A windmill in old Amsterdam: A guide to the Dutch capital

Amsterdam – even the utterance of the word conjures up provocative images of red lights and illicit substances. However, this largely stereotypical depiction of the city remains elusive. What prevails is a city brimming with history, culture and experience to satisfy the palate of every visitor.


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Any trip to Europe should include Amsterdam and all of its gloriously legal activities (of which I would never take part in, obviously). Top places of interest include the Anne Frank House, Red Light District, the sex museum and the Albert Cuyp market.

The trains, trams and buses are easily navigable, although it sometimes seems as if you’re the only one not choosing a bike as your mode of transportation. Visitors can buy a disposable one-hour pass or a day pass, which offers visitors durations from one to seven days. Single-use tickets can be purchased from the tram or bus driver as well as from self-service machines located throughout the city. If you’re interested in a day pass, then you’ll need to purchase that in advance.

Although there are many public transport options, the most authentic way to see the city is by bike, it’s a cost-effective and thoroughly enjoyable way to explore this infamous city of canals. Avoid the brash and touristy ‘Mac Bike’ and instead visit any one of the independent bike shops peppered across the city. Not only are these bikes cheaper, but you’re also less likely to be the subject of frantic bell ringing by the overly competent locals.
When visiting new cities, museums can often be a generic experience that don’t inform you about and engage you with the local area. However, a visit to the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum are a must. Both attractions eschew the traditional museum experience. They offer a relaxed, informative, and at times moving insight into Dutch history and culture.

For those who do enjoy the conventional museum, the Rijks and the recently opened modern art museum, Stedelijk, are situated close by in the aptly named Museum Plein (Museum Square). The sex museum on the other hand, is an experience unique to Amsterdam and one that’s worth a quick visit. As you might expect, the venue is quirky and full of surprises.
While ample shopping is available for every budget, Amsterdam is certainly not the holy grail of shopping destinations. Dutch society remains astonishingly, yet admirably, outside the parameters of such entrenched capitalism seen elsewhere. Large commercial events such as Easter, Halloween and Sinterklaas (Dutch Christmas), while are celebrated largely shun the involvement of commerce. However, mainstream shopping is at hand down the Kalverstraaat, while the picturesque Jordaan offers a more upmarket and personal shopping experience.
On the weekends this desirable residential quarter of Amsterdam (Jordann) also plays host to an indulgent, if expensive, food market. Waterlooplein also has a daily flea market. While in Amsterdam one must spend at least one afternoon simply doing nothing. Head to one of the parks (Vondel, Ooster or Wester), to simply observe the serene and composed attitude this city takes towards life. Take a walk around the three principal canals of Amsterdam to observe the striking architecture – much of which is built on the reclaimed land. A glimpse upwards will reveal many of the towering structures of Amsterdam are significantly angled due to the sinking foundations. One of the primary concerns of Dutch parliament at present is how to retain and protect this soggy topography upon which much of western Holland, known as the Randstad, is built.
It is at night when the city really comes to life. Dutch partying starts late and ends early – early the next day that is. Before heading to a popular establishment, such as Melkweg or Paradiso, check out a classic café. The only windmill left in central Amsterdam has been converted into a popular micro-brewery. The I’j, named after the large river it is situated on, is not only a bargain but is a rich and redolent insight into Dutch life. You can even tour the brewery for a small fee. Visiting a coffee shop or walking the red-light district is of course part of the city’s rich and colorful history. Just remember, red and green are not the only colors to experience in this stunning, historic and magical capital.

The only thing that’s recommended to skip is the Hop On-Hop off bus tour. It leaves something to be desired – like interesting information. But it is usually a fun way to learn the layout of a city if you want to spend the money.

Liberal indulgences aside, Amsterdam a welcoming city, full of history with plenty of activities to keep you busy for days. And as luck has it, the Dutch people have one of the highest levels of English spoken as a second language so finding your way around the city is simple since there is virtually no language barrier. And of course, the city itself is beautifully laid-out and offers visitors a unique view at the canals cutting through all parts of the city.

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