Hookers, Weed, and Beer, Oh My! Considered by many to be one of the most free cities in the world, Amsterdam certainly lives up to its party reputation. Drawing in loads of tourists on a daily basis, it’s a popular destination for those looking to get away from the strict laws of their own society as well as a first hand look at Dutch history and culture. Founded in 1200 as a small fishing village, Amsterdam lies at the mouth of the Amstel River. The tiny town quickly grew to become a major trading city of Northern Europe.
Looking down at a map of the city is like looking at an onion sliced in half. Canals form a ring around the city centre, whose banks are lined with mansions, warehouses, cozy cafes, and houseboats. These waterways are spanned by numerous beautiful bridges that embody the very spirit of Amsterdam.
Out of all the other mainland European cities, you won’t find another with as much English spoken as in Amsterdam. This is perhaps because of the large percentage of tourists from England and the United States. While this will make Americans feel at home, one major difference is the ratio of bicycles to cars. The Dutch love their bikes and this one city alone has more than 250 miles of bike paths.
While Amsterdam is known for many things, the top two characteristics most often discussed are probably legal prostitution and the use of certain drugs, particularly that of Marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms. You can’t venture far without smelling the aroma of burning marijuana from one of the many smoking coffeeshops. These bars cater to those looking to enhance their Holland experience with a little experimentation.
Perhaps the most famous in all the world, the Red Light District is a complete tourist magnet. Every night is fairly crowded but go on a Friday or Saturday and you’ll think you’ve somehow been transported to Tokyo during rush hour. The expanse of people up and down these streets is amazing. Despite what your common perception of a prostitute may be, you’ll see some of the most beautiful women in the world scattered along its tiny alleys and neon lights. For men and women alike, it’s definitely an Amsterdam sight you won’t want to miss. Just be aware of pickpockets when the crowds get heavy and don’t be surprised when approached by drug dealers. A simple “No Thanks” is all that’s needed.
The center of Amsterdam is divided into four main sections. These include Oude Zijde, Nieuwe Zijde, Canal Ring, and the Museum Quarter. All are dotted with popular sights including famous museums picturesque churches, and trendy cafes.
Oude Zijde (Old Side) was once just a narrow strip along the Amstel River. In the early 1400’s, it began to expand eastward due to the increase of Jewish refugees from Portugal. On Jodenbreestraat, is the Rembrandthuis. It’s here that Rembrandt worked and taught from 1639 to 1660. You can see some of his fine collection of art displayed here. In the center of Old Side, you’ll find the Oude Kerk. With its present Gothic Architecture, it’s the oldest church in the city and was once a popular gathering place among traders. Not far away is the red, neon glow of the famous Red Light District.
Nieuwe Zijde (New Side) which lies just west of Old Side includes the cities two most popular shopping streets of Nieuwendijk and Kalverstraat. One of the most famous squares in the city is Dam Square. Dominated by the beautiful architecture of Koninklijk Paleis and Nieuwe Kerk, it’s a great place to people watch and enjoy a Heineken. For a nice peaceful walk, check out the Begijnhof. Built in 1346 as a sanctuary for a Catholic sisterhood, it contains rows of beautiful houses as well as the Houten House. With its wood front, this structure is the oldest in the city and dates back to around 1420.
The Canal Ring is one of the best places to walk and explore in all of Amsterdam. Its old connected buildings and houses line the water making it a great backdrop for pictures. Taking a boat tour is very popular among tourists and allows you to cover a lot of ground, or water in this case. Along the Prinsengracht is where you’ll find the Anne Frankhuis. It was here that Anne Frank and her family hid from the Germans for more than two years before being discovered and taken to concentration camps. The tour itself is both sad and powerful. Of course, you feel sadness for what they must have gone through, but it also reinforces the strength of the human spirit and our innate ability to cope with adversity through whatever means necessary.
The Museum Quarter is an area designated for Amsterdam art and culture. It’s where you’ll find many of the city’s top museums, including the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. Both are rich in history and the Rijksmuseum probably owns the best collection of Dutch art in the world. It’s a huge building however, so you may want to focus on a certain area of interest.
Amsterdam is by far a city worth visiting. Whether looking to party or just to take quiet strolls along the numerous canals, the friendly people and atmosphere will broaden your mind and leave you wondering whether a society is better off having a less strict code of conduct or more stern.
——————–Amsterdam Travel Tips——————–
When to Go
For great weather, July through August are the best times to visit Holland. The crowds are heavy, but it’s fairly warm and great time of year to walk around. April to May is a good time to see the daffodils and tulips come to life.
What to See
- Dam Square
- Red Light District
- Anne Frankhuis
- Van Gogh Museum
- Oude Kerk
- Canal Ring
- Koninklijk Paleis
What to Eat
Dutch cuisine can be very hearty. The potatoes are excellent as well as any dairy product including milk, butter, and especially cheese. Being close to the water, seafood is also a common favorite. The mussels, sole, and fresh herring are very tasty.
What to Drink
Just like their close neighbors in Belgium, the Dutch produce great beer. Heineken, Amstel, and Grolsch are among the top favorites.
What to Buy
The two best items from Amsterdam would probably be Flowers and Cheese. Both represent the country well and are something unique to Holland. For Souvenirs, modern blue delftware or a pair of wooden clogs always make a nice gift.
Most bars, cafes, and restaurants add a service charge of 15% to the total bill. However, it is still customary to round up to the nearest Euro.