Amsterdam: The Venice of The North
April 3, 2015
With more than 100 kilometres of canals, Amsterdam has long been referred to as the Venice of the North, but what is there to do – other than visit the Anne Frank Museum and get your picture taken with the enormous “I Amsterdam” sign? It’s often the case that what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam – so your friends might not remember what they got up to when they last visited…
With a city of such contradictions of drugs, sex and culture – what is there available for those that are broader minded, and those that want a truly educational tour? In answer to all of these questions, here is our definitive guide of what to get up to in Amsterdam!
If sampling local drinks is your thing, then why not go further than local bars and go to a local brewery. There might be a bit of a battle waging between whether you go to the Amstel Brewery or the Heineken Brewery, and we’d advise you buy tickets for both in advance!
However if you’re a serious beer enthusiast (or have just had enough of fizzy European larger) and would like a more authentic brewery experience we’d recommend you visit the “Windmill Brewery” on Funenkade steet (its called Brouwerij ‘t IJ in Dutch – and its pronounced “browery eye.”) Enjoy the taste of their five high-percentage beers – but watch out how strong they are! Locals call the many tourists who end up having a few too and end up stumbling home “spinmilled.”
We couldn’t do a guide about Amsterdam without mentioning the “coffee shops!” For the broader minded traveller – Amsterdam is your oyster and what you get up to is up to you! If you want to visit one of the famous “Bulldog” coffee shops then do it! Just remember that you aren’t allowed to take any substances home with you…
Whatever your interest is, whether its art, maritime or space-cakes, Amsterdam has a museum for that! The Van Goph Museum has the world’s largest collection of his works, The National Maritime Museum has 18 rooms of exhibits and naval artefacts and the Museum of Hash, Marihuana & Hemp provides an audio tour of displays detailing the use and origins of these substances. So perhaps if you don’t feel like smoking anything – you could go and look at the history of the countries casual drug use!
Red Light District
Amsterdam is pretty synonymous with sex – and it becomes a completely different place after dark! If you’ve never been to Amsterdam the scantily clad ladies in the red lit windows might be somewhat of a shock…
If you’d like to learn more about the history of the “world’s oldest profession” then visit the Museum of Prostitution (also in the Red light district) or else broaden your mind at Amsterdam’s Sex Museum (which is just outside of the district). Expect surprising photography, amusing displays and even an exhibition about Marylyn Monroe…
However, if you’d rather see something a little more colourful in a different way – then why not check out some of Holland’s flower gardens? Holland is somewhat synonymous with tulips, and an excursion to Keukenhof will dazzle you with its stunning array of colour. The endless fields of tulips stretching as far as the eye can see are an amazing photo op. Try and find some of the art installations hidden amongst the flowers as well!
You could also try out the flower auctions or floating flower market in the heart of Amsterdam along side the canals. If you’re bored of tulips and want a bit of variety you could go to the botanical gardens, which is actually one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. Its €8,50 euros to visit, and gives you the chance to enjoy lush green scenery.
But give the Tulip Museum on Prinsengracht a miss though – trust us – you’re better off going to the Cheese Museum next door!
Dutch chocolate is massively under-appreciated because of their Belgian neighbours – but believe us when we say it’s worth a try! Belgian chocolate traditionally has a higher cocoa content, whilst Dutch chocolate typically comes from cocoa that has been alkalised for a less acidic, smoother taste.
Amsterdam is full of chocolate shops that make produce fresh on the premises, so why not visit them for a steaming cup of fresh hot chocolate, a bite of a chocolate macaroon or to bulk buy bags of chocolate treats!
Visit Puccini Bomboni over in the red light district (just next to the Oude de Kerk) for chocolate flavoured with French liquors or Southeast Asian Spices.
Or visit Metropolitan (also in the red light district!) and carve your name into the chocolate slab above your head after you eat one of the many types of dark, milk or white chocolate. We won’t blame you if you go back for seconds!
Those amongst you that like to see Gothic or Baroque architecture so that you can take a series of arty pictures – Amsterdam has you covered!
The winding streets around the canals are full of weird and wacky picturesque architecture and a great way to see all of this is to hop onto a glass topped canal tour. They are reasonably priced and give you a great overview of the many towering buildings that stand decidedly wonky!
If you’re wandering around the red light district (and we won’t judge you if you are) you might be hard to miss the huge great church in the middle – if it wasn’t for the scantily clad women in window either side! But if you can look past these distractions, you’ll find the Oude de Kerk has beautiful stained glass windows and 13th century features.
There isn’t much to see inside the church aside from bizarre modern art installations, so save yourself money and stay outside to view it, or even settle down in the café attached next to it. (However you will be positioned right next to a street full of prostitutes, so it’s up to you whether you think it’s a good location for a cuppa!)
Other areas worth getting your camera out for include views from the DoubleTree Hilton hotel bar. The bar is on the eleventh floor at the top and gives you one of the best central views of the city. Drinks are fairly overpriced (despite the cocktails being especially tasty) so maybe just snap a picture and run!
If you can face trekking to the other side of the city then Hotel Okura Amsterdam is well worth the visit – as the views from the cocktail bar on the 23rd floor are spectacular. You’ll be served by white-gloved waiters and drinks are made to your personal preference.
The best bit is that you don’t have to be staying at either hotel to enjoy a tipple!
If you want to experience Dutch culture that is a far cry from Amsterdam’s coffee shop culture then visit Castle Muiderslot. Amsterdam was founded in 1250 after a group of fishermen built a dam, so this castle dating back to 1285 gives you the closest you can get to “original” architecture. This little known spot is €12.50 for adults and the surrounding fields and scenery are worth a visit!
If you really like medieval stuff you could additionally visit the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments on Singel street. Although fairly small it gives you an overview the gruesome instruments used – and we promise it will have half the queue of the London Dungeons!
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