miles of navigable canals, you can take a water taxi, a canal cruise, or even rent a boat to venture out on your own. I took a canal cruise and learned so much about the city. It made sense where Canal Street in New York City came from as well as the architecture as a whole in the northeastern United States.
When I’m spending time in a town, one of my favorite things to do is go off the tourist path. I want to see what the locals see and go where they go. Bruine (“brown”) cafés are to Amsterdam what pubs are to London. They have more authentic food, great beer and are generally more affordable. I hit a few of those. One thing that I found out pretty quick is that the Dutch serve mayonnaise with everything. Think of ketchup here at home in the US, that’s how they use mayo. That, as well as the beer, is served super cold and is just so good!
I felt very safe walking all throughout Amsterdam. The people speak English, are very friendly and laid back. The store fronts of the “coffee shops” are not like anything you can imagine, until you see it for yourself. Of course, you can’t miss the Red Light District. While there are prostitutes peddling their wares in window fronts, there’s also so much more, like the famous Moulin Rouge theater. You may want to venture down to the neighborhood just to people watch. This area isn’t for kids. And for me, while I am glad that I got to see that part of Amsterdam, it was really hard to see the young girls in the windows. I couldn’t help but to think of my girls back home, and well, it made me sad. One thing is for sure, here, the Netherlands’ tolerant attitude really shines.
There’s so much more to see and do, and I look forward to going back and spending more than a day or two in Amsterdam.